Thursday, January 16, 2014

Emergency Preparedness for Non-Preppers

I'm no prepper.

I don't hoard caches of guns on my property or talk about the coming zombie invasion. (At least not without laughing.) I don't lie awake at night worrying about self-defense tactics or whether I have enough food stored away for a nuclear holocaust.

But today I came across Little House in The Suburbs' (LHITS) announcement of a Prep-Along. After the recent chemical spill and extreme winter weather in her part of the country (West Virginia) Deanna from LHITS decided it would be a good idea to be more prepared for disasters. She wrote:
Not that this is anyone’s view of a good time, but it’s something we should all do, at least on a basic level.  So, for this first Prep-Along, we’re going to follow the FEMA requirements found at  Exciting right?  Let’s follow a government program together….YAY!
Let's face it, it is really smart to be prepared for the unexpected. No matter where you live there is the potential for natural disasters, not to mention the man-made kind. I am always shocked at how folks in hurricane-prone areas don't have enough supplies on hand to weather the storm, and yet I myself am mostly unprepared for emergencies.

In April of 2011, two weeks after we moved into our house, there was a large urban brush fire directly adjacent to our neighborhood. One hundred acres of woods burned, as well as 20 homes. My in-laws had just arrived in town that morning and we had all headed out to a nearby soccer field to watch Big Sister's team play. During the game we noticed an enormous plume of black smoke billowing up to the west and joked about how it looked like our new house was on fire. As we drove home we grew increasingly nervous as it seemed more and more possible that our new home actually *was* on fire. When we reached a major intersection just one mile from our house the entire horizon was filled with enormous orange flames. Frankly, it was terrifying.

Image from The Oak Hill Gazette

We turned off the highway into our neighborhood and were stopped by a patrol car. The sheriff's deputy was evacuating our neighborhood. We dashed home and grabbed our cat, dog, and a file full of what I only hoped were our most important documents. (We had just moved in and the whole house was still completely disorganized.) My in-laws drove their car out and Mr. Chanclas drove his and we all convened at my friend Erin's house, who lives nearby but not within the danger zone. (It's a good friend that you can surprise in the middle of the day with your whole extended family and your pets in tow.) From there we tried to get more information via TV or the internet about exactly where the fire was burning. I was shocked at how little information was available considering the fire was threatening a large urban area.

Throughout the afternoon helicopters dropped water on the fire. Then small airplanes dropped loads of fire retardant. By evening we learned that the fire was burning maybe a quarter mile from our home. Luckily for us the wind was blowing hard in an easterly direction, spreading the fire directly away from us. In the late evening Mr. Chanclas returned to our house with his folks to assess the situation. We were no longer under evacuation and many of our neighbors had stayed put. The wind continued to blow hard to the east. We decided to bring everyone home for the night.

It was a long night, with multiple low-flying helicopters shining incredibly powerful spotlights down on a neighboring area as homes were evacuated at midnight. Mr. Chanclas spent hours pacing in the front yard watching the sky. I paced inside the bedroom, searching the eastern horizon for flames. We were ready to load up the cars and leave at a moment's notice. To this day the sound of helicopters makes us both cringe.

In the end, we suffered no damages and neither did anyone else in our little neighborhood of fourteen houses. We were spared only by the direction of the wind.

My point is that emergencies are always unexpected and the best we can do is to be somewhat reasonably prepared for them. Since the fire I have learned to store all of my important documents in one brightly-colored plastic binder so that I can grab it in a hurry. I'm going to join Little House in the Suburbs for the Prep-Along, even though it's not the most exciting use of my time. I imagine that quite a bit of the preparations will dovetail with my other homesteading activities such as preserving and canning and rainwater harvest and storage. Anybody want to join me for the Prep-Along? You can start with the first LHITS post here.


  1. Oh my god! How horrifying! I would have been pacing like a madman, too!! I'm so glad you guys were okay and feel such sorrow for those that lost their homes. What a mess. :-(
    I am decidedly not a prepper, either. But I do some common sense things to make us ready for what I continually worry about...earthquakes.
    We live in earthquake country, right on top of a major fault line, as it were, and directly in the shadow of a dormant (for now) volcano. (My beloved Mt. Rainier.) I was in the loma prieta (sp?) earthquake in CA back in the 80's in which I was catapulted out of a swimming pool and into a living room and since then I have this intense fear of earthquakes.
    Much like Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear.
    I think being ready for up to 3 weeks without electicity, heat and/or access to roads and food is a good idea.
    We store water and food, med supplies and power, and also have directions posted everywhere on how to turn off the water and natural gas.
    I also finally realized I had forgotten to store ANIMAL FEED - dogs, cats, quail, chickens and rabbits - and have since began putting aside feed for the critters.
    Oh. And toilet paper.
    Because mama didn't raise no fool.

    1. Vaulted out of a swimming pool??? Jesuscristo that sounds terrifying. I've only experienced one earthquake, in Acapulco, and it was mild but terrifying. The *sound* of it was the stuff of nightmares. Up to three weeks of supplies sounds like a lot but I just read LHIT's updated post and the longest she has been without utilities is 14 days. So three weeks might be a good goal.

  2. Holy cow. That's intense. I am so glad your home avoided disaster. My aunt and uncle lost their house in a California fire a bunch of years back. Devastating doesn't even cover it.
    Out here the whole state of NM tries to burn itself down each summer, it seems. Living out in the middle of nowhere should mean that we're totally prepared for something disastrous like that... But no. I don't know if we've got enough food for this weekend, let alone a few weeks... Man, this post is like someone saying out loud what you've been thinking at the back of your head, but not quite consciously. Ok. Agreed. We'll get better prepared too.

    1. When I read the LHIT post I felt the way you describe- like I had known subconsciously that I needed to do it but hadn't said it out loud to myself. So you're in? This will be fun.

  3. Great idea! We're in pretty good shape normally just because we live so far from the kinds of food we eat (ie: not processed crap), and we have a generator. I really need to get our important documents better organized so that I could grab them quickly and just do a true inventory.


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