Shelter and the Y2K thing

compiled by Catherine Fournier

After food and water, shelter is the next critical priority. You need to make sure your home would be safe in the event of any kind of disaster or emergency.

Disasters happen anytime and anywhere. A highway spill or hazardous material could mean evacuation. A winter storm could confine your family at home. An earthquake, flood, tornado, or any other disaster could cut water, electricity, and telephones-for days. After a disaster, local officials and relief workers will be on the scene, but they cannot reach everyone immediately. You could get help in hours, or it may take days. Would your family be prepared to cope with the emergency ?

Shelter is not quite as simple as the 'roof over your head.' It encompasses the roof, walls, windows, the water and sewage systems as well as lighting, heating, and cleaning. If any one of these components break down for any significant length of time, your home, your shelter becomes uninhabitable unless you have alternatives prepared, and can keep the disruption from permanently damaging your home.

  • For example, if an earthquake broke your gas line, you need to know how to close off the line to stop leaks.
  • If there were a flood, you'd want to turn off the electricity.
  • If your local water company announced it would turn off the municipal water supply for a period of time, you might decide to shut the valve between your house and the street line so you could contain the water in your house pipes. Otherwise, the water to your house might be siphoned off into the city pipes. Plus, when the city turns the water back on, the first flow-through might be full of silt and other residue, which you don't want coming in through your plumbing.
  • If the electricity or other heating fails in the winter, you'd want to drain your water lines to keep them from freezing and bursting.
  • If a tree branch or other item broke a window during a storm or hurricane, you'd want to cover that window with plastic or plywood to keep the rain and wind out and the heat in.

If you're not sure where to find the gas valve, water valve, and circuit box, or if you don't know how to turn these things on and off, call your local utility company and find out if they have a free home inspection program. This way, a trained technician will come to your house, show you what to do, and give you tips on ways to make your home even safer and more efficient. A trip to the library or bookstore will provide several home maintenance manuals that can show you how to turn things off and on in the right order. The few minutes you spend learning how to turn your utilities on and off could be a lifesaver in an emergency, and may make it possible for you to stay home instead of evacuating to a shelter if disaster should strike.

Once you have protected your home from damage, and you need to consider how to stay in your home without some of the modern services and appliances we take for granted. For example, during a recent extended power outage, I was surprised to find how dependant our perfectly normal suburban high ranch bungalow was on electric lighting. Long interior halls and stairwells became dangerous at night, counter tops and other areas were shaded from natural light during the day. I also had to move quickly to preserve the food in my freezers and keep the melting refrigerator from flooding the kitchen floor!

Suppose you find yourself without heat. If you have a working fireplace and an ample supply of firewood, you should be able to create a cozy spot for yourself and your family, at least in the immediate area where the fireplace is located. The major drawback of conventional fireplaces is that they're not very energy efficient. At first, when you build the fire, you get a nice roaring heat. But you can't just shut it off because the fumes will asphyxiate everybody! But if you leave the flue open, it will act like a vacuum and draw cold air up into the chimney.

Since most of the heat produced gets drawn up the chimney, it's fine if you need to rely on the fireplace for just a day or two. But if the fireplace will be your only source of heat for an extended period in the middle of winter, you might want to consider investing in a wood stove. Always remember that you'll need lots of extra wood and hauling it into the house is a dirty messy hassle. Propane space heaters and other sources of heat MUST BE USED WITH CAUTION. They give off carbon monoxide as part of their combustion gases and must have good ventilation, otherwise you and your family will die. Is that worded strongly enough?

As an experiment, try turning off the electricity some evening and carry out your normal family dinner, washing the dishes and bedtime routines without electric lights, running water, television or radio. This exercise will give you a very clear idea of what you need to keep your family safe, warm, well fed and happy in the vent of an emergency cessation of services. How many candles or lanterns do you need, and where should they be placed? Do you need to move furniture, or carpets? Do you have enough board games and musical instruments?

The following is yet another checklist (!) of materials to gather, specifically related to the home, home maintenance, and evacuation of the home. Place the supplies you'd most likely need for an evacuation in an easy-to-carry container. These supplies are listed with an asterisk (*). Possible containers include a large, covered trash container, camping backpack, or a duffle bag.

Water *

A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Hot environments and intense physical activity can double that amount. Children, nursing mothers, and ill people will need more. Store one gallon of water per person per day. Keep at least a three-day supply of water per person (two quarts for drinking, two quarts for each person in your household for food preparation/sanitation). Have buckets on hand to carry water from an outside source, if one is or becomes available. There will be more material about Water added in the Angels and Archangels issue, which begins on September 1st.

Food *

Store non-perishable food. Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking, and little or no water. If you must heat food, include a small cookstove or camping stove. Select food items that are compact and lightweight. There is much more detail about this at Food

First Aid Kit *

Assemble a first aid kit for your home and one for each car. A first aid kit should include the following listed items. More about first aid kits, and some more extensive lists can be found at First Aid.

  • Sterile adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
  • Assorted sizes of safety pins
  • Cleansing agent/soap
  • Latex gloves (2 pairs)
  • Sun screen
  • 2-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)
  • 4-inch sterile gauze pads (4-6)
  • Triangular bandages (3)
  • Non-prescription drugs
  • 2-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
  • 3-inch sterile roller bandages (3 rolls)
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Needle
  • Moistened towelettes
  • Antiseptic
  • Thermometer
  • Tongue blades (2)
  • Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant
Non-Prescription Drugs *
  • Aspirin or non-aspirin pain reliever
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Antacid (for stomach upset)
  • Syrup of Ipecac (use to induce vomiting if advised by the Poison Control Center)
  • Laxative
  • Activated charcoal (use if advised by the Poison Control Center)
  • Vitamins with minerals, for children and adults.
  • Anti-histamines, cold medication, cough syrup.
Tools and Supplies
  • Mess kits, or paper cups, plates, and plastic utensils*
  • Emergency preparedness manual*
  • Battery-operated radio and extra batteries*
  • Flashlight and extra batteries*
  • Cash or traveler's checks, change*
  • Non-electric can opener, utility knife*
  • Fire extinguisher: small canister ABC type
  • Pliers
  • Various kinds of tape
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic storage containers
  • Signal flare
  • Paper, pencil
  • Needles, thread
  • Medicine dropper
  • Shut-off wrench, to turn off household gas and water
  • Whistle
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Map of the area (for locating shelters)
  • Toilet paper, towelettes*
  • Soap, liquid detergent*
  • Feminine supplies*
  • Personal hygiene items*
  • Plastic garbage bags, ties (for personal sanitation uses)
  • Plastic bucket with tight lid
  • Disinfectant
  • Household chlorine bleach
Clothing and Bedding
  • Include at least one complete change of clothing and footwear per person.*
  • Sturdy shoes or work boots*
  • Rain gear*
  • Blankets or sleeping bags*
  • Sleeping pads
  • Hat and gloves
  • Thermal underwear
  • Sunglasses
Special Items *
  • Formula
  • Diapers
  • Bottles
  • Powdered milk
  • Heart and high blood pressure medication
  • Insulin
  • Prescription drugs
  • Denture needs
  • Contact lenses and supplies
  • Extra eye glasses
  • Games and books (Don't overlook this one. Choose games that don't need batteries)
Important Family Documents *
  • Keep these records in a waterproof, portable container:

  • Will, insurance policies, contracts deeds, stocks and bonds
  • Passports, social security cards, immunization records
  • Bank account numbers
  • Credit card account numbers and companies
  • Inventory of valuable household goods, important telephone numbers
  • Family records (birth, marriage, death certificates)

Store your kit in a convenient place known to all family members. Keep a smaller version of the Disaster Supplies Kit in the trunk of your car. Keep items in airtight plastic bags. Change your stored water supply every six months so it stays fresh. Replace your stored food every six months. Re-think your kit and family needs at least once a year. Replace batteries, update clothes, etc. Ask your physician or pharmacist about storing prescription medications.

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