Ready or Not #215: Thoughts from Tornado Ravaged Alabama

It has been about three months since the earthquake in Japan; it seems like only last week.  Oh, wait a minute – last week was Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, Indiana and Kansas!  And now Massachusetts?  When did Massachusetts move into tornado alley?  And what about all that flooding…

I don’t think that we seem to be having more disasters just because I am noticing them because I am older.  I think we really are having more disasters – period.  Not little disasters, but the forever-change-your-way-of-life kind of disasters!  Haven’t been affected by a close-to-home disaster yet? (Notice the “yet”)  At some level we are all affected by others pain, but please don’t take on the attitude of “it won’t happen to me”; it can, and most probably will.

When Japan’s disaster hit, a young mother wrote relatives about what they were going through, what they had done right in preparing and what she wish they had done.  She made a list and I shared that with you.

Now I would like to share just a short note that an emergency response person, whose family lived through the Joplin, MO disaster, jotted down in hopes of helping others become better prepared.  Notice how much water he and his family had stored before the disaster (It brought a tear of joy to my eye.)

(When I make a comment about the different things that he writes about, I will place them in [  ] and italicized so that you know that it is me talking.)

“Thought from Tornado Ravaged Alabama
This past week, a brother sent this letter to his sister. In it are his thoughts surrounding preparedness and the recent Tornado disasters in Alabama for which he was involved. He lives in Northern Alabama……”

“Wednesday, April 27th, Alabama got hit hard by mother nature via a ton of tornadoes. Our county took a massive hit. Over 300 families lost their homes. Every transmission line that the Tennessee Valley Authority – TVA (produces electricity for North Alabama) had into our area was severed. All power lost to about 500,000 people. In addition,
Huntsville Utilities, who distributes the power to us, took massive damage. They both worked miracles and have restored power to about 80% of customers by the end of day 6. We got power back almost 5 days after the storm. [Six days?  Do you need medical equipment plugged in, medicine kept refrigerated, or heat if it is cold?  And keep in mind that was only 80%.  How long did it take for the remaining 20%?  And did they have brown-outs or periods of time that the power went down?]

During the storm (that lasted about 8 hours) and for the 8 hours after the storm, I spent in the disaster area doing rescue work, including swift-water rescues due to the large amount of rain we had. Many people not hit by tornadoes still suffered due to flooding and since no power, they had no idea water was rising so fast and so high. I got home at
3am for a few hours sleep. [Do you have skills like big equipment operating experience?  Do you have PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) so that if you are CERT certified and help with the rescue efforts, you will be safe?]

Okay, what we did right preparing for not having power for 5 days and some lessons learned from our experience. We had our 72 hour kits but didn’t need them (this time) but many families hit by the tornado sure could have used them. Many families as we helped them out of their rubble piles that used to be homes, tried to grab a few things to take –
several said they wished they had listened when told to prepare the kits (and/or taken them to shelter with them so they could find them afterwards). [I had to bold that because I keep telling you – get prepared, you’ll wish you had!] We had our 1 year supply of food and over 500 gallons of drinking water – again, we were lucky and did not need them.  [500 gallons!  I love these people!!!  Even if they didn’t personally use it, they could share it others – that were not so well prepared.]

You will be surprised on how much your life depends on electricity! Do not panic. So many folks just could not handle the situation. Many of our neighbors left town (at great expense). We stayed and had a decent time. Keep calm, stay relaxed. Enjoy life without distractions such as TV, Internet, cellphones, etc. Bring out the board games, go for a walk
or riding bikes, read some books. Our family had a bunch of fun during this time.  [Good  advice.]

Keep your cars fueled. A few months ago, Xina and I decided to keep cars at least half full of fuel. This paid off huge as gas stations were closed due to power failure. So, try not to let fuel tank get too low. If you have to evacuate, lose power, etc., try to at least have half a tank of fuel. [Remember you will need fuel for your generators and/or heating units too.]

Have car chargers and inverters so you can charge cellphones and other important electrical items. We were able to charge cellphones and Xina’s Coclear Implant batteries in the car. I was also able to charge my laptop and paging 2-way radios (for fire and rescue squad purposes) in car. Many did not have a car charger! [But you need the fuel for the car in order to run it so that it can charge your electronics.  See previous paragraph.]

When we switched to a cordless phone system in our house years ago, I kept some of the corded type phones around in case of a power failure. Paid off, I was able to plug three into different parts of the house. Note, phones worked for a couple days but did go out totally for about 18 hours before coming back up. [I keep telling people to not get rid of their plug-in landline phones.  A basic service is only about $13.00 a month.]

Do not rely on cellphones. While most of the cellphone system was untouched by storm, the power for the towers switched to batteries and they went down after a couple days. In addition, an even bigger issue, so MANY folks started using them, that it was VERY hard to get a call out (was much easier to receive them as Janet found out). Have backup plans in place. Try to keep off the cellphones during the immediate aftermath of a disaster as public safety folks might need whatever capability is left as radio systems are effected as well (the city’s main system even shut down due to overload, for about an hour).  [Have I mentioned that it would be a good idea to get a HAM radio and license?  I think I have!]

Fridge and freezers will keep stuff cool for about 24 hours after power goes out if you do not keep opening them up. Once they start warming up, have a cookout for everyone (yes, you can cook hot pockets on a BBQ grill).  [You can also cover the freezers with quilts or other insulating items that will give you a little more time.]

Have food that does not spoil [Part of your FOOD STORAGE]. Have a simple camp stove you can cook on for food that you want to eat warm. Canned food can be cooked on a BBQ grill as well (open first and remove label). Keep extra on hand. We did not have to dig into any of our food storage. Many folks could not figure out how to survive a couple days without fridges/freezers… I was shocked on how many reacted. [Get actively building, rotating and learning how to cook with what you store.  Be proactive in learning how to take care of yourself so that you won’t fall apart.  There is no sense in being shocked by your own behavior!]

Water may or may not be available during a power failure. Luckily our city water system had back up power for water treatment plants but we were prepared and had 500 gallons of drinking water stored plus quickly filled up another 125 gallons of bathtubs and jugs to have bathing, dish washing, etc. water. [Do you notice how many times he has mentioned the water thing?  Take a hint and get your water stored!]

Electric hot water heaters will be missed. Have a solar water heater if you want to take warm showers. I rigged one up and it was very nice. Beats VERY cold showers!  [You can only do that if you have WATER.]

Have a stash of cash, small bills. ATMs are going to be down, banks closed, credit card machines not working. We worked over the past two years to have several stashes of cash hidden so we could use in emergencies. We did use this item of preparedness. [Words of wisdom]

Keep plenty of batteries on hand. Make sure each family member has their own flashlight (our family members each have a head light and hand held flashlight).  [I have the headlamps too and they are great.  Batteries store better and longer in the fridge, but make sure to rotate them too.  Remember the problems with the defunct batteries in Japan?  It was very frustrating for her to not have working flashlights.]

Have candles as backups to flashlights, with candle holders to carry them by. Shorter candles so they do not fall over. We found we had no good holders, but plan on purchasing some VERY soon. [Good holders are important because you don’t want to start a fire with a wayward candle.  A quick do-it-yourself holder can be made with a small nail nailed through the bottom, from the underside, of a metal screw-on lid.  The nail holds the candle upright, the rim holds the hot dripping wax, the base is wide enough to be stable when sitting on a flat surface and you can hold onto the outside without being burned.]

Battery operated radio with a list taped to it of news stations. [This is an excellent idea.  I also have a list of HAM stations attached to my HAM radio.] We did not have this and would have been hard pressed to know what was going on if we didn’t have back up internet access. Another purchase that will be done VERY soon!
Again, keeping your cool and staying calm are the biggest ways to handle the situation. Being prepared helps to you in the regards.”

It sounds like this family was very well prepared.  If a disaster were to hit your family could you say the same thing?  Make sure that you and your family are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared.  AND GET YOUR WATER STORED.  Really.

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