Disaster Preparation How-To

Survival TipsImage by US Army Africa via FlickrHow to Prepare for a Disaster

With hurricane Irene bearing down on the northeast coast, the first hurricane to make land at strength this far north in decades, there's a lot of misinformation going around about how to prepare.  My name is Christopher Lotito (for those of you coming in from Google), I'm on the Flood Control Advisory Commission in Pequannock (as well as some others) and I've survived and thrived through the partial evacuation of a hurricane Katrina shelter in Baton Rouge when hurricane Rita made landfall (as a Red Cross Communications Director with FEMA training).  Suffice to say, the vast majority of what I share with you now is experience, personal experience.

Survival Tips:

  • Leave.  Really.  If you can possibly leave the effected area to stay with friends of relatives, do so.  The simple truth is that emergency management, worldwide, is a form of insurance that government purchases.  No government in the world purchases full coverage for their citizens: short version, FEMA and any other organization coming to your aid will be doing so AFTER the disaster, mainly to clean up the mess, you're on your own until they get around to you and chances are there are a lot of other people in line ahead of you.  Put another way, you can help everyone stay safe and cut taxpayer expenditures on rescue operations by getting out of the disaster area early.  -- Further, your home either will or will not survive the storm, and leaving one member of your home there to "take care of things" is really just a psychological exercise, unless they plan on personally holding the roof down against the winds.
  • Stay put.  If you don't leave, for goodness' sake stay put!  The majority of people who are injured during this disaster, during all disasters, are not the ones who have a home collapse, a fire, or are effected by flooding, they're the ones who rush around like crazy trying to get supplies at the last minute.  Runs on snow shovels during a blizzard and gas during a flood cause fights, panic, traffic, and tons upon tons of car accidents.
  • Speaking of supplies... you really don't need much.  It IS good to have 2 gallons of water per person per day stored in your home, but bear in mind that the estimated time of this disaster is perhaps 3 or 4 days of immobility and frankly, a water main breach is not very likely.  More important, if you're staying, is ensuring that your family's medications are present in abundance.


What's the worst that could happen?

The worst that could happen is that someone in your home could have a medical emergency while you are unable to leave your home due to high winds or flooding, which is why it is best to evacuate early.  Barring that, boredom.  You may get wet, your home may flood (mine probably will), you may lose power, the food in your fridge may go bad, and it's possible that you may be without fresh water for a day or two.  ...so, charge your electronic devices (hopefully you have some rechargeable batteries and flashlights), if the food goes bad, eat it, and if you're without water, drink all the other drinks that are in your refrigerator.  Whatever you do, don't panic, panic is the true disaster here.

The point of this article is to remind everyone to use common sense and stop panicking.  Panicking is what gets people killed, not a mere couple days without electricity.  You should prepare for a disaster and do so in an orderly and reasonable fashion that does not cause civil unrest and food shortages: http://www.ready.gov/  -- Moreover, you are already prepared for this disaster, you probably have a lot of the items you need already.  Finally, the time to prepare for a disaster is not when it's bearing down on you, but when the sun is shining and you have time and everything is in stock (and maybe on sale!) at the store.

In closing:

  1. Don't run generators inside.
  2. Don't get electrocuted in the flood waters.
  3. Don't get swept away in the flood waters.
  4. Don't get hypothermia in the flood waters.
  5. Go hungry rather than eat spoiled food.
  6. Don't screw up lighting your stove or water heater manually and start a fire, especially when no one can get to you to rescue you.
  7. Water should be stored in store-bought plastic containers, glass if you're willing to risk them breaking (not too likely on the east coast), and never in an old fruit or milk jug and never in plastic on exposed concrete (plastic is porous).


That pretty much covers what I have to say.  Any questions, feel free to ask!


Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock EnvironmentalHistoric District, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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