Preparing for an emergency

29 April 2009

I slept in this morning, on the morning when I have no thought of what to write, but here goes. Let's talk about one of my favourite topics, stockpiling. :- )

I was asked the other day in an email about what kind of food and groceries I thought it wise to have on hand for an emergency situation like the swine flu outbreak. I have to tell you that while our stockpile and backyard supplies (eggs, fruit and vegetables) would come in very handy in an emergency, I stockpile mainly for the purpose of saving money and time, and the convenience of having a little shop sitting in my home. I am really pleased my little shop is full of our favourite foods and has almost all been bought on sale or made here at home. But let me address the question of emergency preparedness here. None of us know what will happen in the future and I for one do not want to rely on anyone else to provide for me unless it's absolutely unavoidable. I am thankful to have been in only one cyclone (hurricane) and no other large scale emergency. I have seen and read reports of plenty of them over my many years and I know one thing to be true: in a large scale emergency, until the government organises help on a large scale through the SES, police and army, everyone is on their own. In Australia, when help arrives, it usually comes in the form of shelter, food and medical assistance, but often the help may be a few days coming, so in those first few days, you'll need to provide for yourself. You all know Hanno and I prefer to be self reliant and being able to look after ourselves in an emergency is no exception. We want to do it ourselves and we want to offer our help to our family and friends if they need it. And to do that, we must have a stockpile of various goods.

The easy way to answer the question on what we should have on hand in an emergency is to ask yourself: what food do we eat? what do we drink? what is easy to cook and store? how to we cook? how to we stay clean? if there is no electricity or gas how do we provide light and heat? how do we keep the children occupied? I guess that some emergencies will be like the swine flu outbreak and will mean we don't want to go to the shops and risk picking up the virus, other emergencies will be more severe and will cut off water and electricity supplies. There are so many variables, so let's talk about generalities, but please ask yourself the questions above.

The most obvious thing to stockpile is food. Food is what will keep us going through storms, outbreaks of illness or when we lose our jobs. But we all eat different things, so what should we stockpile? Stockpile what your family eats but try not to clog your stockpile space with boxes of prepared food, buy the basics and cook from scratch what you need. You will save money doing that, it's healthier and your food will last longer. For instance, if you buy a box or packet of macaroni and cheese mix, that will feed one, maybe two people. If you buy a few kilograms (pounds) of dried pasta, a bag of milk powder, some cheese and seasonings, you could feed a family for several meals.

If you're building your stockpile from scratch, start with the basics like rice, pasta, beans, lentils, chickpeas, cous cous, milk powder, flour, yeast, salt and sugar, then add more specialised foods like honey, tea, coffee, peanut butter, jam, dried fruit, seeds for sprouting, tins of tuna and salmon. Make sure you have a bunch of your favourite spices, as well as pepper, vinegar and oil. Add your homemade sauces, jams, cordials, and some tins of baked beans and soup to that stockpile and you'd be able to feed your family for quite some time without outside help. If you buy large amounts, which I consider to be 5 kg (11 lbs) but others might buy larger packs, you will need to think about containers to store your food in. I have several lidded, food grade 5 kg plastic buckets I got from the local baker and some smaller buckets with lids that hold 1 kilo (2.2lbs). These are wonderful containers as they keep out insects, rodents and moisture. So before you buy large quantities, think about where you'll store it and in what. Don't forget a can opener

Other products worth storing are our old standbys - baking soda (bicarb), washing soda, soap, cheap vinegar (for cleaning), as well as toothpaste, tissues, latex gloves, toothbrushes, deodorant and shampoo (if you're not just using baking soda), razors and razor blades, toilet paper, any medications you need and a well stocked first aide kit. You'll need a large container of liquid chlorine bleach for sanitation purposes. Make sure you add a dozen knitted dishcloths, some food covers, Tupperware containers or plastic bags, rubbish bags, batteries, candles, kerosene or oil lamps and matches. You should have torches, a battery driven radio, or a combined torch-radio-siren that can be fully charged by winding. We have one of them and they're very good.

Our little windup torch-radio.

You'll need water too. If you have no water tanks or rain barrels, start collecting plastic drink bottles and fill a number of them with water. You can improve the quality of drinking water by solarising it. Read here and here about the SODIS method of sanitising water.

Wind up torch radio with winder.

If you have a baby or young children you'll need to think carefully about what they need. There are the obvious things like nappies (diapers), bottles, sippy cups and toys, but think also about how you'll prepare their food. If they are still on mushy food, you might need to add the means to make it, so add a masher or little food mill as well as their favourite spoon and bowl. Of course, a breast fed baby is prepared for anything if they have their mum. Put in books and games for the older children and they might all like their own torch. It will give them a feeling of security if they have control of their own means of light. The wind up ones with a little radio are ideal for children (and 61 year old women).

Don't forget the pets. Add dog and cat food and if you have chooks, rabbits or ducks, make sure you have enough food on hand for them.

Talk about your emergency plan and depending on the impending emergency, work out how you'll cope with it. Some emergencies will mean you just stay at home, others will mean you need to leave. There is some additional reading here, it's a wise thing to read all of them and take what you need from each:

SES Australia and the PantryList Australia
Ready America
Emergency Preparedness Canada
UK Resilience

If it takes a potential emergency like swine flu to make you think about stockpiling, so be it, but don't think stockpiling is useful only in emergencies. I believe a stockpile is one of the best tools we have to help us live a more simple and mindful life. I have written about stockpiling here. I'd be very interested to know if you have a stockpile and how you prepare for emergencies. As always, I look forward to reading your shared wisdom.