Disaster prepping: Are you ready?

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 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.

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fires on the NSW South Coast

For the last three days I have been working in the Emergency Management Centre in Nowra ( 2 hours south of Sydney) as a communications officer. I’ll be there for another three days. As a volunteer, I don’t expect or want to be paid. I volunteer for two reasons, to help others and help myself. Volunteering is one of the sure fire ways to boost your own mental health and wellbeing. I’m no hero or saint, I’m just practical!

The twelve hour shifts have me taking messages from 000 (Australia’s equivalent to 911) and delivering them to the operations officer who then decides which fire teams will be dispatched and what other resources will be required.

As well as 000 calls, we meticulously log the movements of the various appliances as they move from place to place.

The voice in the head set declares:

Fire Com Fire Com this is {insert unit name here}

Go ahead {Unit name}

We are proceeding from the X Station to the Y Staging Area at {location}

Received {Unit name} Fire Coms Clear at 16:08

The words are precise to ensure the meaning is clear. The word “proceeding” is important. Emergency vehicles “proceed” when they are just driving normally. They must get permission to “respond” under lights and sirens.

The transaction is then logged both in a written book and in a computer-based time log. The radio messages are recorded. The time log is then available to the State Operations team in close to real time, so they can oversee the various operations around the State. If we have not heard from someone for a while, we will do a “welfare check”.

The written log has numbered pages, each log book must be kept. This means that if there is an enquiry after the event, the log entries can be checked to help determine what happened and why. It’s a heavy responsibility.

We also answer really important questions for crews like where they can get lunch!

The two big rooms that house the EMC are awash with high-vis uniforms and colourful tabards. Tabards are like waistcoats with the role of the person in large letters emblazoned on the back and front. The Incident Controller, Operations Manager, Public Liaison Officer, Animal Welfare. Catering, of course. There is a tabard for every role. It makes it easy for anyone to know who is who because not everyone who is here is from the Rural Fire Service even if this is their “party”.

There are clusters of people from the Police, Fire and Rescue NSW, Rural Fire Service, Ambulance, Endeavour Energy workers ( to cut and restore the power to burnt power poles) National Parks and Wildlife, the Defence Force and more like me, in Orange from the State Emergency Service. We all work side by side to put the jigsaw together without losing any pieces.

For the past three days, the weather has been kind and the mood in the EMC was calm but wary. The relatively low temperatures and light winds have meant that crews have been able to do some back burning and to create containment lines. Holiday makers have been able to get home and the long lines of traffic seen yesterday have depleted, giving the police less grief. There has been a steady stream of lovely food brought in by towns’ people supporting our efforts.

But today is the day before D-day. Disaster day. The forecast is grim. 44C (111F) and low humidity. The light northerly winds of the morning will be whirled around by a strong southerly in the afternoon. It is likely to be another day like New Year’s Eve when more than 100 homes were destroyed, whole towns razed and people died.

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I hope the Bureau of Meteorology has it wrong. The fire crews and all the rest of us will be doing our best but there are only so many fire trucks and only so many people who can do the work. Please follow their instructions. Please don’t go through road blocks. Please don’t light fires. Please make your decision to stay or leave early and please take care, not risks.