116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When disaster strikes, will you be ready?
During a disaster, it could take emergency responders days to reach you, depending on the obstacles involved.
“We're not saying you need to plan for the apocalypse and you're going to be in your basement for three or four weeks,” said Tom Ulrich, emergency management specialist and operation officer with Linn County Emergency Management. “But we are saying that with most disasters, it takes about 72 hours to get food and services lined up, especially when you're talking about a larger metropolitan disaster like we just went through” in 2020.
In the past year, as residents worked toward derecho recovery, Ulrich said there also has been more interest on how to be better prepared for the next disaster.
“I think we've had a lot more contact with people in the past year,” he said. “And if one good thing came out of the derecho, it's that it might have sparked people to start getting into that preparedness mode a little bit more.”
A basic emergency kit is simple to make, Ulrich said.
Start with an old suitcase, a large cooler or a sturdy storage bin and fill it with 72 hours’ worth of food and water per person.
“We recommend you have 1 gallon of water per person, per day,” Ulrich said. “And it’s important to note that people with some medical conditions like diabetes may require more water.”
Next comes food, and that can be as simple as canned items, granola bars, trail mix, canned meats and fish — food that has a long shelf life.
“We recommend that you pack your kit with foods you already like to eat,” Ulrich said. “Because the last thing you want to do is eat something you don’t like or eat foods that you wouldn’t normally eat, and you definitely don’t want to get sick in the middle of a disaster.”
1. Water: 1 gallon of water per day, per person. If you have pets, make sure to include water for them, too.
2. Food: Include three days’ worth of food per person. This could include canned food, breakfast bars, freeze-dried items, etc. Food should be ready to eat and have a shelf-life of at least a year.
3. Snacks: Roasted peanuts or jerky are a couple items that snack well and last a long time.
4. Flashlight and lantern: An LED flashlight and, if possible, a lantern. Candles and lanterns that require combustible fuels are not recommended because of possible fire risks.
5. Extra batteries: Extras for any devices included in your kit.
6. AM/FM radio: In an emergency, communication networks, internet, and television signals could go down. Having an AM/FM radio could ensure you get pertinent information from local, state and emergency officials.
Source: Linn County Emergency Management
The foods you pack also should be fully cooked, or ready to eat, so you can consume them straight from the can or bag in case you don’t have access to heat or hot water.
If purchasing canned food, consider buying items that come in cans with pop tops, or be sure to include a manual can opener in your kit.
Ulrich also recommended including some “comfort foods,” and if you’re a person who likes to snack, then pack some snacks.
“I might keep some nuts and jerky in my kit,” he said.
Individual dietary needs and restrictions also should be considered when putting a kit together.
“Your kit should be tailored to your needs,” he said.
As an exercise, Ulrich said he put together a basic kit with three gallons of water, seven cans of soup, one box of granola bars, a package of jerky, a jar of peanuts and two freeze-dried bagged pasta dishes for just about $50, including the rubber bin in which the items were stored.
“You really don’t need to go crazy with it,” he said. “And if money is tight or you’re living on a fixed income, consider buying one or two extra cans of food or a gallon of water each time you go to the grocery store.
“If you did that, you’d probably have a good kit put together in a month or two.”
Several companies sell premade 72-hour kits, most of which include freeze-dried meals — that would require the ability to boil water to prepare — and can last on the shelf for a number of years. Meals Ready-to-Eat, also known as MREs, are another option, Ulrich said, adding that those types of items would be pricier.
“The trick those ready-ready-to-eat meals or those freeze-dried meals is to buy one or two, test them out, see if you like them and make sure you feel OK after eating them,” he said.
If you have pets, be sure to include food and water for them, too.
Outside of food and water, including copies of your home, auto and medical insurance cards, a list of your medications, and a paper address book with important phone numbers and addresses also are be important items to include, Ulrich said.
In the days following the derecho, downed communications presented obstacles for emergency and city officials as they tried to provide residents with vital information.
That’s why Linn County Emergency Management also recommends your kit include a battery-powered AM/FM radio, as well as a flashlight and/or an LED flashlight/lantern and extra batteries. Ulrich said having an NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert in the house is important, too, to ensure you hear the warnings when severe storms are moving in.
The website BeReady.gov — a national campaign — offers extensive information on emergency preparedness, including lists of recommended items for all types of emergency kits, as well as information on maintaining the best places to store those kits.
“We just really want people to be prepared,” Ulrich said. “It’s better to have a plan in place and to have the supplies you need ready now before a disaster hits, and really, it’s not a matter of if one hits, it’s when.”
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