Emergency Preparedness for Beginners
By Brett A. Fernau
Part 1: Introduction, some basic concepts and EDC
You are at the grocery store doing the weekly shopping for your family when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake occurs. You are lucky. The building doesn’t collapse on you and you are not one of the many people injured by items falling from the shelves. What do you do next? The answer to that question depends upon how prepared you are. Disasters, if they happen, happen where you are, at the office, at the store, in the car, on your evening stroll, even at home. Preparedness is what gives you the ability to help not only yourself in a disaster, but also those around you.
You might have seen an ad on TV or online about the need to be prepared for the next earthquake. Many people have the idea that if you have a couple of cases of bottled water and a few cans of food stashed away in a closet that they are prepared. There is more to preparedness than a closet full of supplies. Your ability to survive a disaster depends more upon your knowledge and skill than it does upon your food supplies, first aid kit and pocket knife. You can carry all the fancy gear around with you that money can buy, but if you don’t know what to do with it, you are just another victim, waiting for someone to help you.
Your ability to help also depends upon your knowledge and skills. If you know how to stop bleeding, how to move an injured person, how to put out a fire, how to build a fire or an emergency shelter, how to tie a secure knot in a piece of rope, how to determine if a building is safe to enter, how to read a map, how to splint a broken leg, how to search a building, even how to take command of a disaster site, then you can help. With knowledge and skill you can use the gear you are carrying, or you can improvise using whatever you can find on the scene. With knowledge and skills you will be able to act to restore some order to the area and offer aid to yourself and those around you, instead of panic. You can take charge of the disaster site until the more qualified, better equipped and more highly trained professional first responders arrive. And if they don’t arrive, you can direct the able-bodied survivors in tasks that they can do to help the victims.
If you have tools and the knowledge and skills to make the best use of them, then you will be even more valuable in whatever disaster you might encounter. So, the first level of preparedness is knowledge and you can get that from a variety of sources including books, internet videos, first aid courses from the Red Cross, and C.E.R.T. training. The Red Cross and C.E.R.T. training is good because you practice and learn the required skills at the same time that you gain the knowledge of what will be needed in an emergency.
Skills are the second level of preparedness. You will need to practice and apply what you learn so that you can use your tools and supplies or improvise with what you have available to you. Some valuable skills you might wish to learn include CPR, first aid, triage, search and rescue, how to put out a fire, how to make a fire, radio communications, and organization and management of resources.
The third level of preparedness would be tools and supplies. Included in this level would be water, food, wound dressings and bandages, stoves, cooking utensils, camping equipment, sanitation equipment and supplies, personal hygiene supplies, radios both AM/FM and HAM types, and nearly anything else you can think of that would make survival possible in a disaster.
Don’t get overwhelmed at this point by how much there is to learn. Start very simply and realize that the first thing you will need to do in a disaster is survive. You need to help yourself first so that you can then help those around you or get home and help your family. So, let’s look at what you can carry on your person that will help you survive.
The equipment that you carry with you so that you are prepared to deal with an emergency, no matter where it happens, is usually called EDC, or Every Day Carry. What you carry, to some degree, will depend upon what you know and what you can use. At a minimum, you should carry a flashlight, a whistle and some sort of first aid kit. Even if you don’t know much about first aid yet, someone around you might and they can use your first aid kit to help you, if you are injured. I carry a very bright flashlight that will not only allow me to see in the dark, but could also be used to blind an attacker if necessary. I carry an extra set of batteries for that flashlight. I also carry a multi-tool; mine is made by Gerber, but there are a variety of others on the market. In addition I usually carry a first aid kit that includes several gauze pads, a Mylar blanket, a triangular bandage, alcohol wipes, and non-latex gloves. Plus, I have a small, but accurate, compass on my watch band , a para-cord bracelet on the other wrist, notebook and pen, a folding knife and that whistle I mentioned on my keychain. The whistle is for signaling your own location in the event that you are trapped inside a building or under some debris. You’ll lose your voice quickly if you are yelling, but a whistle will let you make a lot of noise with a minimum amount of effort. I usually have my cell phone with me as well, but I don’t count on it in a major disaster, or a minor one for that matter. The ability of a cell phone to get and keep a signal depends upon how many people in any given area are trying to access the cell tower at the same time. In an emergency, cell phone service will be undependable at best, since everyone will be trying to call out all at the same time.
With the small amount of equipment in my EDC kit, I feel confident that I could be of some immediate assistance , but that’s because I have some knowledge of what I will be dealing with and some skill at using the tools I carry. What you decide to carry should be tailored to your own knowledge, skills and abilities. The first thing you will be doing when a disaster strikes is trying to survive. The next thing you will do is decide whether you will stay on the scene and help those around you, head home or head for the hills. To accomplish any of these, you will need a bit more knowledge, skill and equipment. The equipment and its container is often called a “Bug-out” bag. When you decide it’s time to leave where you are and go somewhere else, that is called “bugging out.” The gear that will help you get there is what makes up a Bug-Out Bag. We’ll talk about that in Part 2 of this series.