Waking Up and Getting Prepared, by Matthew G.

Sunday, Jul 18, 2010

I live a very average suburban life similar to many people across the country. Commute to work, office job, suburban home with wife and kids. It’s easy to forget how fragile this lifestyle is and how little it takes to remove all the things you come to depend on. Recently I had an afternoon that showed me just how easy these conveniences can go away and the difference a little preparedness can make.

After picking up my daughter from day care I drove home to find myself locked out of the house. We were having new keys made and I intended to go in through the garage. Just hit the automatic garage door opener hanging from the visor and I would be fine just like countless other times. However, when I tried the door opener nothing happened. I fiddled with the button for a while and tried to open it manually from the outside but had no luck.

No big deal, I used my cell phone to call my father-in-law on the other side of town to come over with the spare key and let me in. My 15 month old with a rapidly growing hunger was losing patience in the back but still its not the end of the world. When my father-in-law arrived a half hour later he was in a hurry to get back to cooking and couldn’t stay. After handing me the key I thanked him for his trouble and he was on his way.

When I got into the house I discovered why garage door wouldn’t open. The power was out and it being early afternoon I didn’t notice from outside. It was also about 98 degrees outside that day with humidity that made the climate resemble the inside of a dogs mouth. The air conditioning must have failed some time in the morning so the house felt no better. I opened the windows to let the nonexistent breeze in and went to work on finding something to feed the now very hungry and very uncomfortable toddler.

This was the day before grocery day so my options in the pantry were limited, add in the fact that the microwave and electric stove were inoperative and dinner for the baby became a balanced diet of Cheerios, a banana and luke warm milk.  Doing the best to satisfy the kid with what we had I went about calling the power company to figure out what happened to the power. I quickly realized I dumped the phone book in the recycling bin a long time ago and without the internet I was forced to call information on my cell phone to find the number.

Apparently ‘information’ is a very loosely given title where I live because it took an excruciatingly long time to find the number of the largest power company in the state. I had been on my phone a lot that day with work and the battery was almost dead by that point. By the time I got through to someone at the power company and discovered that they were aware the power was off and were working on the problem my phone had run out of juice.

It was that that point that my hot, cranky and only partially fed toddler fell while running through the kitchen. Instead of springing back up like one of the 100 others times she fell that day she landed on her wrist with a nasty pop and started screaming her head off. Now I’m terrified trying to comfort her and examine her wrist. She is inconsolable, we’re both sweating bullets, and I have no phone to call my wife at work or anyone else for help. Not seeing any bones sticking out of her arm or other clear sings of impending death I ended up loading her in the car rushing across town to the in-laws. About a half hour later we were backing the loving embrace of modern civilization, enjoying air conditioning, cooked food and the comforting advice of her pediatrician.

My daughter was fine after some baby Tylenol and a good nights' sleep. The power was back by on dusk after a wire that was damaged by some tree trimmers was repaired. We went to the store the next day to get groceries for the next week and all was well. This was by no means a real emergency or crisis, the rest of the city and even most of my neighborhood had a normal night. But what if it wasn’t? What if the rest of the city had lost power also, or what if we weren’t able to drive all over the city to get the help we needed? This experience was very illustrative for me, and I hope it will be for you, as to how fragile our needs are and how much we come to depend on our modern conveniences.

In retrospect I did many things wrong that night. I was counting on having a working garage door to get into my home instead of a key or some other way. Not having an adequate amount of food in the cupboard to get through a night without power was idiotic. A lack of knowledge for basic first aid is the most embarrassing realization I had that night. Without a phone to call a doctor or 911 I was on my own and if it had been a real emergency it could have been a disaster.

So what am I doing to correct this? First, knowledge. I’ve gone to work reading as much as I can about what skills I’ll need should a real disaster situation arise. Resources like this web site and others are a handy place to start getting your head around what a family really needs to be prepared. For the uninitiated this is not as easy as you think. Not everyone grew up on a farm or backpacking in Montana so knowing what to do for food, water, medical aid, personal defense or whatever is not as easy as it sounds.

I’ve put together a list of skills for myself to learn in preparation of disaster so that next time I’ll be ready.

Learning these introductory skills to the basics of survival will put me on a strong footing the next time I’m in a difficult situation.

Second, supplies. Had I been in a real emergency I could have been stuck with only what was in the house. A two week supply of both nonperishable food and drinking water is the minimum a home needs and ideally I would like to have more. This is not counting things like first aid supplies and other essentials. I realize now that I don’t want to be in need of anything outside my home should a disaster arise. Transportation is another big issue. In a disaster the help that was once a short drive across town could become worlds away. Local means local to you on foot or bike not local by car. 

Think of your situation when making these preparations. Kids, pets, your physical condition and health needs, the climate of your area and likely disasters you’ll face should all be factored in. Make preparations for you and what your family needs not what others have done. There is no one size fits all plan!

Third, have a game plan. Being unable to contact the outside world or my wife or family during my mini-crisis made it that much harder. Have a back up plan in order so if things really do hit the fan you know where to meet and what to do. The help of your community can play a role in this also. When I later told a good neighbor this story he offered to help if I ever find myself in this situation again. I offered the same and it became the start of a larger discussion about what to do if something serious happens.

A plan will put you at ease and give you something productive to do. If you’re loved ones are on the same page you will have less to fear when they are out in the world. Even from my very mild experience I can understand how panic can take hold or how fear of the unknown can make a situation worse. Don’t let that helpless feeling get you, a little knowledge and a plan will make everything better.

I was recently bothered by a power outage. It had the bad luck to happen at a time when I was the most unprepared for the event and it coincided with child’s simple accident. However, I saw a glimpse of how much worse it could have been and how my lack of preparation and knowledge put me at a disadvantage. We all see hurricanes and floods on television and say maybe I should start planning ahead. If your like me you got distracted or put it off. I’m thankful for this little scare because I got a glimpse into a bad situation and it’s prompted me to do something about it. If you’re new to preparedness I hope you will do the same.


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