Monday, February 18, 2013

Practicing for Disaster

Practicing for Disaster
by Barbara Henderson

Disaster is coming. There is no question about it.

However, there are many questions about the disaster(s).
When will it come?
What will it be?
How long will recovery take?
Is full recovery even possible?
What other hardships will be brought about by the disaster?
And blah, blah, blah. The only element of any given disaster that we can know in advance is that disaster is coming. While you can’t be specifically prepared for a specific future disaster, you can be generally prepared for whatever comes.

For most of my readers it is a given that the first thing one must do to be prepared is to become a Christian. That prepares you for eternity. It also gives you a bright future that only Christians can hold onto in times of trouble and darkness. The second thing to do is follow the instructions in Psalm 37 – the entire chapter. In other words, just work daily to get it right with God, and He will direct your path and care for you in whatever disaster may cross your path at any given moment.

However, there are also a number of hands on things you can do today in order to better prepare for a disaster of any kind, and to increase the likelihood of safety and comfort for you and your family.

You can start preparing for a disaster by ‘practicing for disaster’. I am not talking about anything big or major. Just start small.

When a disaster occurs, your routine is disrupted. Why not disrupt your routine yourself?

Here’s a good way to begin. Let’s say you go to the grocery store once a week for major grocery shopping and then 2 or 3 more times a week to pick up perishables, or stuff you forgot on your major shopping day, or just something your tummy tells you that must have. A way to disrupt your routine is to take an extra day, or even two days, that you don’t go to the store on days that you normally would. Then you have to come up with a way to do without the things you would buy on those days. In many disasters you would not be able to go the store. You would have to make do with what you have. Even if you have faith that the government will step in and provide what you need, they won’t get the help you need to you in record time. In fact, you might be dead of starvation or exposure to the elements by the time the government even acknowledges there has been a disaster and that people are in need. Just a little practicing with ‘making do with what is on hand’ can provide you with invaluable experience in a real disaster.

I think one of the best ways to prepare for a disaster is to practice doing without and making do before you have to. It can even be fun. And, keep in mind that you can step back into your routine any time, so that takes the stress out of the situation.

Then, there are things you can consider doing at home even though you don’t have to at the moment. Try heating water on the stove for cooking and bathing. Or, heat water on the gas grill if you are pretending you don’t have electricity. Or purchase a one or two burner camp stove just ‘in case’. Then practice using it. If you are in a hot climate, it is nice to just cook outside sometimes to keep from heating up the house.

I actually once heard a lady telling anyone who would listen that she literally scalded her head trying to wash her hair during a time when the electricity was out for two weeks. She just boiled the water and then dumped it on her head. Thankfully, the emergency room at the hospital was open, so she got treatment for the burn immediately. I know this is a silly sounding question, but have you ever had to heat water for bathing and hair washing? Nothing makes you feel more normal than getting a shower and clean clothes. Learning to do that with as little water as possible now might be very important to you later. (And this is not a ‘conserve water’ article – it is all about learning things now that will help you later.)

You should also learn how to build a fire. It takes kindling and dry wood. There is a real skill to actually building a fire. You can have the best fire starters on the market, and the most neatly stacked firewood in the neighborhood, but if you don’t have some dry wood and kindling, you are not likely to get a fire going. That can be really bad if you are trying to stay warm by a fire or cook on a fire. Honestly, experience is the best teacher. I could explain all day long how to actually build a fire, but until you have done it a few times you aren’t going to be able to do it yourself. You need to understand that dry wood – as in wood that has not been in the rain – and dry wood – as in wood that has been cut long enough that the sap has dried out – are two different meanings. You can’t build a fire with wood that is wet. And you can’t build a fire with wood that is ‘green’ or freshly cut. Then there are tricks like burying hot coals under cold ashes so you will be able to start a fire more easily the next morning. You just get your kindling and small wood together, uncover the hot coals, and put your starter wood on the hot coals. Poof! You have a fire going in no time, and you can be boiling coffee and frying eggs before you know it.

Once you have learned to actually build a fire, the next step is to learn to cook on a fire. Man that is a royal pain! I can give you a few pointers, but you really have to do it yourself to figure it out.

First, you want to cook on hot coals, not over a roaring fire. If you are able, put a few rocks in a very small ring about the size that your skillet will sit on nicely. Then fill the ring up with hot coals from the fire itself. This would work with charcoal lumps, but it isn’t really likely that you will have an unlimited supply of store bought charcoal in a real disaster. A cast iron skillet is the best possible camp skillet, but you just have to make do with what you have. Once you start cooking you can sort of move the skillet around to keep it from getting to hot – or center it on the ring to heat it up quickly. Add more coals as needed to keep the heat as consistent as possible. Probably a good rule to make and stick with is that the first person who complains about the food gets to cook the next meal. That pretty much keeps the grumblers quiet.

What food should you attempt to cook on a campfire? I highly recommend something straight out of a can. All you have to do is get it warm without burning it. You can cook anything you have. It gets easier the more you do it.

If you have to leave your home for a disaster, there may be some pretty difficult days ahead. The government may try to get you to go to a shelter. Yuk! There will be tons of people you don’t know. Most of them will be whiney-hineys. Some of them will probably be perverts, thieves, ax murderers, and escaped convicts. There will definitely be a lot of people with ideas on what is and is not acceptable behavior that are totally different than your own idea of acceptable. Think now about how you would handle that situation.

To me and my family, the first thing to consider is how NOT to get stuck in such a place. You want to think in advance about your options. If fuel for your vehicle is available and roads are open, then you have the option to drive out of the area, or at least to an area that is less impacted. That means a car trip with as much of your stuff that you will need as possible stuffed in the car along with all the people who live with you. If you have given some thought to such a trip, then you will be a step ahead of the rest. You might just beat the traffic jam caused by those who are thinking about driving away, but taking longer to get their stuff in the car.

If you are blessed with extended family somewhere out of the area, there home is a possible first place to go. Talk it over with them in advance. It could be that they might be the ones running from a disaster and will be coming to your home first.

Camping out is a short term option. That is only if you can’t stay in your own home, and just need a place to stay until the flood waters go down, or the radiation levels drop, or the chemical spill dissipates, or something like that. There could even be a time when friends and relatives so overwhelm a host family that some people must camp in the front yard. We used to live near a family who had a yearly reunion in their yard. They were educated people who lived in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. But, every summer their acreage looked like a refugee camp. Family came from all over and just set up tents in the yard. They set them up right in the front yard too. People were all over the place for close to a week. (The neighborhood smelled different that week because all the men were cooking ribs on the grill every day. I guess they had a cooking contest or something.) Then, they all went home. Now, no one wants to camp in their aunt’s front yard, but sometimes it might work out to be the best solution to a bad situation. It can be a safe place that can be set up to be relatively comfortable.

That brings us to the next thing you can do now in order to prepare for the future. You can learn to camp out. I know, if you don’t already know how to camp out, you just don’t want to camp out. Honestly, I would have probably never learned to camp out if my parents hadn’t dragged me camping as a kid. I tried to be cheerful about it, but I really preferred sleeping in my own bed even when I was little. I don’t care for camp fire smoke in my eyes. I don’t care to roast the side of my body next to the fire, and freeze the side of my body away from the fire. I still don’t like marshmallows or hotdogs on a stick. The first thing I had to learn about camping was to be a good sport about doing something as a family that didn’t really cost a lot of money, and that most of the family enjoyed. In a disaster, being a good sport instead of a complainer will make you one of the most popular people around.

When camping out, people sometimes sleep in their cars, but they often buy a tent. You need things like sleeping bags or blankets to keep warm. Camping out is a good way to get acquainted with ways of providing food and shelter outside the four walls of your home. If you are a beginner camper, start small. Day trips are good – especially if you limit yourself to just taking things that you have on hand in the way of food and shelter. If it were a real disaster, then you would not be able to run out to the sporting goods store and the grocery store before you left home. Venture into spending the night in the great outdoors after a couple of successful day trips.

I also don’t care to fish. I learned to fish because dad thought it was everyone’s duty to fish for food for supper. I also learned to clean fish and even fry fish. Thankfully, my mom did most of the cooking when we were camping. I started camp cooking when I got married. Just remember the rule – the first person to complain about your cooking has to cook the next meal. The second rule is practice makes everything better. It is really all about learning to get and keep consistent heat under your skillet if you have to cook on a camp fire. If you are blessed with a camp stove, then you will be as good a cook as you are in your own kitchen.

Most people need a cup of coffee or tea to get their day going. When you are without electricity you have to come up with a way to make your coffee, or tea, or hot chocolate. The sad truth is that you just put the coffee grounds in a pot of boiling water and boil it for about 20 minutes. When you drink the coffee you have to sift the grounds out with your teeth. Fortunately for me I drink tea. I just have to boil water. I suggest an enamel camp coffee pot. You can use it to heat water for other things. It is a really useful item when you are camping out, or just dealing with a few days without electricity and cooking on your gas grill burner. Starbucks will not be in your vocabulary during a real disaster. You just have to make do with what you have. If you need that morning cup of coffee, then you will learn to drink the boiled coffee in about two days. My parents used to drink it by the gallon when we were camping. It didn’t hurt them. They were odd to begin with, so you can’t blame it on the coffee. A stew pot will work if you don’t have a coffee pot. It just has to hold water and be fire proof.

Prepare your pets for disaster. Make part of their diet something that you eat yourself, and would likely have on hand during a disaster. If you have a problem with feeding your dog or cat table scraps, then read the label on the pet food. I think ‘meat by products’ means guts and bones. I don’t think some left over mashed potatoes and gravy is going to hurt my dog. My cat is a little more difficult to feed. The point is that no matter what brand of pet food you use, it likely will not be readily available during a disaster. You may not be able to get it for days, or even months. If you pet eats what you eat, then you are going to get your pets through the crisis better than changing their diets in the middle of changing everything else in their routine.

Another thing to consider is what needs you consider the most important, and even any phobias that you have.

I have a real phobia about being trapped somewhere without my glasses or my Bible. I have Bibles stashed everywhere. I only have one Thompson Chain Reference which I would hope to have with me if at all possible. However, I have cheap Bibles in quite a few places. Reading glasses are everywhere. I practically buy them by the case, and stash them in various places – cars, trucks, tool boxes, glove compartments, overnight bags, suitcases, and in kitchen supplies. If you have something you think you can’t do without, try to have more than one, and keep them in places where they would be easy to grab. I need my own pillow, too; but I do acknowledge that I might not have that if we ever have to leave the house in a hurry.

I know you have probably already set up things like a first aid kit, a grab and go bag, and prescription medicine – or at least a way to fill the prescription and things like that. What I want to do with this article is to encourage you to just think about things that would make an interrupted life more comfortable and familiar. I definitely don’t usually care for change. I certainly don’t like change for the sake of change unless is something very minor like adding extra pepper to my French fries first instead of adding the salt first. Some kind of disaster that throws you out of your routine definitely will not be pleasant. But, in the midst of the change and uncertainty, any little thing that you are able to do that is somewhat in the realm of normal will be a comfort to you and your family. I don’t think anyone will ever be ready to give up their home and live in a tent. But, if they are already comfortable with camping, living in a tent a little longer than a camping trip will be more easily done than for someone who has never spent a night in a tent. Building a camp fire when evacuated from your home will be more easily done if you already know how to do it. The middle of a disaster and emotional trauma is not a good time to learn anything. Learning to cook and eat what you cook on a campfire will be easier during a time when it is your idea to do it.

Then there is self defense. Get a gun. Learn to shoot. Do it now. Don’t wait until you need a gun to get one. Get a common gun that has ammo readily available. I shoot guns. My family has had generations of hunters and hand gun enthusiasts. There has never been an accidental shooting. No one has ever had to shoot an intruder. Years ago my husband and I had a business in a dangerous neighborhood. We had some threatening customers. I was afraid to be there by myself, but occasionally I had to be there by myself. I started carrying a gun into the business in the morning and carrying it out in the evening. I made no attempt to conceal the gun as I went in and out of the business. I wanted people to know I had a gun. I also got a dog that was somewhat frightening to many people and took her to work with me every day. We just made it clear that we had means of self defense. I honestly believe that that was a strong deterrent to the thugs and hoodlums in the area. I prayed I never had to use a weapon, but I made it clear that I had one to use.

If I had a choice in a disaster in choosing two helpful people to go through it with me, I would chose my husband Jerry and my mom. Jerry and mom are both really good at seeing what needs to be done, seeing what supplies are available to get it done, and coming up with a way to get something accomplished that works. It may not be the text-book case of how to do something, but they will wind up with something that is workable and helpful. That is the type attitude that everyone should have during a displacement disaster or a disaster where normal services and good are unavailable. It takes a willing attitude. Everyone needs to find something to do and do it as best they can for their own good. Forget that kindergarten attitude that is afraid of doing more than your share. Where my husband works he and the people in his department do the clean up chores each day without any set pattern. They just do what they see that needs to be done when they have time. The other department micro-manages everything. They have lists of who takes out the trash when, who sweeps the floor, who does this, and who does that. They fuss continually and their work area is always a mess. They keep going to Jerry and asking why his work area stays so clean. They want his method of delegating jobs to co-workers and his method of making sure everyone does what they are supposed to do. He keeps telling them the same thing. ‘It don’t matter.’ (Jerry’s grammar ain’t that good.) ‘Just do what needs to be done and let the slackers face themselves at the end of the day. If you do the best you can do, then you have had a good day.’

The lesson here is simple. Anytime, disaster or normal day, just do what needs to be done if you are able. Forget what anyone does or doesn’t do. Forget whose turn it is to do a job. Just do what you can do yourself.

In a disaster, there are no textbook cases of how to handle the situations that arise. You just have to do the best you can do. You cannot sit around and wait on the cavalry to arrive. Furthermore, being able to do some things that help you to better cope with the situation puts you more in charge of the situation than just sitting around waiting to be rescued by the government.

In preparation you need to definitely do the following:

1. Set up a family meeting place. Unless there is absolutely no possible way, get your family together to begin with.
2. If you must leave the area, then you should have already made some choices about where you will go and what to take with you.
3. Be realistic. Remember that your plan is just a general plan bases on generalities. You will have to adapt the plan to suit the situation best.

Remember that your normal life, or your routine is pretty much up in smoke for the duration of the disaster, whatever it may be.

Your job is to set up a new normal, or a new routine as quickly as possible.
The situation will likely change, and you will have to change with it.
The more effort you have made to learn to do and be familiar with things that are normally out of your comfort zone, the better you will adjust to the new and changing situations.
Do your best to be a good sport about the situation.
No one is really responsible for most disasters. Things like fires, floods, storms, hurricanes, and the like just happen; so don’t take your frustration out on anyone.

Make an effort to learn to do anything that might be helpful during a disaster before the disaster actually happens.
Learn how to do as much as possible during the disaster. If you wait for someone who knows how or is willing to do something, it likely will not get done.
Anything you learn in one disaster may be very useful when the next disaster comes along.
Anything you learn while practicing for a disaster will make getting through a disaster easier.

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