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Get Out and Gather Information in a Disaster

One of the very first steps in working through your disaster plan is to take a look around you. It’s a simple (and free) step, yet it’s one of the most important things you can do. This does not have to be a dull grinding exercise. You can plan some local trips, have some picnics and take some hikes while doing your research. This will make it more fun, involve your family (and possibly friends) and give you better motivation to get through it.

Some of the questions to keep in mind are:

  • Are there any dangers, such as chemical plants, nearby?
  • Are there defined evacuation routes and if so, where do they go?
  • Are there secondary evacuation routes, even if not official ones, that you can use instead?
  • Where are the various service facilities (gas stations, stores and so on) near you and along any evacuation routes?
  • Are there things blocking your way, such as major power lines, rivers, canals and so forth

These are a few of the questions you should keep in mind as you scout out the area around you.

A good place to start is to pick a disaster that could happen and think it through while looking around your area. Start local to your own home and work out. How do you get out of your house in a hurry if you must? If you live on the ground floor this might not be such a problem, but for those living higher, say ten stories up, it might become a real issue.

Work outward from your house and work and any other place where you reside normally.

Besides evacuation routes and possible supply stops, some things to noticed as you are scouting include:

  • Chemical plants – these can pose major hazards in any disaster, and can, in fact, be the cause of their own disasters. It’s critical to know where these are located so you can avoid them in a disaster, and can make a decision about if and how fast you need to move if a disaster occurs.
  • Nuclear power plants – in spite of what the rabid anti-nuclear clans think, nuclear power is very safe; however, as Japan found out during it’s recent magnitude 9 earthquake, even very safe can become a disaster quickly under some conditions. If you are within, say, 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, you might consider purchasing a few boxes of iodine tablets. These will help prevent radiation poisoning.
  • Rivers and canals – These could become blocks to travel in the event of a disaster. Bridges can collapse and even if they don’t can become chock points restricting your ability to move.
  • Major power files – Be aware of the location of major power lines. These can block your ability to travel if they damaged.
  • Police and fire stations – Useful to know if you need help.
  • Dams and flood control basins – You need to know if you are downstream from any dams or other structures that could release vast amounts of water quickly in a disaster.
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I hope this has been of some help. It’s useful to know what is in your area and could affect you in the event of a disaster.

A couple of decades ago, my wife and I were sleeping peacefully when we were rudely awakened by the room shaking. I remember feeling odd, like something was wrong, and looked up and saw the lamp swinging slightly, then more and more. The shaking came on in seemingly slow motion, building in intensity over several seconds (which felt like hours to my sleepy mind). Then, WHAM, the real earthquake hit and I was suddenly fully awake. I bolted upright and quickly shoved my wife off the bed and under a desk. I went under a table and watched bookshelves and furniture do a crazy dance across the floor, buckle, and fall over. My CD collection spewed across the floor (hundreds of CDs everywhere) and, most importantly, dozens of glasses, bowls and plates careened out of the kitchen shelves and shattered on the floor. Drawers opened up as if angry ghosts pulled them out and knives and other silverware literally flew across the room.

Needless to say, it was very frightening.

This happened early in the morning, I think it was around 3am, and it was very dark. Once the shaking stopped, the first thing I found out was that the electricity was not working. The second thing I discovered, the hard way, was all the glass in the kitchen had fallen on the floor and shattered. I cut up my feet pretty badly on the broken glass. This, of course, made the wife even more hysterical than she already was after the ground shook. She had never been in an earthquake before and was terrified.

As the morning and day unfolded, one fact became very clear to me (I tend to be annoying logical sometimes): Although I had read a lot about how to survive a disaster, and even was in charge of the disaster recovery site for a major retailer, I was completely unprepared for what happened.

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I didn’t even know where the breaker box was in our apartment. I didn’t have a pair of slippers in the bedroom near the bed, and wouldn’t have thought to put them on anyway (thus resulting in some very badly cut up feet). My “first aid kit” consisted of a small box of bandages which was, of course, empty because we had used them for the small cuts in life.

Worst of all, I had no idea what to do.

Shortly after that, I attended the 7-night class to become a Civilian Emergency Response Team (CERT) member for Los Angeles. This excellent class gave me all of the data needed to prepare for, live through and survive a disaster. It is run by the fire department and it serves as a base of knowledge about disasters and how to become effective at dealing with them. The class is so good I actually attended twice, and will probably attend it again before too much longer. The data never gets stale and I always learn something new.

I read dozens of books on the subject, and made efforts to understand not just what to do in a disaster, but how I could help others in those kinds of situations.

The first thing I did was to scout the area. The idea was to understand evacuation routes, potential disasters in of themselves (chemical plants, gang infested areas, power generation plants and so on), the location of important service organizations like the fire and police departments, and other similar bits of information. One thing I wanted to understand was what was the cities plan for dealing with a disaster. The CERT class was actually the most useful place to get that information.

The next thing I learned was how to prepare for a disaster. What kind of supplies are needed under what conditions? What’s important and what’s not? With that data, I slowly put together a disaster recovery kit (actually three of them: one in the house, one in the apartment and one in the car).

Now I focused on recovery from a disaster. How much food and water and other supplies are needed to survive for a day, a week or a month without any kind of help? With that information, I put together a survival kit in my house which will allow me to survive for two weeks without any resupply.

It’s been a long process, to learn all of this information and to put it all together as part of my life. But now I believe I can survive well in any disaster, and better yet, help others as well.

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