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Disaster Prep and Emergency Preparedness in 7 Simple Steps

by Victoria Gazeley

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I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who say they just can’t wrap their heads around disaster prep and emergency preparedness. It all seems so overwhelming – there’s so much to do… I mean really, where do you even start?

Let me start by saying ‘I totally get it’.  It took me til just this past spring to finally get serious about emergency readiness.  Now I’m confident we can look after ourselves for an extended period, but it definitely wasn’t always that way.  I found it overwhelming, too.

But with all the natural disasters in the news, I got to thinking about all those people who haven’t done any prepping.  Maybe that’s you?  So I thought I’d put together a few simple ways we can make our families more secure in case of emergency.  These are easy, low-effort and often low-cost ways to secure access to clean water and safe food for at least a few days.

If you haven’t put together your emergency kit yet, I invite you to get at least these 7 simple things done.  You’ll feel good knowing you’ve begun preparing your family, and you’ll be inspired to go further once you see how easy it really is.

Here goes:

Step 1:  Put some water aside.

You can technically go for days without food (not that you’d want to), but without clean water, you’re toast.  And in a natural disaster, there’s a good chance your water supply will be either unavailable (damage to delivery pipes or pumps shut down), or tainted (chemicals or biological contamination entering the water system).  So how on earth can you get enough water put aside for an emergency, especially if you live in a small space and don’t have a lot of storage room?  There are a few ways to tackle this one:

  • The easiest way for people living in small spaces to secure emergency water storage is to buy packaged water rations or commercially bottled water.  It’s more expensive, but once it’s done, it’s done and you can relax a little knowing that at least your family’s drinking water requirements are covered.  The average recommended amount per person per day for drinking water is 10 cups, but obviously larger people will need more and smaller people less (and don’t forget your pets!).  The Ready Store has a super worksheet for calculating your requirements that you get free when you sign up for their newsletter (the sign-up is at the top-right of the page).  It’s well worth getting their newsletter just for that!
  • Fill some food-safe plastic containers with water and store them in a place that you think will remain accessible in case of emergency.  There’s some concern about chemicals leaching into water stored long term in certain types of plastic, though, so make sure you use the right kind and prepare them properly.  Here are the water storage guidelines from the American Red Cross – well worth reviewing and noting.
  • Have some way of sterilizing any water you are able to access in an emergency.  A good biological water filter and purification drops are something you definitely want in your kit but it’s safer and better to have the water pre-stored, unless you’re absolutely positive about the water source and that it’s not contaminated.  Why risk illness if you can avoid it by being prepared ahead of time?
  • If you live on a rural property or have more space,  you’ve obviously got more options for water storage.  Just ensure that whatever containers you’re using are sterile and haven’t been used for anything else but water – the last thing you need in an emergency is to have a member of your family ill from contaminated water.  Again, here is the link for the Red Cross’ water storage guidelines.
  • Put together a water collection kit you can use if the emergency involves lots of rain, or you live in an area where it does rain regularly – this kit consists of a new, clean tarp with grommets or large polyethylene sheet, some sort of zap straps or bungee cords, and a sterilized bucket with a lid.  Store it all together and label it ‘Emergency Water Collection Kit‘.  Then if you find yourself without running water (and the emergency isn’t nuclear in nature), you can string up the tarp to something tall with the zap straps, make it into a funnel shape, and feed the water into your sterilized bucket.  Voila, a supply of uncontaminated water for your family to drink and use in cooking!

Step 2: Next time you go grocery shopping, buy a few extras cans or packages of the food you actually eat.

While it’s all fine and good to go out and buy specially manufactured emergency food rations (they definitely have their place in a long-term prepping plan), it’s easier and less expensive to just buy extras of what you already eat.  Next time you go to the store, don’t just buy one can of tomato sauce, but three, and do this every time you go shopping with the items you use the most.  In no time at all you’ll have a good two or three weeks worth of food stored of food you’ll actually eat.  Even in an emergency, and maybe especially in an emergency, you’ll want to have as many of your ‘normal’ comforts as possible.  And if that’s a special brand of organic canned soup, or fair trade chocolate, then so be it!  Whatever will get you through is what you want to have on hand.  Put the dates on them and rotate them through your pantry/cupboards.  When you use one, replace it right away on your next trip to the store.  And if you can afford it, do this with cases of canned or packaged goods – you’ll save a bundle and you’ll be even more prepared to look after your family.

Step 3:  Buy sprouting seeds and a sprouting jar – or a quality green food supplement.

In a region-wide emergency, you won’t have access to greens unless you have a garden.  So a couple of options here – either have a couple of sealed containers of a high quality green food supplement in your emergency supplies, or learn how to sprout seeds. Or both (ideally).  To sprout, all you need is sprouting seeds and something to sprout them in.  This can be as simple as a jar with a cheesecloth covering, or as fancy as a specially designed sprouter.  Either way, this is an invaluable skill – to learn how to grow fresh greens in two or three days, even if you don’t have a garden… or it’s the middle of winter.

Step 4:  Put together a 72-hour kit, or buy one.

If you don’t have a 72-hour kit ready for your family, you really need to get one.  This usually consists of a pack of some kind filled with enough supplies to get you through 3 days of being away from home if you have to ‘bug out’ of your house: waterproof matches, some sort of emergency ration food bars, flares, heat blankets, hand warmers… that sort of thing.  You also want to include a couple of changes of clothes suitable for the weather, copies of your important papers and emergency contacts, spare charged batteries, and an emergency radio, as well as some playing cards, a book or a journal to pass the time if you’re stuck somewhere.  This is the most basic of emergency supplies and disaster prep, no matter where you live.  You can buy pre-made kits (easy and fast – no need for fiddle farting around… this is what I ended up doing), or use The Ready Store’s worksheets to build your own.  We did a post on what to put in a 72-hour kit not too long ago should you want to build your own – you can find it here: How to Be Organized for an Emergency.

Kelly KettleStep 5:  Have an alternate way of cooking food.

Unless you’re a raw vegan, you’ll need some way of cooking food if there’s no power or your gas lines are shut down.  The easiest solution here is to have a barbeque with extra fuel at the ready.  Not very portable, though!  Other alternatives are Volcano or other camping stoves, or the Kelly Kettle.  All are viable options for heating food and boiling water should you be unable to use your electric or gas appliances.  And if you live in a rural area, of course you have the option of outdoor cooking with wood (always good to have supplies of firewood on hand).  Bottom line?  Your family won’t be too happy if they have to eat cold soup out of a can for a week.  Camping stoves, Volcano stoves and Kelly Kettles aren’t that expensive, and the peace of mind they bring will allow you to relax a little more knowing your children won’t be complaining about cold soup if you’re stuck in the house for a few days without electricity.

Step 6:  Learn how to deal with human waste when your toilet doesn’t flush.

Now, this isn’t too fun to think about, but if your toilet doesn’t flush and you have to remain in your house, you’ll need to figure out how to deal with human waste.  There are a lot of books on the subject if you want to get fancy and technical, and you can buy pre-made kits, but you can also build your own.  

A basic sanitation kit includes: a bucket with a lid, garbage bags, and chlorinated lime.  You can buy toilet kits that come with a toilet seat (one of those ‘comfort’ items), but it’s not necessary.  At the very least, you’ll want to deal with solids and liquids separately – use the emergency toilet for solids.  For liquids, use a separate bucket that you can dump somewhere that won’t affect anyone else.  Urine is generally sterile, and not a health risk to the same degree that solids are.  I don’t have room to get into a tonne of detail here, but if you want to know more on the subject, here’s a super succinct how-to:  How to Make an Emergency Toilet.  And if you live in a rural area, having an outhouse or non-electrical composting toilet probably isn’t a bad idea…

Step 7: Be ready for medical emergencies.

Essential oils for emergencies.

In a big emergency, or even a snowstorm, you’ll likely be unable to access medical facilities or staff.  So it’s always recommended to have extra supplies of any critical medications on hand if you need them.  It’s also very wise to invest in a few bottles of key essential oils to use for wound care, stress relief, headaches, stomach upset, and the like.  At one time I was a registered essential oil therapist, and these amazing substances are a huge part of my life.  In fact, I haven’t purchased over the counter medications since the mid-1990s, at least.  These plant essences are powerful and able to deal with conditions that over the counter medications often have a hard time dealing with – and they do it without the nasty side effects.  I’ll be explaining more about using essential oils in disaster and emergencies (and on the homestead) in future posts.  If you’re interested in finding out more about how essential oils can help your family stay healthy in an emergency, stay tuned to our Facebook page over the next few weeks.

The Wrap-up

So there you have it – 7 simple ways to make your family safer in case the unthinkable happens… or you just have a power outage for more than a few days.  Print this page and use it as checklist as you being your preparations.  It really can be quite simple and not time consuming at all.  Trust me – if I can do this with my crazy schedule and no spare time at all, you can too!  It’s important, and I really want to know that you and your family are covered. 

Have you prepared your family for a short or long-term emergency?  We’d love to hear the things you’ve done, and any unique ideas you might be willing to share with others.  And if you start prepping, let us know how it’s going!        

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

McKenna Gordon August 27, 2011 at 1:25 am

This is an area I have completely neglected and I need to get on it. Thank you for helping me wrap my brain around it!

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Anonymous August 27, 2011 at 2:01 am

This is so timely considering what is happening on the east coast with Hurricane Irene…Thanks for sharing your in-depth plan for emergencies. I hope everyone takes this seriously!

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Carol Rosenberg Giambri August 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Great points.  I see you remembered my preferred eating method here too, raw vegan, but I do cook a pinch.  Thank you for teaching me some new “tricks” I didn’t know about too.

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Elvie Look August 27, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Love how you broke it down Step by Step. I thought I was prepared, but you gave me some important things to work on… like a way to sterilize water, and buy sprouting seed and a sprouting container. Great tip! Love your articles, so informative and enjoyable to read!

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judy mathews October 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I bought a big water bladder type thing that you put in the bath tub. it’s called a “water bob” and i got it at cheaper than dirt for $20. it holds 100 gallons

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Victoria Gazeley November 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm

I’m just reading about these. Great idea for an emergency kit.

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