One week after the south's having been devastated by killer tornadoes, the toll in human life and property continues to stun even the most experienced emergency responder.
Where there were homes only a few days ago only hulks of buildings and pieces of personal effects remain. Jim Shepherd photo.
Yesterday, I visited what was left of a Georgia community after an estimated F-4 tornado touched down there. What I saw made me proud of the resiliency of residents, but the stories of hundreds of residents completely unprepared to deal with a weather emergency caused me to start a review of our own family preparedness plan.
Unfortunately, with our family now living in close proximity, but no longer under the same roof, the plan is a bit discombobulated. A plan that worked when we were all together doesn't work so well anymore. And a plan that doesn't work a little, well, it doesn't work at all.
When you're all under the same roof, communications are simplified-yelling, banging pans or a whistle are all great signaling devices. And the ubiquitous cellphone might work in normal circumstances, but when winds move entire structures and bend I-beams in half, cell towers don't have much of a chance. When they're down, everything's down.
Fortunately, the small two-way radios that hunters, campers and bikers use when they're afield do a good job in short-distance communication - if they have good batteries. At our house we store electronic devices without batteries. That means you need a fresh supply of batteries close at hand if/when you need to grab your electronic gear and get going.
During last weekend's NRA Show, a group of us were standing around talking about the damages (we had no idea how bad they were at the time) and the fact that most of us are ready to run from danger, but we're pretty poorly prepared to hunker down in our own homes.
The question that proved the point started out simply enough: "what's the safest corner in your home?" For guys who are known for keeping run bags in their vehicles at all times, the dumbfounded looks made the point that we don't actually think about one bag that we all should have- the "Stay Bag".
That item should be kept in the safest place in your residence. In fact, one friend joked, the simplest message to young children might not be "run to the safest place in the house" it might work better if they know to "run to the red box and we'll all meet there".
And the fact you're not going to try and go mobile with your gear means you can actually accumulate larger items. Later, if you have to abandon your home, you can break your stores into more manageable packs or bundles.
Having seen a mortgage for a home in central Alabama picked up from a yard in Virginia, it goes without saying that you need to have duplicates of your important papers. One way is to scan your documents and put them on a thumb drive -or a thumb drive for each adult in the household. It's also a good idea to take your digital camera, walk to the center of each room in your home and shoot four images-one of each wall. Put those images on the drive(s) as well, along with more detailed shots of your most valuable property. As one insurance adjuster told me yesterday, "all these people can say they owned stuff, but the simple fact of the matter is that the homes that lost all their documents will have a harder time proving their losses."
From that point, the usual items apply: food, water, and shelter. Take a good look at your food needs for a two-week period and try to have the basics for that much time. Don't overlook medications and basic first-aid items.
Having smelled leaking gas several times over the past week, you might want to include two out-of-the-ordinary tools in your survival area-a gas shut-off tool and the T-handle used to turn off water lines. If a home's partially damaged, you can significantly reduce the damage by stopping gushing water and the danger of a gas-fired explosion.
Even in the worst of times, a sense of humor can lighten the mood. In this community railroad tracks were only a few hundred yards away. Jim Shepherd photo.
It might not seem like a big deal, but from Virginia to Alabama I heard stories from shaken first responders of getting to areas where the damage was horrific only to discover survivors puffing away on cigarettes. In their shock, they were simply doing familiar things as they tried to pull themselves together. Not a good idea.
There are many, many things you could include in a comfort and recovery kit, but it's important to remember that in an emergency, the essentials are most important. One lady in Tennessee told me of telling her kids to put clothes and toiletries into their backpacks because they were going to her parents house. The tornadoes missed their home, and shortly after midnight, they returned to their own home.
There, she discovered that her son had packed video games, not clothes or toiletries. Fortunately, they weren't among the groups that lost everything except what they were wearing or carrying.
The point? "Important" is a subjective term-even with older teens. Teach everyone about preparing everything that's essential, not the things they consider important in usual circumstances.
We're going to spend considerably more time in future editions talking about the idea of preparedness. Our lists have been revised-considerably- by the things we've seen and learned in the past seven days.
We'll share that information because it's part of our promise-we'll keep you posted.- Jim Shepherd