When it comes to preparing for an emergency, most checklists contain the usual suspects … batteries, flashlights, non-perishable food. But as we found out last week when Hurricane Sandy hit, there are a variety of other items that get left off the list. Items that we didn’t think we’d need, but did.
So now, our emergency preparedness reaches new levels, and we’ll find ourselves even better prepared for whatever comes our way down the line. It’s like an insurance policy, good to have but you hope you never need it. I, along with some friends, compiled a solid list of items you should have on hand, or things you should think about doing, so that you’re ready for anything. Whether it be a hurricane, snowstorm, power outage or what have you. Just in case.
- Social Media. For me, this was huge. My phone was stolen the Sunday before Hurricane Sandy hit, so communication, or lack thereof, was paramount. Luckily Nick has a cell phone that I hijacked. By following news sites, local towns, emergency services, weather bureaus and more on both Twitter and Facebook, I was able to receive important information on what was going on, what was coming, and what was needed. And likewise, I tried to disseminate as much information as I could as well.
- Text your zip code to 888777 to receive local updates on items of importance in your area. This past week, that meant road closures, travel bans, addresses of local shelters that opened up, areas where we could get water or ice, gas ration information, warming stations, and more. During non-emergencies, these text updates have also distributed information on school closures, upcoming weather issues, missing children, and more.
- If you have a fireplace, stock up on wood, starters, Duraflame logs, and matches.
- Get a gas can. A lot of us didn’t have one and didn’t realize the need for one. Whether refilling a generator or keeping extra gas on hand (particularly since our gas is rationed now), it has been a huge help to have a can on hand.
- Fill your car with gas. If you need to get out of town because of an evacuation, you might have farther to go than you think. Or if you lose power, you might travel to friends or family with power that don’t live locally. Several of our friends traveled out of state to stay with family until their power resumed. And when you have gas, conserve it as much as possible.
- Have Parmalat or powdered milk on hand, especially if you have kids. Milk, even four and five days after the storm hit, was hard to find.
- Keep your flashlights and candles in a “home base.” When the kids and I weren’t using our flashlights and candles, we kept them all on the coffee table in the living room, that way we weren’t having to hunt for them in a dark house.
- Have bottled water on hand, both for drinking, bathing, and if your water becomes unsafe to drink (as some towns were faced with), you can boil it to use.
- Air mattress. We don’t have one, but it is now on my list to buy. As the kids and I slept on the floor in my office, the loan of a friends’ air mattress was a life (and back!) saver.
- Long extension cords, so if your friend has power, you can have some too. There are pictures of apartments in Hoboken that had power, and they dangled power strips out their window, via extension cords, to allow others without power to charge their phones.
- Turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings before the storm hits, to keep them colder longer.
- Fill your bathtubs or gallon buckets with water to aid in flushing toilets if need be.
- Before the storm hits, make muffins and granola bars. Items that will fill you up and won’t go bad quickly.
- Have big coolers available and make ice. This way, if your refrigerator loses power, you can keep some of the more important items on ice in coolers for a little while longer. One of my friends lost power, but has a gas stove. She kept her food on ice in coolers outside and was able to save quite a bit of her food, and cooked, albeit via candlelight, in the dark for much of the week.
- Get all your prescriptions filled and keep a list of what you take and the dosage. With many pharmacies without power, people had difficulty getting the medication they needed. Also, consider using a chain pharmacy (for example, CVS, Wal-greens, Rite-Aid) for your prescriptions, so that if your current location loses power, another location can fill your prescription.
- Make sure you have plenty of blankets and sweaters that are warm and easily accessible.
- It goes without saying, but charge your phones and various electronics. Without power for 8 days, every time we went into the car, we charged everything.
- Pack a “go bag.” Put a bag together that contains a change or two of clothes for each of your family members; toiletries, and necessities, this way if you need to leave your home in a hurry, you can grab and go.
- Do all your laundry. It sounds silly, but when you don’t know how long you’re going to be without power, having the most amount of clean clothes possible is a relief.
- Have cash on hand. With many of the banks without power or roads to them blocked or closed, ATMs weren’t always accessible.
- It goes without saying that you need flashlights, but larger lanterns were good for illuminating larger areas. A friend loaned us one and it lit up a large portion of the living room. Another friend bought mini headlamps, which made it easy to get around and freed up her hands, proving invaluable as she was cooking in the dark.
- Take note of all the types of batteries you need and make sure you have plenty of each.
- Have lighters available and accessible for lighting fireplace and gas stoves, and like our “home base” for flashlights, have these items kept in a centralized location so you’re not groping for them in the dark.
- Have IDs for yourself and your family members available. Just in case. Also copies of all important documents.
- Craftsman work light. You can charge it in your car, so you don’t need to worry about stocking/replacing batteries for it.
- A generator. Although they are a bit price prohibitive, they are cheaper than staying in a hotel.
- Powdered drink mixes and instant coffee.
- Battery powered radio or crank radios or radios that you can charge in your cigarette lighters (and that you can even charge your electronics with). Here is an exhaustive list. When you are without power for days on end, you are desperate for communication.
- Stock your pantry with plenty of non-perishable food: peanut butter and jelly, cereal, tuna, and the like.
- Hand and feet warmers.
- Propane-powered light or cooking element, similar to this one.
- Extra pet food.
- Disposable items like paper napkins, plastic utensils, and paper plates.
When the storm or other emergency hits, and as you regroup, touch base with your friends and family to see what you can do to help. Everyone is in different dire straits and we all pitched in to see how we could help each other.
Keep your sense of humor! As a friend noted, this, unfortunately, didn’t last as long as the power outage.
And lastly, I’ll leave you with words from a friend. He is a detective with a New Jersey police department, and this was his facebook posting the other day. Remember, calling an emergency services organization is just for that … an emergency.
“I’ve written down the telephone numbers of everyone who called me this weekend to ask questions that they should not have bothered the police department with during a state of emergency. I’ll be calling all of you at your jobs this week to ask you questions that have nothing to do with your line of work so that you can’t complete important tasks either. #callerIDUseInAppliedBehaviorAnalysis”
Although it was written slightly tongue in cheek, it is full of truth. Calling the police department to find out when and if your town is going to have trick-or-treating, for example, is ludicrous. Whether there is an emergency being dealt with or not.
Tomorrow? A recipe!
*Thanks to Patrizia, Beth, Cathy, Denise, Kris, Carmen and our other friends who contributed their tips!
And tonight? After the longest eight days ever, we are finally back home and have power. After the kids and I were on our way home from voting this afternoon, we rounded the corner and saw this glorious sunset.
It’s been ages since we’ve seen the sun or any blue in the sky, and since it’s our first day back, it was very fitting. The most beautiful homecoming ever.