This month (June, 2015), the US Census published a Natural Disaster or Emergency Preparedness survey, compiled from data gathered in 2013--I guess it took a while to make the pretty infographic. It asked 10 questions on how prepared American households are for a natural disaster or emergency lasting 72 hours.
So what are your answers to these questions, and what can you do today to be more prepared?
Emergency Water Supply
At least three gallons or 24 bottles of water for each person in the household. 54.3% said Yes, 43.7% said No.
We've talked about storing water before; it's very easy to stash a case of 16-ounce water bottles for every family member. Or grab a WaterBrick for every family member and store them under the bed or in the back of a closet.
Nonperishable Emergency Food
Household has enough non-perishable food to sustain everyone in the household for three days. 82.0% said Yes, 15.9% said No.
You don't have to stock buckets of dehydrated food or military MREs to have a 3-day supply on hand. In fact, you probably already have a good supply--canned fruit and vegetables, ready-to-eat canned meat, protein bars, soup, and peanut butter are items that most people have on hand anyway. Just set aside an extra supply of shelf-stable (non-perishable) food that you would normally eat anyway.
Prepared Emergency Evacuation Kit
51.5% said Yes, 46.1% said No.
This is your bug-out bag. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) recommends the following items as a minimum:
- Food and water as described above
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Manual can opener for food
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
- First aid kit
Emergency Meeting Location
37.4% said Yes, 60.7% said No.
Establish a place to meet in the event of an emergency. Record the locations. This could be the next door neighbor's house if it's an emergency in your home, or some place like the bike rack at your children's school if you are not currently together.
The communication plan must include a contingency for the disruption of cell phone service. 33.0% said Yes, 65.2% said No.
Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so plan how you will contact one another. Complete a contact card for each family member. Have them keep these cards handy in a wallet, purse, briefcase, book bag, etc. Teach family members how to use text messaging - texts can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not be able to get through. You might also consider getting a ham radio license--the amateur radio bands will continue to work when cell service is disrupted.
Vehicle(s) must be reliable and able to carry all household members, pets, and supplies up to 50 miles away. 88.6% said Yes, 9.4% said No.
The yes answers were high because most everyone probably has a car, but is it always ready to go? Keep the gas tank at least half full, keep the oil and the antifreeze topped off, and stay up to date on routine maintenance tasks.
If you had to evacuate your home for a safe place at least 50 miles away, do you have financial resources to meet expenses of up to $2,000? 69.8% said Yes, 26.9% said No.
In an emergency, cash is king. ATM’s and credit cards may not work during a disaster when you need to purchase necessary supplies, fuel or food. Cash should be kept in a secure, fireproof location in your home. True, you'll miss out on earning the interest that you'd get by keeping it in a bank, but you don't have to worry about not being able to access it after hours, and with today's interest rates you're only losing $10 - $15 per year.
House or Building Number Clearly Visible
77.5% said Yes, 21.2% said No.
Is your house number easy to spot from the street, should an emergency vehicle be looking for it? If it's on the curb, is it readable? Is there a car typically parked in front of it, blocking it from view? If so, you may want to think about adding numbers in a different location. If it's on your house, are there bushes grown up in front of it? Or is it on an unlit area of your porch?
18.3% said Yes, 80.0% said No.
The majority of answers to this question were no, and I'd expect that. Having a full-size generator may be overkill for a lot of families, and with 80% of households not having one it's obvious many people feel the same, but it's very easy and relatively inexpensive to build your own solar battery system that can power lights, radios, and recharge your phone.
Access to Financial Information
76.8% said Yes, 20.6% said No.
If you had to leave your home and not go back for an extended time, would you know how to get to all your bank and investment accounts, insurance policies, birth certificates, or other important documents? At the very least, you should have copies of your important documents and account numbers stored in your evacuation kit, with a relative, or both. You could make paper copies of everything you need, or create a secure flash drive to hold digital copies.
Of course, these questions assume that any emergency will be short-lived, and things will be back to normal (or help will be on the way) within 72 hours. Obviously there would be more work to be done, and more skills to be learned, for a long-lasting disaster or total collapse. But this is a good start, and it would be a good way of planting the seed of an idea in your non-prepping friends and relatives. And for lots more tips on preparing for specific emergencies, check out this post: What’s Your Threat?—The Unexpected.
So where do you stand? Are you able to say Yes to every question?