Friday, July 12, 2013

Road Trip! (Be Prepared)

Just got home after 17 days in the car.  Fun times, going across the continent twice!

A few close calls made me realize that emergencies aren't just for homebodies.  Things can happen to anyone, even on the road.  So what can you do to prepare for emergencies on the roads? You are looking at the whole gamut of possible emergencies, but as a visitor in someone else's zip code.

1.  Pack a car kit.  There are a lot of things you can put in, like tools and first aid kits and jumper cables, and you can check out a more complete list in my book.  You'll probably have extra clothes, and some food stashed in the car.  Five other very useful things are:
-- a flashlight, with fresh batteries.
--a couple of blankets
--some extra water bottles
--a sharp pocket knife
--tissues and hand sanitizer 

2.  Know where you are going, not only so you avoid the whole lost-in-space thing, but also so you can follow weather alerts.  We spent at least 8 of the days in tornado alley, with apocalyptic rain.  We turned on the radio to find that alerts are broadcast by county for tornado watches.  Who knew what county we were in?  Pick up a road atlas, or at least state maps so you can figure out if you are in harm's way.  At night, use the flashlight you packed above! 

3.  Learn what to do in a tornado or severe storm. Pay attention to towns that have hospitals or emergency centers. And don't drive the gas tank down to the last drop.

4.  Know when to say when.  You don't have to drive through that storm. And standing water can be perilous, even at slower speeds if it is deep enough.  Pull off, get a room and wait out the blizzard.  No schedule is worth your life.

Our smart phones did not get a signal in many rural locations, and the GPS was not infallible ("recalculating"); you might need to remember how to manage without technology.  Think ahead and have a backup plan. And then go ahead and get out of town.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Red Cross Apps

The Red Cross has a family of free apps for your mobile device.  Go to the app store of your choice and search for American Red Cross.  Or go right to  
Start with a download of the First Aid app.
When you open it,  you get five tabs: Learn, Prepare, Emergency, Test, and More.

If you select Learn, you get the choice of 21 first aid situations to learn about:  what do you do if you suspect a broken arm?  A head injury?  A strain or sprain?  The app leads you through the principles--including short videos in some cases-and teaches you what to do.

If you pick the Emergency tab, you get the same selection of first aid cases, but you get succinct instructions and a button to push to call 911.

The Prepare tab shows you a list of 20 types of emergencies, and explains simple things to do before, during and after each.  In some cases, it links you back to pertinent first aid information.

Under Test, you can take short--but not tough--tests on half a dozen challenges and earn badges you can share on social media.

The More tab links you to other Red Cross programs like giving blood, taking courses and volunteering.

The More tab also links you to companion apps for earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires.

These apps for specific emergencies use your phone's GPS to tell where you are and to send you alerts when, say, a tornado warning or wildfire alert is issued for your area.

These apps are necessarily concise and simplified.  They may not take to place of a real first aid course or preparedness study, but they do a nice job of hitting the high points and reminding you of what you may already have learned.

Put these apps on your phone or tablet and then spend some time with them.  More useful than Angry Birds, and almost as fun!

Emergency preparedness: do one thing today.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Daylight Savings Time

So tonight is the night we all set our clocks one-hour ahead (spring forward).  

It is also a great time to check your smoke and CO detectors, and replace the batteries, if needed. Find those instructions and follow them to assure this critical safety device is doing its job.

All smoke detectors have a push-to-test button on the front. Push and hold until the alarm sounds.

It would be considerate to warn everyone in the house first.

Afterwards, it's a good idea to gather the family around and review your family fire escape-and-reunite outside plan.

Hundreds of thousands of house fires occur every year, killing over 3000 and injuring 17,500 more. the NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division estimtes over 60% of home fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke detectors.  

Check yours today.

P.S.  This is also a good weekend to check and update your 72-hour kit supplies, too, especially perishable foods, medicines and batteries.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Who knew that on February 15, 2013, I'd need to write about preparing for and responding to the threat of meteorites?  Although scientists and sky watchers had been talking about a 150-foot diameter asteroid, 2012 DA14, that was predicted to come within 17,000 miles of the earth, everyone was completely taken by surprise by a 50-foot diameter meteorite that came down over the city of Chelyabinsk in the Ural mountains of Russia, 15 hours earlier. The two were not related, based on timing and direction.

Asteroids are small rocky objects that orbit the sun.  When they enter the atmosphere, they are called meteors, although most that we see as "shooting stars" are about the size of a grain of sand.  When a meteor enters the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds, it not only creates a sonic boom shockwave, it heats up so quickly that it may disintegrate with something like an explosion.  The resulting shockwave can damage buildings and break glass windows.  About 1000 Russians were injured by flying glass.

While we see shooting stars every day, an event as large as February 15ths happens maybe every five years or so.  Mostly they happen over water or remote areas and are unreported.  The largest previously reported meteor blast leveled hundreds of square miles of forest over Tunguska in Siberia in 1908.

Meteor strikes like Friday's are almost completely unpredictable.  While we have the technology to locate, identify and track small--like Friday's meteor--objects, we just don't have the resources. So unless someone is looking in just the right place at just the right time (like they were when they discovered the asteroid 2012 DA14), we won't know when the next one will hit.  But from Chelyabinsk's experience, we know that the main damage is window breakage.  While that seems minor enough, having no windows in the middle of a Siberian winter can create an exposure danger as nighttime temperatures plunge well below freezing. 

Preparations include having a family plan for communicating and reuniting with each other in case chaos and damage is more widespread than in Friday's event.  It is also important to have a 72-hour kit that you can grab if you need to leave an uninhabitable residence.  One lesson learned that also applies to severe storms, strong winds or hailstorms is to have some materials and supplies on hand to cover several broken windows until you can have them replaced.  For example, some heavy poly sheeting and duct tape could be used to cover windows, although for large openings, some kind of a backing frame like wooden crosspieces or lattice might be needed for support.  If you are a homeowner, it would be prudent to keep an extra sheet of plywood or two on hand, that could be cut to shape.  Don't forget to figure out how you would attach the plywood, and store grabber screws or lag screws, as well.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

What If You Are Stranded in a Blizzard?

In "Winter Storm Nemo," the blizzard of February 8-9, 2013, hundreds of motorists were stranded by deep and drifting snow on the Long Island Expressway.  The media reported* that for those stranded overnight, it was "cold and scary." In Massachusetts, National Guardsman rescued stranded motorists, some of whom had hypothermia and had to be taken to hospitals.

So it really happens: people get stranded in their car in blizzards.  What do you do if it happens to you?
  • Stay calm, help is coming.
  • Stay with the car. A car is more likely to be found; you are more likely to get lost,if you leave the car in the middle of a storm. 
  • Avoid overexertion and exposure. Stay in the car as much as possible. It should be obvious after only a few minutes whether or not you can dig your car out. Avoid working up a sweat. 
  • Only run the motor for short periods. A good rule of thumb is 10-15 minutes per hour, and only when you are awake. Make absolutely sure that snow has not blocked the exhaust pipe, and crack a downwind window for ventilation. During the blizzard, an 11-year-old in a running car succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning when the car's exhaust was blocked by a snow bank.
  • Open doors and windows occasionally to get fresh air and to keep them from freezing shut.
  • Get out and clear off the car once in a while so it looks like a car, and is more visible to rescue crews.
  • Exercise and stretch briefly, but vigorously, from time to time. Don't stay in one position too long.
  • Don't allow everyone to sleep at once. Someone should keep a watch.
  • Use emergency flashers sparingly to conserve the battery, but use them as a signal at night. You may have to get out and clear the snow so they can be seen.
  • Your car has many resources, especially if you put in emergency supplies. Be innovative. The horn can be an effective signal; use bursts of three, the universal distress signal. Be innovative in the use of car parts: a hubcap makes a crude snow scoop; seat insulation can be stripped out and stuffed into clothes; floor mats can be tied around feet; etc.


Friday, February 8, 2013

72-hour Kit List

Newscasters are warning residents (30 million people!) in the path of winter storm "Nemo" (February 8-9, 2013) to prepare to be on their own for 72 hours in the face of up to 2 feet of snow.

A 72-hour kit is an essential part of basic preparedness. It is not too difficult to assemble with stuff you already have around the house.  Use This List to plan your kit.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

New England Blizzard-Feb 2013-Prep Tips

Forecasters are suggesting that this weekend's blizzard in New England could be a top-ten-of-all-time storm.  Up to two feet are forecast for Boston.

Before the blizzard:
  • Check your 72-hr kit:  Update the food, check the batteries, make sure they include warm clothes.
  • Wouldn't hurt to have a little extra food in the house, including some that you don't need to cook. Stock up on paper plates, cups and plastic silverware, in case the power goes out.
  • Clear your schedule, stay home: The main hazards will be encountered on the road.  If you don't have to go out, don't.  Declare a snow day and play in the yard or cozy up in the house.  But try to stay off the roads.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially those with special needs.

During the blizzard:
  • Practice good fire safety.  Make sure your fire extinguisher is in good repair and your smoke and CO alarms are functional. Keep combustibles away from heaters and stoves.
  • If you must drive, make sure your gas tank is full and put some emergency supplies in the car: blankets, extra clothes in case you get wet, gloves, hats, water and some non-perishable food. Maybe add a shovel and a tow strap. Even for short trips, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be there. Give yourself plenty of time to get there so you can afford to drive patiently.
After the blizzard:
  • If the power goes out, fire safety is paramount.  Open flames like candles and emergency heaters MUST be attended by an alert adult.  Follow all safety instructions to assure your device works and is not giving off harmful gases. 
  • Check on your neighbors again.
  • Go easy on shoveling snow.  Heart attacks kill, too.
  • Bundle up appropriately: a wicking poly layer next to your skin, add layers for warmth. Synthetic fibers and wool insulate when wet; cotton does not. Finish with a windproof/ waterproof outer layer. Hats and scarves save lots of heat, and cheap mittens are warmer than expensive gloves.
  • Drink heavily, but make it water.  You respirate lots of moisture in the cold, dry air.
  • Stay dry. If you are shoveling or walking hard, shuck layers as you warm up so you won't sweat.  If you get wet, change immediately into dry clothes, and/or get out of the cold 

You can't avoid a blizzard when it comes, so take pictures, make it an adventure and enjoy it. when the sun comes out, and it will, it will be spectacular!