Overall Disaster Preparedness, City Girl Edition
February 27, 2020 6:13 PM   Subscribe

I've read solid advice about the ncovid19 problem. Not panicking at all, but it has reminded me that currently I'm not adequately prepared in event of emergencies. I'll look at some guidelines and put together a "go bag," but any long-term suggestions specifically for high-rise-living urban singletons are welcome.

Things I have:
Bidet, so toilet tissue is not quite the necessity
Small well-stocked chest freezer
Ample pantry, usually with 10lbs of rice and beans, and a fair amount of flour
First aid kit and cold meds
Tequila and plenty of it
Cat fud and litter, usually a month's supply
Books so many books
Oh and one of those sport bottle type water purifiers

Things I do not have:
A car

How much water, etc. should one reasonably stockpile in a small apartment for one woman and one cat, should I be stuck here a while? What am I failing to think of? I mean, if the city loses water and electricity, I'll have bigger problems. Right?
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Here is my volunteer emergency service's recommended list for household emergency kits. It's designed for evacuation, rather than sheltering in place, and some of it's specific to Australia (our emergency information is done by AM broadcast), but the rest is pretty universal.

Do you have a list of contact details for emergency services, information sources, and potential sources for getting assistance (or for helping out yourself)? That's research you can do for your area now.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:35 PM on February 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you're needing to stockpile water on a quick notice, you can always fill up your bathtub (assuming you have one). That's a common option in natural disasters when notice is short.
posted by msbutah at 7:13 PM on February 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

I just keep coming back to Dee Xtrovert's comments on exactly this, every time it comes up.
Most people were not at all prepared. This included my family. Many of those - like my family - considered the idea of "preparation" to be an affront to the decency we felt most people possessed. Were we wrong? Well, I don't know. We suffered greatly; my parents were killed. But speaking only for myself, I never felt I cheapened my soul by betting on calamity. Today, that still feels like it's worth something.

But here's the main point: "Preparing" for the disaster really didn't do anyone much good. Those who "prepared" ate a little better for a while. They stayed warmer for a few extra days. They enjoyed the radio for a while longer (via batteries.) But in the end, they ended up hungry, cold and bored too, just like the rest of us.
There's not much point in stockpiling water, but if you have a bathtub, get a plug for it and fill it up when the power goes. Get a big external battery for your phone. Have some candles and some extra warm blankets. Have more salt and spices and cooking oil to hand than you strictly need, so you can share them.

The most important thing is to be a good neighbor and have smart friends. Get to know the people in your neighbourhood and when the bad day comes, make the rounds and check up on the old and the vulnerable, and offer them candles or blankets.

Vote for people who believe that society means something, that we have a moral obligation to help each other, and who believe in spending money on the maintenance of public works and investing in the common good.
posted by mhoye at 7:14 PM on February 27, 2020 [12 favorites]

The US government recommends keeping a minimum three-day food and water supply. (If a disaster leaves people without drinking water, then emergency water supplies are one of the first things that relief agencies will make sure to deliver, so your personal supply only needs to last until authorities are fully mobilized.) But FEMA also notes that a two week emergency supply, while unlikely to be necessary, may be helpful in some cases if you are stuck by yourself.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:19 PM on February 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fill a few 2-liter pop bottles with water, refresh every six months. Interruptions in water supply are common enough and inconvenient enough to be worth preparing against regardless. Get a few of those water packets for your go-bag, too.

Some N95 respirators--not so much for viruses as for any particles that might be in the air after a bombing or fire.

Good work gloves.

Hand sanitizer.

Cash, a good chunk of it broken up into small bills, and some change.

Radio (with hand-crank backup), batteries. A flashlight and a battery-powered lantern. More batteries.

Extra feminine supplies.

Swiss army knife.

Small snacky items like bars or Stingers or gel drops. Sometimes the best thing to do in an emergency is to sit quietly, have a little snack, and think before tearing off somewhere.

If you're a serious coffee drinker, a pack of caffeine pills so you don't have to go through withdrawal headaches while coping with an emergency. If you're anywhere near a nuclear plant, those iodine pills. Water-treatment pills. Make sure your first aid kit has oral rehydration salts. Dying of dysentery would be a really irritating way to go.

If you live in a large city, you're more likely to be having to evacuate to a shelter somewhere than to have to make your way in the wilderness, so: mini-toiletries, extra wool socks, underwear, a space blanket or one of the more permanent ones. One of those silk/polyester sleep sacks to slip into for extra insulation and not being exposed directly to some nasty cot.

Gaffer tape, a bit of rope.
posted by praemunire at 7:22 PM on February 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm an emergency physician. Though not trained in disaster preparedness, I've worked adjacent to individuals and organizations that are, and through osmosis have picked up a thing or two

1) In terms of how much water to stockpile, the rule is 1 gallon per day for each person and each pet. Fatal dehydration can happen in as little as three days, so you'll want to have at least that many days of clean water, so 3 gallons minimum. Ideally, you'll actually store a lot more. The CDC recommends having two weeks of water on hand

2) Containers should be sterilized with non-scented chlorine bleach before putting water in them. For 5-6% bleach, put 1 teaspoon into a quart of water, put that water into the container, put a lid on, shake the container for 45 seconds, then dump the container out and let it air dry.
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:24 PM on February 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

A lot depends on where you live and the type of emergency most likely. Are earthquakes likely? Hurricanes? Ice storms? Tornadoes? Marauding Morris Dancers? Earthquakes can rupture water lines. Hurricanes cause all sorts of issues. I'm in Maine, have had power outages of varying lengths, some in cold weather.
Homeland Sec.
CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response

Solar USB charger that charges very slowly on solar, but is handy as a backup battery and flashlight. Emergency radio with solar & crank is super useful in power outages. LED flashlights and headlamps; I have several cheap ones because they get borrowed or misplaced or the batteries corrode. If you have a 1 or 2 liter water bottle, you can use the headlamp to make it a lantern, or read by headlamp. Candles in a safe container (and matches) are cheerful. I have a couple strings of battery-powered LED fairy lights which are also cheerful. A deck of cards.

An extra blanket or 2 in case of power loss in cold weather. In a power outage, you can put a quilt or blankets over the fridge to help insulate. Open it only when you must, so it stays cold longer.

They say 1 gal.water/ person/ day. 1 and 2 liter beverage bottles can be washed and used to store water. Water doesn't really go bad, certainly not water for washing; you can rotate out water for drinking. I keep bottled water in the fridge and freezer because a full fridge is more efficient, also, I always have cold packs. DIY Oral rehydration

How would you cook in an emergency? I like to camp, so I have a camp stove, as well as a gas grill and a spare tank. Years ago, after Hurricane Bob, my block lost power for several days and we cooked on the grill. Those alcohol gel burners they use in chafing dishes and a stand would work for making coffee.

Training is handy. Take a 1st aid course. Try to be in good enough shape to use the stairs if you must. In a tall building, know where the fire exits are, be sure they're unlocked. Check your smoke alarm. I've never had to evacuate, and most of the stuff I keep for emergencies is for being comfortable. The kind of serious prepping people do for End-Of-World scenarios is not for me, but being able to cope with a month of quarantine without needing emergency services means they have more resources to take care of others.
posted by theora55 at 7:31 PM on February 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, I forgot the headlamp. You can get little cute ones these days.
posted by praemunire at 7:34 PM on February 27, 2020

It does depend on your location...if it's a hurricane, you're probably going to have enough warning to shop (and fill a tub with water, if needed). If it's an earthquake, you won't. I'm not prepared enough and don't have room in my apartment, but in theory I think it would be wise to have three gallons of water (maybe one more for the cat), a hand-crank radio, an N-95 mask, a flashlight, a backup phone charger, a local map to your nearest emergency gathering spot for the neighborhood, and some cash. Also, try to get to know as many neighbors as possible. Social ties are also really helpful in an emergency.
posted by pinochiette at 8:13 PM on February 27, 2020

Scientific American's blog has suggested three weeks of shelf-stable food, a couple month's worth of your prescriptions and OTC medication, and entertainment. Then staying home (without relying on deliveries for food) completely-- and letting your staff work from home, keeping your children home from school, and staying home.
posted by crush at 9:04 PM on February 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Disaster Planning & Recovery (MeFi Wiki)
posted by katra at 9:19 PM on February 27, 2020

I think one of the things that general good reasonable disaster preparedness doesn't help much with is if you get stuck home with the flu or similar for a week. Unless you've been that sick recently, you forget how really difficult certain basic life tasks are and how comforting certain things can be.

I just placed an order to boost my home supplies of electrolyte mix, electrolyte popsicles (not only great for hangovers, but also if you get a stomach bug so bad you can only hold down the tiniest sips but you desperately need the sugar for the crushing headache), saline nose spray, a jug of distilled water for the neti pot, Aquaphor (for raw nose and lips) and serious lip balm, good tissues. You also want supplies of decongestant, expectorant, fever/inflammation treatment, antihistamine, drowsy antihistamine or sleep medication (all previous can be combined into nyquil/dayquil formulations, at dosage strengths you prefer), maybe an anti-emetic and anti-diarrheal for real emergencies. I ordered replacement filters for my humidifier as well. Check your coffee/tea supplies.

I'm also bumping up our supplies of pouch food (Tasty Bite Indian), instant mashed potatoes, instant oatmeal, ramen, Better Than Bouillon, the good type of miso soup variety pack (my nearby Korean grocery has a brand with English labels, but I have also bought the non-English kind and it's a bit of roulette but it's fine), canned soup - food that requires nothing more than dumping in a bowl with water and shivering in front of the microwave for 90 seconds, or not if I'm that desperate. Pasta and rice. A step up from that is frozen or packaged food that still doesn't need a lot of brain power to prepare but I could assemble basic sustenance from if I have the energy, and that stuff can also go into more elaborate meals if your biggest problem is boredom.

To that end, baking supplies can serve as entertainment AND social currency. Stuck on your block with not much to do but feeling okay, you may suddenly find yourself with a pet sourdough starter and so much bread your neighbors stop answering the door to you.

On the end of sick supplies, the one thing I would make sure I had was a really good power bank for my phone. Worst case scenario, you (or a neighbor or nearby friend) do get sick and you need to get to a medical facility and possibly sit there for hours or days. I'm worried enough about this scenario that I just ordered a really big power bank for my elderly mother who lives in another state in a small town, and I'm super concerned about her getting sick and getting shuffled around between hospitals where she may not have access to any phone except her mobile (hopefully).

Realistically, for city people, most scenarios are "shelter in place" for us, because leaving won't be possible. It might be worth buying one of those hiking water filter bottles so that you can filter and drink tap water even under a boil notice. I live in earthquake country and have a backyard and always keep an extra big can of propane for the grill, but I also have one of those little briefcase butane stoves and a dozen cans of fuel, in part so I can chuck it in the car if we do have to go, but just also because it's more portable than my grill. Do have a crank or rechargeable flashlight, and a headlamp. Talk to your neighbors.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:23 PM on February 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

I believe that high-rise buildings use booster pumps to get water pressure to the upper floors. If the power goes out you will probably lose water. Some good ideas for water storage above, or just buy a couple bales of bottled water and rotate every 6 months.
posted by H21 at 10:28 PM on February 27, 2020

Where I live, the main risks are flooding or generic loss of utilities (and flu-type pandemics). Flooding means evacuation, so options for places to go plus convenient stuff to take. Loss of water/gas/electricity for us would likely last no longer than 2-3 days so that’s a reasonable amount of water and food to always have in the house (that is shelf stable and doesn’t require heating). Pandemics, I guess stuff to entertain ourselves while stuck in the house. We get groceries delivered anyway, but maybe more stuff like soups in case we get sick and don’t want to eat much.

Basically it depends what kinds of emergencies might realistically happen in your area, whether they are flee or shelter in place ones, and how long they typically last. If I lived somewhere where I could get snowed in for a week I’d have different needs.
posted by plonkee at 12:53 AM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

high-rise-living urban singletons

Hello from Hong Kong! I feel you.

Things I have:
Bidet, so toilet tissue is not quite the necessity
Small well-stocked chest freezer
Ample pantry, usually with 10lbs of rice and beans, and a fair amount of flour
First aid kit and cold meds
Tequila and plenty of it
Cat fud and litter, usually a month's supply
Books so many books
Oh and one of those sport bottle type water purifiers

Things I do not have:
A car

You're fine. I also:

- Put a date on my calendar to cycle through my first aid kit and replace any expiring medications
- Keep one extra bottle of my favourite soaps/shampoos/cleaners in the back of the closet
- Have a little toolkit to deal with home repairs if needed
- Keep a bit (not a ton) of cash on hand if digital payment systems stop working
- Make sure my passport and other vital documents are somewhere safe/watertight
posted by mdonley at 5:20 AM on February 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I read that Scientific American post linked above and I'm going to stock up on shelf-stable food. This is different from a hurricane. I live in hurricaneland and usually have a few days' worth of food. But it's not enough if I have to stay home for weeks. I've never run out of food after hurricanes- yes, I've stayed despite evacuation orders- but post-hurricane times were very social, with people setting up their grills on the street to share the food out of their freezers, etc. One time we got some great stuff from a local cafe.

So I'm thinking a lot of canned food, beans, tomatoes, fruit, fish, greens. Rice, other grains, and pasta. Shelf-stable, i.e. boxed, milk. Cereal, crackers, juice, dried fruit, nuts, lots of nuts.

I don't think having a car is a necessity, like where would you go anyway?

I think it would be good for all of us to build up our immune systems as best we can. Intuitively, for me, that means getting plenty of exercise, avoiding alcohol, maybe taking some vitamins.
posted by mareli at 5:49 AM on February 28, 2020

A working carbon monoxide detector is a MUST in any generalized disaster readiness list. Better yet, two of them, of different kinds, in different parts of your home.

It's unlikely a coronavirus pandemic will result in power failures; I've read of none in Wuhan, other than very localized outages.

However, many other kinds of disaster leave people without heat in their homes or the ability to cook food as usual. Then people turn to other means, and those means have often been fatal. Some storms in our country have resulted in multiple CO deaths.

How tragically ironic to be well equipped to hunker down and last out the disaster, only to succumb to a sneaky, invisible poison.
posted by wjm at 6:35 AM on February 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

So right after the Tohoku tsunami, I volunteered for a Honolulu-based group on building neighborhood connections, partly as a way to prepare for potential disasters. I lived in a 10-story apartment building at the time, and I went down the hall and knocked on doors, giving my neighbors a flyer with Hawaii-specific Red Cross recommendations. I was terribly awkward, but no one yelled at me. And I found out that one of the residents on my hallway had limited mobility and would need assistance evacuating in the event the elevator was broken. You don't have to become besties with your neighbors, but I do recommend making attempts to connect, so that in the event of a major disaster, you already know a little bit about each other. Maybe the person two doors down has EMT training? At any rate, even a little bit of knowledge and interaction can really make a difference.

How will you communicate / get information? Especially if wifi is down, and cellular service is spotty, being subscribed to the city or county's sms alert system (such as Nixle) can be helpful. Emergency/weather radios are good, especially if you can get one with a hand-crank. Red Cross and FB have promoted various "I'm safe" functions and apps, so you can quickly let your family and friends who aren't in your disaster-struck city know that you are okay.

Contingency plans:
Red Cross suggests having alternate family meeting point, in case home is inaccessible and mobile phones aren't working. You can reformulate this as a singleton in a few different ways -- depending on the kinds of disasters you anticipate, there may be a list of emergency shelter options. Hurricanes tend to rip off roofs and shatter windows, so in a high-rise apartment you might be okay. But maybe you live in a place with floor-to-ceiling glass and need to plan in advance where you will shelter in the case of high winds.

Storage options include WaterBOB and other "bladders" that will keep water stored in a bathtub potable. If one of the disaster types you fear is earthquake, then it might be a good idea to keep at least a little water stored in your bedroom, in case ceilings collapse and make it difficult to reach your stockpile in the kitchen.

Shelf-stable food:
Other people have given great advice on food, I just want to reiterate that you should have food that can be eaten without cooking or heating. If you have a gas range, you can cook even if the power is out, but you should prepare for the option of eating things straight from the package or can.

I went through what I normally eat and decided that these are the things that I will always keep on hand as high calorie, shelf stable, no cooking needed options that I would totally be happy to eat... unlike those horrific giant buckets of dehydrated food.

Canned tuna in oil (pull top);
olives (the vacuum pack ones are good for putting in your go-bag);
dried fruits (raisins, mangos, dates, figs, whatever you like, but something that has decent fiber content);
granola bars; cookies;
beef and pork jerky;
hard cheeses;
spam (yeah it's better fried, but you can eat it straight out of the can).
Oh and I also keep some 2-liters of soda and juice around.

Now that I write this out, I should probably keep a 2-liter of something caffeinated around, in case it's hard to boil water for coffee and tea. I do have a ton of those instant coffee packets to put in a go-bag.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:08 AM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Those who "prepared" ate a little better for a while. They stayed warmer for a few extra days. They enjoyed the radio for a while longer (via batteries.) But in the end, they ended up hungry, cold and bored too, just like the rest of us.

Once I took care of the basics (water jugs, extra shelf stable and basic foods, fuel for the camp stove, extra stuff to keep the bicycle rolling, etc.) what I've been doing is stockpiling board games.

I joked with my gaming group that if coronavirus turns into an epidemic here, everyone is invited over to play epic marathon amounts of D&D. Took us like 6 months to get through that $12 starter set, no batteries required.
posted by bradbane at 10:26 AM on February 28, 2020

I just keep coming back to Dee Xtrovert's comments on exactly this, every time it comes up.

Dee Xtrovert lived through the Bosnia War and the Siege of Sarajevo, and yes, there really is no preparation for surviving as a civilian in a war zone, especially in a city under siege.

However, you can prepare for surviving a hurricane, flood, tornado, earthquake, fires, pandemic, etc. in functioning countries that are not war zones. How you prepare depends on which one you are preparing for.

Basically, you can prepare for temporary events in a society with functioning civil services. You can't prepare for when a functioning society stops functioning due to whatever reason.
posted by brandnewday989 at 10:53 AM on February 28, 2020 [9 favorites]

Thank you for all the great suggestions so far! I've wanted a small grill for my balcony for a long time, and this seems like a good time to get one.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 11:45 AM on February 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd add a cell phone charger.
posted by SPrintF at 4:06 PM on February 28, 2020

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