Prep 101

This page provides 5 basic steps to start your household preparedness.

Step #1:  Why do you want or need to be prepared?

Being prepared is both a state of mind and a level of physical preparation. Let's start with the state of mind and how to get one. Do I know what the potential emergencies are in my part of the world? Can I take care of myself and my family before, during and in the aftermath of the most likely emergencies? Where do I/we go if my home is no longer safe? Those are some of the questions that a prepared household member can answer.

We just observed another anniversary of hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. Californians are always moments away from "the big one," earthquake, of course. Thus far 2012 has brought us wicked blizzards and sweltering power-outages on the East Coast, western fires and floods, droughts -- do I need to continue?  How secure is your job? How would you fare if you were laid off next Friday?  Yup, there's stuff to be prepared for, and usually when it's bearing down upon you, it may be a smidge late to begin the thought process in any way that will bring meaningful results.

So this first part is just about getting you to think about what the reasonable and slightly less reasonable potential emergencies are that could affect you and your family based on where you live and work. (Exclude asteroid strikes that cause mass extinction for now.)

That's all. Just think about that question for a day or two. If you are really energized by this exciting post, you can go ahead and think about whether you have a conceptual plan for how you'd deal with 'it,' whatever emergency 'it' is for you, if it happens right...NOW. Just think about it for a few days.

Step #2: Establish your current preparedness baseline

OK, you've had a day to think about what you may need to be prepared for in your part of the world. Now add a few things to that, like protracted illness for you or a loved one, an accident that requires time off from work, or even worse, loss of your livelihood.

Hopefully by now you have some general concept of what you need to have on hand to make it through a few days where you live. So what does it take to start getting organized in your mind to actually be physically prepared?

You can go to websites and look up lists of stuff that people have developed as guides to what you should have on hand in a kit for use in emergencies. FEMA has one or two, other sites do as well. Google something like 'preparedness lists.' You are in the phase of starting to identify your baseline, or the specific point from which you will depart in your preparedness month journey.

Don't go hog-wild right now. Just start looking around your home to see what you have on hand already. If you have an unused storage container, like a medium-sized Sterlite or Rubbermaid one, remind yourself where it is and what's in it now. This is the time when you are starting to see where you are and where you need to be, so it requires a bit of thought.

I know you already have a lot on your plate, so for now just think about the 'what-if's' and look around to see what you have that would be useful if 'what-if' happens. Start getting accustomed to the fact that it could happen to you and yours. Remember the old phrase 'it always happens to the other guy'? It is sobering to reflect that to 5 billion people, you ARE the other guy.

Step #3: Start taking some action at home

You should be aware of your potential emergencies now, based on geography and demographics. You've also noticed some of the basic things on the appropriate list for your area from FEMA or another website that you reviewed. Find a box and a spot on a shelf. Start moving the things you already have that would be essential in an emergency to the box. Exclude food items at this time.

Ensure that the box is somewhere that you can get to it safely if the power is out and the lighting is minimal. Make sure that if you have only one flashlight, it is located in a place that is easy to find in the dark.

Once you have put what you have in the box, it's time to start thinking about food. Many of the websites advise 3 days of food. I think more makes sense. What if you live alone or are the single head of household and get a bad case of the flu? You may not be able to walk to the bathroom for 3 days, much less get to the grocery store!

My suggestion is to start with at least 1 week of reasonable food availability. That includes a few cans of fruit packed in juice not syrup, some canned tuna or chicken, baked beans that have some seasoning --like Bush's or B+M-- why not a couple of cans of the B+M brown bread to go with the beans? Things like this are ready to eat right from the can, are nutritious and not overly salty. The one exception is chicken noodle soup, if your emergency really is that case of the flu you should have several cans. I found it at Target a week ago for 50 cents a can, so it isn't unreasonable to have a couple or three if you can get it at the summer price! BUT we're not at the point that you should be buying anything for your preparedness, just collecting what you have.

Find a shelf where you can put your 'emergency food.' If you have many people in your household, put a little sign on the shelf "OFF-LIMITS, EMERGENCY ONLY." Start with the can of fruit and tuna that you can spare, or at least wait a week or two before you need to use.

Do not store salty snacks for your emergency kit unless you anticipate hiking in the heat. Salty things will make you waste water. Speaking of which, know what your water storage is and have a little extra. If you have a hot water heater dedicated to your home, check how many gallons it holds. This could be your main storage. For planning purposes, you should have 3 gallons per person per day. If you have more liquid food items, you may be able to get away with 2 gallons per person -- 1 to drink and cook, 1 for personal sanitation. Look around to see what you have to store water that you drain out of the water heater. If you don't have a water heater, start saving those 2-liter soda pop bottles to fill with water after they are empty and rinsed.

That's all for now. Just locate your two places, start to assemble a few of the things you already have, and check out your water heater. See? Getting prepared isn't so hard, is it?

Step #4: The Hard but REALLY important stuff

If you have been following the first three steps ( or want to go back and work them) then you have:

1. Identified the potential emergency situations in your area
2. Also considered other potential hardships for which you need to be prepared
3. Have identified the items that would be most helpful to you in these circumstances
4. Have identified which of these you have on hand
5. Have gathered them into two places: one for food items and one for non-food items.
If you have done these things, CONGRATULATIONS!! You have taken some positive steps toward being more prepared!!

So why does this blog title reference a 'hard part?' Because you are never truly prepared if you are in debt. Huh? Debt? Yep. If you owe more than you can pay off with your cash-on-hand, and one of the things in 1. or 2. above happen, your life will be beyond miserable.

By debt I mean everything from a recently past-due light bill to credit cards to a car to a second mortgage. The only debt you should have is your mortgage and you should be working hard to pay that off-- IF you can really afford a house at all.

Why be debt-free? If you lose your job or are geographically displaced due to one of your geographic vulnerabilities, then you will either default on some of these and ruin your credit score when you need it most, or have something you need during your ordeal foreclosed or repossessed while you are trying to get your life back together.

Imagine that you were prepared enough to evacuate in your new van before the hurricane hit. Your home did not survive the blow. You, your spouse and two children are temporarily comfortably living in that nice van, when the repo man finds you and takes the van. You were even prepared enough to send your payment checks. Unfortunately the bank you use was destroyed in the hurricane and those checks bounced without your knowledge. Repo man doesn't really care about the hurricane or your lost job or the checks you say you sent. He just cares about the van. If he's a really nice repo man, your stuff will be on the street. Thanks, pal. Oh, wait, you brought it on yourself by using something you did not own! That's right!! If it's not paid off, you don't own it!!

There are a lot of people on the Internet, radio and TV who make claims about how they can help you. The ones who seem to be most genuine to me are Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, but their programs do...cost money. (Suze does have some free tools on her website that are very helpful) What a dilemma! But there's hope!

You can also go to a Debtors Anonymous meeting, even if you have the normal garden variety debts, and learn a lot about how to manage your money, spend less, pay off your debts and build your prudent reserve. You can get most of what you need for a donation of a buck or two now and then, but you should go to meetings regularly to learn some of the management tools that work for others.

If you are going to work toward true preparedness, you'll get your spending and debt under control, liquidating/paying off as much debt as possible. Here are some lifestyle tips to assist you in reducing your overhead and using your cash for getting out of debt. Once that happens (if you are not already there), you will be in a position to purchase a few other items you need to improve your readiness for the unexpected.

If you need to work on this aspect of being prepared, consider going to one of the websites for the people and program I mentioned.

Step #5:  What if I/we need to leave our home?

By now, if you have followed these posts, you should have identified the potential hazards or emergencies in your region, assembled some items for your emergency kit, set aside a small stash of food and water, and started on a path to reduce your debt and increase some savings. These actions have prepared you to do what is called 'shelter in place.' You need to prepare for one more contingency -- not sheltering in place. If you must leave your home, which may need to be done in a hurry, you need to be prepared.

The classic preparation for fast departure is a pre-packed duffel bag or backpack, which is called by many names: BOB (bug-out bag), GOOD (get-out-of-Dodge) bag or a GO! (not an acronym, just GO!) bag. What these all have in common is that they meet these criteria: they are tailored to the individual, the potential emergency and the ability of the individual to carry it on their back in a quick exit.

The key to a well-stocked GO! bag is to have some basic plan for where you will go if you need to GO! Minimum items should be a change of shirt, 2 changes of underclothes, basic sanitation and dental care supplies, some high calorie stable food items, bottle(s) for water and some method for ensuring that the water is clean, a source of light, small first aid and sewing kits, and some cash --whatever you can afford to have sit in a bag near your bed. I suggest at least $50, but more is better. Think what it would cost for the first night or two with meals in a modest hotel.

Depending on your location and your plan, you may want other things: a compass, something to start a fire, a fishing line and hook, a small sleep sack and bug netting, sunglasses, comfort items. The purpose is to keep you and your family from being alone in the dark in your pajamas with nothing but a teary face to get you through the next few days until you can return home or find a more secure place to stay.

One way to make this concept work is to keep miniature or travel sized items in the bag -- it is for temporary use. Also look for lightweight alternatives for some items and don't pack non-essentials, like video games and photo albums. The point is to tailor it but keep it light so that if you end up walking instead of driving (think flood, windstorm that knocks down the trees, etc.) you DO NOT end up leaving a trail of important items behind as you become tired.

Once you and each of your family members have your own GO! bags, you must all fight the urge to raid or pilfer from them. You are also ready to start the next phase of GO! preparations, which could include a common but larger bag with additional clothing, more advanced first-aid or that book you know you'll have time to read. The larger bag or bags would be what gets loaded in the car if you have an hour or two notice that you will need to evacuate AND can take your car.

You may also want an empty box and a list for this contingency. This is where you get to load the 3 photo albums, more canned food from the pantry, the family silver, or whatever items you don't want to lose. Again, this is IF AND ONLY IF you have time to load more than your personal GO! bags. Remember: never put your lives at risk for STUFF. It's just not worth it. There will always be more STUFF, but there will never be another you!!