Living in the UK doesn’t necessitate much emergency planning. Usually, the only thing to prepare for is a disappointing summer. If snow’s forecast panic buying might leave supermarkets devoid of bread, milk and lager – but British weather is generally best described as “nondescript”. The rare exception to the rule will follow meteorologist Michael Fish.
I’ve written before about my love of the Canadian weather my love of the Canadian weather; it’s a whole different kettle of fish from what I’m used to. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I thought I’d share the preparations you’re advised to make here in Canada when potential catastrophe is breathing down your neck.
Seeking a higher plane
Flooding is the main danger to people who, like us, are close to water. It’s important to stay away from lakes, rivers and coastlines; the raw power of nature is a mesmerizing sight, but not one worth risking your life for.People living in low-lying coastal areas are advised to stay with friends on higher ground. While the basement can be the safest place during a hurricane, flooding can turn it from a sanctuary into a swimming pool; everyday activities like showering become dangerous and rooms with windows expose you to the risk of flying glass if anything breaks through. If tall trees border your house, the upper rooms aren’t safe either.
Before you lock up and leave there are a few things you can do to minimize the impact on your health, home and sanity:
• Locate your home insurance documents – you’ll need them if your property sustains damage. Some policies cover evacuation expenses or reimburse transportation, hotel and food costs. It’s worth knowing your position.
• Photograph the rooms in your house – it will help you remember what’s in them and may help if you need to make an insurance claim.
• Unplug all electrical appliances – there’s a strong chance the storm will cause a power outage and when the supply is restored the power-surge could damage your equipment. Charge laptops and mobile devices then unplug. Keep a waterproof, battery-powered radio for following the news.
• Secure your property – make sure all windows and doors are secured. You may have seen people taping windows in the movies, but in reality it’s a pointless exercise. If you don’t have metal shutters or storm windows, plywood can be screwed tightly across windows but preparation like this should be made well in advance of a hurricane watch being posted.
Place towels around leaky doors and windows and if you’re leaving a car behind, you can reinforce the garage door by backing it up gently against it.
• Remember the garden – bring whatever you can inside and move the rest to sheltered areas. Check the building for loose siding, guttering, etc. and trim any dead wood from trees. Aim to cut off possible entry-points for water; check skylights and clean out gutters and storm drains.
• Have a plan – agree on a rendezvous point in the event you get separated and have a pre-planned route in mind that aims to avoid traffic jams and closed roads.
The essential emergency kit
If you decide to sit tight instead of running for the hills you’ll still need an emergency kit. Here’s a list of essentials you’ll have lots of time to regret not assembling if you get caught out:
It’s recommended you keep four liters per person per day (two for drinking, two for washing/cooking) and store enough to last 72 hours.
Again, the advice is to have enough non-perishable food per person to last 72 hours. Lightweight foods that require no cooking or water are best but check expiry dates if you’re storing for an extended period. Oh, and don’t forget a tin opener!
If it’s battery operated, have extra batteries available. We have a crank-operated lantern that gives around 15 minutes of light for every minute of winding.
Your kit should include an extra set of keys for your home and car.
As well as the usual antiseptics and bandages this should contain contact numbers for emergency services and friends.
Cash and personal documents
Keep a stash of small bills in a waterproof bag along with passports and birth certificates, a hard copy of passwords for financial data stored online and a USB stick containing important documents from your computer. Don’t rely on cloud storage – it’s not failsafe, as demonstrated when Amazon went down recently.
Essential prescription drugs and child-friendly medicine, preferably stored in a child resistant container.
Here are a few other things you might want to supplement the basics with:
• A spare set of clothes for each person
• Toilet roll
• Sleeping bags
• Duct tape
• Plastic Sheeting
• Black bin bags
• Water purification tablets
• Waterproof matches
• Multi-function knife
• A battery-powered or wind-up radio
• A whistle
• Books and games
Preparation and planning saves lives
Don’t ignore the warnings or leave things until the last minute. Municipalities and public services brace for a worst-case scenario, people know this and downplay the situation or scoff at those who prepare. When you’re advised to stay indoors, the only thing you prove by going out is how little you understand the dangers. A woman was killed here by falling debris, a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Planning for an emergency makes you nervous, sometimes it’s easier to sweep concerns under the rug and pretend they don’t exist. It wasn’t until I decided to fill our 5 gallon storage drum with water that I really acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, but those nerves are nothing compared to the security you feel knowing you’re prepared to face the challenge.
Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations.
She can be contacted via the usual avenues (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook) – just swing by the blog for directions.
Read Aisha's other Expat Focus articles here.