Disaster Preparedness
May 28, 2019 8:34 AM   Subscribe

My city got hit by multiple serious tornadoes last night and I realized just how unprepared I was. I'd like to be more prepared in the future, especially as a non-driving, apartment dweller (with a dog).

I had zero preparations (no supplies, no plan for where to go) and I want to be more ready next time. I'd like to have a small kit I can quickly grab, but knowing I live alone in an apartment and can't drive I don't know if keeping water is reasonable or not (since it's heavy). So any general information would be great on supplies. I'm not trying to go full-on prepper or anything.

Specific Questions

1. My apartment has a (shared) basement with laundry and storage, but I stayed in a small interior closet (my bathroom has an exterior wall and window). Is there ever a reason to not go to a basement?
2. Is a cellphone + powerbanks good enough or is there a good reason to get a specific emergency radio?
posted by Aranquis to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Often referred to as "go bags" - something you can just grab and go with a moment's notice. One thing I've always been told is to have cash ready - ATMs can be down, and if there's no electricity, credit cards might not be accepted. Small first aid kit for sure, and some water bottles. And don't forget supplies for your fur kid - extra leash, food and a separate bottle of water for him. A written list of people with phone numbers in case they are all stored on your phone and you can't power it.

The Red Cross has a generic list here: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/survival-kit-supplies.html
posted by HeyAllie at 8:43 AM on May 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

I don't have any expert advice, except to say that I've always heard a basement is best if you can get to one, but if you're in/around Dayton (there were tornadoes there last night) and something catastrophic happens to your home, you're welcome to crash with me and my family in Cincinnati. MeMail if you ever need to.

I hope you're safe and okay.
posted by cooker girl at 8:45 AM on May 28, 2019 [11 favorites]

There's a few levels of preparedness. One is preparing to spend a couple of hours in the basement or other safe place (you need snacks, warmth, light, a stream of information (eg radio/internet), and possibly something to amuse yourself). The next level is if the neighborhood would lose power/water for a couple of days, but you can assume access to your home (more batteries, a supply of pantry food that doesn't go bad, a couple of big water jugs, knowledge about how to triage your fridge/freezer, where to get your phone charged, how you inform friends/family of your situation, etc). And then there's the serious plan for if your apartment is destroyed, having a packing list of your most critical items to throw in a backpack (and that can be really complicated and really personalized).

For your pupper, the kit just needs a couple of single-meal ziplocs of dog food (wrap and seal well so it'll last longer and be floodproof) and a collapsible water bowl, and if pup doesn't wear ID tags all the time, he'll want the full set for this (possibly including contact info for the person you'd want to take care of him if you weren't available)
posted by aimedwander at 8:51 AM on May 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

In a tornado outbreak, if you are actually making a run for it things have gone very very badly already. It’s more dangerous out there than in your house, for as long as you still have a house. They’re also local enough that there should be water and supplies available somewhere reasonably close; it’s not like a hurricane which you can prepare for and which could knock out your whole town.

Our local weather guy says to bring your wallet with a photo ID, and to make sure to wear shoes. Battery-powered weather radio is OK, or you can try to stream your local TV weather on your phone, either directly or with an app.

If I had a basement, I’d go to the basement. As long as the tornado’s not too bad you’re probably fine on the first floor, but it can be hard to tell. And some of the ones lately have been pretty big, and you actually do have a basement, so don’t mess around.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:54 AM on May 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have lived in a tornado-prone area my whole life, in various types of housing, sometimes without access to a car. Here are my tips:

A basement, if you have access to it, is ALWAYS the safest place to go during a tornado. The only time I would not choose a basement over other types of refuge is if I knew that basement was prone to serious flooding (I mean as in multiple feet of water, not puddles).

The second-safest place, if you do not have access to a basement, is an interior bathroom or closet without windows. It sounds to me like you chose the second-safest place to hide. Next time, if at all possible, I would choose the basement. And bring the dog-- with a leash or a carrier so that you can take the dog with you safely in the event that your building suffers enough damage that you have to leave.

Driving during a tornado warning is a BAD IDEA. Literally the only people who are advised to try to drive to seek shelter during a tornado warning are people who live in trailers (which do not provide adequate shelter even in a closet). Staying in your apartment building, in the basement or in a closet, is absolutely safer than trying to drive someplace else while a storm is active. Driving immediately after a tornado can also be unsafe as there may be downed trees or power lines in the road. The last time I was in a situation where a tornado did serious damage in my immediate area, the authorities blocked off several roads to non-emergency vehicles for several hours after the storm because the roads were unsafe due to downed trees, lines, and large chunks of houses being in the middle of the street. My family and I were pretty much trapped in our (thankfully mostly undamaged) house for about 24 hours after the storm. So really IMO you are not at a major disadvantage as a non-driver, except as pertains to your ability to get supplies in advance. But you probably already have shopping without a car all figured out.

I would say the thing you need to be MOST prepared for-- the thing that is most likely to happen to you because of a tornado-- is an extended power outage of 1 - 3 days. I would advise keeping a bright camp lantern, a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, and some LED candles in your apartment for this reason. If you are making a go bag, make sure it includes a one or two flashlights with extra batteries, and a good backup charger for your phone. I would also recommend a portable weather radio so you can keep track of the forecast (since sometimes severe storm conditions persist for days after the first storm comes along and knocks out your power). You can use your phone to track the weather, too, obviously, but if your nearest cell tower gets damaged by the storm your signal might be weak for a while.

If you have room in the basement to store a couple of gallon jugs of water, some nonperishable food that does not need to be heated, extra dog food, and a first aid kit, that is not a bad idea. I would also keep a water bottle and nonperishable snacks-- including a few treats for your dog-- and a portable first aid kit in the go-bag.

You might also want to make a plan with friends or family-- see if you can get someone who has reliable transportation to agree to check in with you after a storm to see if you need help getting supplies or getting out of an unsafe area.
posted by BlueJae at 9:06 AM on May 28, 2019 [14 favorites]

Hello! I am a former Girl Scout and emergency preparedness enthusiast, and for my MSLIS coursework, I created this handy natural disaster preparedness information and resource guide. The Be Prepared section has information on pulling together a useful emergency preparedness kit, including an awesome video starring Jamie Lee Curtis. I won't get too into the kit details here, but you DEFINITELY want at least one roll of TP, a change of clothes, and a pen/pencil and paper in a waterproof receptacle.

The most important part about having an emergency plan is identifying who needs to be told what your plan is so they know where to find you if they haven't heard from you and, worst case, rescue teams need to be directed to your location. Since you are non-driving and you're in an area where tornadoes are probably the most likely type of natural disaster, your emergency plan is much more likely to be centered around sheltering in place (either home or at work) unless otherwise instructed. Which is good news—it's much easier to store enough water and food for you and your doggo if you don't have to worry about how to fit it in a backpack.

Identify who needs to know your plan, give them the addresses for your home and office, and let them know what they need to do and what numbers they need to contact if they haven't heard from you in X amount of time and suspect you've been injured or incapacitated in an emergency.

For your specific questions:

1. For tornadoes, most of the advice I hear is to go into the basement or otherwise find a central room without windows (or even a bathtub), but if you're in an area where flooding could also be an issue, you may want to factor this into your plan.

2. Emergency radios are great, especially the hand crank ones, because you know you'll never be surprised with dead batteries. If a tornado has taken out cell towers, the radios can still issue alerts/info via radio broadcast, so it's a great way to stay informed. Also, a lot of the newer hand crank radios also have a USB port and can serve as supplemental phone chargers if needed. Win-win!

Glad you're okay!
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:12 AM on May 28, 2019 [12 favorites]

Disaster Planning & Recovery (MeFi Wiki) collects a variety of resources, including past AskMe threads.
posted by Little Dawn at 9:26 AM on May 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Make sure your dog is microchipped, and the contact information stored with the chip company is current. Perhaps add a secondary phone number for a trusted individual who lives elsewhere, who can verify who your dog belongs to.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:33 AM on May 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

One thing I don’t see here is that you should never try to escape through standing water. If you are driving, never try to drive through a flooded area. If you are walking, six inches of water can sweep you off your feet. The number one cause of severe weather-related deaths in the US is drowning (learned in my recent SKYWARN spotter class).
posted by FencingGal at 9:45 AM on May 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

The only good reason not to go to the basement is serious flooding already in place and even then that is debatable. You are better having a building fall on you than being in a building that blows apart. If you are in the basement of a flooded building and it falls on you, you were probably toast anyway.

It is not a bad idea to have several days drinking water in the house, and some containers you can use to hold water, should problems ensue. If you have a bathtub and the stopper works when serious bad weather etc. is on its way, fill the bathtub. If the stopper doesn't work, get a working stopper. That way you have a back up supply of water, which can be used for flushing toilets if drinking water is available, but the sewers are out; if drinking water is not available, you can drink it too - your dog certainly will. If you have say, six five gallon jugs and every month you replace one, then it stays reasonably fresh over the years. Check your bug-out supplies every month to make sure that they are all up to date. Going into a survival situation without your antidepressants is no fun whatsoever. If you can ensure you that you have six weeks supply of everything you use daily you will be so grateful if something dreadful happens. Being six weeks ahead is as easy as picking up up when it is about to run out, provided this is not a financial problem.

You need everything for your dog: all his/her medication, up to date shots of all types, proof of those shots to carry, and tags. Water for your dog, leash and harness, and supply of food. Human food will be brought in sooner than dog food, but your dog can eat human food in a pinch. If you have a cat they can often not eat human emergency rations, so you have to stock up way more for the cat than a dog. Make sure your dog is good with being in crowded confusing places for long amounts of time. If you have a dog that is hostile you will get yourself kicked out of the shelter.

If you have to travel you will likely have to abandon the water. Where there are large numbers of people competent organizers will figure out a supply of drinking water, so if you have to travel check what other people are doing and where they are mustering. Remember that rain water is ordinarily safe, but flood water could contain anything, so filtered rain water is your first choice for drinking water when supplies are interrupted.

Contact a couple of out of state friends or relatives, and ask if you can go stay with them if your area gets devastated and make a pact with them that they can come to you if their area is devastated and yours is not. Also try to make a pact with friends or coworkers etc. in the area.

Large lidded plastic buckets can be invaluable, so if you can buy supplies in those, or get them easily having one on hand to serve as a toilet for a week can make your life so much less miserable.

If you have a balcony it is nice to invest in a gas barbeque for the odd grilled steak, and when the electricity goes, the means to boil water for coffee and render the food in your freezer like frozen battered fish edible. If storage space in your pantry is limited stock it carefully and try to keep it as full of sensible stuff as possible. It would be disheartening to discover that you have two bottles of ketchup, three bottles of mustard, capers, cake decorations, and lots of canned vegetables (which do not have the calories to sustain you) as opposed corned beef, canned pasta etc. Think in terms of filling meals that can be eaten cold when you stock your pantry. Living on dry cake mix while rationing your water is doable, but when combined with not having a months supply of antidepressants will ensure maximum misery.

If you have to relocate on foot you will not be carrying water, and you will only be carrying dry food. Canned pasta is too heavy to travel with whereas dried fruit and dense greasy crackers are not. Since you don't know what will happen, preparing for both evacuation and shelter in place will be better than only one.

Make sure you have good walking shoes or boots, and socks. Be healthy enough to walk, if there is any way to do that. I would advise a minimum of two good pairs of sturdy footwear for yourself, as you will likely be on your feet a lot if you are trying to do anything other than huddle and wait it out.

Meet your neighbours so that if something happens again you will have some idea who might need help, and who might be able to supply you with information.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:29 AM on May 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

One tip I have is that my husband and I have uploaded copies (pictures) of our important information including our insurance company and policy number, ID, etc. and phone numbers to cloud storage. Maybe this is a bit of a security risk but knowing we can access copies of our health cards etc. from anywhere is nice.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:18 AM on May 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

I lived near Xenia in 1974 and still have friends and family in the area. You are right to want to be prepared. The Red Cross is a good resource. I live in Maine in a semi-rural area, have had power outages up to several days.

Evacuation plan: Talk to the building owner and/or police (Public Safery) about the safest spot in the building.

Prepare: 1st Aid kit, and a 1st Aid app on my phone. Subscribe to the emergency alert system on your phone. Emergency Solar/ chargeable/ crank/ battery radio/ flashlight/ charger. I have one in my house, an older one in my Go Bag. Headlamp flashlight and batteries. I have a tiny flashlight in my car that charges off the cig. lighter. Here's a USB one for the house. You can wash 1 and 2 liter soda pop bottles and use them to store water. Water doesn't really go bad; I seldom change out my stored water. I have never needed it, but it's easy to have a few liters way under the stairs. Solar charger. I have cheap multitools with pliers & screwdrivers in the car and Go Bag. They go on sale for Fathers Day and are handy.

If you wear glasses or contacts, try to have a spare, and if you take meds, try to have some you could grab in an emergency.

Go Bag: I have a bag for if I need to evacuate; have never used it, yay. Flashlights, batteries, emergency cash, bottled water, candy, granola bars, packets of peanut butter, flask of bourbon, socks, rain slicker, fleece pullover, hat, deck of cards, notepad/pencil, 1st Aid basics, emergency blanket, dog food, bug dope, duct tape, wire, multitool. Have photocopies of important papers like driver's license, including a few family phone numbers. I keep similar stuff in my car. Had a flat tire the other evening, ate some stale chocolate, used spare water and fast food napkins to clean the car a bit while I waited for Roadside Assistance.

Being prepared, in general: Make sure the dog has a tag with your phone number. 1st aid kit. Flashlight and Radio are super-useful in an emergency, and portable, battery-operated radios have become a rarity. Keep a flashlight charging. Pay attention to what you would really need if you lost electricity for a couple days. The process of preparing makes you think about what to do in an emergency, and that's hugely helpful. Consider taking a 1st Aid class. While you're taking stock, check the smoke alarm, and always know your emergency exits.

I live alone and I keep cold meds, ginger ale, canned fruit and soup in the house, esp. in winter because I know I'll get colds and it's nice to not have to go out for nyquil or cough drops. A hibachi or any small BBQ or gas grill can be used to cook for a day or 2; I have done this.
posted by theora55 at 11:29 AM on May 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you already have a ground-floor apartment, but for reference in case that ever changes, or for others looking for advice:

If you live on an upper floor, go to a basement if available, or a windowless area on the ground floor (like a lobby). If you live on an upper floor of “garden apartments” that open directly outdoors with no basement or lobby, go to whatever ground floor building is available. Leasing office, gym, pool house, etc. Even if it’s full of windows. Better to be on the ground floor with windows than on an upper floor without windows, per a meteorologist friend of mine.

Now, I’m not totally sure I can stash cats in carriers and run to the gym before the tornado is upon me, but my plan is to try.
posted by snowmentality at 11:35 AM on May 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I strongly recommend an automated weather radio. We used one when we lived in Dallas, programmed with our zip code, so that we would have something other than sirens outside as an alert. We also keep several solar + crank flashlight radios around the house, just to be sure we have access to news if the cell towers go down.

The most complicated part of our dog-centric go-bags were supplies oriented toward getting the dogs out of a glass-strewn area safely when they are too big to carry. We sheltered in an interior hallway where we'd have access to the hall linen closet, so I had a couple of old quilts and comforters earmarked as stretchers to use to carry them out (plus a stash of old shoes for ourselves), or maybe if it was just one of us home with them try to "pave" the path out of the debris with blankets and towels. After a tip from a friend, we started cracking that closet door during tornado season - it does weaken the support structure but not being able to get the door open if the house shifted meant we couldn't get to our supplies. I considered buying paw covers and then realized honestly I'd rather just sit in my hot hallway until someone came to help than try to manage that.

But THE most important thing, and we do this still now that we live in earthquake/fire country: the dogs' harnesses are kept in the likely most accessible closet and always put back there. Because there's more than one we have their names written on them, and we have many leashes hanging there as well. A panicked dog will back out of a collar; having a good harness that is adjusted to fit is the only way you're going to have any chance of control.

One problem with tornadoes is that there's often nowhere to go afterwards, not right away anyway. At best you're going to go outside (though you really shouldn't - things may still be falling for a while, and the weather could get ugly again). Put a spare broom and dustpan in your shelter location if you plan to stay in your apartment, or a little whisk broom and dustpan in your go-bag, just to be able to make a small glass/debris-free spot for you and your dog to sit on the ground a while if necessary.

Tip from someone who learned this the hard way: if you're going to keep emergency dog and human food supplies on hand stashed in a quiet dark place, close it up in a lidded storage bin. The local vermin will find it otherwise.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:48 AM on May 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have taken a full FEMA course (I got a nifty certification!), I live in a tornado/ice-storm/hurricane-prone area, and I can recommend ready.gov. It's accessible, thorough, and has your answers. The other resources up above are fine but I just use FEMA's resources, it's there and it's good. You do not need to be a full-on prepper to be properly prepared. And I will note that your questions are just the beginning of the things you should be thinking about...do you have renters' insurance? An inventory of your stuff in case you have to file a claim? Who will you go with if you need to evacuate the area in case of a hurricane or other wide-scale disaster? Where are the public shelters, and what will you do with your dog if you need to go to one?

But specifically to your questions,

1. FEMA says that you should "Go to a safe room, basement, or storm cellar. If there is no basement, get to a small, interior room on the lowest level." The basement really is best, no other room is as good. I have no direct basement access but I do have an agreement with my neighbors that I can go through their apartment to the basement stairs if we need to shelter. If you live on the upper floor, you do not have any appropriate place! A tornado can easily take off your entire top floors.

2. A dedicated weather radio is really better. In particular, it has a LOUD beeping siren which will wake you up at 3am out of the deadest sleep, which is what you want if you only have 10 minutes to get to shelter. I have a Midland WR120, it was a bit of a pain to program but you only have to do that once and it was totally worth it that one time I really needed it. They do make hand-crank models too. And many kinds of disasters can interrupt cell service.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:28 PM on May 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Not specifically tornado-related but if you are a shoes-off-in-the-house person, you should ALWAYS keep a comfortable pair of shoes (with socks inside if necessary) at your secondary/emergency exit point. Also, depending on the size of your dog, you might want to keep handy a bag (not specifically a pet carrier) that it can be shoved into quickly in emergency situations. If it's usually collared you might consider getting a harness for emergencies, since they're less easy to slip out of. If it's really little I'd even think about getting a life vest for flooding emergencies.

I prefer headlamps to handheld flashlights, because why waste a hand to hold a light that can sit on your head and move with your vision?
posted by poffin boffin at 4:53 PM on May 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Keep shoes under your bed as well. There's pretty much no sudden-exit emergency that isn't going to involve broken glass, if not also just knocked-over/displaced items and reduced/no visibility. If you live in earthquake or flash flood territory, put them in a bag zip-tied to your nearest bed leg or to the underside of the frame within grabbing range. That's a good place to tuck a small LED flashlight/keychain light/headlamp, ideally with the "pull this tab to connect battery" whoosit in place to lower the chance of battery degradation. A wash cloth, hand towel, bandanna, or actual dust/smoke mask is good too.

Other things to consider putting in your bedside and exit-door go-bags: copy of your car key, a t-shirt and pants (ideally pick a size that will fit the biggest person in the house, smaller people can adapt it with knots etc), copies of important identity paperwork. Store some of your things in a clean lidded tupperware or sealable drinking vessel - to keep the stuff dry in the initial situation, to eat/drink/wash your face with later.

If you have a car, you should stage that too for a roadside emergency, or a situation where you have to get out of your residence fast but will still be able to access if not leave in your vehicle. Focus on survival items, especially if you live somewhere with the kind of weather that can potentially kill you, and comfort items for if you end up living out of your car for a night or a few days. If you have a car and any camping gear, you might consider making a go-pack of items that can be safely stored in a car (heat/cold tolerant), including a rain fly or small tarp, something to hold/carry water in, emergency reflectors/lighting, emergency charging ports and cables, extra leashes (everyone should carry extra leashes in their car), a spare towel or blanket and a pillow, a big-shade hat.

Keep your car's fuel level over half a tank as a habit. If you have a car, you have a generator. You have heat if it's freezing, air conditioning for an injured neighbor/brokedown motorist on a hot day while waiting for emergency services, charging for devices, a radio, and transportation. In a bad natural disaster (and most man-made ones) you won't be able to get more gas for days or a week.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:07 PM on May 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Go-bags are for people in earthquake and hurricane areas, where the entire region can be disabled for long periods. For those of us in blizzard and tornado country, we need stay-bags, because "shelter in place" is the default option, you are much safer staying in your home as long as it is safe, and (with tornadoes), damage is VERY localized. (A huge one might wipe out a whole town, but it won't ALSO wipe out the town next door.) If you can walk, you can basically always walk out of a tornado disaster area once the storm is over -- most aren't more than a mile wide (though they may be many miles long). Some really destructive storms leave a swath just four or five hundred feet wide -- your "getting out of the disaster zone" may literally mean walking to your neighbor's house or the next building over.

I have been updating my "stay bag" this year, so I have advice! (Mine's actually in a 5-gallon bright orange plastic bucket from Home Depot -- easy to spot, easy to store, easy to stack things on top of.) A lot of what you need you already have around your house -- keep some granola bars and canned goods on hand, make sure you have a manual can opener, you're set for food. But in your stay bag, you'll want:

--some plastic sheeting, duct tape, a utility knife, and a pair of heavy-duty work gloves -- the most common storm damage is broken windows, and now you can safely remove any glass shards with your work gloves and tape over the broken window so you're not getting rain inside your home and/or letting all that storebought air out while you wait for a contractor or your landlord to get around to you. If you are a homeowner, add a tarp and some tiedown rope, in case you lose a lot of roof shingles.

--A handcrank or solar-powered cell phone charger is nice to have, although maybe not necessary depending on your power bank habits. Some kind of light source so you don't have to just use your phone as a flashlight -- could be a flashlight, handcrank flashlight, emergency candles (& matches), whatever.

--A mini bottle of purell and a hotel soap. You're unlikely to need them! But in a disaster, hygiene can matter for health and it costs like $2. A few garbage bags for whatever comes up. A package of baby wipes. If you wear contacts or glasses, save an old pair of glasses and toss in your emergency kit, just in case.

--Pet supplies -- food, a water bowl

--Typical disaster-preparedness stuff -- a whistle, a first-aid kit, mylar blankets for each person in the household, playing cards to stave off boredom, a notepad and pencil, an N95 mask.

--Stuff for when you can't access your computer: a PRINTED OUT list of your emergency contacts' phone numbers, in case you need to call someone using their actual number instead of poking the contact in your phone. A thumb drive with important documents on it. Some cash. A PRINTED map of your local area, in case you do need to walk out of the disaster zone and can't access your phone.

--Also spend some time thinking about what you might need from your house both if you had to stay put and if you DID have to leave, and make a list of those items and where they are -- prescription medications, menstrual products, the cat's carrier, the manual can opener, the good flashlight, etc. Then if you do have a disaster and you know you have candles but can't remember where you put them, the list will know. Or it'll give you a checklist if you have to leave the house.

Regarding water, you have a couple of options. You can get water storage containers (they look sort-of like gas cans but they're blue) that you can fill with tap water before a storm. If you happened to lose water, you'd have enough for three days or whatever. A lot of people do this so they don't have to buy water to keep on hand, or store tons of water for long periods of time. You can also get water purification tablets relatively inexpensively and it doesn't hurt to have them on hand (although you probably won't need them).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:02 PM on May 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you own a grill or barbecue you might be tempted to use it indoors in an emergency. Don't. Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer for a reason.
Here is a Center for Disease Control and Prevention notice on safety and CO-producing items, including generators and vehicles. One thing it didn't say -- make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of debris when using your vehicle.

Keep one pair of sturdy shoes and socks in your go-to bag, and add a second pair in case the first gets wet or debris-filled. You don't want to get blisters, particularly in a dirty wet environment.
Get some heavy work gloves, a bandanna (so you aren't tempted to immediately wash debris out of your hair), and some kind of thick or sturdy shirt or jacket to protect your upper body. I use an extra bandanna tied bandit-style across my face as a filter, since paper construction masks make my eyeglasses fog up. Bandannas have many uses, including as a colorful signalling devise if needed.

A Sawyer Squeeze water filter is good for hiking, but will not filter out chemicals and some of the other contaminants found in flood water. Be very picky about any wild water sources if you go that route. Otherwise, bottled water and DIY containers are a better alternative.

About pets and shelters -- you may find that shelters either will not accept some pets, or that there is an "I got here first" attitude from other owners. I'd try to shelter at home where my pet feels relaxed and won't run off, and relocate if necessary to a pet-friendly hotel after the storm.
posted by TrishaU at 10:45 PM on May 28, 2019

Always store your shoes upside down when not on your feet. That way when you have to cram our feet into them after the glass has exploded everywhere you do not end up cramming your foot into a shoe filled with broken glass.

Spare glasses are as important as spare shoes and are as important as the dog harness. You can probably manage without them. There is only a small chance that in an emergency you are totally helpless without them, but that old pair of glasses with the no longer up to date prescription sure beats not being able to figure out how to get to the place where they are handing out drinking water from the back of a truck because you can't see how to get there with no glasses at all.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:06 AM on May 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fyi, Tampons and pads should be in your 1st aid kit.
posted by theora55 at 8:52 AM on May 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I grew up in tornado country (Minnesota) but moved to hurricane country (New England) -- so I worry about disaster along multiple axes. :7) So think about what's most likely to happen, and how long you're planning for. Also, are you planning for yourself alone? (I have a family of six to worry about, plus a dog.)

In the immediate term -- like "get out now" -- I keep a flashlight and pocket knife on my dresser, same spot every night; my robe is on the bed and I know where my shoes are (if I have to run for it), same spot every night. I can also grab a wallet & phone if fleeing, which would be vital for contacting family and making arrangements if we are out of the house for a long time. I keep a leash, towel, and poop bag in my car if we have to go away for half a day (and I should probably add a hard container with some dry dog food, and a few treats).

In the longer term -- like after a hurricane knocks out power -- we have gallon jugs of water in the basement and I have a camp stove & dehydrated meals for a day or so. We have relatives a town away or the next state over, so we could shelter there. We have camping gear. We have extra dog food. We have ice packs and insulated bags for relocating our freezer contents. We keep extra propane for the grill in case we are "camping at home" for a couple of days.

So when I consider what planning to do, I think about: how much warning would we have? How long would we have to stay away? What services would be gone when we got back? I ought to put pictures of our prescriptions on a thumb drive and put it on my keychain or cloud storage, and I ought to finish backing up our digital pictures to the cloud in case the whole damn house burns down; these two steps are useful in very different scenarios.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:59 AM on May 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I keep various sized plastic soda/water bottles and 1 gallon milk jugs filled with water from the faucet in my freezer. Not filled all the way to the top so there's room for expansion. Freezers work better when they're full and will stay colder longer when the power goes out. If there's a several day power outage and a questionable water supply, I have drinkable water from the bottles as the ice melts. I'm fortunate to have an extra refrigerator in my garage whose sole purpose beyond overflow storage from dinner parties is to house water bottles, canned seltzers, small sized coolers and nothing but ice filled bottles and jugs along with some blue ice packets in the freezer portion.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 9:57 AM on May 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is all great advice but one more thing I haven't seen mentioned: one of the best things you can do in times of emergency and disaster is already know your neighbors. This latest round of awful weather is the perfect excuse to go over and say, "Hi, wow, wasn't that scary? Did you lose anything or have any damage? Is there anything I can do to help? Maybe we can get the other neighbors together and have a neighborhood meeting about what to do next time, so we know each other and we can look out for each other." Consider setting a rallying point that everyone comes to when it's safe to do so, so you know if someone is missing. Make sure some folks know how to turn off gas and water mains. This is especially important if you don't drive - make sure your neighbors know that so if evacuation is ever advised for your area, you're not asking a total stranger for a ride.

If there's enough interest you might even be able to get your local CERT to come out and do a training for your neighborhood!
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:06 PM on May 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you can't flush the toilet due to no water ---

put several nested plastic garbage bags in the toilet, add kitty litter, and use that to poop in.
Then you can pull the bags out for eventual disposal.
posted by hank at 8:01 AM on June 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

For hurricane preparedness, we:
1. Fill a tub with water. This is so you will have water if you come back before the municipal system is up. This is a good tip for "shelter in place" storms if your water relies on electricity.
2. Put all of the refrigerator items in a garbage bag and put it back in the fridge. Ditto for freezer. If you lose power, you just have to toss the bags. If you don't, you just take everything back out of the bags when you are allowed back.
3. Close your storm shutters if you have them. Secure outdoor items that could become dangerous when thrown by wind.
4. Grab your go bag with 3 days of supplies for each member of your family (including pets!) and all medications. Your go bag should also have a flashlight or headlamp, cash, first aid kit, important documents, portable chargers, basically everything people listed above.
5. Grab blankets. Blankets are useful.
6. Put pets in carrier/on leash and get to safety.

You should have already digitized family photos/legal documents and saved them to a device you will take with you or put them on a cloud storage service.

Any food that is set aside in your go bag needs to be eaten on a regular basis. It should consist of regular pantry staples. Replace it as you eat it, so if you buy granola, take the granola out of your go bag and put the new granola in. Canned dog food lasts longer than dry, but you still need to remember to cycle it out once or twice a year.
posted by domo at 12:07 PM on June 11, 2019

In terms of being prepared well in advance, one of the best things you can do is keep an eye on NOAA's Storm Prediction Center during storm season. The main thing you want to read is the "Convective Outlook". They give detailed storm forecasts for today, tomorrow, and the next day. And then there's an summary outlook for the next 4-8 days.

Even if you don't understand the meteorology jargon, it's insanely useful. For the current day, you can see a breakdown of probabilities for general severe weather, tornadoes, hail, and wind. For days 2-8, you can see general probabilities. The forecast for days 1 & 2 are updated multiple times during the day. The rest are updated once a day.

This is insanely useful for knowing in advance if you need to be on guard.

Also useful to get a radar app for your phone. My personal favorite is RadarScope, which runs on both iOS and Android. This will let you track the storms' movements, see if the storm has rotation (i.e. potential tornadoes), and how large & strong the storms are. Also maps out all current warnings.

Twitter is also somewhat useful in terms of monitoring conditions. There's a hashtag for most states. The two letter abbreviation of your state + "wx". Mine in Kansas is #kswx. NWS usually posts relevant info to that hashtag, as do various meteorologists. And there's usually spotters and ordinary citizens who also post their sightings.

Of course, keep a weather radio with an automatic alarm handy.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 12:09 AM on June 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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