Prepared for disaster?
With much of the south-east coast of Australia experiencing horrendous bushfires these last few months, I have been thinking a lot about my preparedness for a disaster. I live in a very urbanised area, a long way from any fire risk, but on the other hand, I do live in a zone that is affected by frequent flash flooding, and I am in the inundation risk zone for a tsunami if one ever hit.
The disaster may not end up weather-related, who knows? There could be a flu pandemic, civil unrest or an earthquake. Heaven forbid there could be a war or mass-scale terrorist attack. The IA bots might take over. At least in Australia, I don’t have to add nuclear meltdown to the list since our only nuclear reactor is small and is not used to produce electricity.
“We live in an era that, within 15 minutes’ notice, nuclear weapons could be crossing the continents bringing about great devastation. Yet we deny this, go about our business, we go on teaching, we drive our cars to work. We repress to the point where we don’t give it any real conscious thought.” Associate professor and author Mick Broderick in The Guardian 28/10/18 original article by Sarah Szabo Endgame: how Australian preppers are bugging out and hunkering down
The disaster could come from anywhere and at any time, but there is very little gain in being in a constant state of high alert, that would be too mentally taxing. But it is worth thinking about what would you do to increase your readiness if anything does happen.
How to prepare.
You can’t be prepared for everything, but there are a few low-key non-stressful actions that could make a difference.
1. Know your risk
Where do you live? What are your local risks? Fire, flood, cyclone or earthquake? If you move to a new area, make sure you know what the most likely events are. Your local council should have Disaster Planning documents that you can read.
2. Have an alternate source of power for your devices.
In our increasingly technological world, many problems arise from power blackouts. We can’t communicate (for long), keep our food fresh, get fuel out of the underground tanks or even get cash if there is no electricity.
You maybe like me and run your car down to empty before you refill it. I heard reports during this current state of emergency, that this caused issues for residents who needed to be evacuated. Their fuel tank was near empty, and they did not have enough to get to the evacuation centre. As there was no power, there was no way to fill up at the local service station either because you need power for the bowser..
It is vital to have a functioning mobile phone so that you can get fire alerts and other warnings. Without electricity, how will you keep your phone topped up? You can get hand-cranked chargers or make sure you have charged portable power banks.
If you have a BBQ with a gas cylinder, keep a spare or don’t let it run to empty. You might need it for alfresco meals and boiling water. You can at least fill gas cylinders up without power but not without cash!
So make sure you have some stashed emergency cash on hand – always! ATM’s and EFTPOS could be offline. No point having the Wallet App on your flat phone with no internet!
3. Have non-perishable food and a supply of drinking water.
Supermarkets on the South Coast of NSW were quickly denuded of fresh food. Deliveries could not get in to restock because the main roads were closed due to fire. Milk and bread were the first things to go. [After some thought, I wondered why people thought these were essential items. I’d be going for the canned baked beans, peanut butter and crackers.]
How long could you last on what you’ve got in your cupboard? I often joke with friends that I have enough food in my house to last several months. I would need to use it strategically, but I do have a bit put by. Not because I am prepared, but because I overbuy food. It turns out that may not be such a bad thing!
If you know the power is going to be out for a few days, make sure you use the food in the fridge first. Keep the freezer closed shut! The food in there will stay safely cold for a couple of days IF you don’t keep opening it.
Consider keeping a twenty-litre container of drinking water handy and refresh it regularly.
One of the things the “Being prepared for bushfires” pamphlet tells you to do is to fill the bath with water, this is not for you to get into BUT rather have a source of water ready to put out fires caused by ember attacks. For other sorts of disasters, it would also be useful to have a large, available source of water for drinking and hygiene. Consider filling up the bath in circumstances other than fires.
4. Have a prepacked emergency kit
An emergency kit contains things like a first aid kit, a flashlight, spare batteries, copies of important documents, extra clothes and a portable radio. This allows you to have everything in one place in case you need to evacuate or if you need to stay and shelter.
The contents will depend on the nature of the risk that you face. The NSW SES provides an example on their website, and there is a more exhaustive one on the Queensland Government’s site which includes a suggested food list.
5. Have a plan
It may never happen, and you may never need it, but have a plan. A “what-if” plan? Talk about it with your family and neighbours before disaster strikes. Write your plan down. Keep it in the emergency kit. Keep a copy on the side of the fridge.
If something bad does happen, you want to be able to act quickly and purposefully and not dither about what to pack or where to go. Make sure everyone knows where your plan is and what it says. Consider adding a visual/cartoon-like story if you have little kids. Teach your children how to ring 000.
The NSW Rural Fire Service has a 4 step planning tool on their website, which could be adapted for other kinds of disasters. The NSW SES also has a step by step online process for floods, storms and tsunami available (most relevant for NSW residents) which could be adapted for other areas. Once you complete the steps, you can print out your plan.
“Prepper’s” online resources aplenty
While preparing this post, I went down a rabbit hole exploring websites of various “preppers”. Preppers are people who are preparing for the end of civilisation. Some are even going to the extent of burying food/supply caches in rural areas so they can “bug out” when the apocalypse is nigh. They call it the “SHTF” moment.
Survival Mastery suggests you need to be able to survive at least 72-hours holed up in your own home giving time for the initial panic to pass and the emergency services time to move in.
The ChilliPreppers is an Australian site that seems to be a moderate voice which provides links to a good collection of downloadable fact sheets on preparing for disasters from various government agencies. They are available free, and there is also a link to a download of what is labelled “Federal Government Disaster” manuals for $3.95.
My take-home message, as an Emergency Service volunteer, is to do more than think about a plan. Talk about what you would do in an emergency with your family and then put a plan in place.
You never know what may happen. Don’t let it cripple you with anxiety but believe me it’s too late when you can see embers on your lawn or when there is water lapping in under your door.