Sheltering in Place
By Jim Cobb
There are essentially three kinds of family emergency plans and “kits” you need to devise; a plan for sheltering in place, a plan for bugging out, and a plan for what to do if you are away from home when disaster strikes. Sheltering in place involves preparing for an event that will not allow you to leave your home, or an event during which it would not be advisable to vacate the immediate area. Bugging out refers to events occurring where you want or need to evacuate the area quickly. Finally, you should assemble supplies to keep in your vehicle in the event you are at work or otherwise away from home if something happens. While the plans do overlap in some areas, the supplies are treated and stored differently and duplication of the listed items is necessary. When considering what to pack away in your various survival kits, there are basically seven categories of supplies; water, food, shelter, medical, hygiene, tools and equipment, and comfort. Today, we will be discussing sheltering in place.
Water: The human body cannot survive without water. Dehydration is a very real danger in most survival situations and potable (drinkable) water can quickly become a very limited commodity. What would you do if you turned on your tap at the sink and nothing came out? Fortunately, water is one of the easiest of supplies to acquire and store. Simply fill containers, seal them up, and put them in the basement or some other cool, dark place. Do NOT use empty milk jugs for this purpose. They are not designed for long term storage and will deteriorate, possibly tainting the water and definitely making a mess when they leak. A much better solution is to use empty pop or juice bottles. Clean them thoroughly with soap and hot water. Fill them with tap water and store them. You should rotate your bottled water regularly, at least every six months or so. Consider storing some of it in your freezer (allowing a couple inches of space in the containers for expansion). How much should you store? Experts recommend at least one full gallon of water per person per day will be
needed, for both consumption and sanitation. I think the best answer is that you could never store too much water. In an emergency, never ration water. Drink as much as you need and worry about finding more water later. Your body needs it NOW, not later.
There are a few sources of “hidden” water in your home as well if you
begin to run short. You can drain your hot water heater, making sure you turn it off first. You can also drain any water that is remaining in your pipes. Simply open the taps at the highest and lowest points in your home, leaving a bucket at the lower of the two to catch the water. In the event you find yourself in need of purifying water before consumption or use, there are a few different methods you can use.
First, if there is anything visibly floating in the water, you should strain it before purifying. You can use paper towels, cloth, even coffee filters for this purpose. If none of those are available, let the water sit long enough for the particles to settle, then gently either pour the water into another container or scoop it out using a bowl or cup.
Boiling is one of the best ways but it might not be feasible unless you have a good way to heat the water long enough. You need to have a rolling boil for at least five minutes to ensure you kill bacteria. If you use this method, you may find the water tastes kind of flat. This can be helped by pouring the water back and forth a few times between a couple of containers. Also, when boiling the water, do what you can to let the steam condense and drop into a container as that water will also be pure. Purifying water by collecting the steam is called distillation and is the only way to remove salt and some of the heavy metals from water.
The next method involves adding household bleach to the water. You need to add 16 drops of bleach for every gallon of water. Stir it around and then let it sit for about a half hour. If the water does not retain a slight bleach odor, add another 16 drops of bleach per gallon and let it sit another 15 minutes. Be sure you are using non-scented, regular, plain old household bleach. That said, you will probably want to stash a bottle or two of bleach with your other supplies.
If you have some advance notice of an impending disaster, fill up your
sinks and bathtub with water before it gets shut off. This will provide
you with several additional gallons.
Food: The first rule in stockpiling food supplies is to “Store what you eat, eat what you store.” It makes little sense to pack away unfamiliar foods that may cause you any number of digestive problems since you are not accustomed to them. Surviving a disaster will be hard enough on your body without adding stomach upset to the mix. Be wary of storing items that will require water for preparation, unless for some reason you believe you’ll have an unlimited supply of water to use for that purpose. Also avoid exclusively storing foods that will require cooking. It is all fine and good if you end up still having safe use of a stove, gas grill or even a campfire. But, do not depend on that happening. Canned soups (not condensed), meats, and pasta are good alternatives, although obviously their taste is improved by heating. Granola bars, crackers, peanut butter, canned vegetables and fruits, nuts, and dried fruit are all good ideas. I would also include in this category any supplies needed to prepare and consume the food, such as disposable plates, bowls and cups, utensils, and napkins. I would advise against storing “real” plates and
such as you don’t want to have to use your water supply to clean them.
Don’t forget a manual can opener, preferably a couple of them in case one breaks.
One of the easiest ways to stockpile food is to just buy a little extra
at the store every time you go shopping. If canned vegetables are on
sale, buy a couple more cans than you normally would. Be sure to date your supplies and rotate them regularly. Store them in such a fashion that it is not a hindrance to get to them and use them on a regular basis. Replenish what you use. In an emergency where you have the ability to cook, use what is in your refrigerator first, followed by your stockpile. Save the food in the freezer for last as it will keep for a while even if the power is out. Open the freezer as infrequently as possible. The items inside will keep each other cool for some time. Also, be sure to include necessary supplies for those with special needs, such as formula and bottles for infants and any special dietary needs for older adults.
Shelter: I know what you’re thinking, “If I’m sheltering in place, then my home would be my shelter, right?” Well, yes, but there are some things to consider. First of all, winters get awfully cold around here. How can you keep warm if there is no power and thus, no heat? If you have a wood burning stove or a fireplace, how much wood do you have stored? How long would it last if that were your ONLY source of heat? When was the last time you had the chimney cleaned? During a disaster, when all emergency crews and fire fighters are otherwise occupied would be an immensely poor time to have a house fire. And, what if you don’t have a fireplace or wood stove, then what? Consider closing off most of your house and actually living in your living room. This will cut down on how much space you’ll actually need to heat. If space allows, you could move out most of the furniture and erect one or two tents for sleeping. Be sure to store enough blankets for everyone. Whatever you do, do NOT use a camp stove or other open flame for warmth. Carbon monoxide is a killer. Wearing a hat will go a long way toward keeping you warm as well, a large amount of body heat is lost through the head. In the event of a tornado or a similar situation, you will want a “safe area” of your home where everyone can be sheltered until the immediate danger has passed. Basements are ideal but in homes lacking them, an interior room or hallway without windows would be best.
Medical: First of all, you can have all the supplies of a well-stocked hospital but without proper training, they would be practically worthless. Enroll in a first aid course or, even better, obtain EMT training if possible. Just buying a couple of books on first aid isn’t enough. They do no good just sitting on your shelf and, in an emergency, you don’t want to be leafing through an index trying to find the chapter on arterial bleeding.
A standard first aid kit picked up at your local discount store won’t cover any but the most basic of injuries. Anything more than a child’s bump or scrape and you’ll be lacking in needed supplies. A much better idea is to put together your own custom first aid kit. Along with it likely being cheaper that way, you’ll also know that kit’s contents inside and out. Be sure to include sanitary napkins as they make good makeshift pressure bandages, sterile gloves (several pair), aspirin or other pain relievers (including children’s meds if you have kids), antacids and anti-diarrhea meds. You’ll also want disinfectant, rubbing alcohol, a thermometer, antibiotic ointment, and burn cream. If you have the proper training, consider a blood pressure cuff and perhaps even a portable defibrillator. Don’t forget prescription medications such as for heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetic supplies.
Go through the contents regularly to ensure they have not expired or
otherwise become unusable.
Hygiene: Maintaining a proper hygiene regimen is not only healthy, but it is a morale booster. Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, deodorant, even shaving supplies should be stored and rotated regularly. Don’t forget feminine hygiene items. Be sure to include towels and wash cloths. In this same category are personal sanitation items. Don’t forget the toilet paper! I recommend putting rolls in separate plastic bags that you can zip shut to ensure they don’t get wet. Some thought must also be given to what you will use for toilet facilities if the water is shut off. There are a myriad of different portable toilets designed for use when camping and many of them would be perfectly suited for a survival situation. Another method would be to simply obtain a five gallon pail of the type often used by restaurant suppliers and affix a toilet seat to the top of it. There are a variety of different chemical additives that can cut down on the smell of such an arrangement. Otherwise, store some
garbage bags to use as liners and change them as needed.
Tools and equipment: Be sure you have several fire extinguishers and that they are adequately charged and updated regularly. A gas-powered chain saw might be worth having if you find you need to clear away fallen trees (be sure to store fuel). A variety of hand tools, such as hammers, saws, wrenches, and the like are a good idea for immediate repairs that might become necessary. Duct tape is always a good item to have around. Personally, I think the person who invented the nylon zip tie deserves every penny he gets for that patent. A pry bar, a few pair of work gloves, and bolt cutters are also good ideas. At least one, preferably two, flashlights per person and make sure you have plenty of batteries on hand. Candles will help reduce the use of flashlights, and hence batteries, but be sure there is no danger of a gas leak before you light them. Cordless telephones won’t work without electricity but corded phones might so make sure you have one on hand. Be aware the cell phones often won’t work either due to damage to the towers. An AM/FM radio will be needed to hear any emergency broadcasts and announcements and having one that also receives National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports would be all the better. Again, make sure you stock batteries. An alternative might be one of the crank powered combination flashlights/radios. If you decide to put one with your supplies, be sure to test it out first and determine its quality.
Comfort: Imagine how stressed and worried you’d be in a survival situation. Then, imagine you’re a child going through it. If you have kids, be sure to include some items specifically for them, such as stuffed animals, small toys, maybe some age appropriate board games. Treats are a good idea too, and not just for the kids. Candy, chocolate mix (be sure you can use water instead of milk), and other comfort foods are a good idea. While not the most nutritious, you won’t be using them as your primary food source either. Also include notepads, pens/pencils, a deck of cards or two, perhaps a couple of those books you never seem to have time to read. Generally, just a few things that will help you unwind and relax.
Odds and ends: It is a good idea to have copies of all of your important financial records set aside somewhere away from home in the event of fire or other calamity. I do not recommend however that you store them in a bank safe deposit box. A lesson learned from Katrina is that when a bank runs out of available cash, they will close their doors. You want those papers to be somewhere you could reasonably have access to them at any time. Consider an out of town relative or close friend. After Hurricane Katrina, insurance adjusters repeatedly mentioned the importance of having your insurance policy numbers and personal identification. An insurance
claim cannot be started without those vital pieces of information. Personal safety experts also have long advocated taking the entire contents of your wallet and photocopying everything, front and back, in the event of theft or loss.
Consider going through your photo albums and pulling out some of the most treasured photos, placing them, copies of them, or even just the negatives in one small album. Place it in a large plastic bag for protection and put it with your financial records discussed above. This way, if something does happen to your home, you will still have those photos.
Keep a couple hundred dollars cash ($10s and $20s) stashed with your
supplies. Banks may run out of cash in an emergency situation and, if the power is out and stores still manage to be open, they likely won’t be taking credit cards or checks. However, if you end up having to evacuate, having a credit card to use for hotels, gas, or other supplies isn’t a bad idea.
In an emergency situation, the best place to stay is home if possible.
You are comfortable there, your supplies are there, and you know your
neighbors. By stockpiling necessary supplies to augment what you would normally have anyway, you can help to ensure you and your family’s survival if something were to happen. It may be that nothing will ever happen to warrant the use of some of these supplies. But, I think it is better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.