Photo courtesy of Matt Dally, used with permission
How Families Can Prepare for Natural Disasters
by Peggy Webb, Guest Blogger, Local Nourishment
The floods in Nashville last week impacted hundreds of families and businesses. The waters have still not completely receded from some neighborhoods, while others continue digging out, laying destroyed possessions at the curb for removal. We were lucky: We had a small roof leak in one room. We were also blessed to be able to host some travelers who were unable to return home to Atlanta for a couple days.
But the rains got me thinking. When we lived in California, we kept gym bags full of supplies ready to go in case of emergency. We also kept canned food under each of the beds. We knew from experience that a major earthquake could leave us without power, water and public services for days, or that we might need to evacuate to an emergency shelter on short notice. I stocked up on things like Spam, dried milk, and canned veggies because the emergency services brochures recommended them.
These days, in my real-food kitchen on the other side of the continent, I haven’t thought much about emergency food supplies. And that is dead wrong. No matter where you live, there is good reason for setting aside food and water in case of an emergency. I learned my lesson, thankfully, before the disaster struck my home.
Should you find yourself without power, the first consideration must be food and water. How will you cook for you and your family? A fireplace, a grill, or solar oven each have their advantages and disadvantages. You need to be sure you have fuel for your chosen cooking method and keep it stored safely. If you don’t have a grill, can’t afford one, or have no room to store it, consider making a barter arrangement with a neighbor before emergency strikes: They provide the grill and you provide the fuel or the actual work of cooking or cleaning after meals.
As for water, I find it hard to imagine a large family putting aside a gallon per person per day—the general emergency storage guideline—and renewing the water on a regular basis to keep it from becoming stale. But I also have difficulty envisioning boiling that much water daily on a charcoal grill. Water purification tablets are available if boiling water isn’t feasible.
The goal of emergency food supply is to keep on hand enough calories for sustenance, provide enough nutrients to keep the body healthy, and not allow food to spoil before it is eaten. If you find yourself in state of emergency, eat the food in the refrigerator first, then take food from the freezer and then the pantry before dipping into the emergency food supplies.
What should you keep in your emergency food supply?
My list looks like this:
Canned fish (tuna, salmon, anchovies)
Grains like rice, oats, and barley
Dried and canned fruit
Nut butters, canned fish, and dried beans provide quality protein when fresh meats are not available. Dried beans and grains can be easily sprouted, even in an emergency situation. Grains fill us up, dried vegetables provide color and some vitamins, oils provide healthy fat, canned tomatoes add flavor, and fruit is a special treat.
You’ll notice there’s no Spam or dried milk listed here. I don’t want to feed my family poorly in a time of crisis, and real foods will provide the most dense and efficient calories and nutrients—the biggest bang for your buck.
If you have a non-electric handheld coffee grinder, you can also lay in wheat berries to grind for pancakes, biscuits, and such. I keep some whey frozen into ice cubes for soaking grains when my fresh whey runs out or in case of emergency.
Keep in mind that stored food needs to be regularly rotated into the family’s menu and replenished so the food doesn’t expire.
Get Out Quick
In California, our preparedness supplies included “bug-out bags”—easy to carry, lightweight bags filled with the important things we’d need if we had to leave immediately. Ours included:
Feminine hygiene products
One set of extra clothing and shoes per person
Cash in small bills and rolled coins
Small toys or books for the very young
Puzzle books for older children
Books for the adults
Flashlights, radio, and extra batteries
One month’s electric bill
Stamped, pre-addressed envelopes
Required medicines should be rotated out of the bags before their expiration date. Our doctors never blinked an eye at writing us an extra 30-day prescription for this purpose. The extra clothes and shoes can be a challenge to keep up to size as children grow, but seeing barefoot people in skimpy nightclothes in shelters after an emergency convinced me of its practicality.
Try to keep $100 or more in one-dollar bills and rolled quarters with your supplies. ATMs and credit card machines will not work if power is down. Businesses will always accept cash but may not be able to make change. We tried very hard to never let the car run lower than a quarter tank of gasoline, as gas may be at a premium in an emergency.
The small toys and books are an “extra,” not something that’s needed but something to help everyone escape the stress of the situation for a few minutes. Crosswords or Sudoku may distract older children. Of course, in any emergency, helping neighbors and locating the elderly or infirm in your community is a good task for young adults working in pairs or with supervision.
We found flashlights much safer than candles for at-home use. A portable radio will provide information about where to go if you are evacuated, and of course, fresh batteries are required to run these! A first-aid kid is a necessity and should be stocked with band-aids, antiseptic cream, alcohol wipes, tweezers, scissors, etc. We also included some herbal medicines for headaches, sleeplessness, and nausea just in case. In earthquake country we also kept dust masks and leather work gloves for cleaning up damage to buildings.
A copy of your electric bill is proof of your address to emergency workers to qualify you for help if purses and wallets cannot be easily located.
Finally, keep a set of envelopes and pens in a plastic bag. Each envelope should be addressed and stamped, ready to mail to your relatives outside the region. After an earthquake, mail service may be restored days before phone service. A few lines to a “contact person” a state or two away puts everyone more at ease.
My sincere wish is that you never have to use your emergency supplies. But I hope you will be prepared—just in case.
Peggy Webb is a homemaker, mom of six and blogger. She’s not a doctor, nutritionist or other health care professional, just a student of nutrition and herbal health. Her articles are not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your own trusted health care professionals about your concerns and questions. Visit Peggy’s blog at LocalNourishment.com.