Thursday, July 31, 2008

Earthquakes and LAFD

On July 29 L.A experienced a magnitude 5.4 earthquake. This is classified as "moderate" with slight damage to buildings by the USGS. Fortunately the L.A. Fire Department is a national leader in disaster response and preparedness.
  • The LAFD has published an excellent Emergency Preparedness manual (PDF).
  • In 1985 the LAFD began a program of Citizen Emergency Response Teams (CERT) to provide citizens with basic training in disaster survival and rescue skills to improve the ability to survive until responders or other assistance could arrive. In 1994 the CERT program was made national under the guidance of the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) of FEMA. My wife and I are CERT members in NY and recommend it highly.
  • The early '80s also saw the creation of the Incident Command Structure (ICS), born from the need to coordinate local, state and federal rescue agencies during California forest fires. Today ICS is the FEMA approved organization plan for all emergency response.
Bottom Line: Preparation prevents Panic. An informed and trained public can play a positive role in emergency response. I'll close with some L.A. earthquake humor. Erin at TopShelf has created an L.A. scale for measuring earthquakes. For example:
5.0 is a Hug-a-Tourist. That's when a perfect stranger in the mall grabs you and hangs on for dear life and you know they're from out of town.
5.5 is a Ceiling Check, all the natives and people who've been here for twenty years or more will look up at the nearest door, just to make sure they know where it is.

See the complete list at

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide (CO), but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. When power outages occur during emergencies such as hurricanes or winter storms, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling, or cooking can cause CO to build up in a home, garage, or camper and to poison the people and animals inside. CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns, and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood.

Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances. Even more die from CO produced by idling cars. Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible.

How to Recognize CO Poisoning and What to Do

The most common symptoms of for a moderate level of CO poisoning are severe headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, confusion and fainting. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms. If CO poisoning is suspected, consult a health care professional right away.

Low levels of CO can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause.

If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:

  • DO GET FRESH AIR IMMEDIATELY. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.
  • DO GO TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. It can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.

Important CO Poisoning Prevention Tips

  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home. If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.

  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper. Never use gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, basement, garage, or camper - or even outside near an open window.

  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.

  • Never run a car, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine outside an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.

  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.

Bottom Line:

  • Every home should have at least one working carbon monoxide detector. The detector’s batteries should be checked twice annually, at the same time smoke detector batteries are checked. However, it is important for you to know that the technology of CO detectors is still developing, that there are several types on the market, and that they are not generally considered to be as reliable as the smoke detectors found in homes today. Choose carefully which CO detector you buy - a little extra money could save your life.

Details taken from the CDC CO Facts and the EPA IAQ web pages.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fresh Air

"Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans." - Jacques Yves Cousteau

Air - it's everywhere and we take it for granted. But in yesterday's tip, the Rule of Threes, we learned that the #1 priority in emergencies is fresh AIR. Consider:
  • 1st Aid and CPR courses teach "ABC"; the first things you check are the Airway, Breathing and then Circulation (pulse/heartbeat).
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, more than 500 people die in the U. S. from accidental Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
  • Again according to the CDC, almost 200 children die each year from choking. It is estimated that more than 17,500 children 14 years of age or younger are treated in U.S. emergency departments for choking episodes annually.
  • During home or office fires, the major cause of death is the smoke filled air, not burning in the flames. Stay low to the floor where the good air can be found.
  • When miners are trapped underground, foul air is the leading cause of death.
  • If the dirty air in a disaster doesn't kill you, it could still give you some serious lung injuries. Asbestos or other pollutants at the scene could raise your risk for later lung cancer. Some vivid images from 9-11 show persons completely coated in dust as they fled from the collapsing towers. Today there are concerns about what was in that 9-11 dust and the long term effects to the survivors and rescue workers.
Bottom Line:
  1. Take a moment to think about the air quality when there's smoke, pollutants, or when you are confined to a small space like a car or room. Don't wait until you feel faint - that is often too late.
  2. When firemen are wearing an oxygen tank and mask - what have you got? Hopefully your emergency kit will have a simple face mask to keep airborne particles and dust out of your lungs. No face mask? Then use a shirt, handkerchief, or scarf to cover your face when the air is thick.

Tomorrow: Carbon Monoxide

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Rule of Threes

The first step in emergency preparedness is knowing where to start. What is most important?
Fortunately this is answered by the Survival Rule of Threes:

An average person can survive:

3 minutes without air

3 hours without shelter in harsh conditions of cold or heat

3 days without water

3 weeks without food

This is best illustrated by a story. A friend of a friend died in his car during a blizzard. He had pulled over to the side to avoid being hit or causing an accident and kept the car running to keep warm. However the snow piled up and buried the exhaust pipe causing the car to fill with Carbon Monoxide fumes - a silent killer. This person forgot that fresh air trumps heat for survival. This is also one of the reasons you see warnings not to use cooking stoves inside a tent.

A second example: if you're lost in the wilderness with dry food but no water - don't eat the food! Digesting food uses up moisture inside the body. It is better to go hungry than to become dehydrated.

Here are two other sites discussing the Rule of Threes:
Outdoor Skills
Survival Topics

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Welcome to the Perpetual Preparedness blog!

My goal is to provide daily tips for survival and preparedness. Topics will include outdoor survival, home sheltering, food storage, water storage, emergency cooking, financial planning for disasters, mental preparation, the value of emergency drills, and much more.

As with any advice blog, the recommendations will be tailored for the average reader and should be adjusted to fit your personal circumstances. For example, solar ovens may be great for Arizona residents but not so reliable in Washington state. Local laws may limit the stockpiling of fuel or the use of butane tanks.

While I hope each daily tip will be factual and useful, errors may occur. Use at your own risk! Even when a tip is accurate it might still fail due to random chance. For example, it is good advice to shelter from tornado winds in a basement away from windows. But if heavy furniture crashes through the floor above, you may be killed by gravity instead of wind or flying debris.

By definition a disaster means chaotic and unpredictable conditions! I hope this blog will teach you common sense ideas and mental preparation that will prevent panic and provide you with some sound guidance to get through emergencies.