Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Step 3: Reward Yourself

The day I met Tom Glass dawned like any other typical prairie summer day.  Not a hint of a cotton-ball cloud above but the temperature was rising quickly and, by our scheduled afternoon interview time, the sky had changed into an angry black mess.

End-of-the-world clouds boiled across the horizon as I arrived at the rural fairgrounds where I would interview Glass, a famous chuckwagon-racing cowboy and, now, movie stuntman and stunt car driver.  I congratulated myself on dressing appropriately for an interview that would take place in a dusty farm field.  Since I was on assignment for the Calgary Herald, a major daily newspaper, I did not want to be remembered as the "stupid reporter in high heels." 

As it turned out, feeling smug was my first mistake.

Pulling into a large area filled with motorhomes, horse trailers and Brontosaurus-sized trucks, I parked my car at about the same time that the radio reported four funnel clouds off in the distance.  With an eye on the sky, I checked my make-up and hair one last time and stepped out of my vehicle which was my second mistake.

At that instant, a dust devil hit me, engulfing me in a violent vortex of dirt, fairground garbage and undetermined organic matter (I'm pretty sure there were molecules of horse poop in there somewhere).  Like a giant flytrap, grass, debris and other unmentionables clung to my hair, make-up and lipstick while I hung on to my car's antenna because it was the only thing I could see.  Finally, the dust devil, feeling satisfied with its assault tactics, relented and moved off in search of a new victim.

Looking like I'd been roughed up by some school bullies, I made my way over to meet Glass.  My clothes were dishevelled and covered in a fine layer of dust.  Twigs and other icky stuff was stuck in my long hair.  I tried to pick the dirt off of my lipstick and brush the grit from my face but it's safe to say that I was sporting the freshly-sandblasted look.

Glass said nothing but offered to conduct the interview in his shiny black SUV which seemed like a good idea since I was fairly certain that other dust devils were still out there, hunting me.  Joanne, his wife of 18 years, was already inside, with every hair in place and looking gorgeous because, well, Mother Nature liked her.

When Glass opened the back door for me, I made a dive for the safety of the SUV, arriving head-first and with about as much grace as a hippo doing a belly flop into water.  The silence that followed was a tad awkward and, feeling the need to explain, I gathered up the tatters of my dignity, smiled brightly and simply stated "I guess I'm not a country girl."  They considered this for a moment, laughed and nodded understandingly.

The truth is that Mother Nature and I go way back and this was not the first skirmish.  Many years earlier, I had been flying a plane back alone to my local airport when I was hit, mid air, with a suspected microburst.  I went from flying straight and level, in a perfect sky without a wisp of cloud in sight, to standing on one wingtip in a heartbeat.  Now, as scary as that sounds, it was fairly easy to recover from (my commercial pilot's test ride was a lot worse) and I was left with nothing stuck to my lipstick so, all things considered, it was a win-win.

But, unfortunately, Mother Nature was not done with me.  A few years after the Glass interview incident, I was sitting outside on a mall bench, minding my own business and waiting for my ride to pick me up, when I noticed a dust devil forming in the parking lot.  The day was beautiful, sunny and warm, I had my favorite pair of sunglasses on and my toes were delighted to be in sandals after a long winter.

Feeling quite safe, I watched the dust devil grow in size and become more visible as it skipped across the mall lot, picking up winter gravel, dead leaves and dirt as it went.  Suddenly, it veered straight for me and quickly overcame me in a maelstrom of filth.  I swear I am not making this up.  I put my head down, closed my eyes and did the only thing any self-respecting woman would do – I protected my lipstick.

Somewhat shockingly, as it whirled around me, I actually felt myself lift off a little from the bench.  Then, it was over and the dust devil danced its way across the lot and dissipated.  I sat there, stunned, and wondered if I had imagined the sense of weightlessness.  I checked my condition and, in addition to the usual crap stuck to me, I discovered that my sandals now had a layer of dirt between the bottom of my feet and the footbed of each sandal.  Wow, I had actually lifted up enough for the entire inside of the sandal to be covered in debris which, later, made walking interesting.

My ride showed up shortly thereafter, took one look at me and asked "what happened to you?!" 

"Tornado magnet," I answered.

To be honest, my relationship with Mother Nature has been pretty shaky for most of my life and it all began when a bat flew into my hair when I was 12 years old.  Needless to say, there was a lot of flapping and thrashing about – mostly on my part.  There may have been some screaming as well.

That incident set the tone for what was to come.  Birds dive bomb me, little furry woodland creatures think I'm a Disney princess and coming running straight for me and I'm not too thrilled about my role as the insect whisperer either. 

In what may have been one of her better moments, Mother Nature chose an airshow as the setting for my next humiliation.  I had taken no more than a dozen steps onto the field when a giant grasshopper leaped upwards and landed on my forehead, dangling from my bangs while hanging on for dear life.  This put him squarely at eye level so that all I could see were grasshopper legs and underbelly.  Again, I am not making this up.

Since my hands were full with a lawn chair and backpack, my options for swatting were limited and I was also frozen in mid-stride.  The grasshopper, perhaps sensing a meltdown coming, jumped off but not before first using my forehead as a launching pad.

Later on, when I went to work in government and began my career in disaster communications, Mother Nature upped the ante significantly as we battled over wildfires, windstorms, flooding, earthquakes and more.  But, she taught me some valuable lessons – mainly to be prepared for anything including, but not limited to, predatory dust devils, invisible microbursts and mutant Ninja grasshoppers.

STEP 3: Reward Yourself

If you've been following the Prep for Free steps, then you're going to particularly like this one.  It's simple and fun!  Here's how to do it using the many shopping reward cards out there.  If you don't already have a wallet full of them, then it's time to sign up for all that you can get.

Option 1: Redeem your reward points for a cash discount on your purchase and then use those savings for items that you'll need to buy for your emergency kits.  As an example, if you redeem your points for $10 off your everyday purchase, take the $10 you've saved and add it to your growing preparedness piggy bank.  Or you can spend it right away on a preparedness item if it costs $10 or less.  If you're shopping used items on Kijiji, Craigslist, Varage Sale or one of the many online free ad sites, then $10 can buy a lot.  If you live in a city with a Dollar store, these outlets are a great place to shop for emergency kit gear especially during camping season.

Option 2: Redeem your reward points for other gift cards.  Some programs, like Air Miles, allow you to redeem your points for other gift cards.  If you redeem for a fuel card, food card or entertainment card, you can then deduct that amount from your regular budget and re-direct the funds to your preparedness efforts.  For example, using this option, a $50 gas card would allow you to divert $50 out of your day-to-day budget for preparedness items.

Option 3: Redeem your reward points for tangible items like camping equipment and so much more.  It's amazing what items are offered on certain programs.  In a previous blog, I talked about this LED lantern which I got for free through my reward points.  I've also used my points for binoculars, a telescope and a solar power panel like the one shown below.

No matter how you use them, your points can amount to significant free stuff for your emergency kits so go ahead and reward yourself.  You deserve to be prepared!

Next week, I'll be taking a break due to more travel to deliver corporate crisis communications training but please use that time to keep working though the Prep for Free program and I'll be back with step 4 soon!

Take care and thanks for reading,


Don't forget to subscribe to this blog or you can follow it by providing your email address.  Also, please feel free to follow my Twitter feed @Plan_Prep_Live  and like my Facebook company page, both of which cover disaster incidents around the world.  And, if we haven't already connected, then here's my LinkedIn profile. 

© Copyright 2015 Nancy Argyle

Friday, June 19, 2015

Step 2: Give and Take

February 15, 2013 was a somewhat embarrassing day for astronomers when a sneak meteor attack, in the skies above the Chelyabinsk area of Russia, injured 1,500 people and blew up YouTube with dramatic dash-cam video.  And, as if that wasn't bad enough, to add insult to injury, Earth’s space telescopes were all looking the other way.

Ironically, that day was already going to be a big one because that's when asteroid 2012 DA14 (later re-named 367943 Duende because that name is so much better) was going to make an exceptionally close fly-by and all eyes were watching.  Meanwhile, out in space, another asteroid was breaking apart, sending a big fragment towards Russia and no one saw it coming.  Well, at least, no one who was willing to warn Russia.

Heavier than the Eiffel tower, this surprise space invader arrived with a brilliant streak of light, followed by a tremendous bang.  Some 7,200 buildings in six cities across the region were damaged by the meteor’s explosive shock wave, leaving many people out in sub-zero temperatures and cut by shattered glass.  You can watch a collection of video footage below and, at around the 3:10 mark, you'll start to get a sense of how terrifying this must have been.

Once stunned astronomers recovered, it was eventually deduced that the parent of the Chelyabinsk meteor was an asteroid named 2011E040.  Why this asteroid broke apart is unknown but it may have been hit by something else or fractured due to the wear and tear of all that travelling around space for thousands of years.  In any case, it’s a great example of randomness born out of a cyclic event.  An asteroid on a predictable orbit that suddenly delivers a completely random and devastating punch to an innocent bystander which happened to be Earth.

The reality is that chaos is just a fact of life for most planets.  Robert Irion, in a July 2013 National Geographic article, wrote “according to one theory, the moon coalesced from the spray of molten rock that was blasted into orbit when a body the size of Mars collided with Earth.”

What?  We were T-boned by another planet?

According to this theory, Earth was originally born as a twin to a much-smaller planet.  The two planets shared an orbit for several million years until they collided.  Some scientists call this smaller planet, Theia, after the Greek goddess, but I prefer to call it Wrong-Way Harold. 

After throwing off a chunk in the collision, which became our moon, the remains of Wrong-Way Harold were absorbed by Earth giving us enough mass and gravity to sustain a substantial atmosphere which is the only way that we have donut shops and a lot of other things today.  Without an atmosphere, life and everything associated with it would have been impossible.

Irion goes on to note that “many hundreds of millions of years later, the moon suffered a series of major impacts that left it permanently scarred with huge craters.  This so-called Late Heavy Bombardment period would have pounded Earth even more viciously.”

It’s hard to imagine what our world went through – slammed repeatedly by huge meteorites.  Since this bombardment has no suspects and scientists have no idea where the intruders came from, I think this interplanetary mugging may qualify as a Somewhat Big Space Event but not a Really Big Space Event like a star exploding.  Yes, there are worse things out there than getting the stuffing beat out of you by a gang of meteorites.

In fact, in a few billion years, things are going to get really bad.  That’s when our galaxy is going to collide with our neighbour next door – the beautiful, swirling Andromeda galaxy.  I think it’s safe to say that it’s all over for us and probably millions of other life forms and planets.

So, what does this tell us?  The bottom line is that we live in a violent universe and on a volatile planet that has some of the worst weather this side of Pluto.  Some things are predictable but others, like the Chelyabinsk sneak meteor attack, are going to catch us by surprise.  

As humans, it’s in our nature to try to make sense of things we can’t control and, if we can attach a cycle to the event, it becomes more manageable, more controllable.  Cycles bring comfort because we can plan for and anticipate what’s coming to kill us.

In my past role as a government disaster communicator, I often talked about cycles in media interviews – the 200-year cyclic flood or the 100-year cyclic wildfire.  These facts were true but only to the extend of how long we’ve been recording events and the number of tree rings we’ve examined which play an important role in determining old disasters.  Still, it’s pretty limited knowledge and, once you delve into it, you start to realize the broader picture – that cycles and random events often go hand-in-hand.

In disaster communications, one of the biggest hurdles I faced was convincing people that “yes, it could happen to you.”  There were many conversations with residents of an affected area who exclaimed that they had no idea that cyclic fires or floods or fill-in-the-blank disasters occurred in their location and many were outraged that the government had done nothing to mitigate Mother Nature.  To this day, I run into people who live on the Pacific coast who have no idea they reside in a zone 6 earthquake area (the worst there is).

The problem is that people assume that what they see today has always been there and, yet, nothing could be further from the truth.  If they do understand the risk, they often dismiss it – not by being prepared – but by deciding it will not happen to them or in their lifetime.

I live in Calgary – a high-tech Canadian city that has a number of major head offices and more than one million residents – all of which exists on land that used to be underwater.  Actually, I can say, with some pride, that I live on what was once the floor of a prehistoric sea that was home to the elasmosaurus, otherwise known as dinosaur sea dragon.  Not everyone can say that. 

Okay, I admit this is an extreme "before and after" picture but it's a true one.  Things don't stay the way they are forever.  Although Calgary took millions of years to transform, there are many other changes that can happen in a heartbeat.  Like the catastrophic floods that overtook Calgary in 2013.

No matter where you live, you can investigate what cyclic disasters are known in your area (for example, before you build that cabin in the woods, forestry offices can refer to satellite maps and advise you of regular burn areas over the decades) but you should also be prepared for the disasters that no one expects.

STEP 2: Give and Take

Last week, I offered Step 1: Pillage Your Village in the Prep for Free program.  Hopefully, you've had a chance to don your favourite horned Viking hat as you rampage through closets and drawers looking for items to steal for your emergency kits.  If not, then I hope step 1 is, at least, on your to-do list.

Now, let's take a look at step 2.  Here's how it works.  People give you stuff and you take it.  It's that easy.  The only tricky part is recognizing what items would be good for emergency kits. 

They say freedom isn't free but this stuff sure is and it's perfect for your needs.

Free from fast food restaurants, pubs, bars, food establishments
  • Matches (Great for fire starting, lighting candles and igniting emergency heat/stoves, place in plastic wrapping to protect from water, good for all kits and shelter-in-place supplies.)
  • Napkins (A good replacement for toilet paper, paper towel and tissues because they can be stored flat, taking less space since they're not puffed up with a lot of air, good for all kits.)
  • Plastic cutlery (Some restaurant delivery even provides cutlery pre-wrapped in plastic with a napkin included, good for go kits, car kits and work kits.)
  • Hard candies (After-dinner candy is usually individually wrapped and perfect to supply high-calorie energy and can be life-saving for diabetics in a low blood sugar situation, holds up well in temperature extremes, great for car, work and go kits.)
  • Nuts, seeds and dried fruit (If you order a fast-food salad, you'll often get a few packets of ingredients such as nuts, seeds or dried fruit like cranberries and raisins.  Save them all or the ones you don't like for your kits.  Even Starbucks hot oatmeal comes with a packet of nuts, a packet of fruit and a packet of brown sugar.  These are perfect for kits as most tolerate extremes in temperature.  Watch with nuts and seeds, though, as their oil can go rancid in high heat if left in car kits during summer.)
  • Condiments (Most fast-food restaurants offer ketchup, salt, pepper, sugar and other condiments such as mustard, vinegar, hot sauce, soy sauce, etc., in individual packets which are useful in making disaster soup.  (Just be sure to mark a storage date on ketchup and any other perishable condiments and rotate out of kits every six months.  Salt/pepper and sugar can last almost indefinitely so don't worry about them.)  If you're stranded in your car for 15 hours on a frozen highway, you'll think disaster soup is the best thing you've ever tasted.  Disaster soup can be made with any temperature of water.  Just stir in packets of ketchup and any combination of sugar, soy sauce, mustard, pepper or hot sauce.  Basically, it's a spicy tomato soup or V-8 type drink that provides some energy.  If you like, try it at home first to determine your favorite combination.  A packet of salt can also be used in water to help replenish electrolytes during hot weather and packets of sugar can assist a diabetic in a low blood sugar situation which can be life-threatening.  No matter how you use it, the body still sees these little packets of food as fuel to keep going.  Packets of vinegar are also great for disinfecting as vinegar has anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties.  However, don't collect butter packets or cream containers as they are too perishable.  Otherwise, condiment packets are perfect for go kits, car kits and even work kits.)
  • Tea bags (Many times, I've received a second tea bag with my meal which I didn't use or got one with a hotel stay.  Take it with you and pair with free packets of sugar and powered whitener to add calories and energy.  Place in go kits, car kits and work kits.)  
  • Kid's toys, coloring books and crayons (As part of a meal, many restaurants provide a kid's toy and some even provide coloring books and small boxes of crayons which are great for keeping little ones occupied during a stressful situation.  Take these items home and add to go kits and car kits.  Let's face it, your kids already have enough toys and this is a great way to get them involved in emergency planning.)
  • Toothpicks (Individually wrapped toothpicks are a great alternative to dental floss and can save your sanity if you have food stuck in your teeth and you're already stressed out about being evacuated.  Toothpicks are also good for first aid kits and could also be used as fire-starting material, if you had enough of them.  Using the "watch method," you can even use a toothpick to navigate without a compass.  Great for go kits and car kits.) 
  • Chopsticks (Disposable chopsticks are good as fire kindling, as stakes for growing plants or as a first aid splint or broken bone support.  Apparently, you can even build a chopstick crossbow and rubber-band gun.  Good for go and car kits as well as long-term supplies.)

Free from a visit to the dentist

Perfect for all kits and long-term supplies (items will depend on your dentist and country).
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss

Free from a visit to the eye doctor

Perfect for all kits and long-term supplies (items will depend on your doctor and country).
  • Contact lens solution
  • Contact lens storage case
  • Eyeglass cleaning kit
  • Eye drops

Free from a visit to the veterinarian
Perfect for go kits and car kits (items will depend on your vet and country).
  • Samples of cat food (dry and wet)
  • Samples of dog food (dry and wet)
  • Samples of pet treats

Free from a visit to a hotel
Perfect for go kits (items will depend on hotel and country)
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Bar of soap
  • Body lotion
  • Makeup remover cloth
  • Shoeshine cloth
  • Mini-sewing kit
  • Shower cap
  • Powered coffee whitener
  • Sugar packets
  • Stir sticks
  • Tea and coffee sachets
  • Pen and paper (use to leave messages for search and rescue, messages on your car dashboard, messages for family members or record events)

Free from a visit to the drycleaner

Perfect for all kits and shelter-in-place supplies (items will depend on your cleaner and country).

  • Sheets of plastic (Used to cover your dry-cleaned clothes, these same sheets of plastic can be worn to keep body heat in (just poke holes for arms and head) or used to seal windows in a shelter-in-place contaminated air emergency.  Plastic sheets are also good for sealing broken house or car windows, providing you collect enough of them to layer for strength.  First aid kits can also benefit from plastic sheets to protect wounds and keep injured areas safe from water and other elements.)
  • Safety pin (Add to your first aid kit to secure bandages or use to secure shoes instead of laces.  Also, good as a fish hook, to replace a button or repair a bra.)
  • Metal hangers (These have a multitude of uses including as a makeshift hook, hinge or handle.  Bend to hang a small can over a fire or create a loop and cover with cloth to create a fish net.  You can also bend the hanger around a T-shirt to create a filter for dirty water or straighten to use as a replacement antenna.  The list goes on and on.)

Other free items I've received:

  • A visit to my local car dealership for repairs provided me with a free first aid kit.  Great for car kits or add to your go kit.
  • A visit to a hair salon provided a gift of free full-size shampoo and conditioner bottles which are great for shelter-in-place supplies.
  • Many companies give out free pens and pocket planners (use the pocket planner to record important family phone numbers since your cellphone may not be charged or usable and many of us rely on cellphones to act as our phonebook).  Fill out and keep in car kits and go kits.
  • Delivered to your door, free newspapers and shopping flyers can be used, in a pinch, as insulation to prevent pipes from freezing, pet litter or bedding, to fill in gaps around windows and doors and, of course, fire-starting material.  Good for shelter-in-place and long-term supplies.
  • If you're prepping for end of the world scenarios, then those bits and pieces that are left over from putting furniture together are perfect to collect.  From free screws to nails and nuts and bolts, building materials are a good long-term item.  Do I need to mention free Allen keys from IKEA?
  • Visits to a naturopath and chiropractor have provided free pain relief cream samples.
  • An airplane flight has often served up individually-wrapped free packets of peanuts, pretzels and cookies.  Ask for a second packet or keep the one you get and add to any kit.
Depending on where you live, there's an abundance of free things that you may not have noticed before.  In fact, you may have thrown out many items that you could have used in your kits.

With step 2, you now have the opportunity to prevent these items from entering landfills by re-purposing them for emergency supplies and using them in new ways.  By the way, I owe a special thank you to @SurvivalPlanner who suggested ideas for possible uses of hangers, safety pins and newspapers.  His interesting survival blog can be read here.

I'd love to hear what you get for free so that we can add to this list.  (This blog is read in a dozen countries so please let me know what country you're in and what you get for free that's different.)

Thanks for reading and good luck!  If you still need to complete your hazard lists, they can be found here: Prep for Free Hazard and Risk Assessment Checklists.

See you next week,

Don't forget to subscribe to this blog or you can follow it by providing your email address.  Also, please feel free to follow my Twitter feed @Plan_Prep_Live  and like my Facebook company page, both of which cover disaster incidents around the world.  And, if we haven't already connected, then here's my LinkedIn profile. 

© Copyright 2015 Nancy Argyle

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Step 1: Pillage Your Village

If you're not fighting one, fleeing from one or flying over one, then wildfires can be pretty "interesting" events.  Big wildfires can create their own weather systems (which adds a new level of difficulty for air crews doing drops) and they can bypass the ground by jumping from tree top to tree top (called crowning). 

Crowning can significantly up the level of "interesting" when tree tops explode and send flaming tree bits upwards and into the underside of aircraft making a pass.  Firefighting pilots have literally felt the "thump, thump" of flaming branches hitting the belly of their airplane. 

Wildfires can also be a little sneaky.  The fire can drop underground and, like a ghost flame, tunnel through root systems to then pop up in a different place, much to the surprise of anyone standing nearby.  And, like a nightmarish video game, a wildfire can shoot out fireballs in front of itself.

If all of this wasn't interesting enough, wildfires can also travel faster than you might expect (up to 10.8 kilometres per hour (6.7 mph) in forests and 22 kilometres per hour (14 mph) in grasslands).

Wildfires are not just hard on the crews that fight them, either.  During one incident, we found it necessary to keep an entire community on evacuation warning for a week while crews battled hard against a Class A fire that was 10 km. from their doorsteps.  Although there was no other choice but to do this, some of the residents lost their minds over the stress it caused and voluntarily evacuated themselves.  Others chose to personally convey their annoyance which, in turn, was a golden opportunity for me to talk about the seriousness of wildfire behavior.  In the end, the community was saved and the same people who complained ended up offering to cook meals and bake pies for us.

Wildfires are usually visible from far away, putting up enough smoke to rival a decent A-bomb which means that most people will never say "what fire?"  Unfortunately, some people will refuse to evacuate despite orders from emergency managers.

No matter if it's a fire, flood or volcanic eruption (deadly Mount St. Helens comes to mind), many people, who have no disaster training or background, will suddenly decide that their house or property is more important than their life.  This decision baffles me but I can only assume that the person who refuses to evacuate believes they are not in danger or that they can manage the risk or they're just plain suicidal.

If you've ever second-guessed an evacuation order, it may help to understand what goes on, behind the scenes, in an emergency situation.  First of all, there's usually an emergency operations centre (EOC) set-up and filled with emergency managers who are gathering and tracking information, evaluating options and designating resources to the response.  They have up-to-the-minute intelligence on the situation and they never take lightly the call for an evacuation. 

If you still decide to commit "suicide by disaster," be aware that you might take down a few first responders with you.  Many agencies will try to assist those who didn't evacuate but now find themselves in a life-threatening situation which, in turn, puts responder lives at risk and uses resources in the most selfish of ways possible.  Today, because of this risk to responders, some agencies will send out warnings ahead of time, alerting the public, that citizens will NOT be rescued if they ignore an evacuation order.  Since death by ignorance is preventable, these tragedies do not need to occur.

Although some countries may use different terms, if you find yourself in the middle of an emergency situation, the basic instructions from authorities will look something like this:

Evacuation Warning
An alert to community members in a defined area of a potential threat to life and property from an emergency incident.  (There may be a time period attached to this warning such as to expect 15 minutes notice to evacuate, if the order is given.)
Evacuation Order
An order to move community members out of a defined area due to an immediate threat to life and property from an emergency incident.  (This order means you leave immediately.  Grab and go.)
A direction to community members to stay inside their current location if a situation does not allow for evacuation or when an evacuation could cause a higher potential for loss of life.  (Personally, this one scares me the most.  Shelter-in-place orders are often used for active shooter scenarios or incidents like a train derailment where toxic chemicals may have been released.  It means the danger is occurring right now and it's close to you.)

Now, if you've got your emergency kits and shelter-in-place supplies ready, you won't suffer the stress of being caught off guard.  You'll never be panicking about batteries or bottled water.  If you're put on a warning, you can load your car ahead of time, stay informed of the situation and communicate your plans with family members.

If you're evacuated, you'll either drive out in your already-packed vehicle or, if there was no warning ahead of time, just grab the kits, kids, pets and go!  If you're told to shelter-in-place, then you'll have your supplies ready.  You'll bring pets inside, lock the doors, follow these instructions and hunker down.

By now, if you've been reading my blog posts, you should have:
  • An understanding of why emergency preparedness is important.
  • Determined your local hazards and risks (using these lists)
  • Decided where you'll store your emergency supplies
  • Given some thought as to what level you'll prep to (although there's no need to make a final decision yet)
If not, don't worry.  You can go back, read the previous posts and catch up.  But, for those who are ready, let's get started with the first step of the 8-step Prep for Free program.

STEP 1: Pillage Your Village

Let's begin at the most obvious place – with stuff that you already own.  These items cost you nothing and using them can free up needed closet space, help de-clutter your home and prevent items from entering landfills.  Collecting these items first also means you can save your other “prep for free” techniques for items you will actually need to buy.

Since many of us fall into the “copious consumer” category, our closets and storage areas are often stuffed with unused items that are perfect for an emergency kit.  Here's how to pillage your village and take advantage of what you already own:  
  • As you work through your home, make sure you have a designated box or two for the items you'll find.  A free used cardboard box is fine for this purpose.
  • Create two piles: one for evacuation, work and car kits and one for long-term and shelter-in-place supplies.  Don't worry if you're not sure what goes where.  I'll help with that in coming blogs.
  • Pillage one room at a time, working carefully through every drawer, cupboard, cabinet, nook and cranny.  Be ruthless.  Don't assume that, just because you put it away, that you actually need it anymore.  Put on your preparedness hat (not the tinfoil one) and view each item with the mindset of “do I really need this” and “could I use it in an emergency?”  If you haven't used the item in a year or more, then it's up for grabs.
  • Think outside the box and consider how you might use an item in a different way.  For example, a hand-held make-up mirror can be a great signalling device to alert rescuers. 
  • Size does matter.  Evacuation kits, work kits and car kits are not the place for full-size versions of things.  Save the big stuff for long-term supplies.
  • Remember, used items are fine for emergency kits.  There's no need to start off with brand-new items (with a few exceptions).
Generally, as you move through the rooms, you'll be looking for items that fall into these categories:
  • A carrying case such as a backpack.  If it has Spiderman or Barbie on it, that's even better.  Kid's backpacks are less likely to be seen as carrying anything important.  Just make sure they're large enough or, if smaller in size, designate them as packs that your kids can carry.  A small suitcase on wheels or a duffle/sports bag is also fine.  Try to pick something that you can walk easily with and that, preferably, keeps your hands free.  Your car kit doesn't have to be a backpack (although it's not a bad idea) but your go-kit evacuation bag should be.  If the student in your family needs a new backpack, buy it and then re-purpose the old one as your kit bag.  If desired, you can get everyone in the family to carry a backpack (as long as they're physically able to).  My 90-year-old mother has her own backpack and loves the security it brings her. 
  • Durable containers.  Free used food buckets with lids (don't forget to ask for these at local bakeries and restaurants) and plastic totes work great for shelter-in-place supplies or as containers for long-term bug-out supplies (be sure to thoroughly wash and dry first).  They may not be completely watertight but they're still much better than storing items in cardboard boxes.  For smaller items, margarine, yogurt and cottage cheese containers just need to be cleaned well before becoming free kit organizers inside your backpack or totes.
  • Food items.  In coming blogs, I'll explain how you can collect food supplies for free but, basically, you'll want to include food items that are high-calorie and nutrient-dense, if possible.  Nuts and dried fruit are two good examples and the reason why trail mix is so popular with hikers.  These foods provide a lot of energy and nutrition but only take up a little space.
  • Baby supplies.  A few disposable diapers won't be missed but they'll go a long way to make your life less challenging during an evacuation.  Look through your baby supplies for items you can pilfer. 
  • Clothing.  Don’t forget to include a few articles of clothing, especially underwear.  Remember that, during a disaster, wearing second-hand clothes may be necessary but finding your right size in underwear could be difficult.  Wearing a comfortable bra or underwear can make quite a difference in your mental outlook so include one change of clothing plus unmentionables.  If you live in a cold climate, don't forget winter gear like gloves and a warm jacket.
  • Shoes. It's important to include a good pair of walking shoes in your car kits.  If you wear heels to work, you may also want to keep a spare pair of walking shoes there as well.
  • First aid supplies.  You're not going to miss a few Band-Aids from the box so raid whatever you can from your supplies and then use my future steps to fill in any missing items.
  • Medicine and eyeglasses.  There's nothing worse than being evacuated with a miserable head cold.  Make sure to include over-the-counter medication.  You don't need to take a whole box but include a small amount of cold medication, allergy medication, anti-diarrhea medication and pain killers.  If you take life-sustaining medication like thyroid pills, for example, try to store a small amount in your kits or talk to your doctor about an extra prescription.  Remember to watch for expiry dates on medication and rotate out of your kit.  For controlled temperature medication like some types of insulin, consider using a future prep-for-free technique to purchase a cooling wallet that will maintain the right temperature for two days.  Another option is a wall or car-charged insulin cooler.  (Note: Many insulin types do not require refrigeration for up to a month or more.)  You can also use a free baggie, filled with water and frozen as an ice pack.  Just don't accidentally freeze your medication by placing it directly on the ice pack.  Make sure to include critical pet medications in your kit as well.
  • Miscellaneous.  Blankets, dust/paint masks, scissors, batteries, matches, umbrellas and whistles will rate high on your emergency supply list.  If you have extras of any of these, put them aside for your kits. 
  • Pet supplies.  Got a collar that looks a little worse for wear but still works?  Or a leash that's dirty and ready to be replaced?  Include old collars and leashes, used margarine containers or plastic bowls (which can double as a food and water dishes) and one or two extra toys or used balls.  Fill a plastic grocery bag or free produce baggie with dry pet food and then store inside a margarine container.  Note: As soon as possible, ensure that you have a pet carrier for evacuations.  Do not leave pets behind.  If you have to use a cardboard box, then do so but standard pet carriers are best and far more secure.  Cats can shred a cardboard box very quickly so use only as a last resort.  Remember, pets will be stressed in an evacuation and more likely to bolt from vehicles so keep them secure at all times. 
  • Personal hygiene products and feminine supplies.  Remember all those items you stole, I mean, got from a hotel?  Travel size items of soap, shampoo and lotion, etc., are perfect for kits.  In later steps, I'll show you how to get these things for free but, if you already have them, put them aside for your kits.
  • Water.  I carry three bottles of water in the side pocket of each of my vehicle's four doors.  This means, in one vehicle, there is 7.5 liters (2 gallons) of water at all times.  Of course, I always carry the Life Straw in my evacuation kit which I talked about in this blog post
In case you're feeling a little overwhelmed at this point, here's a checklist that you'll find helpful from the American Red Cross.  However, I'd like to help you become fully prepared as opposed to just putting together one kit (which is what most agencies promote since they feel this is more likely to happen.)  To this end, I've prepared the chart below to better explain how you can divide up your supplies as you collect them over the coming weeks (just click on photo to see a larger version).

Good luck on taking your first step!  In the coming weeks, I'll be posting the next steps as well as more insight into disasters. 

Thanks for stopping by,


Don't forget to subscribe to this blog or you can follow it by providing your email address.  Also, please feel free to follow my Twitter feed @Plan_Prep_Live  and like my Facebook company page, both of which cover disaster incidents around the world.  And, if we haven't already connected, then here's my LinkedIn profile. 

© Copyright 2015 Nancy Argyle


Friday, June 5, 2015

What's Your Prepper Personality?

As we explore space, reaching out to embrace new worlds, it’s sobering to realize that we’ve long left behind the knowledge of how to survive in our old one.  In North America, only a small percentage of people – mostly farmers, Native Americans and a vague group called “hardy folk” – know how to truly live off the land.  

Hands up if you happen to be one of them.  That's what I thought.  Me neither.  In fact, I killed a cactus once.  One of the toughest plants out there.  That lives in the desert.

It’s also a little dismaying to realize that, nowadays, many people have no idea where their food comes from and most have never seen a cow, up close and personal.  This is especially true for today's kids who can program a computer and hack your Facebook account in an instant, but, if the food supply stopped tomorrow, they would have no idea how to plant a carrot.

There’s a painful irony in that vulnerability – a weakness created in a world filled with mind-boggling technology used by millions who have no idea how to build a shelter or start a fire.  Don't feel bad.  I struggle to get a fire going with matches and lighter fluid.  

This situation has not escaped the watchful eye of some experts who recognize that we are an advanced civilization tethered precariously to our technology and the electrical grid. The real disaster threat lies not in the next earthquake or the next hurricane but in an entire population relying on others to meet their basic needs of life.

Today, sustaining life has become a massive effort far removed from the individual who, in the past, used to be responsible for meeting those needs on their own.  When it all works, it’s quite spectacular.  Just one shopping trip through any big box store is proof of this system’s ability to deliver our essential needs in spades.  So, what’s the problem then?

Well, according to some scientific estimates (okay, best guesses), in a major disaster, those stores can be wiped clean in three days and, since most use a system called real-time inventory, shelves can only be re-stocked again once trucks and aircraft arrive from manufacturers and importers – a difficult feat during a disaster if roads and airports are damaged or if there is no electricity or a fuel shortage.

Once the shelves are empty, most believe their government, through its military forces, will move mountains to look after its citizens and they will – without question – for a period of time. The majority of countries will do this because it is morally the right thing to do but also because governments have learned that they better be the heroes in a crisis.  Otherwise, the public will express their immense displeasure in the next election.

Politically, there’s a lot at stake during a disaster.  Disasters often become a lightning rod for frustration because the expectations of the public are incredibly high during a crisis.  This is that “life or death” moment when the public is unwilling to forgive bungling or incompetence on the part of its emergency response agencies.  Of all times, this is when agencies must step up to the plate or be judged in the harsh court of public opinion.  

As a result, during an incident, there’s a constant stream of information demonstrating what government and relief agencies are doing which, in turn, leads many people to believe that, “hey, they’ve got this.”  There’s no need to have an emergency kit, stockpile supplies or stash some cash because, in a disaster, the government will take care of you.  I call this the “flaming ostrich” syndrome.  Sticking your head in the sand while your feathers are on fire.  The fire might eventually go out on its own but you’re still going to get burnt.

Having said that, many government agencies have a pretty good track record of responding appropriately to disasters.  Hurricane Katrina was not one of them but, in most cases, a lot of time, money and genuine care by emergency managers goes into their response efforts.  But professional competency should never be confused with professional capacity.  

There are some disasters that can quickly outstrip and overwhelm the resources of any country on the planet.  No one likes to think about those scenarios because they expose our vulnerabilities but you should.  Because, in the end, it might just be you left to rescue you.  Or it might be your neighbor that rescues you.  You know, neighbors, those people that you never talk to.

Despite the best efforts of many, disaster response is little more than managed chaos.  There are going to be delays, mistakes, under-utilized resources, agency turf wars and breakdowns in communication.  I know that, first hand, from working behind the scenes, leading a large team of crisis communicators.  We worked exceptionally long shifts, sometimes running our centre 24 hours a day for weeks on end.  My shift was usually 14-16 hours long and, as team lead, I often provided nearly a hundred media interviews a day.  Exhausting doesn’t even begin to describe working in a command centre.

The work was also exhilarating and rewarding as we helped people evacuate to safe locations, worked to save livestock, pets and property and rescued some in dire situations.  I remember one flood in which a bulldozer held two parents and their child in its rough metal shovel, in the pitch black of night, as the driver negotiated a rising river to save them.

There were also moments, unforgettable snapshots in time, when there was no bulldozer coming but, instead, knowledge and preparedness saved lives.  There’s a saying in the industry – plan for the worst, hope for the best.  It’s a motto that should be taken seriously as, never once, did emergency planning hinder someone – it only enhanced their ability to survive the unexpected. 

Over the years, I've met many people with varying degrees of preparedness so, on a lighter note, let’s take a look at some of those prepper personalities:  
  • Clueless Commuter (no supplies but I keep some cough candies in the glove compartment, just in case)
  • Secret Stasher (I have supplies but I can’t leave the house quickly because they're hidden in 39 secret locations)
  • Lazy Boy (prepping is the wife’s thing, she knows where the stuff is)
  • Material Girl (I wish my husband would stop prepping so we could go shopping for some stuff we’d actually use one day)
  • Employee of the Month (my work gave me an emergency kit but I have no idea where it is)
  • Wal-Mart People (stocked up with 108 cans of tomato soup that was on sale)
  • Family Fanatic (bought 79 acres of remote wilderness and installed a million dollar bunker)
  • Savvy Stocker (have car kits, go-kits, bug-out totes, camping gear, shelter-in-place supplies, pet kits plus extra food and water stored)
So, what's your prepper personality?  Savvy stocker is the level I’ve prepped to although, secretly, I’m a little jealous of the guy with the bunker. 

I have bug-out totes which are a little heavy but can easily be loaded into two vehicles along with the camping gear.  Each tote contains a mixture of items so that no one kit is essential if lost or damaged.

The car kits are much smaller and used for sudden emergencies when travelling such as a winter storm. They stay in the vehicles at all times. The go-kits are mid-sized backpacks that do double-duty. They can be worn if we were forced to walk (leaving us hands free) and they sit up front in vehicles providing the first few days of supplies if we were bugging out.

During a disaster, if you’re being evacuated and you're able to drive out, the last thing you want to do is stop the vehicle on the side of the road and start rummaging around your bug-out totes, looking for something to eat.  You want to keep moving until you're at a safer location which is good reason for keeping the go-kits up front.  I also store all critical medication in the go-kits.  In an apocalypse (feel free to insert the word zombie here), these kits are the ones that would be protected first.

Even pets can help out by carrying items during an evacuation, especially if walking out (remember, some disasters, like earthquakes, can destroy roads and make vehicle travel impossible).  I have dog packs that easily clip on (similar to the photo below).  Obviously, don't expect your pet to carry heavy items but this is one way to leave with some additional supplies. 

Next week, we'll get started with step 1 of the Prep for Free program.  Yeah!  Soon, you'll be a savvy stocker too!

Thanks for reading,

Don't forget to subscribe to this blog or you can follow it by providing your email address.  Also, please feel free to follow my Twitter feed @Plan_Prep_Live  and like my Facebook company page, both of which cover disaster incidents around the world.  And, if we haven't already connected, then here's my LinkedIn profile. 

© Copyright 2015 Nancy Argyle