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Before disaster strikes, how can you prepare?

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Dec 6, 2017 - 2:23:33 PM

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Emergency Preparedness checklist

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria made believers out of many around the country who previously dismissed the need to prepare for a disaster. Recovery efforts are still taking place in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the smaller Caribbean Islands.

Whether it is a blizzard that keeps you inside for days, floods that reach eight feet in your home, fire that burns so fast you only have minutes to escape or a hurricane that destroys the power system, these are the natural disasters many have been warned were coming.

How can we prepare and what can families do right now to make sure they survive? What preventative measures should you put in place? For some with financial means, preparing may mean making plane and hotel reservations to leave town and return if and when the coast is clear.


But for countless others who do not have those means, preparation looks different. Is it just about getting a go-bag and heading somewhere safe?

The short answer is no, explained Jim Cobb, founder of Survival Weekly to The Final Call. He is a disaster-readiness consultant and has been a student of emergency preparedness for almost 30 years.

“Know what you already have. Do a complete inventory of your pantry, your workshop, every closet, nook, and cranny. If you’re anything like me, you probably have forgotten at least some of the items you’ve already bought,” he explained.

“In any disaster, water is the first to go away. You need clean water. The most inexpensive way to store it is using regular tap water filled in recyclable bottles. Cases of water often go on sale. Buy them then. A case is three gallons of water. Spend $10 on water and you can be set for a few days.”

Mr. Cobb further explained that each person needs a gallon of water a day. “That sounds like a lot but keep in mind that one gallon has to be used for cooking, drinking, cleaning and bathing. I recommend even more; one to two gallons per person. You can never have too much water. That’s eight gallons a day for a family of four, 50 gallons a week. Keep in mind a case of water is three gallons. Water never goes bad.”

In 2016 Snowzilla immobilized the Washington, D.C., area with 24-36 inches of snow. That left many people confined to their homes for days.

“If people have enough water the next thing they need to be concerned about is food. Many already have what they need on their shelves like canned foods, pasta, sauce. Each week add a couple of extra things that may be on sale. It will add up,” said Mr. Cobb.

“Make sure you have enough medication also. Tell your doctor you are concerned about being prepared in a disaster. Ask if they can give you extra to build up a cushion. You want to have some on hand to get through an emergency. They won’t give you extra narcotics but may consider other drugs.”

Survival kits are very popular and can be shopped for like shoes and dresses. They range in costs, can be customized to include your exact needs and can be in your home in a matter of days.

Lists of what to store can also be found all over the internet from the Red Cross Emergency List to the U.S. government’s website which helps people compile items with their basic disaster supplies list.

Proper training and resources

“Having a kit is good,” Arealia Muhammad, head of the Millions More Movement Disaster Preparedness Training Program, told The Final Call. “But what happens if that floats away in a flood, or is blown away during a hurricane? We have to have disaster management. We have to be able to go block by block to secure ourselves and our neighbors. We have to teach emergency management.”

Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mrs. Muhammad has criss-crossed America training schools, organizations, churches and more in emergency management.

Workshops were held during a Dec. 2 Disaster Preparedness Seminar at Muhammad University in Chicago. The seminar lasted about 5 hours. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

“It’s beyond a disaster kit. We teach what we’ve learned in M.G.T. (Muslim Girls Training) Class. We have to get more people trained as emergency managers so we can coordinate what happens in our community. Management determines who lives, who dies and who gets a check. Humanitarian relief is a business now,” she explained. M.G.T. are the women and girls of the Nation of Islam under the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

“We have to have a knowledge of self to know that when things get really bad, hungry and thirsty people will turn on themselves. When people are raising millions of dollars, who is being accountable for the money?” she added.

The news has reported story after story of people and families whose lives were devastated because they lost everything in the hurricane, floods and fire. Where do they go? What do they do?

“People have to set aside a little money for an emergency even if it’s just $5 a week. This money can only be used for an emergency. If you need to evacuate, (if) it’s to a motel in the next town, you need enough money to be able to pay for a night or two in a motel. You may need cash,” said Mr.Cobb.

“It may be great to have a credit card but if the power goes out, they might not be taking credit cards. Cash is always good to have. If they are taking credit cards, use those first because once your cash is gone, that’s it.”

Functioning without electricity

The electric grid in Puerto Rico was destroyed during Hurricane Maria. Nearly two months after landfall most of the island is still without power. Many survive with the help of generators but what can you do when there is no power and that leads to the technology we are wedded to not functioning?

Matthew Stein is author of “When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance & Planetary Survival.” It’s a 417-page book that details such things as medicine, healing, clothing, energy, heat and power.

“In today’s world of global warming, superstorms, record- breaking floods, severe droughts, antiquated and overloaded electrical distribution systems, it is likely that most of us will see significant disruptions in the flow of electricity and goods at some point in our lives,” he writes.

“An old Chinese saying asks, ‘Is it not already too late if one waits until one is thirsty to begin digging a well?’ This saying applies equally at both the personal and planetary levels. On the micro level (personal survival), a little planning, training, education, and individual action can significantly reduce one’s sense of helplessness.”

Captain Wayne Bennett, owner of Disaster Survival Skills offers these tips for life without power for at least three days.

Food and Cooking

First you need to consume your refrigerated food, especially the meat that can spoil quickly. But if your stove requires electricity as well, then you might want to get a propane stove or charcoal grill, so you can enjoy your family’s outdoor feast.


He suggests having a flashlight for each room and a couple of other ways to light your space. Items like a lantern that can stay at the table to light the entire room or even light sticks that work like candles, but are much safer as there is no risk of fire or anyone getting burned. Once the light stick is activated, it can glow for 12 hrs. with 360 degrees of soft light.

A lantern with LED lights is bright enough to light a path, dims enough to keep things cozy, and runs for up to 720 hours (on low).

Functioning with limited or no technology

Food, cooking and lights are very important but what about the technology that runs our lives and keeps us connected to the world when disaster strikes?

Ask Maggie of compiled tips and advice from major wireless carriers about how to prepare for disasters and what people should add to their emergency kits to make sure they stay connected through a big storm.

• Keep your mobile phone battery charged. High winds and flooding can knock out power for hours or even days.

• Keep extra batteries or an external charger available so you can recharge your device once it runs out of juice. You may also consider buying a charger that has a hand crank and can be used to power smartphones and other devices.

• Include wall chargers, car chargers and adapters for your phone in your emergency kit.

• Keep your mobile devices, accessories and chargers dry. The biggest threat to your device during a hurricane is water. Keep it safe from the elements by storing it in a “dry bag” or some other type of protective covering, like an Otter-box phone cover.

• Dim the background light on your screen and turn off background data applications as well as Wifi and Bluetooth services to preserve battery life.

• Program your smartphone to receive emergency alerts. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are free wireless notifications that are delivered to your mobile device by local/national public safety organizations.

• Program all of your emergency contact numbers and email addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station and hospital, as well as family members. Also, keep a written copy of this information in case your phone runs out of juice, but you’re able to use someone else’s device.

• Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation.

• Backup your contacts, photos and other information on your phone to a cloud storage service.

• Download weather applications and alerts to get forecasts and severe storm warnings.

• Download apps and subscribe to alerts from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

• Take pictures of your home and belongings before the storm. During and after the storm, document any damage you see so you can share it with your insurance company.

• Set up location-tracking technology on your phone and your loved ones’ devices, so you’re able to track each other if you’re separated during an emergency. also contacted wireless carriers for their advice during evacuations and in the immediate aftermath of a disaster when network resources will likely be taxed. They recommended the following:

• Text instead of call. During an emergency, text messages may go through more quickly than voice calls because they require fewer network resources.

• Be prepared for high-call volume. During an emergency, many people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased call volume may create network congestion, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again.

• Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum and limit your calls to the most important ones

• Use social media sparingly. While there are many stories of people posting on Twitter or Facebook asking for help during Hurricane Harvey when they couldn’t get through on 911, federal emergency officials warn that people shouldn’t rely on social media for help. First responders simply don’t have time or resources to monitor all posts. And your request could be lost in the noise.

Black Prepper, an organization dedicated to providing honest and practical preparedness information from the perspective of people of color living in an urban environment, offers this advice.

“Always keep your gas tank at least half full. Running out of fuel is predictable and avoidable. Driving around on ‘E’ saying, ‘I know my car’ isn’t a plan, but it’s a great way to get into trouble. One of the keys to prepping is always being ready to leave at a moment’s notice, no matter the weather or situation. Having to stop in an emergency to get fuel is an unnecessary delay. When it’s time to GTFO, stopping for gas shouldn’t be part of it,” noted the group, using a colorful acronym to stress a point.

“There have been situations where drivers had to park where they stopped because of dangerous conditions. In these situations, you can at least have heat without too much worry about running out of gas. When sheltering in place, you can siphon the gas in the tank to power a generator or another car in an emergency.”

They added, “Fuel in the tank becomes a valuable resource in an emergency. Have the mindset of a prepper, don’t just amass supplies. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary situations. The amount of gas in the tank can determine how long you survive. If you drive regularly, you’ll always need fuel (electric or gas). Get into the habit of getting fuel whether you think you ‘need’ it or not. It’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.”

Arealia Muhammad has trained numerous churches, school and organizations in disaster management. “This is so much more than just about storing water or food. This is about being able to manage your neighborhood block by block. If disaster strikes where should everyone go, what should they do, who can they turn to for help? You will know if you do disaster management and you can organize your community. This is about saving lives, not just your own.”

For more information and to schedule a training for your community, contact Arealia Muhammad