Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Surviving a Layoff

"If you don't have any friends, relatives or neighbors whose job is currently on the chopping block, it's probably because you don't have any friends, relatives or neighbors." - MICHELLE GOODMAN, ABC News
Not all disasters are natural. In 2008 many large financial companies have taken huge losses resulting in massive layoffs. The media industry is struggling and many others I suspect. As someone currently job hunting due to a layoff I can verify that this is a horrible time to be unemployed.

If you are in the same boat I am or if you're worried that you might be laid off, then I recommend the ABC News article, "The Ultimate Layoff Survival Guide."
The columnist makes several excellent suggestions for the newly laid off:

1) Reign in your emotions. (don't do anything stupid that you'll regret)
2) Grab your valuables. (when cleaning out your desk don't forget work samples, letters of commendation, and great reviews)
3) Don't leave benefits on the table. (know what termination benefits you're entitled to)
4) Take the government handout. (State unemployment benefits ain't much, but it helps)
5) Put a positive spin on it. (Enjoy the time off and don't criticize your former company)

Bottom Line
Don't downplay the first item on the list - emotions. I've gone through exactly what she's described: "peeved, depressed [&] incredibly freaked out". You only hurt yourself by being snappish and angry.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Financial survival after a disaster

"Homeowners and business owners absolutely must plan ahead for the risk to their financial survival after the Big One hits. We have learned from numerous experiences throughout the country that in the event of major disasters, you are much more likely to lose all of your assets and/or go bankrupt because of the incident than be injured or perish during it." - How to survive 'the Big One' financially
In the blog quoted above, Joe Garcia, president of Garcia Insurance Inc., points out that only 12% of California homeowners have earthquake coverage for their home. He states,

"You may think you are covered under your general homeowners or business policy, but in California, earthquake coverage must be a separate policy with a separate premium." ...

"Don't expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] to write you a big check after “the Big One.”

Bottom Line
Just like earthquake coverage in CA, nationally few people have flood insurance and no one is covered unless they buy it separately. You may think you could NEVER be flooded but just how far away is the nearest river and how many feet are you above it? Is there a dam that could burst? Could heavy rains and leaf clogged sewers turn your neighborhood into a lake?

Talk to your neighbors and your insurance agent to find out if you are at risk for earthquakes, flooding, or other natural disasters not covered by your homeowner's policy.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The PM Survival Guide

"Survive Anything!" - Popular Mechanics

Popular Mechanics, the magazine, maintains an amazing survival guide on their website at www.popularmechanics.com/survival. Topics include:

Bottom Line

The PM Survival guide also contains several quizzes to test your knowledge. Try them out and see how well prepared you are.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Survival After the Flood

"Many of the survivors say they wish they’d been warned about how life would be after the hurricane was over and they were dealing with a lack of utilities, of potable water, of fresh food – and the stench of mildew, of rotting fish, of sewage overflows, of toilets that don’t work, of sludge coating everything, and of the flies and mosquitoes and the heat. They didn’t need to evacuate for the storm; they do need to evacuate for the aftermath." - Gallimaufree Suburban Survival
I'll try to keep this post short and recommend you read, Survival After the Flood Waters Recede, by Gallimaufree. It describes what life is really like recovering from a flood. Some of the items I learned:
  • Dry wooden furniture in the shade – direct sunlight can warp it.
  • Do not harvest any food from flooded gardens – not even potatoes or carrots. If it’s a fruiting plant that hasn’t set fruit yet, and it survives the flood, you should be able to safely harvest it later.
  • Contaminated soil and compost is also a gardening hazard.
  • Make sure you are current on your tetanus shots because tetanus is a dreadful way to die. Even minor scratches can lead to tetanus.
  • Pathways may be slick with slime. Debris may house snakes and other animals and hide broken glass, nails, and shards. Walk carefully in heavy hiking boots and use a hiker’s walking stick for balance.

Bottom Line

Print out a copy of “Repairing Your Flooded Home”, http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=1418, and keep it with your survival supplies. It covers what you need to do to get your property back in shape: recovering books, photos, documents, paintings; removing mold and mildew; drying out your furniture; and more. Your home may look like a total loss but you can recover much more than you thought possible.

Breaking News

Sept 24 (ABC News/AP) [Galveston] is in such bad shape, those hurrying back home were given an ominous warning: Bring tetanus shots, rat poisoning and don't bring children [...] planes are spraying the city with insecticide to prevent a boom in the mosquito population, the water isn't drinkable and people are urged to wear face masks to guard against inhaling toxic mold that is proliferating in the sweltering city.
Nevertheless, highways into Galveston were jammed with cars today, lines as long as 14 miles long, as many of the city's 57,000 citizens hurried back to see what, if anything, was left of their homes.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Flood Water Contamination - 2

A tough looking cowboy walks up to a bar and says, "Barkeep, I want a glass
of milk."
"Milk! That's not a drink for a tough cowboy," says the Barkeep.
The cowboy snarls, "Give it to me in a dirty glass."
As mentioned yesterday, pollutants remain after the flood waters have receded. Often overlooked is the danger of eating and drinking with contaminated utensils, serving food on dirty plates, preparing food on uncleaned counter tops, and cooking in flood touched pots and pans.
Wash all dishes and utensils in hot, soapy water with a brush to remove dirt. Sanitize glass, ceramic and china dishes, glass baby bottles, and empty canning jars in the same way as for undamaged cans. Dishes with deep cracks should be thrown away. Metal pans and utensils can be disinfected by immersing them in water and boiling for 10 minutes or run them through the dishwasher when power returns.
- University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Consider also that the water you're washing and cleaning with can itself be contaminated.
If your well has been flooded or surface water has entered your well, the water needs to be treated with a chlorination treatment. Unless you are absolutely certain your water supply is not contaminated, purify all water before using it for drinking, preparing food, brushing teeth, or washing dishes. If the water contains sediment or floating material, strain it through a cloth before purifying it. If you have access to heat or power, water can be made safe by boiling for 10 minutes. If not, you will have to treat it with chemicals like iodine.

Bottom Line
After a flood, assume your home water is contaminated until you've tested your well or local officials have announced that town water is safe to drink. Disinfect everything that plays a role in food preparation.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Flood water contamination

Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody. - Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

Contrary to Mark Twain's clever quote, water, even a little, can be quite dangerous. Flood water, be it from storm surges or overflowing rivers, is always assumed to be contaminated. There may be raw sewage, toxic soil, dead animals, and other undesirable extras that were picked up by the flood.

When cleaning up after a flood it's important to keep in mind that even after the water has gone and items have dried out, the germs and toxins carried by the flood water still remain. Food items that came in contact with water should be disposed of. The exception is commercially sealed cans which are undented, free of rust, etc.

To disinfect undamaged cans, remove paper labels (paper can harbor bacteria) and
re-label with a permanent marker. Wash the containers in warm, soapy water and use a brush to scrub surfaces. Rinse well in clean water. Immerse the clean, rinsed containers in a household bleach solution (two tablespoons bleach per one gallon of water) for 15 minutes. Air-dry cans before opening or storing. Use foods from disinfected containers as soon as possible because cans may rust. Commercially canned foods can also be boiled for 10 minutes as a disinfection treatment, but avoid this treatment for carbonated beverage cans. - University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Bottom Line
Treat flood water as filth and assume everything it touches is contaminated. You have just two choices for items that were soaked by flood water: disinfect or dispose.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Red Cross Disaster Services - Part 2

"Ladybug! Ladybug! Fly away home. Your house is on fire."
- nursery rhyme

The role of a Red Cross Disaster worker at the scene of an emergency is to provide immediate relief to the family or families to get them through that night and next few days. For longer term assistance, families are encouraged to visit the local chapter headquarters during business hours to meet with a professional case worker who can assist with recovery plans

Going back to the events of last night, we passed out toiletry kits with razors, tooth brushes, etc, we had dolls for children, and referrals to Goodwill for clothes, bedding, etc. For a few displaced families we offered 1 to 3 nights free in a local hotel. (If the disaster affects many families the Red Cross may open a local shelter with cots to lower costs.) We also provide debit cards for food and replacement clothing.

The aid is needs based. Only one apartment was destroyed by last night's fire so only that family received funds for clothing replacement. The other families who were displaced (all power and water to the building were cut off) were eligible for food and lodging relief.

Bottom Line
Relief assistance is NOT like winning the lottery. The funds provided are quite modest and just enough to provide an inexpensive second set of clothes if a fire left you literally with just the shirt on your back. The food allowance won't go far at a restaurant. It's meant to cover groceries for feeding the family.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Red Cross Disaster Services - Part 1

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. - from the children's book,
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Last night my wife and I were called by the Red Cross to provide aid for a small apartment complex that had experienced an apartment fire. No one was home when the fire started and the cause remains unknown. In today's blog I'd like to share some of what happened.

Disaster recovery takes time. The fire is thought to have occurred at 3:30 pm. At 4:30 the fire department initially told the Red Cross that no help was needed (no one was home). This changed at 5:30 when residents started returning from work and the Red Cross was officially asked to assist. The shift coordinator was stuck in commuter traffic and was not able to build a response team until 7pm. My wife and I arrived on site at 7:30 and waited until about 8:00 for a translator to arrive and organize the several families that needed help. With the help of the translator my wife & I completed case files for five family units, filled out financial assistance forms, obtained authorization for and provided debit cards. This took 2 1/2 hours until 10:30pm. During all this we sat under a street light on a sidewalk trying to keep the paper work organized.

A part of the process that surprises many people is the request for an ID. Before handing out debit cards, the Red Cross representatives need to verify that you are actually a resident of the impacted building. This is to prevent fraud. A foreign passport is nice and proves that you are you but won't provide proof of residency in apartment X. Last night we were fortunate to have the landlady on hand to verify actual renters.

Tomorrow I'll give more details on the assistance provided.

Bottom Line
Disaster recovery requires time and patience and lots of paper work. Be prepared for lots of personal questions and lots of waiting.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

How Can I Help?

"I get by with a little help from my friends" - the Beatles

After a major storm like Hurricane Ike, people will ask, What can I do to help? I recommend two articles that cover this topic well.

The first is by a resident of Austin, TX, who describes the impact Ike refugees is having on the local food banks and relief organizations which were already strained by three years of supporting refugees of Hurricane Katrina: http://www.groupnewsblog.net/2008/09/hurricane-ike-what-you-can-do.html

The second article is by CNN and lists charities that it has vetted for credibility and which are endorsed by the independent charity evaluation group, CharityNavigator.org. Many of the groups listed by CNN specialize in rebuilding and feeding after a disaster: http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2007/impact/hurricanes.html

Bottom Line
If you give money, give it wisely. Research the charity or organization to make sure it spends most of its dollars on the victims and not on advertising and salaries. Decide what efforts you wish to support - first responders, home building, meals & food banks, recovery counseling, etc. Each charity has an area of excellence and specialization.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Russian Ruollete?

"Russian roulette is a potentially lethal game of chance" - Wikipedia
Despite orders to evacuate, as many as 140,000 people stayed in their Texas homes when hurricane Ike hit. Here is a collection of news items describing the aftermath of a Category 2 storm:

"Flooding, debris left by Hurricane Ike slowing rescue efforts" - CBS News, "the devastation is extensive"... "Waist-deep water and downed trees kept many rescuers from reaching people in Galveston." ... "a couple of barges had broken loose and smashed into homes" ...Some homes were "pancaked."

"In Hackberry, La. ... workers moved a large shrimp boat out of the highway with a bulldozer, but the team had to stop because of strong currents in the flood waters and difficulty in seeing the roadway." - AP

As the hurricane hit Friday night thousands of residents who stayed behind called 911. "What's really frustrating is that we can't get to them, [during the storm]" Galveston police officer Tommie Mafrei said. "They are naive about it, thinking it's not going to be that bad." - the Australian/AP

"A 4-year-old Houston boy died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by his family's generator, which was inside his home." - ABC News/AP

Bottom Line
Don't play chicken with a Hurricane. Don't risk your life or the life of your family. When ordered to evacuate - leave!

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Food Safety During Power Outages

Keep cool and you command everybody.- Louis de Saint-Just (1767 - 1794)
One danger easily overlooked during a power outage is food contamination. According to the USDA, Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency,

"Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40°F and frozen food at or below 0°F." ... "The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed."
The USDA recommends keeping a thermometer in the fridge and freezer so you'll know the temperature. Because of bacteria growth, most fridge food should be thrown out if kept above 40°F for more than two hours. The USDA website has a table listing when foods are no longer safe. The site also advises what to do with canned foods after floods and fire.

The Minnesota Dept of Health is slightly more tolerant than the USDA with 4 hrs at 40°F:
Discard any potentially hazardous food that has been above 41°F for four hours or more, reached a temperature of 45°F or higher for any length of time, or has an unusual color, odor, or texture.
The following items can tolerate room temperatures for a few days and DO NOT need to be tossed out:
  • Butter or margarine
  • Hard and processed cheeses
  • Fresh uncut fruits and vegetables, Fruit juices
  • Dried fruits and coconut
  • Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressings, jelly, relish, taco sauce, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives and peanut butter
  • Fresh herbs and spices
  • Fruit pies, breads, rolls, and muffins. Cakes, except cream cheese frosted or cream-filled
  • Flour and nuts
Bottom Line
Perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs that are not kept adequately refrigerated or frozen may cause illness if consumed, even when they are thoroughly cooked.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Fall Hunting Season

"Those who hunt have a few preparations they need to start making now." - Gallimaufree, Suburban Survival
So begins a blog titled "Fall Hunting Season". I'm not a hunter and this is a serious problem if I ever had to live off the land or sea. I'd love to learn but past attempts at fishing have not been fruitful. I lack the patience to wait for fish or game like my father and grandfather. My wife jokes that my hunting skills are limited to what I can catch at grocery stores and fast food take-out.

Bottom Line
If you are a hunter or are interested in hunting I recommend Gallimaufree's article for suggestions on preparing for a new hunting season.

If you are not a hunter then create a long lasting food store in your basement, closets, etc. People in small apartments have used the space under their beds, inside suitcases, under tables, etc. Anything that is empty space to store emergency food. If you're planing for really long term survival, store seeds for future gardens.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Living without power

"CenterPoint Energy has said that it expects some places to be without power for
at least two weeks." - Houston Chronicle, Sept 14 following hurricane Ike

The Houston Chronicle has several excellent tips for surviving without electrical power. I'll present these as a top 10 count down list...

10. Eat the perishable food first.
Save the canned goods for later. Cook meat on a gas stove or barbecue grill and start eating it right away.

9. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
When you do open the fridge, take out everything you'll need for the the current meal and next few hours. Keep these items in a cooler and don't touch the fridge again until the next meal.

8. The best light comes from the sun.
Read and work during the daylight hours. Catch up on your sleep at night. If you use candles, cover them with hurricane globes. The Red Cross opposes candles completely - candles cause accidental fires.

7. Use electrical generators with care.
Use it outdoors only! See Gas Generator Warning for more details

6. Treat all lines on the ground as if they were live power line.
High power lines can arc electricity several feet. Stay away.

5. Call your power company - maybe.
The Houston power company recommends not calling them on day one. They know when huge neighborhoods are dark. But if your neighbors have power and you don't or if it's been a few days, then call your local power company so they know your house is still in the dark.

4. Remember those old-fashioned family values
What! No gameboy or iTunes? Try a family sing-along, cards, charades, story-telling.

3. Remember the children!
Kids and elderly are easily stressed and frightened. Make sure they have activities be it work or play to pass the time away without worrying.

2. Smile!
Be kind to everyone during an emergency. Everyone is having a very bad day. Don't make it worse by turning on each other or by being rude.

And finally...

1. Won't you be my neighbor?
Move in with someone who does have power. Or visit occasionally for a cool drink or to cool down with air conditioning. Perhaps they can store some of your food in their freezer?

Bottom Line

Don't have a friendly neighbor with power? In some areas the Red Cross will provide cool down shelters - you don't have to spend the night but can drop by to pick up water, cleaning supplies and a hot meal. The Red Cross might also send an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) through your neighborhood when the roads are safe to travel. The ERV provides foods, drinks, and supplies to neighborhoods. Listen to the radio or call the Red Cross to find out if these services are available.

See also www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5998723.html for a nice article covering the topics of this blog.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Emotional Stress for First Responders

“If you had to define stress, it would not be far off if you said it was the process of living. The process of living is the process of having stress imposed on you and reacting to it.” - Stanley J. Sarnoff
In yesterday's blog I discussed the emotional issues that disaster survivors may face during recovery. In addition, people who serve in the various emergency services, such as police, fire, EMS and other rescue personnel are at a heightened risk for traumatic stress and other powerful emotional reactions in the wake of a major disaster. During an emergency responders try to suppress their fears and emotions and deal with calmly with a not so calm public. After hours or days of control, these bottled-up emotions need to be released and dealt with.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has a series of slides and a pdf on surviving field stress for first responders, http://www2.cdc.gov/phtn/webcast/stress-05/. Field stress impacts one's ability to think clearly, to concentrate, and to think quickly. There is an increased risk of making a dangerously wrong decision.

A recent TV show on PBS described the efforts of firemen to rescue pets from a burning animal shelter. The firemen did not want to leave the burning building and abandon the pets to certain death. The fire chief had to order them out for their own safety. The sorrow and grief and guilt over death can be overwhelming.

Ways to Manage Field Stress
  1. Have experienced officers supervising
  2. Provide on scene briefings for new personnel
  3. Limit caffeine and sugar
  4. Ensure adequate rest and rotation of personnel
  5. Provide mental health counselors for debriefing

Common Aftereffects of a Response

  1. Anger or Sorrow
  2. Dreams and nightmares
  3. Distracted by frequent thoughts about what happened
  4. Strains in family and work relationships
  5. Difficulty sleeping

Severe effects can include depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Disaster field stress and aftereffects are normal and nothing to be ashamed of. It helps to talk about what happened. Check the Internet for first responder support groups in your area where you can share stories and grief together.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Emotional Recovery

"The sun will come out tomorrow" - Annie the Musical
Today's blog is taken from the Red Cross website "Picking Up the Pieces after a Disaster". While the physical destruction after an emergency is plain to see, the emotional damage is equally important to recognize and address.

You may be surprised at how you and others may feel after a disaster... People may experience fear concerning their safety or that of a loved one, shock, disbelief, grief, anger and guilt. Memory problems, anxiety and/or depression are also possible after experiencing a disaster.

Children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and people for whom English is not their first language are especially at risk. It is important to talk with children and elderly people in a calm way and let them know that you will help them find a safe place to stay.

Children become afraid that the event will happen again and that they or their
family may be injured or killed.

Young children do not understand the notice of replay on TV. When they see pictures again and again of a tornado or storm, they think the event is live and reoccurring. In NYC on 9-11 many children were terrified by frequent reshowings of a plane hitting the World Trade Center and the towers collapsing. For them the event kept rehappening.

Some basic steps you can take to meet physical and emotional needs

  • Try to return to as many of your personal and family routines as possible. For children this can mean having a favorite stuffed animal to hold and familiar pajamas to sleep in.
  • Get rest and drink plenty of water.
  • Limit your exposure to the sights and sounds of disaster, especially on television, the radio and in the newspapers.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Recognize your own feelings.
  • Reach out and accept help from others.
  • Do something you enjoy. Do something as a family that you have all enjoyed in the past.
  • Stay connected with your family and/or other support systems.
  • Realize that, sometimes, recovery can take time.


If you observe unusual behavior in your children, which you think may be caused by a reaction to the disaster, contact your local Red Cross chapter, child's counselor or community professional for additional information and help. The Red Cross can also arrange for you to talk with a member of its disaster staff who has special expertise in dealing with disaster stress.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Four Phases of Emergency Management

"mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery" - FEMA
The Wikipedia article on Emergency Management excellently covers the four phases of Emergency Management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Most people focus on preparedness and response giving little thought to mitigation and recovery.

Mitigation is an attempt to know the risks and deal with them before an emergency strikes. For example, during earthquakes damage or injury is caused by book cases and other tall furniture falling over. You can prevent this by attaching the top of the furniture to the wall with hooks and tie downs. At our house, storm water pours down a hill and straight into our basement. We mitigate this by building up ridges and channels to deflect the water around the house. We also have long rain gutters to take rain water to the sides of the house and away from the foundation.

Preparedness includes training, communication plans, drills, and stockpiling of supplies. These are all covered by earlier blogs posts.

Response has been the focus of the blog this week. It covers the first responders (fire, police) and the NGOs (non-government organizations) like the Red Cross who try to save lives during the first 3 to 7 days.

Recovery gets little press time, except when it's negative. Phone and electrical lines must be restrung, sewers and water lines repaired, roads and bridges fixed, and so on. Recovery can also be delayed by red tape. The Gas Company will want to check for leaks before turning the gas back on. A housing inspector may have to certify your house or apartment for occupancy for you can legally return. Access to your neighborhood may be restricted by the police until they decide it is safe. Your insurance company will need to inspect and photograph before you can begin rebuilding. Recovery can be a long and slow process taking weeks, months, and (with New Orleans) years.

Learn about each phase of Emergency Management. Mitigation efforts now can save you future grief. Plan for a long recovery.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Everyday disasters

"A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money." - Senator Everett Dirksen US politician (1896 - 1969)

Yesterday I mentioned a blog article from the website Givewell.net called "the case against disaster relief." While the main point of the blog was the cost ineffectiveness of flying rescue teams and equipment around the world, there was another interesting point taken from the Disease Control Priority project report. World citizens will donate billions of dollars for disaster relief after a tsunami but ignore the everyday misery and disease that kill millions every year.
"emergency relief is one of the least cost-effective health activities," and no substitute for (a) disaster preparedness; (b) proven interventions to deal with chronic, everyday health problems.
The report suggests that your donations can save more lives by addressing the following health issues:

Human suffering is not only caused by natural diasters but also from a lack of everyday clean water and basic medical care. Saving a life from disease is easier than rescuing a village after a flood.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Local Resources

"All politics is local" - Tip O'Neill, US Congressmen

There is a recent article with a controversial title, The case against disaster relief. It cites a conclusion from a report by the Disease Control Priorities Project:
The immediate lifesaving response time is much shorter than humanitarian organizations recognize. In a matter of weeks, if not days, the concerns of both the population and authorities shift from search and rescue and trauma care to the rehabilitation of infrastructure (temporary restoration of basic services and reconstruction). In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, after the December 2004 tsunami, victims were eager to return to normalcy while external medical relief workers were still arriving in large numbers.
People mean well and want to help after emergencies. However most offers of help are rejected or arrive too late. Fresh food donated is tossed out - who knows if some joker wants fame by poisoning rescue workers? Supplies are given in huge quantities but no one has the trucks and logistical support to ship them where they are needed. Volunteers offer help at disaster scenes but most are turned away - perhaps they are really looters trying to get inside?

If you really want to help consider the following:

1. Register now with Red Cross or CERT.
You'll need to get a Red Cross or CERT photo ID, volunteer to help, receive training, and wait to be called for service.

2. Never just show up and demand to help.
Some exceptions - medical, police, fire staff (with ID).

3. Call the Red Cross, United Way, your church
Find out what they are collecting, don't just assume they want socks or dolls.

The best help during an emergency is local help. They know the area, the people and are already on site or near. Do all that you can to support local disaster teams versus the less efficient and costly outside rescue teams.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Hide and Seek

"Ollie, Ollie oxen go free" - children's game of hide and seek

In yesterday's post I pointed out the many reasons why rescuers may be slow to reach your door - blocked roads, floods, no street signs, etc. Now let's consider the best of conditions, help has reached your neighborhood. Now what? Except for the obvious cases, like persons sitting on the roof of their flooded house, it won't be easy to determine who needs rescuing and where.

If resources permit, rescue teams may do house to house searches but this takes lots of time and manpower. Here are some ideas to help rescuers find you quickly.
  1. Try every type of phone when calling for help.
    - During emergencies cell phones are quickly overwhelmed or the cell towers fail. An old fashioned land line phone attached to a jack the wall can be a life saver. Land line phones get power from the phone line and may still work when electricity fails.
  2. Call someone far away.
    Local 911 and local phone lines will be overwhelmed and all you get is a busy signal. Try calling family or friends out of state. Calls to someone outside the disaster region may work while busy lines might block them from calling you. Let them know where you are and ask them to notify 911 on your behalf.
    Frequently in a major disaster, the number of lost people is overwhelming and search efforts less than organized. Your outside friend can keep retrying on your behalf if you're not found over many days and your cell phone and land phone have lost power.
  3. Register on FEMA
    FEMA supports a website so your outside friend can register that you are a person displaced in a storm. Power/Internet permitting - you can register yourself to let family know where you are sheltered. See https://asd.fema.gov/inter/nefrls/home.htm
  4. Register on the Red Cross Safe and Well
    Same as FEMA - report persons missing or report yourself as alive and well https://disastersafe.redcross.org/
  5. Make it obvious that you need rescue
    Paint "HELP ME" or "SOS" on the door or wall of your house. Write in soap or markers on your windows. Put a note on the door (covered in something water proof and nailed down) letting rescuers know what room you are sheltering in.
  6. Contact the news media
    If you have not been rescued and your 3 day kit is running out, you or friends can try calling the media to ask them to find out why you are not being rescued.

Don't play hide and seek when you want to be rescued. Use every means you can to make your location and your need for rescue obvious.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Waiting for the Cavalry

“Numerical superiority is of no consequence. In battle, victory will go to the best tactician.” - General George Armstrong Custer, before his army was completely destroyed at the Battle of Little Big Horn
In many an old movie of cowboys and Indians, the settlers are saved at the last minute by the arrival of the US Cavalry division of mounted soldiers. During emergencies today, many people have the same expectation of being rescued last minute by fire/police/National Guard in helicopters, boats, etc. In reality most cities and towns barely have enough law enforcement and firemen to cover normal, everyday occurrences. To handle large events like a block fire they use Mutual Aid Agreements to call in resources from neighboring town. For large scale events like flooding and hurricanes, the towns next door need outside help too so the governor must call out the local National Guard or ask the federal government to send Guardsmen from nearby states.

Outside help needs time to arrive. Sometimes, as with hurricanes, a need can be predicted and outside help called in early and placed on stand by. The Red Cross frequently does this. But when a hurricane does hit the road to rescue is just beginning. Perhaps the storm hit hundred of miles away from the predicted spot far away from the waiting help. Perhaps it hit the rescuers. Even in the best scenario of perfect storm prediction, the outside help still needs to reach you. Road signs may be twisted or blown away, roads blocked with fallen trees or flooded with water. No electricity means no working gas pumps so fuel trucks need to be brought in. Organizing a rescue effort is extremely difficult and takes time and works slowly.

A few years ago residents of Rye and Mamaroneck, NY were forced to evacuate due to coastal flood caused by a tropical storm. My wife and I were asked to help set up a Red Cross shelter at Mamaroneck High School, 22 miles from our house. We had no problems with the first 17 miles but encountered many blockages just miles from our goal. Traffic on I-95 South was not moving so we tried instead local roads in Rye. Bad idea. We came upon blocked roads, flooded roads, police barricades, and quickly became lost with so many detours. We were very lucky that our car was not stalled out driving through flood waters and also lucky that we finally found the shelter.

There is a reason for 72-hour go kits. If you cannot rescue yourself and must wait for help, then be prepared for a long wait. 72 hours is 3 days of waiting with no fresh water and no electricity. And waiting to be found assumes that someone is looking for you and knows where to find you.
More on that tomorrow.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Community Communication Plan

"Most people are good. They may not be saints, but they are good."
- Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia

It's funny how reading one web site can lead to another. I use Google alerts to spot new blogs and web pages dealing with emergency planning. This led to a page on what guns to buy to protect your supplies that I linked to yesterday. That site (From the Bunker) referenced the Disaster Communications Plan for Antioch, CA 1st Ward.

I am quite impressed by this plan. It spells out how to buy a walkie talkie, buying spare batteries, when to call, what channels to use, and how to call in and report. This is a communication plan that could be adopted by any neighborhood watch group, community organizers, or other churches.

When 9/11 occurred the minister of my local church activated our emergency calling tree to find out if anyone was missing since many of us commute to New York City to work. In a phone tree, the leader calls 3 to 5 people. These in turn call 3-5 others that are assigned to them. ( 25 + 5 + 1 people in the tree so far) . This third layer of people may call 3-5 more bringing the number of people covered 150 or so. Now in order for this to work a few rules need to be followed:

  1. The calls out must be made. If person A can not reach B in the tree, don't break the chain. If B is unavailable, person A should call all the people C assigned to B so they don't get dropped out.
  2. To carry out rule 1 each person should have a listing of the complete phone tree with all phone numbers.
  3. Report back up the tree as little as possible. Report immediately after making your assigned 3-5 calls so the person above you knows the phone chain is unbroken and to report what you learned. Next wait for the people you called to call back with results if they are assigned to contact others. Don't call back up with each call you get. Collect the results and report back on some assigned schedule, say every 30 mintues or hourly.
  4. Use the tree in reverse order to report back. Don't hit the person at the top of the tree with 150 calls. Call back the person who called you. If you can not reach the person who called you, then call one level up. Don't skip a level just because the phone is busy. Be patient but reasonable (say 15 mintues).
  5. Don't neglect to report good news. It is just as valuable to report that family X was called and reports all is well so no one has to call them a second time. Keep track of what you learn with check marks on the phone tree list or some other note keeping system.

Bottom Line
The phone tree rules look complicated but really they are just common sense. Spread out the burden of making calls and be responsible and reasonable to make sure there are no breaks in the chain, no unreasonable delays, and no duplication of effort.

Phone trees are not just for emergencies. They can be used to contact a large group when an event is rescheduled or moved, etc. Let the power of trees work for you.

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Protecting your Food Storage

"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-haaa!" - song title and lyric

When a disaster happens, people may become hungry and desperate and look enviously at you with your back-up power generator and grilling steaks on the BBQ. Things can get ugly when you have food and your neighbors do not.

There are several ways to cope with this situation:

  1. Share
    When the Mormon church recommends that its members store one year of food, it is generally acknowledged that families won't really need to survive for one year on food storage alone. Instead the one year buffer gives you plenty to share with others who don't have stored food. We have friends who lived in Puerto Rico when a hurricane hit the island. Neighbors came for many days with starving kids pleading for food and medicine like aspirin. Fortunately they had supplies to share.
  2. Keep a Low Profile
    A second strategy is to use stealth. Hide your food storage in multiple locations around the house so if you get raided you only lose part of your supplies. Don't flaunt your supplies and keep it secret, especially after a disaster. Neighbors may still become suspicious if you're not spotted waiting in long food/water lines (because you don't need it).
  3. Use Force to Defend Yourself
    Personally I don't own a gun but there are those who advocate having the means to fight back should someone try to steal your emergency supplies. If you buy a gun or rifle be sure to have a gun lock and keep it away from children. As a child playing hide and seek, I found a hunting rifle in my dad's closet. Kids will find out your hiding places.

Bottom Line
Having an emergency food storage is a wonderful accomplishment. Now take time to think about how it will be used or protected during an actual emergency. Will you share it, hide it, or defend it?

Updated Nov 8.

For another blog on self defense and your options check out Run and Hide or Blow Their Heads Off at Code Name Insight.

Also interesting: Krav Maga - Israeli Martial Arts

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Who gets your 401(k) when you're dead?

“I have known not a few men who, after reaching the summits of business success,
found themselves miserable on attaining retirement age.” -B. C. Forbes
A 401(k) is a great way to save money if you work for a company that supports this program. You can request that each month, money is taken from your pay check and kept in an account (often mutual funds you select from a list) that will be manged by the company until you retire. Since this blog is about preparedness I won't go into further 401(k) details except to recommends these web sites:

The reason I bring up 401(k)s is the article , You're dead: Where's your 401(k)? on MSN Money. One common mistake with 401(k)s is the lack of follow-up when your life changes. When you register for a 401(k) your current spouse is automatically entitled to survivor benefits under Federal Law unless he/she agrees to sign away their rights. That's true even if you identified someone else when you filled out the paperwork to start contributing to the plan. If you divorce and remarry, the first spouse gets the 401(k) money unless you fill out the paperwork requesting a change AND the first spouse agrees.

Perhaps you're single and named a college friend as your 401(k) beneficiary but now you are not on speaking terms. Update the paperwork!

Bottom Line
I recommend reading You're dead: Where's your 401(k) for more information including naming your minor-age children as beneficiaries and for instructions on how to collect the 401(k) money without penalties after a death.

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Monday, September 8, 2008


"Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."
- Benjamin Franklin
While your typical preparedness planning is all about surviving difficult times, eventually death is inevitable. In an earlier post, Make a Plan, I discussed the importance of not just having an emergency plan but sharing the details with friends and family so they can implement the plan if you are incapacitated or missing. This applies equally to financial planning.

In many families, one parent handles most of the financial planning and insurance. They alone know where the money is kept, the bank account numbers, the insurance agent's phone number, etc. When this person passes away, the surviving spouse (or kids) may have no clue about the family nest egg in a CD, rainy day funds invested in mutual funds, or retirement money in a 401(k). Worse yet the survivors might not have legal access to the funds for weeks or months. If the bank account, CD, stocks, etc are in the name of the deceased spouse/partner only, the widowed spouse/partner may not access it until the Will (you have Will right?) is officially probated by lawyers and the bank, etc, recognize you as the inheritor.

Bottom Line
Three things are vital in financial planning post-death:
  1. Make sure your spouse/partner/parents/trusted executor/lawyer/someone has a list of all places where the family money is kept, with account numbers and contact information.
  2. To avoid the delay of will probating, register your accounts in two names as Joint Tenant With Right of Survivorship (JT TEN WROS). This means two of you have legal access as individuals and that access will continue if one of you passes away. Bank checks should have the names of both spouses/partners so either may sign. Ditto for credit cards.
  3. Be sure to follow-up on these accounts. Many banks close accounts after many years of inactivity and turn the money over to the state.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Disaster Prevention Day in Japan

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" - folk saying
Japan is a country that treats disaster preparedness seriously. I recall reading about a minor earthquake in a foreign city. The staff in the writer's building casually went outside and blocked exit doors while smoking. At a Japanese owned company across the street, the staff wore hard hats, were organized into groups, and supervisors did roll calls to ensure everyone was evacuated.

According to the article, Disaster Prevention Day in Japan, there are roughly 1,500 earthquakes a year in Japan. Large quakes occur at 70-year intervals; the most recent, the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, claimed 6,000 victims. On average, three to five typhoons a year hit Japan, usually in September. Because of this, September 1 has become "Disaster Prevention Day".
Various drills for disaster preparedness are held all over the country by schools, companies and public organizations. Department stores also set up special sections with earthquake survival products. In bookstores you can find books with maps showing how to find your way home from your central Tokyo office to your house in the far-away suburbs. ... The fire brigade also pays visits to offices and schools, to train people in the use of fire extinguishers and have volunteers experience an earthquake in the Earthquake Simulator mounted on a truck ... at a magnitude 7 or 8, you will be knocked to the floor by the force of the swaying.
Bottom Line
If you haven't read it, please check out my blog on the value of participating in emergency drills. Drills save lives!

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Beans, Beans, Beans...

“I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus.” - Henry David Thoreau
Today's post comes from Beans in your Food Storage on the web site Urban Survival Secrets

Beans should be a key component in your food storage and emergency/disaster kits. You need to be storing and using Beans on a frequent basis for several reasons. First is that they are an inexpensive form of protein. Second, when teamed with rice (brown) it is a whole protein replacement. You should have a 5 to 1 ratio of rice to beans at a minimum. Also, beans will last in your food storage for years, while jerkey and other meats are good for a much shorter period (nutritional value drops rapidly.) Another reason is that if you do not use beans in your diet, in emergency situations your bowels and neighbors will not like you for the gas you will produce. This is because of a sugar within the beans that some people do not digest well. If you take time to put beans in your diet, you will be able to digest the beans efficiently and with little gas!

Bottom Line
Dried beans may be stored for long periods of time if kept dry, well-ventilated and protected from insects and rodents. Check the boxes, cans and/or bags from time to time and—if any dampness is found—remove the contents, dry them in a warm oven and return the beans to the containers. For more information on beans I recommend Beans Bonanza!

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Remember Your Pets!

“Never work [as an actor] with children or animals.” - W.C. Fields

Pets are often overlooked during disasters and emergencies, as seen during the recent California wildfires, which displaced 15,000 pets according to PRNewswire. "Pets cannot survive on their own," said Brent Hinton, PetFirst chief executive officer and former head of the Kentucky Humane Society.

PetFirst suggests the following steps to increase the chance of pet survival:

  • Identify a pet friendly shelter in advance
    Many disaster shelters, including Red Cross, will not accept pets due to health and safety regulations. Find pet friendly hotels and motels or friends that will accept your pets.
  • Pack a pet-survival kit
    Include pet food, bottled water, meds, vet records, toys, a leash or pet carrier and a current pet photo in case the pet becomes separated.
  • Bring pets indoors
    Never leave pets outside or tied up during disasters.
  • Separate dogs and cats
    Pets can act irrationally during an emergency

If there is no alternative to leaving pets behind, PetFirst recommends the following:

  • Confine pets inside
    Provide dry food (moist, canned food may spoil) and drinking water
  • Post a Note Outside
    Post a note (waterproofed?) stating what pets have been left inside and where. Include your name and a contact number like a cell phone and your vet's phone

Bottom Line

Should you become separated from your pets it is important that they have ID tags with your phone number on it. Dogs (and some times cats) need to have rabies vaccination tags. Locating your lost pets will also be easier if you have photos of them in your evacuation kit to put online and on posters.

For more information the Pets & Animals in Distress Web site is a great resource center that offers pet preparedness with a hurricane checklist for pet owners and pet friendly hotels.

The HUMANE SOCIETY: www.hsus.org/hsus_field/hsus_disaster_center/
FEMA - Animals and Emergencies - http://www.fema.gov/individual/animals.shtm
PET-FRIENDLY Hotels & Motels - http://www.petswelcome.com/

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

A History of Emergency Planning

"I am struck by the thought that we have not come very far since my early days in this business. As a county emergency manager 20 years ago, we struggled with public education, effective warning systems, training and preparing the school systems, hospitals' the list goes on. It all sounds very familiar, doesn't it" - Avagene Moore, president of the Emergency Information Infrastructure Project (EIIP)
For today's lesson I recommend reading "Challenges, Collaboration, and Continuity" on http://www.desastres.org/. The article looks at the past 20 years of Emergency Management and Planning, where the profession is at today, and challenges for the future.

Here are some of the predictions
  • Don't expect attitudes toward disaster to change. "People still make the same mistakes. People still ignore risks and say 'it won't happen to me.'"
  • One of the most important things is the education of our populations, everything from websites like Ready.gov and the availability (and popularity) of weather radios to the rise of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs)
  • Funding will likely always be a contentious issue
  • Challenges include the continuing quest toward interoperable communications, identity theft, data privacy and hackers.
Bottom Line
One expert states, "I've always considered the average citizen as the weakest link in the chain of preparedness. Recent events demonstrate that our work is paying off and that our "customers" are taking a more active role in their own preparedness."
Another anticipates that "Individuals and families will create personal emergency management plans that focus on fire evacuation and life safety. This will be because of a general recognition that most of us will be on our own for the first 72 hours after a disaster."

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hurricane Hype?

"Those who would try and characterize the government and NHC actions of the last
few days as overreactions, are the same ones who’d crucify them if they under reacted. - Ragman in comments on Weather Nerd
The blog Weather Nerd has an interesting article called Apocalypse-Not about media and public reaction to hurricane Gustav. After mandatory evacuation for "the mother of all storms", it landed west of New Orleans as a category 2 with minor damage. "Live TV reports suggest little if any serious wind damage ... although there are reports of some water coming over the Industrial Canal."

With regard to the statement that Gustav is “turning out to be far less than what was previously forecast,” that’s not really fair ... There were plausible alternative scenarios whereby Gustav would be a calamity. The contemporaneous plausibility of these calamitous scenarios is not retroactively invalidated by the fact that, thankfully, a different scenario has occurred. - Weather Nerd

It is crucial that blogospheric and journalistic snark not take hold here... There are, and will continue to be, plentiful examples of ridiculous media over hype, and those are deeply unfortunate ... What matters, though, is this: the forecasts were not “hype,” and the evacuations were not “hype.” Gustav had the legitimate potential to be far worse than this, and decisions had to be made at a time when we could not depend on the more favorable scenario that has instead occurred. - Weather Nerd

In the story "The Boy who Cried Wolf", the farmers got tired of the false alarms and stopped paying attention to the cries of "Wolf!". When a wolf did appear, no one heeded the warning. Likewise with Hurricanes, people ignore official warnings because last the officials got it wrong. Then when the "big one" does occur, residents are taken by surprise and sometimes die in their homes.

Bottom Line
Always treat every hurricane with respect and prepare for the worst. Nature is fickle.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gas Generator Warning

Portable gas generators, often used by consumers to restore power to their homes and businesses in the aftermath of a storm, produce high levels of deadly carbon monoxide (CO). CPSC warns consumers that generators should be used outdoors only, far from doors, windows, and vents that could allow CO to come indoors. “Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless poison gas. It is an invisible killer,” said CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord. “While generators can come in handy after a storm, using one indoors can kill you and your family in minutes." - U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Spotted on the Consumerist, Try Not To Kill Yourself By Using A Gas Generator Inside A Building, in the wake of Hurricane Fay some Florida residents used Gas Generators in unsafe ways.

A survey of more than 10,000 adults found dangerous misconceptions about generator safety. Most respondents (62 percent) believe it is safe to run a generator in a garage as long as the garage door is open. Many (47 percent) also believe it is safe to run a generator in a basement as long as a window is open. But both scenarios caused nearly 100 deaths in 2005.

Bottom Line

The Commission provides these important life-saving tips:

  • If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away.
  • Keep generators dry and wait for the rain to pass before using a generator. Consumer-grade generators are not weatherproof and can pose the risk of electrocution and shock.
  • Do not connect the generator directly into your home's electrical system through a receptacle outlet – this is an extremely dangerous practice that poses a fire hazard and an electrocution hazard to utility workers and neighbors served by the same transformer.
  • If using a generator, plug individual appliances into heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cords and plug cords into the generator.
  • Check that the extension cords have a wire gauge adequate for the appliance loads and have all three prongs, including a grounding pin.
  • Check to make sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms have batteries and are working.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

September Is National Preparedness Month

"There's a tendency - and it's human nature - to think that a large-scale disaster is not going to happen where you live. Accepting the inevitability of an emergency, and then taking responsibility for your own recovery are the necessary first steps toward protecting your family, your assets, and your community." - Small Business Association Acting Administrator Sandy K. Baruah
September is National Preparedness Month; sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It is designed to enhance the public's awareness of the necessity of having an emergency plan in place to respond to a natural or man-made disaster. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is one of the many government and private sector coalition partners participating in this fifth annual National Preparedness Month.

SBA offers the following tips:
  • Develop a solid emergency response plan
    Decide beforehand evacuation routes from the home or business, establish meeting places and make sure everyone understands the plan.
  • Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage
    Have at least enough insurance to rebuild your home or business. Flooding is usually not covered and requires additional Flood insurance.
  • Copy important records
    Back up vital records and information saved on computer hard drives, and store that information at a distant offsite location. Copies of important documents and CDs should be stored in fire-proof safe deposit boxes.
  • Create a "Disaster Survival Kit"
    The kit should include a flashlight, a portable radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, non-perishable packaged and canned food, bottled water, a basic tool kit, plastic bags, cash, and a digital camera to take pictures of the property damage after the storm.

The SBA makes low-interest loans to homeowners, renters and non-farm businesses of all sizes. Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged real estate. Individuals may borrow up to $40,000 to cover losses to personal property.

Bottom Line

More preparedness tips for businesses, homeowners and renters are available on the SBA's Web site at http://www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance/disasterpreparedness/index.html. The Institute for Business and Home Safety (http://www.ibhs.org/ ) also has information on protecting your home or business. To learn more about developing an emergency plan, visit the DHS's Ready Campaign Web site at http://www.ready.gov/ or call 1-800-BE-READY to receive free materials.

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