When it comes down to it, defending your home is a lot more than just having a gun, or even a gun and proper training. It means being ready for any events that could harm you or your family, especially natural disasters that could occur at any time. Preparedness should be the ultimate home defense goal, and while there’s a lot of different ways, and degrees, to prepare your home.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a lot of publications available covering the basics of home preparation. Applying some common sense to their recommended guidelines can help you develop an inclusive plan and be comfortable in almost any emergency eventuality.
Evaluate Your Risk
It’s important to know what disasters your home is at risk for. Contacting your local authorities and inquiring about your household’s risks are for various hazards may prove surprising. FEMA suggests inquiring about: Floods, Hurricanes, Thunderstorms and Lightening, Tornadoes, Winter Storms and Extreme Cold, Extreme Heat, Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Landslides and Debris Flow, Tsunamis, Fires and Wildfires.
Of course, where you are located is going to be the major factor in what you are at risk for. For example, when the GunUp headquarters moved from Seattle to South Dakota, we greatly reduced our risk of earthquakes and volcanoes. However, now we are at a much higher risk of having to deal with a severe winter storm in the winter or extreme heat in the summer.
For those who have lived in one area for an extended period of time, it’s probably pretty obvious what the risk levels are for various natural disasters. However, if you move, or if you just have moved, it may be prudent to talk to authorities about what the risks are in your new home.
While evaluating your risks, be sure to gain an understanding of any warning systems that may be in place in your community. Some communities will send out text messages to keep affected communities up-to-date on emergency situations such as power outages. In addition, many television and radio stations participate in the Emergency Alert System, which can address the entire nation on a very short notice in the case of a national emergency.
In Case of Evacuation
Evacuations are for more common than most people realize. Every year transportation and industrial accidents, fires and floods, and approaching hurricanes force thousands of people to evacuate their homes. In order to keep your family safe and orderly during evacuation procedures, it’s best to be familiar with your emergency evacuation route.
In addition, keep a full tank of gas in your car, especially if there is a chance of an evacuation. There is a possibility that gas stations will be closed during emergencies, and a power outage could prevent gas from being pumped. Another thing to keep on hand in case of an evacuation is a battery powered radio. In case of a power outage, a battery powered radio allows you to get alerts and follow what is happening during the emergency.
Disaster Supply Kit
You should have a disaster supply kit on hand, to ensure that all your needs will be met in the case of an emergency. It is possible that you may need to survive on your own after a disaster, necessitating that you have your own supply of food, water and other supplies. FEMA recommends having enough supplies on hand to keep your family comfortable for up to three days. Many people choose to supply their family for much longer than this, in case a severe emergency situation emerges.
When you are putting together your supply kit take your family’s special needs into account. Provide for pets or food allergies. It’s also a good idea to refill your prescriptions in a very timely manner, so that you have several extra days on hand before you run out. Having supplies is useless if you’re too sick to use them.
FEMA recommends that you store at least one gallon of water per person, per day. Three days would mean three gallons of water per person. Know your own needs though, and the climate you are in. If you are someone who drinks a lot of water, or if you live in a dry climate, storing more water may be prudent. Consider that it might be summer when the emergency occurs. Or, here in South Dakota, something could happen during the extremely dry winter months.
Commercially bottled water is the easiest way to stock up in this manner, but it’s important to keep a close eye on the “Use By” date. Setting a phone reminder to purchase new water can help you remember to replace it when it’s time.
If you are opting for a different method of water storage, be sure to purchase food-grade containers. It’s recommended that you use two-liter plastic soft drink bottles instead of plastic jugs or cardboard containers that may have housed other food items. Glass containers are also not recommended since they break easily and are heavy.
If you choose to store water in plastic soda bottles, be sure to clean the bottles thoroughly and rinse them completely so there is no residual soap. To sanitize the bottles add a solution of 1 teaspoon of non-scented liquid chlorine bleach to a quart of water, swish the solution in the water, and thoroughly rinse out the bottle with clean water.
Fill up bottles or containers with regular tap water that has been commercially treated with chlorine. When you are closing the cap, be careful not to contaminate the inside by touching it. Place a date on the outside of the container and store it in a dry, cool place. Be sure to replace water every six months, unless you are using bottled water and following the “Use By” date.
In the event of an emergency it may become necessary to source water. Water can safely be taken from melted ice cubes, an undamaged water heater, or pipes. However, water from radiators, hot water boilers, water beds, toilet bowls, fish tanks or swimming pools is not palatable.
There are three methods to treating water that may be of uncertain quality:
The safest method of treating water, effective boiling requires you to use a large pot or kettle and bring the water to a rolling boil for one full minute. It’s important to remember that some water will evaporate, and to let the water cool before drinking.
To make boiled water taste better, re-oxygenate it by pouring it back and forth between two containers. This same trick can be used to improve the taste of stored water.
It’s also possible to use household bleach to kill microorganisms in water. It’s important to use only regular household liquid bleach that contains 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite, to avoid scented bleaches, color safe bleaches, or bleaches with added cleaners. The potency of bleach diminishes over time, so use bleach from a new or unopened bottle. When chlorinating water use 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir, and let stand for 30 minutes.
If you are planning to purchase other chemicals, such as iodine or other water treatment products, it is recommended to make sure they contain at least 5.25 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite.
Distilling water will remove not only microbes, like the two methods above, but heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals. To distill water, fill a pot halfway with water and tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside down. Then boil the water for at least 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled, and safe for drinking.
There are a lot of different options available for storing food products. The easiest is to purchase long-term food supply, such as Wise Food Products. These products are specifically designed to last for up to 25 years and come in multi-month long supplies. They are specifically packaged to last a long time, and designed to be palatable, if not downright tasty.
If you opt to store your own food, try to avoid foods that will make you thirsty. Opting for salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned food with high liquid content is the way to go. Be sure all staples require no refrigeration, cooking, water or other special preparation. Also, don’t forget to include a mandatory can opener.
Be sure to dispose of any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more. While handling food, wash your hands with disinfected water and soap frequently. Even during emergency situations, it’s important to keep cooking and eating utensils clean and to store food in covered containers. If the food has an unusual odor, color or texture discard it. Food poisoning in an emergency situation is not something you want to deal with.
While most commercially canned foods can be eaten out of the can without warming, if you do find yourself in a situation where cooking is necessary, it’s possible to use candle warmers, fondue pots or a fireplace. Be sure to remove the label, wash and disinfect the can and open the can before heating it. Remember that charcoal grills and camp stoves are for outdoor use only.
Natural Disaster Preparedness
It’s important to take preventative measures to stay safe from natural disasters. Since you already know what you are risk for in your area, it’s time to implement a plan. Natural hazards are predictable and tend to occur repeatedly in the same area, making them easy to prepare for.
There are varying types of floods, from those that occur slowly over time to those that develop quickly without any visible sign of rain. It’s especially important to be aware of flooding if you live in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams and dry streambeds can flood, and every state is at risk.
The easiest way to prepare for a flood is to avoid building in a floodplain, but since that’s not an option for all of us there are a few other measures that can be taken to mitigate damage. Elevating the furnace, water heater and electric panel are great steps, as well as installing “check valves” in sewer traps so that flood water doesn’t back up. Constructing barriers can stop floodwater from entering a building, but if that’s not an option, sealing walls and basements with water-proofing compounds can avoid seepage.
The other thing to consider is flood insurance. Most homeowners’ insurance policies don’t cover flood damage, but it’s possible to get flood insurance in most communities. However, there is a 30-day waiting period before most policies go into effect, so if you are in a high-risk area it’s something to look into as soon as possible.
Tornadoes are known as giant funnel clouds that devastate the Midwest, transporting Dorothy to Kansas or bringing together nearly-divorced couples who are inventing advanced weather alert systems. However, tornadoes are not always visible, and they don’t always occur in the nation’s flatlands. While some states are at higher risk than others, it’s possible for a tornado to occur anywhere. Sometimes tornadoes can be obscured by rain or low-hanging clouds, and they can develop so rapidly that little to no advanced warning is possible.
If a tornado warning occurs, it’s important to seek shelter immediately. If you are in a structure, retreat to a basement, storm cellar or safe room. If there is no basement, find an interior room on the lowest level of the building; stay away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. Get as many walls as possible between you and the outside, then seek shelter under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
If you are in a vehicle, trailer, mobile home or outside get to the lowest level of a nearby structure. If this is not a possibility it’s best to lie flat in a nearby ditch, being aware of the risk of flooding, and cover your head with your hands. Do not get under an overpass or bridge, do not try to outrun a tornado and watch out for flying debris.
A hurricane is a low pressure system that forms in the tropics. These tropical cyclones are accompanied by thunderstorms near coastal regions, especially in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes can create winds exceeding 155 miles per hour, tornados, coastal storm surges and heavy rainfall, extensive damage can be seem from coastlines to several hundred miles inland. They are classified into five categories based on wind speed, central pressure and damage potential.
If you are in a high risk area there are steps you can take ahead of time to help you prepare for a hurricane when the warning start. Investing in permanent storm shutters, or keeping 5/8” marine plywood that’s already cut to fit and ready to install, on hand to cover windows is a first step. You can also help to reduce roof damage during a severe storm by installing straps or clips to fasten your roof to the frame.
Many severe storms will have authorities call for an evacuation, but in the event you are unable to evacuate you should stay indoors, close all interior doors and secure or brace external doors and take refuge in a small interior room. It’s entirely possible for there to be a lull in the storm without the storm itself being over. The best way to know what is happening during severe weather is to stay near a weather radio.
Thunderstorms and Lightening
Every single thunderstorm is accompanied by lightening, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration around 300 people are injured by lightening every year. Lightening is not the only danger of thunderstorms though; they can result in tornadoes, strong winds, and hail and could cause flash flooding. There are also dry thunderstorms, prevalent in the western United States, which can produce lightening but no rain.
Keeping your home and yard under good repair is the best preventative measure for a thunderstorm. Removing dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall during a severe storm is extremely important. FEMA also recommends following the 30/30 lightning safety rule. The rule states that if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder, then you should stay indoors for at least 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
If a thunderstorm is likely in your area, it’s a good time to go inside. Lacking a home or building, a hard top automobile is the next best thing, and while rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide no protection from lightening the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle will provide increased protection, as long as you’re not touching the metal.
Inside, be sure to close shutters and windows and avoid showering and bathing, as plumbing can conduct electricity. It’s also a good idea to turn off appliances and other electrical items that could be damaged in a power surge. Remember that cordless and cellular phones are much safer to use than corded telephones.
Winter Storms and Extreme Cold
If you live in a cold region, chances are you already know it. There are a lot of preventative measures you can take to winterize your home and your life. Keeping some extra sets of winter clothes in your disaster kit is a good idea, and keeping your car in prime condition can make or break your winter. It’s also a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car, as it’s possible to get trapped during a blizzard.
A big risk that is often overlooked in snowy regions is overexertion during snow shoveling. If you have to shovel snow stretch your muscles beforehand, and be aware of your heart rate and hydration levels. Treat it as if you were exercising, and be especially careful if you are not in great cardiovascular condition or have not built up a lot of strength in the necessary muscles.
If you find yourself in severe cold weather conditions it helps to conserve fuel by keeping your residence cooler than normal. You can turn off heat to some rooms and keep the area you are in at a bearable temperature. Put on layers of clothing to stay comfortable in the cooler conditions, and watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite.
Extreme heat is most dangerous in the form of heat-related illnesses. These disorders usually occur because the victim has either overexerted themselves or been overexposed to the heat. These illnesses can also be induced by stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. People living in urban areas are at a greater risk of effects from a prolonged heat wave, especially since asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, producing higher nighttime temperatures which are known as the “urban heat island effect.”
If you are in an environment that is at risk for extreme heat, there are preventative measures to take around the house that could make a heat wave not only more bearable but much safer. For example, be careful that air conditions are installed well and check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation. Temporary window reflectors, which are installed between the windows and the drapes, can reflect heat back outside. Drapes, awnings and louvers can also be a big help when placed over windows that receive a large amount of morning or afternoon sun.
During a heat emergency, keep indoors and stay on the lowest floor away from the sunshine if air conditioning is not available. It may also help to go to an air-conditioned location such as a mall or shop if you can. Eat light, regular meals and drink plenty of water. If you must work outside in extreme heat take frequent breaks, protect your face and head and wear loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored clothing that cover as much skin as possible.
By Shelley Rae. Originally published in the April 2013 issue of GunUp the Magazine.