By: Mick Chesbro

18 March 2003

Winter storms in New England! Hurricanes in Florida! Terrorists attack a city disrupting vital services for several days. A power sub-station fails, resulting in a blackout across large sections of the state! A natural disaster, severe storm, or anything else which results in a breakdown of the infrastructure of today's society can leave the unprepared family fighting for their lives against odds that are at best not good.

Too many people are completely dependent on this fragile infrastructure, and when it fails, they are totally unprepared to deal with the problems that ensue. Consider some of the problems that you could face as the infrastructure of even a fairly small area begins to fall apart:

Planning: The Key To Preparedness

By planning in advance and taking a few simple preparations, you can prevent a minor emergency from becoming a disaster. It is generally accepted that it takes an average of seventy-two hours, or three days, for disaster relief services to organize following a major crisis. Thus, you must be prepared to survive at least three days without outside support. Of course, it may take even longer for disaster relief services to respond in some locations.

Start by assembling a seventy two-hour emergency kit for each person in your family or survival group. Although there are commercial kits available, it is usually better and less expensive to assemble your own kit. The idea here is to be totally self-sufficient for at least three days using a seventy two-hour kit. While each kit should be tailored to the specific needs of the person who will use the kit, some common items to consider are:

No list of items will be all-inclusive for every person in every situation. Plan how you intend to survive if you are involved in a disaster of some type and then add those items you will need to your seventy-two hour emergency kit. Be sure to consider the needs of young children and anyone else with special-care needs. Additionally, some things can be "group items," assuming you can be sure that everyone will be in the same place when such an emergency occurs.

Communications Are Vital

Communications are another vital aspect of emergency preparedness. In any major emergency, one must assume that the usual means of communication will be non-existent or, at best, of limited use. The telephone system might not be working for a variety of reasons; or if it is working, the circuits may become overloaded, making it extremely difficult to get your call through.

Your television and radio that plugs into an electrical socket will also likely not work, especially when the electrical power has failed. Cellular telephone networks may also fail after the first few hours as their battery back-up power runs down.

Your emergency communications plan should begin with a battery- powered radio. At a minimum, this should have both AM and FM bands. Better yet, obtain a radio that covers additional frequencies, such as the NOAA Weather Channels. This will allow you to tune into local news and weather for as long as your batteries last. With this in mind, you should always have spare batteries for your radio. You might even consider buying a radio that operates on solar power or one with a wind-up dynamo.

The ability to listen to local broadcasts will solve only part of your emergency communication needs. The next step is to secure some type of device by which you can communicate with members of your own family or survival group. This is perhaps best accomplished using radio technology.

If you do not wish to obtain a HAM radio operator's license, then you have three possibilities. Citizens Band Radio (CB), the Family Radio Service (FRS), and the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). Although the GMRS does not require an operator's license, it does require an equipment license.

CB radios have been around the longest with literally millions of them already in the hands of the general public. Effective communication is possible through a CB radio, but the transmission range is often limited to only a few miles. With a base station and a directional antenna, however, you can transmit further. Because of the widespread availability of CB radio you will find lots of users acting like total idiots on the air, playing music or other noises to block a channel, and generally disrupting communication. However the same widespread availability of CB that results in these problems can be an asset when the radios are used properly. With that in mind a CB radio should be considered for your emergency preparedness plan.

The GMRS was established for use by groups who need effective communication in an area of up to about five miles. A GMRS radio is a useful addition to your preparedness communications package, giving you additional frequencies and communication capabilities, it will allow you to stay in touch with others in your immediate area during an emergency situation.

The FRS operates at a low power (1/2 Watt maximum) on channels within the GMRS frequency band. FRS radios are effective up to about two miles and are intended for use by families and groups who want to maintain communication in fairly close areas. Even these low-power, short-range radios can be a lifesaver in an emergency.

For those with greater communication needs, there is always the Amateur Band Radio (HAM Radio). To become a HAM radio operator requires that you pass an examination on basic radio theory and practice. For some classes of license, you are also required to take an International Morse Code Test. The basic examination is fairly simple; children regularly pass this segment of the examination to receive their HAM radio operator's license. If you find yourself in need of long-range communication capability, or you have other special communications needs, you should seriously consider HAM radio.

If you are interested in becoming a HAM Radio operator I recommend that you visit the American Radio Relay League’s "Welcome To Amateur Radio" web-page at: http://www.arrl.org/hamradio.html


Be Prepared To Protect Yourself

In a major emergency, calling the police for help may be of little or no use. Of course, if they are in a position to help you, they most certainly will. However, in an emergency situation, police officers may be so over burdened with emergency calls for help that they cannot respond to everyone. Thus, you must be prepared to protect yourself.

Emergencies effecting a wide area tend to bring out the best as well as the worst in people. It is the "worst in people" with which you have to be concerned. Riots, looters, and criminals in general are known to take advantage of the disruption in police protection and other response capabilities that often occur during an emergency.

In the LA Riots, for example, those business owners who were able to defend themselves were armed. If you plan to protect yourself and your family and defend your home, you will certainly need to obtain the means by which to do so. Generally, this means having a firearm and knowing how to use it.

In an emergency situation, a shotgun is your best choice because it is generally easier to obtain than a handgun, especially in those states that tend to ignore citizens' Second Amendment Rights. A shotgun also takes less practice to use than a handgun, although both require some degree of training and periodic practice.

A handgun has the advantage of being easy to carry and always at hand, but it requires more training and practice to use one effectively. This is especially true when in a stressful situation. Of course, the best option is to have both firearms available to you and to practice with both of them on a regular basis on an approved firing range.

Survival Hinges On The Right Mind-Set

Of all the things you can do to prepare yourself for an emergency situation, having the right mind-set is essential. In this case, the right mind-set will help you effectively deal with problems when they arise. By definition, an emergency is an unforeseen set of circumstances that call for immediate action. While it may not be possible to predict every set of emergency circumstances that might befall you, it is clearly possible to prepare yourself to deal with most emergency circumstances that you will encounter.

Finally, as you begin preparing for a possible emergency condition, remember that knowledge is vital. If you have been interested in disaster preparedness for any length of time you likely already have an extensive library of preparedness information. However, if you are just beginning your preparedness research (we all were beginners at one time) the following agencies and organizations provide a number of free publications, the compilation of which, will provide you with a good foundation for beginning your own personal and family disaster preparedness program.

Disaster Preparedness Information & Resources


American Red Cross

The American Red Cross has established its national preparedness information hotline 1-866-GET INFO

(438-4636) to provide callers with disaster safety and preparedness information. Located in Northern Virginia, the Red Cross National Call Center is open from 8 a.m. to midnight (Eastern Standard Time) seven days each week to answer questions from the public.



You may also download disaster preparedness information from the Red Cross web-site at:

Red Cross Disaster Preparedness


* The Red Cross site provides basic preparedness information covering a wide range of emergencies, from local power outages to terrorist attacks.


Center For Disease Control

Public Health Emergency Preparedness & Response


* The CDC provided information about chemical, biological, and radiological threats (such as smallpox, anthrax, sarin, and cyanide).


Chevron Corporation

Long Term Fuel Storage Information


* The Chevron Corporation provides a series of technical bulletins explaining long-term storage of gasoline and other fuels.


Department of Health & Human Services

Disasters & Emergencies Index


* The DHHS provides an index of information related to the following topics:


Department of Homeland Security

Get Ready Web-Site


* You can download the Department of Homeland Security’s "Get Ready" brochure from this web-site.


Emergency E-mail & Wireless Network - http://www.emergencyemail.org/

* Get notified of an Emergency by E-mail, Cell Phone or Pager from your local, regional and national government sources.


Emergency Management Institute

Independent Study Courses


* EMI offers a series of independent study courses for those interested in emergency management and disaster preparedness. A brief sample of the courses offered includes:


Federal Emergency Management Agency

* FEMA has a number of publications about disaster preparedness available on-line. The following list of FEMA publications provides a good overview of what is needed for individual and family disaster preparedness.

FEMA Publication - "Are You Ready" - http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/

FEMA Publication - "Your Family Disaster Plan" - http://www.fema.gov/rrr/displan.shtm

FEMA Publication - "Emergency Food and Water Supplies" - http://www.fema.gov/library/emfdwtr.shtm

FEMA Publication - "Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit" - http://www.fema.gov/library/diskit.shtm

FEMA Disaster Action Kids - http://www.fema.gov/kids/dizkid1.htm

(Disaster Action Kids is an on-line education program for kids, sponsored by FEMA. Kids complete a number of activities related to disaster awareness and safety. You are able to print out a certificate for your kids once they complete the program.)


Humane Society of the United States

Disaster Preparedness for Pets and Livestock - http://www.hsus.org/ace/11661


Latter Day Saints Church

Emergency Preparedness - http://www.providentliving.org/channel/1,11677,1706-1,00.html

* Whether you are a member of this church and have an interest in their religious doctrine or not, the Latter Day Saints Church (the Mormons) are well known for their preparedness and self-reliance planning.


North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

Emergency Drinking Water Supplies - http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/programs/extension/publicat/wqwm/emergwatersuppl.html


University of Georgia

Preparing An Emergency Food Supply - http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/FDNS-E-34-CS.html

* This document was prepared by Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Extension Food

Safety Specialist, Department of Food and Nutrition and contains the following sub-sections:

Storing Water Supplies - http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/FDNS-E-34-3.html

Short Term Food Storage - http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/FDNS-E-34-2.html

Long Term Food Storage - http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/FDNS-E-34-1.html

Processing Jams and Jellies - http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/FDNS-E-37-1.html

Preserving Food Using Boiling Water Canners - http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/FDNS-E-37-2.html

Preserving Food Using Pressure Canners - http://www.fcs.uga.edu/pubs/current/FDNS-E-37-3.html


University of Nebraska

Emergency Food Safety Fact Sheet - http://www.ianr.unl.edu/pubs/foods/nf99.htm


USDA Food Safety Inspection Service

Keeping Food Safe During An Emergency - http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/pofeature.htm


Virginia Cooperative Extension

After A Disaster Series of Publications - http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/disaster/disaster.html

Mick Chesbro

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