Top Three Priorities In An Emergency

In an evacuation or other unplanned emergency, these are the three things that will make the difference between an inconvenience and a crisis. Certainly many other things could be added, like favorite games or toys to keep the kids entertained and calm.

  1. Water. Good old dihydrogen monoxide.
    • For survival, we need about 1 gallon of water per adult person per day. Less for kids, less in cool weather, more on days with a lot of activity. For a family of 4, just keeping a few extra cases of (BPA free) water bottles in the pantry covers this need for a day or two.   
    • When there’s a big storm or power outage, I like to fill up the bathtubs. This wouldn’t be my first choice for drinking water, but water for washing, for flushing the toilets, and for pets to drink. We also have a rain barrel which I normally use for garden irrigation.
    • If the running water is turned off or is not clean, then water purification comes in to play. If you have natural water nearby (or, say, an average-size swimming pool out back) then that would be the back up source to your back up source.
    • There are plenty of products on the market and most of them are not very expensive. Basic camping supplies often include iodine tablets for this purpose. When my brother goes backpacking, he takes a LifeStraw with him. They also make a hand pump product, and I think there are very similar Sawyer brand products.
    • If you do a lot of camping or want to be able to purify larger quantities of water, you can get a classic Big Berkey filter in various sizes–like this GIANT one–but this is not exactly a frugal option, and I think most people would not want to store it.
    • Downloadable PDF on this topic from the World Health Organization
  2. Food. One of life’s great pleasures–and necessities.
      • Calorie needs are highly variable based on the individual. There are infinite options here, all with their pros and cons. The key here is to have a reasonable amount of nonperishable food on hand, based on the needs of your family. 
      • Canned food is a common choice. A major pro is that food stored this way contains some water, contributing to your water requirement for the day when you consume it. A major con is that in the event of an evacuation, all the liquid content makes moving it more of a chore.
      • Freeze-dried food and pre-packaged food designed for backpacking or long term storage. This can get expensive if you choose high end options, but often comes specifically packaged for long shelf life and portability (such as Mountain House products).
      • I came across the CleverHiker blog which has a list of their favorite meal choices for backpacking here.
      • Specific needs for small kids or people with certain medical conditions might fall under special considerations, at the end of this list.
  3. Shelter. Limiting exposure to the elements.
    • This might include a heat source, but also a way to keep cool in very hot or humid conditions.
    • Infants and elderly people are at higher risk for heatstroke and hypothermia. But even the very fit can put themselves at risk. Staying out in the cold too long, or alternatively overheating while shoveling snow in heavy warm clothing. Working in the heat and forgetting to hydrate is another common culprit.
    • Keeping warm in cold weather can be very simple. In freezing temperatures and without heat, it is still possible to stay warm enough for survival inside your house. Setting up a tent inside the house, gathering the family inside of it, wearing multiple layers of clothing and using multiple blankets or even a two-person sleeping bag. This might be enough for survival even without a heat source.
    • A few candles or a small butane camping stove can raise the ambient temperature by a surprising amount; but keep in mind that without thorough ventilation, indoor air quality will suffer and will quickly reach dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. There is a tight balance with adequate ventilation and keeping warmth in, when using a fire-based heat source.
    • Avoiding heatstroke in the hot weather is a separate challenge. Hydrate the person and get them cool, as fast as possible. (NEVER try to make an unconscious person drink liquids. Their normal swallowing mechanism is out of commission and you run the risk of effectively pouring liquid into their lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is no joke.)
    • In a high-heat, low-humidity environment, evaporative cooling is surprisingly effective. In high-heat, high-humidity conditions, just pouring water on someone will not be as helpful. In a dire situation, putting most of the person’s body into water (such as a bathtub full of water or even the edge of a body of water, with someone else holding their head up) would cool them down faster even if the water is near room temperature.
  4. Special considerations
    • Food and safety preparations may need to be customized more for certain individuals. Comfort food is good for morale. For a person with autism, sensory sensitivities, or for very picky eaters, selecting familiar, liked foods may trump nutritional content in the short term.
    • Infants need breastmilk or formula. There is no adequate substitute. Stock up. For a breastfeeding mom, eat as well as possible, stay hydrated, and take prenatal or lactating-mom vitamins.
    • A lot of pre-prepared foods are carbohydrate heavy. For someone with diabetes, this is obviously not ideal. Choose more protein-heavy options or at least more complex carbohydrates (whole grain options) instead of simple carbohydrates. Another huge obstacle here is refrigeration. In a power outage, insulin and any other refrigerated medications will deteriorate. Keep the fridge closed as much as possible, then switch to the freezer. Also consider that part of the body’s natural attempts to survive high blood sugar is polyuria. Essentially, the kidneys start dumping the extra glucose into the urine. So a diabetic person whose insulin is not working as well as usual will need to drink a LOT of water, not only to help their body get rid of excessive blood sugar, but also to prevent dehydration and kidney failure. There is no perfect answer here. If you or a family member has insulin-dependent diabetes, you might consider investing in a back up generator to keep insulin refrigerated in a power outage.

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