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Emergency Preparedness Basics

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

A lot of people have a tendency to think of Emergency Preparedness as something that isn't necessary for "us". We live in a comfortable world of public utilities, ready access to food, water, fuel, electricity.... and the comfort of knowing the police and military will keep dangers in check.

Until something happens to put a crack in our illusions. It may be a longer than expected power outage, a water main break, or even a terrorist threat. THEN people start thinking about how to provide for themselves and their family in case of an emergency. Whether there is a storm that knocks out the electricity for a few hours, or a more long-term crisis which destabilizes infrastructures, a bit of preparedness can make tough situations more manageable. 




This post is a summary of tips, books, links, and resources which I have found valuable in preparedness planning. I choose to call it ‘preparedness planning’ rather than ‘emergency planning’, because it keeps the focus where it should be – on what you can do to prepare – rather than on what you can’t control (the emergency itself). Why does that even matter? 90% of survival rests in your ability to stay calm – to keep your mental s**t together even when the s**t hits the fan.  It doesn’t matter how much stuff you have gathered or how many books you have read, if you can’t focus in when it counts.

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That being said, my #1 preparedness tip is "Practice Being Calm". 
When your toddler is pushing your buttons or another driver cuts you off or you get a big bill in the mail… Take a big breath and look outside at nature so you can stay in your calm rational mind. Don’t let the adrenalin rush trigger your fight or flight mode, as that will often lead to less than optimal decision making. If you feel the adrenalin surging - - work it out quick.  Jump up and down. Sing a song. Move your body. These things help reset your brain back into a calmer space. If things are spiraling out of control for you emotionally – try this ‘body hack’


#2 - Start learning before you start buying
There are plenty of ‘survival tools’ you can spend money on, but many of them aren’t really necessary, and can make preparedness seem like an elite thing only for the wealthy. It’s not.  Real preparedness is about knowing how to use what you’ve got to make things better. Being prepared can help you through a winter storm, or a natural disaster, or even a job loss when you have to cut back on spending. Real preparedness is in line with your values and priorities as a family. In my house, we try to live in a way that is kind to the planet. So when I say 'candles' for us that means beeswax or soywax, not paraffin and definitely not synthetic fragrance. When I reference 'food' that means real whole plant-based foods. If you're a household that loves beefaroni and scented candles then that's what your preparedness kit will be like too. If you live off KD, but your emergency kit only contains rice and beans, that will be a hard transition for both your stomachs and your morale. Make  preparedness choices that are in keeping with how you live.  My home first aid kit contains things like herbs and essential oils and homeopathics. Yours might contain A535 and tylenol. The important thing is to have supplies ready that you're familiar with and comfortable using.

The SAS Survival Guide & How to Stay Alive in the Woods are classic ‘survival’ books… but they’re not where you should start when it comes to preparing your family for everyday emergencies. The hands down best book for this in my opinion is “When All Hell Breaks Loose” by Cody Lundin. It is easy to read. Inexpensive. Real. It shares not just WHAT to do, but HOW to think. It takes you through your options so you can make a choice that is right for you. The second book I recommend is “Making Home” by Sharon Astyk. It focuses more on how to shift your everyday life now, so that you’re ready for whatever short or long-term situations the future may hold. Making Home is about little things like using your kerosene lamps from time to time so that your kids know what they are and how to be safe around them, and big things like sharing living space with displaced neighbours or family in the event of a very serious crisis. The two books dovetail beautifully and I have been known to give them as Christmas gifts. 



#3 – Start small. 
You don’t have to have a fallout shelter and a year of food to be prepared. If you’ve got a case of water, an emergency candle, a lighter, and $50 in change/small bills you’re further ahead than most people already! Les Stroud(SurvivorMan – a totally legit survival guy, not a made-for-tv ratings survival guy) teaches that you need to always think in terms of these survival priorities: Food, Water, Shelter, Fire, Signal. What order those priorities take will depend on the situation. If you’re in the desert, water will top the list. If you’re lost in the Algonquin woods in October, fire will top the list. If you're in a flood zone awaiting rescue, signal will top the list. These same principles apply to everyday preparedness. Do you have enough food to last for 3 days? Enough water? Do you have adequate shelter from the elements? Can you make safe fire? Can you signal for help/get the attention of rescuers if needed?  This area can be overwhelming, but remember to just take it one thing at a time. Every step you take puts you further ahead than you were before you started preparing. 
Get Prepared from the Government of Canada will get you well on your way!

This link shares more about the idea of a 3 day meal box. Your 3 day meal box should contain EVERYTHING you need to feed your family for 3 days. That means a can opener and paper plates, ready-to-eat food that doesn’t require cooking or heating. Baby wipes for cleaning up.  A few treats to keep the mood up…..



#4 – Have a Hunker Down Plan 
Sometimes an emergency leaves you stuck at home, possibly without heat or water. If that’s the case, in addition to your 3 day meal box above, you’ll want to know how to make a microclimate in your home to maximize heat sources (or cooling sources in summer), and you’ll need a plan for your bathroom waste too. When All Hell Breaks Loose teaches you these things and more.  Or start with this post from The Well-Rounded Mama.  And learn about diy composting toilets here. If you've got enough notice, fill the bathtub with hot water when an outage seems imminent. You'll have water that stays warm for a while for washing with, or bucket flushing later etc. And if you close the door to the bathroom the warm moist air helps form a microclimate. ;) In our house, if the power flickers, 3.5 yo Levi gathers the flashlights and waterbottles to our living room. He tells me to light a candle, then takes water bottles to the bathroom to fill up. We practice these things even in small outages so that it's no big deal and not a stress for him. 


#5 – Have a Bug Out Plan 
Sometimes an emergency is such that you need to leave your home very very quickly. This is where the concept of a “Bug Out Bag” comes in. Your bug out bag (1 per family member) is a backpack that contains only the basics you would need if you had to leave your house FAST. Besides a change of clothes, personal hygiene supplies, seasonal wear etc,  it should include all your important documents like passport, marriage certificate, insurance papers, contact information for family members, etc so that you have proof of who you are if you can’t get home again and a way to contact people if you can’t access the Contacts in your phone. This was a big issue after Hurricane Katrina and an element of preparedness that often gets overlooked. You should also have a jerry can of fuel at home so that if your gas tank is on empty when a crisis hits, you have enough fuel in the jerry can to get a reasonable distance away. Your bug out plan will also need to include things like what to do with your pets, and how to get your kids if they’re at school or daycare. 
You can learn more and create a plan here
There are multiple links to variations on Bug Out Bags on my Pinterest Preparedness Board.



#6 – Technology & Communication 
At some point in an emergency your smartphone/tablet/iphone etc will be dead and so will the batteries in your flashlight.  A solar-powered and/or windup charger will give you just enough juice to make a phone call. We have abattery boost pack that can give us 3 full smartphone charges, and also one crank flashlight, one shake flashlight, and one emergency radio/light/charger combo that can be plugged in, charged by solar power, or cranked.  We also have two small solar-powered lamps that we use as our bedside lamps. You could also consider buying a power inverter that you plug into your car battery – just being cautious not to drain the battery in case the situation changes and you need to drive. (Shake lights and crank lights are good for keeping kids occupied in a useful way!). If you have a landline for your phone, make sure to have a non-plug in phone available. Your cordless phone won't be of use once the battery dies either.


#7 – Preparedness away from home 
If you spend a large portion of your day away from home at a job you might want to consider a small emergency kit in your workplace in case you get stuck there, and have a plan for your kids & pets if you can’t get home (See #5). Your work kit might include things like a change of underwear & socks, toothbrush, warm clothes, deodorant, bottled water, candles & matches, trailmix, deck of cards to pass time etc. Same goes for your car – if you get stuck in traffic or have a breakdown on an isolated stretch of highway you’ll want to be able to stay hydrated, fed, warm, be able to signal for help and so on.  Learn more about a car kit here from the Government of Canada 



#8 - Strive to be healthy 
Being relatively healthy and physically fit will go a long way in making it easier to get through an emergency. Emergencies are stressful, and if your immune system is already struggling a crisis can quickly tip you into illness at the most inconvenient time. Emergencies are often physically demanding as well. You may find yourself hauling buckets of water by hand, walking through deep snow, maintaining a woodfire and other challenges which are easier to face if your body is up to it. Simple things like going for a walk each day as a family will build your fitness levels and also build your sense of connection to each other. 


#9 – Think Long-Term
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Once you’ve got the short-term stuff under control, start thinking more long-term.  Read Making Home if you haven’t already and begin to think about how you can shift your everyday life so that preparedness becomes a way of life rather than a contingency. Gather and read books like Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada, Where There Is No Doctor, Where There Is No Dentist, and The Encyclopedia of Country Living. Explore the ideas at Well Preserved, and Daily Sheeple's 10 Books That Could Save Your Life (which includes some of the above titles and a number of great links)


#10 - Breathe 
Remember that no matter what happens - how big or small the situation - how prepared or not you are -  you always have control of your breath. Teach your children how to breathe deeply as a way to get control of difficult emotions.  Practice taking deep breaths together in difficult moments. Focus on your breath. Keep it slow. Keep it deep. Stay grounded. Stay calm. Stay present. Breath

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