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15 November 2011

Prepping - getting ready for storm and bush fire season

Here in Australia, summer is the time for floods, bush fires, severe storms and cyclones. I'm sure everyone remembers the devastating floods we had last year in Queensland and Victoria. Recently we received a free booklet from our state government (Queensland) about preparing for disasters. It's called "Get Ready" and it's given us a lot to think about. It contains four steps of preparation that can be carried out well before, and leading into, an emergency situation:
  1. Prepare your emergency plan
  2. Prepare your emergency kit
  3. Prepare your home
  4. Tune into warnings
It also gives safety tips on how to survive severe storms, tsunamis, floods and cyclones. There is a pdf file of the brochure here.

When we were younger, we probably wouldn't have taken much notice of these types of booklets but now that we can't move as fast as we used to, we read them, store the information away in our brains, and keep the booklet handy. But for younger folk, I guess the recent floods and cyclones and seeing the overseas hurricanes and tsunamis has taught us to never be complacent. There is a role for disaster preparation in every home.

We are lucky here. If there was an emergency that affected food distribution, electricity or water, we'd be able to stay safe in our home for a few weeks. There is enough food and water here to keep us going and although we'd have to build a fire outside to cook, that's easily done and it wouldn't phase us. We would make a quick trip to the shop to pick up fresh batteries for the radio but everything else is taken care of. We keep our mobile phone charged and have a battery charger for the phone in the car so if we needed to, we'd run the car for a while to charge the phone. We have spare fuel here.

However, if there was a bush fire, flood or cyclone close to us  we would leave and drive to a predetermined safer location. In that case we'd need a grab bag - a bag containing those things we wouldn't want to leave behind to potentially be destroyed, as well as all the things we'd have to take to survive some time away. Generally a grab bag would be packed at the beginning of each storm/bushfire season, or left partially packed and added to when needed, and would contain:

Grab bag
  • Important documents in a waterproof container
  • Address book or phone containing addresses, phone charger and spare battery
  • Treasured photos in a waterproof container
  • Laptop computer, a flash drive or portable hard drive containing the files you don't want to lose
  • Medication and tissues
  • Water
  • First aid kit
  • Torch - one for each person, and spare batteries
  • Candles, matches or a lighter
  • Can opener and cutlery
  • Battery-operated radio with spare batteries
  • Cash (if there is no electricity the ATMs won't operate) credit and debit cards, just in case.
In a separate box:
  • Enough food and water for 48 hours. Make sure the food doesn't have to be cooked or refrigerated - sandwiches, cans of beans, fruit, popcorn, chocolate, biscuits, processed cheese, muesli bars etc.
  • If you have babies, the elderly or people with special needs with you, you'll need whatever special food and drinks they require.
  • Nappies, wipes,  baby bottles, sippy cups for the babies. A bucket with lid for waste items.
  • Eye glasses, walking sticks, asthma puffers and any special needs for your family.
  • Clothing and shoes for everyone.
  • Books, games and toys for the children. Books and cards for the adults.
  • Depending on the weather, either sun hats or blankets.
  • Sleeping gear.
  • If you have to evacuate for any reason, do it early.  
  • Always go directly to the place you specified in your family emergency plan.
  • If you have to evacuate when flood waters are rising, if there is time, firmly plug up all your sink drains to stop water backing up into the house. 
  • If you evacuate due to a bush fire and there is time, close all interior doors as well as the outside doors. Remove the mats from the front and back doors. Cinders may land on them and ignite them creating a fire source at your wooden doors.
Well before anything happens, the whole family should talk about what would happen in an emergency and practise your evacuation plan. If you have teenagers, add the phone number of a trusted friend or relative that they can phone if they're out and can't contact you. Add the same emergency phone number to all phones in the family and ask that person to be your contact point in an emergency. Decide what you'll do with pets, if you want to take them with you, you'll need leads or pet boxes.

In Australia, the State Emergency Service will respond to all large emergencies. Each state has it's own branches and you can find their websites by Googling SES in your state. The SES have a lot of valuable information on their sites so it's worthwhile having a look. This is the Queensland SES site.

I think we often think that disasters only happen to other people but the floods last year proved that anything can happen. Do you have an emergency plan in your home? Do you have any information that I've forgotten, if so, please add your comment.


  1. That's a very comprehensive list Rhonda and i'm sure it will help many be prepared for storm season ahead.
    I remember when living in Nth Q'land as a child we taped windows during cyclone season and always had a box such as you suggest prepared for a quick evacutation or power outage. Still do this...funny how you carry on the things that were taught to you while living with family many years ago.
    Hopefully the weather isn't as tough this year and everyone can stay safe!
    Jode x

  2. Very timely and a post I'll be sharing with the family.

    Last week I was roused from my home office by the smell of smoke and little bits of ash emanating from the bush behind our home. We live on acreage with big swathes of bushland surrounding us and fire is something I am really aware of. After reassuring myself that there wasn't any immediate danger and that it was probably just referred smoke from a nearby 'burn off' my thoughts went straight to our 'grab bag'. I mentioned it to my partner at the time but as happens 'busyness of life' has got in the way and I haven't done anything about it.

    This post is bookmarked for printing and sharing....thank you!

  3. An interesting post! We are in preparation stage too. I actually posted yesterday about a preparation meeting in our street. I would only add that research needs to be done on when it is safe to leave. It is not always safe to do so. You have to prepare for all scenarios. For example, you may end up needing to defend against a fire even if your plan was to leave, so you need to know how to defend. I love your list, it is so organised!

  4. I'd recommend getting an external hard drive/back-up unit and scanning all your photos onto it. And then scan all your documents and certificates like birth certificates, marriage licence, immunization records, health notes and the important pages of your passports like the photo page and the ones with visas and permits on them. And then copy on the stuff you'd hate to lose like the manuscript of your book and the genealogy data you've been gathering for the last ten years!

    And then take that disk to a friend or relatives house which is not close to your home! And swap backup disks with them so they have a copy of your stuff and you have a copy of theirs. Stick those disks in the back of your cupboard in a shoe box (burglars generally don't steal shoes but do grab back up disks from the computer desk!). Do this every year or two with close relatives so you all have copies saved.

    We have relatives in Brisbane and Christchurch and knowing that there is a safe copy of these important things takes a huge weight of their/your mind. It only takes a few hours of your time but it's one less thing to worry about if you have to run for your lives.

  5. When I visited friends in Switzerland, I discovered that all families had a compulsory store of food and other supplies in their basement, in case of an emergency such as war and/or nuclear attack. Being a country surrounded by other countries, the practical Swiss were very aware of their vulnerability.

    We know from experience that natural disasters occur on a regular basis, we just don't know where they will hit next. Even though it can be difficult to think about, I guess the boy scouts motto is a good one: Be Prepared!

  6. A topic very dear to me. Thank-you Rhonda for posting. The word that really needs emphasising is
    Can I especially urge women to get involved. I see too many statistics of women and children dying. Dying because the plans can often be in the mind of the man and not shared with the family. An assumption is made that everyone knows what to do. Write your plans, discuss your plans, practice your plans. Also care for your neighbours- find out if they have a plan. Have a plan B cause plan A often gets altered without your choice (eg fire changes direction and you can't go to the designated safe place - you may have to remain at home).

  7. Here in FL we're coming to the end of hurricane season in a couple weeks. One thing I would add to those who live in areas where hurricanes are a concern is to be sure you have a way to protect your windows--storm shutters or plywood--BEFORE there's a storm heading your way. There's always a run on plywood ahead of a storm and you don't want to be stuck without any way to cover your windows and glass doors. Also, the time to board up is a day or two ahead of the storm, NOT the day it is expected to arrive.


  8. As winter rolls around in my neck of the wood, I've been seriously thinking about ways to be prepared. last winter was a shock that a lot of people - us included - weren't really prepared for, and although it wasn't that bad in the end, it's now got me thinking about whether there's more that we should be doing just in case. Our biggest issue is being snowed in with no power or water, so I'm now taking steps to be a bit more prepared, just in case.

  9. My cousin in Summit, New Jersey (USA) which is over the border from New York City, experienced a freak storm that hit their town last month resulting in 8 days without electricity. No one was prepared for such an emergency and their family only survived by going to the public library for hours on end and supplementing their stockpile with take-aways -- as these buildings had emergency generators.

    She said the nights were especially cold and her 6 yr old son slept under 8 blankets.

    This made me want to switch to gas or at least have some gas & some electricity for cooking like many people round the world do. We have a gas braai (bbq) and gas camping equipment which we've used in such situations.

    I'm also thinking seriously of buying a Wonderbag ( -- a slow cooking insulated bag made out of fabric circles, sewn together & filled with recycled polystyrene granules tied with a draw string sealed over a pot (non cast-iron). It reduces carbon emissions, is a South African initiative that employs 700 women and can also be used as a warming oven for plates/food and to keep food cold or frozen up to 12 hrs.

    In an emergency, one would cook for a short time on gas or open flame, then put pot in the Wonderbag to continue cooking for xx hours. But, I like the idea of using it in non-emergency situations as well for its 'green' & frugal/simple living aspects. Plus, its benefits for the small business sector in South Africa warms my heart.

    Cape Town, South Africa

  10. Re the usb of computer files, I keep all my irreplaceables on Dropbox, which I can log into from any computer. Free up to 2Gb of data. You can see more about Dropbox at

    I've recently started looking at stocking up foods etc. We had the Canberra Fires 9 years ago only 150 metres from our house. We were interstate at the time and I had to tell a friend how to break into our house so she could grab our valuable documents (before it got too dangerous).

    Just because we don't live in a regular disaster area doesn't mean it won't happen to you. Complacency has killed too many people in the past.

  11. Thanks for this post! This is something I have been thinking about a lot, because here in Ohio the winters are cold, and it's supposed to be a rough one. I really enjoyed this post and all the comments. I'll be putting this info to good use!

  12. An excellent reminder and a really good list. Even though I've never personally experienced an emergency like this, with the state of the weather and unrest in the world, being prepared is only smart. I've realized I'm totally unprepared and I plan to change that straight away.

  13. sheamacleod had a very good point. It isn't just natural disasters we must prepare for now, we need to keep in mind political unrest.

    Recently in the USA we have had numerous "Occupy _____" protests where vast groups of people swarm over a major area like Wall Street, city or state capitals and such. They take over the streets, camp for weeks in parks, become magnets for the homeless and recently released criminals, force their way into Whole Foods Grocery and loot it, force their way into other buildings they find "offensive" like government buildings, corporate offices and the like. In some towns, they haven't been as destructive but, by and large, they have entangled whole areas so that the general public is concerned and even fearful about going into town at all. AND THESE ARE CONSIDERED PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATIONS!

    My point is, like Rhonda Jean said, you need to be prepared to stay in your home or leave your home. You need to be prepared to NOT rely on an evacuation facility as that might not be provided.

    Personally, even though the scenarios seem somewhat far-fetched, our family has planned how to stay and defend our home, leave and stay at a designated shelter or G.O.O.D. (Get Out Of Dodge- our acronym for leaving as quickly as possible but with as much in the way of supplies in case we can never return). Our G.O.O.D. plan includes going to a very remote campground where we can "hide out" in the hills and survive if the extreme happens.

    And yes, I know it sounds a bit paranoid and I doubt we will ever have to implement it but or children's generation just might. And like a previous poster mentioned, they just have their emergency kit because that is how she grew up.

  14. Rhonda,

    Did you mention water or something to clean water? That is often an issue. Another thing I would mention would be to take luggage locks. Also, take a video of your whole house (inside cupboards as well) once or twice a year just for insurance purposes. Folks I know who lost it all had to come up with itemized lists of everything they lost. Thanks again for another great post!

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