Friday, January 10, 2014

Be prepared ... and fabulous

I grew up in the age of Civil Defense Drills, during which my fellow students and I would huddle in the halls of our school, kneeling down with our hands over the backs of our necks, talking quietly about how if there was ever an actual nuclear attack, our town would be instant collateral damage to any missiles fired at Washington, Baltimore, or Philadelphia, so there wasn't any point to us practicing how to "duck and cover."  My parents weren't big on disaster planning - anything weather-related we probably would have time to run away from, they figured, and things like fire ... well, I believe at one point I was told I should knock out my window screen, then jump from the roof of the kitchen down to the ground and try not to break my legs when I landed.  Thanks for the tip, guys.

We moved to Japan in 1998, and we were amused to find out that everyone at work had an Earthquake Kit they had to keep in their desk.  These backpacks included such handy items as hard hats (which were too small for our heads), reflective insulating blankets (most of the time we spent in Japan was during the warmer months), a liter bottle of water (which is enough for, like, half a day of survival), and various energy bars and snack foods (which most of the employees snitched during the year, so they would all starve if they actually needed them).  Our employers were kind enough to send two extra kits home with us to keep in the apartment, where we stuck them in the closet by the front door, along with some extra bottles of water and a ziplock baggie of food for the cat.  When the largest earthquake of our time in Japan actually occurred on a cold day in December, I was barefoot and wearing nothing but a sports bra and leggings, having just returned from a run.  I sat there in shock while the building shook and heaved, but eventually I came to my senses and ran to grab the backpacks, while Jason - in his pajamas - spent five minutes trying to coax the cat out from under the bed. A few granola bars and a mylar blanket would not have made much difference in our ability to survive in a post-earthquake hellhole that day.

We moved back to America, and 9/11 happened, and people started talking about sarin gas and biological warfare and stuff, and officials suggested we all stock up on plastic sheets and duct tape, just in case.  We threw a few dropcloths and rolls of tape on the pile of stale bottles of water and canned goods that were gathering dust in the basement.  I didn't make any concrete plans for what we would do in case of a big emergency ... honestly, I'm always halfway serious when I joke that I hope I'm the first to get slaughtered in whatever horrible thing happens in our town, because I'm not constitutionally suited to living through adverse times.  As a kid, I was always somewhat comforted by the idea that our town would probably be obliterated during any sort of attack, so I wouldn't have to worry about surviving the fallout and the famine and the lawlessness.  I am just not designed to soldier on through immense adversity.

We moved to Kentucky, had a kid, and my emergency preparedness focus shrank to making sure I had a spare change of clothes for everyone in the car, because you never knew when a diaper disaster was going to hit.  I cared less about mylar blankets and first aid kits than I did about having enough snacks and diapers to make it through the next 12 hours.

We moved back to Cleveland, and for some reason, emergency supplies just never seemed important.  We were always tight on space at the last house, and when we ended up using our supply of stale bottled water to refresh the backup battery on our sump pump, we didn't replace it.  I canned ridiculous amounts of food, and we always had packaged snack food, so I figured we could probably weather a few days without power if we needed to.  Then there were hurricanes, and tornadoes, and other weather situations that made it difficult for various family members to get necessary supplies, and making up an emergency kit didn't seem like such a waste of time after all.

A few weeks ago a friend of ours was showing off his "bug-out bag," which he has prepared in case he and his family need to make a quick escape in the face of an emergency.  It's got first aid supplies, and water, and food, and a Bowie knife as long as your forearm.  "I call it the 'Zombie Apocalypse Bag,' because seriously, when would we need a knife that big during an ice storm or a hurricane?" his wife said.  "Besides, if it was really a bug-out bag, it would need to have extra gas for the car in it, since we never have more than about 1/4 of a tank in either of the cars on a regular day."  I agreed that no gas + giant knife = zombie apocalypse bag, and the conversation moved on.

Earlier this week the weather was so cold that it froze the intake valves for the water treatment plant that supplies several of the communities near us, including our town.  We were cautioned to conserve water, refrain from taking long showers or doing laundry, because while there was enough water right then, there was no way to refill the storage tanks when all of it was consumed.  By Wednesday night we were told to use water only for essential things like brushing teeth, drinking, and cooking - flushing toilets and taking showers were frowned upon.  Communities near ours were still well-supplied with water because their intake valves were lower in the lake and hadn't frozen yet, and a heat wave was predicted for later in the week, so it wasn't a crisis.  And yet, within ten minutes of hearing about the water restrictions, a friend posted on Facebook that we shouldn't bother going to the grocery store to pick up bottled water, since the shelves were entirely sold out.  All around us, the cold weather was causing power outages and gas supply problems and busted pipes, and people were having to hunker down in their houses for days at a time because cars wouldn't start and the roads weren't fit to drive, even if you could find a store that was open.

It was the first time in my life that I actually thought, Well, crap, I guess we should have gotten that emergency kit together after all.  We had plenty of food in the fridge, and even if the power went out, it would keep in the cold temperatures.  We had propane tanks and a grill we could use if the gas went out, and a ton of frozen food we could thaw.  But water ... that we didn't have much of.  We shut off the ice maker, didn't take showers, didn't wash the laundry, didn't wash the dishes.  We tried not to think about how as soon as you aren't supposed to use water, all you want is a drink.  Jason took the World's Least Satisfying Shower the next morning, and we waited to see if school would have water in the buildings and be able to open.  In the end, the water company devised another way to supply water to the plant, so the restrictions were lifted, and life went back to normal.

Only now I'm thinking that we really should get that emergency kit together.  Water, packaged food, a decent first aid kit, a can of gas for the car, extra blankets and socks, and of course the plastic sheeting and duct tape.  Maybe extra socks and a pair of cheap shoes for all of us (because I don't want to get caught barefoot during the next earthquake I live through, thankyouverymuch). A book on first aid and survival techniques would be helpful, too, since I couldn't actually treat any injury worse than a sprain, and my knowledge of making shelters comes entirely from watching some Mythbusters specials about the uses of duct tape.  I think I'll skip the Bowie knife, though, in favor of an extra can opener, some form of alcohol, and a few days' worth of all the prescriptions Jason and I take.  Because when the zombie apocalypse comes, how can I expect to be one of the first ones put out of my misery eaten if my brain isn't jacked up on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs?  And how will Jason cope with my loss and soldier on if his blood pressure skyrockets and his asthma flares up?  And how will Liza ... well, Liza is healthy as a horse, doesn't actually eat food most days, hasn't willingly taken a drink of water in years, and runs around all winter in tank tops and shorts - she'll outlive us all, no matter what the disaster.

I can't put Liza  in charge of picking out emergency supplies, though - every time we have a winter storm warning or a thunderstorm, she packs her own kit of supplies she needs if we have to take shelter elsewhere.  These kits usually include things like a pillow, 48 books, a granola bar, a flashlight without any batteries, a candle (but no matches or lighter),three extra outfits with lots of sequins and glitter ("so the rescuers can find me"), and a backup toy to sleep with.  Perfect for a sleepover, but not so helpful for the zombie apocalypse, unless you're planning on smothering the walkers with a pillow or pelting them with paperbacks.  She may not make it through the disaster, but with her fashion sense intact, at least Liza will be an attractive corpse.  Maybe I'll go add some mascara and a tube of lip gloss to the emergency kit.  After all, if we can't be prepared, we can at least be fabulous, right?

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