Emergency Preparedness: Put water at the top of your list

March 26, 2011 04:00 am

The March 11 tsunami was a wake-up call. I need a real disaster kit. We all do.

I don’t have the money to go out and simply buy everything on the American Red Cross disaster list all at once, but I can build one, piece by piece.

I challenge you, my readers, to do the same.

Beginning this week I will be purchasing one item (or set of items) on the list, or finding the one I already have in my home. Then I will put it in a designated disaster kit storage area.

Each week I will list one item from the Red Cross list, with alternatives and tips.

Yes, I have parts of the kit, and most of it is even in accessible places. But I confess, I don’t have it all, and it’s not as organized as it should be.

Every year when some anniversary of a past disaster or a distant event tickles my thoughts. I’ve been saying “I’m going to do it ...” for the last decade, maybe even longer.

In February, representatives from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) visited Brookings to unveil new tsunami evacuation maps. During the meeting they warned that, in the case of major regional disasters, like the one that recently hit Japan, it may be weeks before isolated places like Brookings may see major relief efforts.

The American Red Cross recommends a two-week supply, but I’m going to be on the safe side, and have at least a three week supply of the most important items.

The Japan quake and tsunami situation is nearly identical to what is predicted on the Oregon Coast and can serve as a model for what we can expect.

That disaster isn’t a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. There is a very good chance it will happen in my lifetime. According to DOGAMI, there is a 37 percent chance of a major quake and tsunami on the Oregon Coast in the next 50 years.

There are other disasters that can hit Curry‚ÄąCounty. Winter storms often isolate the county, knocking out roads or bridges, cutting electricity and phone lines.

Disaster kits should be stored in easily accessible areas. Good places for storage are just inside the door of a backyard shed or the garage. If the building collapses, it should be one of the first items that can be dug out.

Residents of tsunami evacuation areas can store their kit in a rental storage shed or at a friend’s property.

Protect disaster supplies in rodent- and water-resistant bins, such as a large metal or plastic garbage can with a snug-fitting  lid, or the large square bins often sold at area stores marketed  for holiday decoration storage.

For those who prefer to just buy a ready-made essentials kit, go to www.redcrossstore.org, where they have kits already packed into backpacks or duffle bags.

A complete list of items recommended for a disaster supply kit can be found at www.redcross.org


Make water a priority

The first item on my list is absolutely the most important – water.

Without clean, safe water, nothing else matters. The human body can only survive three days without water.

The Red Cross recommends one gallon of water per person per day. That’s a lot of water, but you don’t want to skimp on it.

For my family of three, that means 63 gallons of water.

Store-purchased bottled water cases and 2.5 gallon jugs are easily stackable, and can be used and replaced regularly to keep the supply fresh. An advantage to smaller bottles is that if one or a few bottles are damaged, the rest of them are still usable.

This week I purchased 10 cases of 16-ounce bottles of a store-brand bottled water. I paid $2.79 per case, plus a bottle deposit of $1.20 per case.

We are also planning for a back-up system – a rain barrel.

Rain barrels are a water storage barrel open to the sky, or attached to rain gutters on your house. They fill as it rains, and come in a variety of sizes from 50 to 120 gallons. The water has to be boiled, bleached or otherwise treated before drinking, and the barrel has to be cleaned out occasionally, but it supplies a large amount of water with easy access.

Rain barrels can be purchased for $60 to $120, depending on size and features.

Used milk bottles, well-washed, can be filled with tap water. Add eight drops of bleach for long-term storage of drinking water. Another  water supply preservative is calcium hypochlorite, which lasts longer than bleach.

Five gallon camping and water cooler bottles can also be used to store water in larger amounts.

Having the river or a creek nearby is no guarantee of a water source. Lower river areas are contaminated with salt water from the ocean. A quake and tsunami could result in the contamination of almost all surface water in the area. Disasters may also happen in summer, when there is little or no rainfall.

Drinking water straight from any local river, creek, or puddle creates the risk of contracting giardia. An earthquake could result in gasoline, oils, fuels, septic system effluent and other impurities entering rivers and creeks upstream.

Extreme caution should be used. Water purifying tablets and boiling the water can be used for biological contamination, but won’t help with muddy water or chemicals.

No matter what your source is, don’t forget a replacement cycle. Use a bottle, case or jug of water from your kit monthly, and replace it with a new one.

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Next week’s item: Prescription medications.