Monday, September 1, 2008

Preparing for Natural Disasters

We had a little storm this morning. The clouds grew black, the lightning and thunder struck, and the rain fell for about 15 minutes. We even got a bit of pea-sized hail. Now it’s cool (50 degrees), cloudy, and breezy, with a bit more rain just starting to fall. My son’s soccer practice got cancelled, and he and his friend are playing in the basement today instead of out riding their skateboards. So much for a Labor Day last-day-of-summer kind of holiday.

But as Labor Days go, we’re having a MUCH better one than the folks along the coast in Mississippi and Louisiana. Hurricane Gustav is lashing at levees in New Orleans, shredding the cypress trees in Gulfport, and tearing at emotional and physical scars just starting to heal from Katrina three years ago.

It’s hard to imagine living through a natural disaster. At least today, because the sky was low and menacing when I woke up, I felt a small connection to the people in Gustav’s path. When Katrina hit New Orleans three years ago, I stood on my porch and looked out at a beautiful blue-sky day, and tried very hard to understand the devastation going on at that very moment in Louisiana. It seemed impossible that the weather over my head could be so very different from – and indifferent to – what was going on there.

Every time a natural disaster hits somewhere in the world, I think of all those people trying to escape. If they have a few minutes, they throw some scant belongs into a suitcase and hit the road. How do you decide in a few minutes what to take and what to leave behind?

Personally, it takes me at least 12 hours to pack a suitcase for a weekend away. And that’s when it’s a planned holiday, not a mad rush for safety. So years ago, when an earthquake had hit California on another holiday, and I spent the day watching the news reports, I decided to finally do what all the experts recommend – pack an emergency kit. With the TV showing photos of crumpled bridges and buildings, I got out a notepad and began making a list. Then I went to the store and began stocking up on all the things I knew I’d need.

Now, every year I go through our emergency kit and update it. I replenish the food. I swap out old medications for new ones. I take out the clothes my son’s outgrown and put in bigger sizes. I update the phone numbers and financial information that we would need if we found ourselves evacuating on short notice.

One thing I make sure I have is plenty of food that my son can eat, as well as his Benadryl and EpiPens. When I hear about people staying in emergency shelters, I worry about the ones who show up with food allergies. I doubt the shelters are equipped to handle people with food allergies – especially multiple food allergies. Perhaps they are – maybe they have meals set aside for people allergic to gluten, milk, eggs, and nuts. But more likely, they’re making do with whatever they have on hand, and the cross-contamination alone must be a constant threat.

If you have an emergency kit, or if the Gustav hurricane footage is making you think today is the day to put one together, be sure you put safe food, Benadryl, and EpiPens at the top of your list. One emergency at a time is enough.

No comments: