“People need to be physically prepared for an interruption in their normal lifestyle.”
Image by Government of Alberta/Flickr.
Eight years ago, I found myself taking refuge from the stresses and boredom of new motherhood by obsessively tuning into Discovery and History channel programs that predicted a far-off future so dire that it seemed like science fiction: East coast hurricanes might one day destroy the New York City subway system, while out-of-control wildfires would eat up entire California mountainsides.
Since then, weather records across the United States have been broken many times over. Several years of historic blizzards have buried the midAtlantic states. Both hurricanes and tornadoes have struck New York City. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, nearly drowned under more than 30 inches of rain in just two days — more than the entire state of California has gotten over the course of its five-year drought. And the summer and early fall of 2017 have brought us multiple “500-year” floods and fires, from Irma and Maria to the fires ravaging the Napa Valley.
As I write these words, the sky outside my small suburban home has turned an apocalyptic purple gray due to a wildfire raging across more than 2,200 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Environmental scientists, some of whom recently announced that our atmospheric carbon levels have “passed the point of no return,” have described our current period of time as the “Anthropocene.” Essentially, the cumulative effects of humankind’s industry and commerce on the planet have turned Mother Nature against us, possibly foreshadowing something called “the sixth extinction” — or our own demise.
While we wait for the world to deliver on the promises of the Paris Agreement, which could take decades, the new mantra of our era may very well be: Get prepared or get out of the way. Extreme weather is here and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. So what’s the best way to stay safe and calm in a meteorological disaster?
Get Into A Survivor Mindset
“If a person knows a storm is coming and they do nothing and then something bad happens, they’re a victim up one side and down the other,” says Tim MacWelch, a 20-year survival instructor of such notable folks as the United States Armed Forces, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice. He’s also the author of “How to Survive Off the Grid: From Backyard Homesteads to Bunkers (and Everything in Between)” and other books.
MacWelch recommends getting into a “survivor mindset” even if you don’t expect cataclysmic weather. “People need to be physically prepared for an interruption in their normal lifestyle, they need to be alert and able to receive information that can impact their safety and even lives, and they need to be ready to move out of harm’s way.”
MacWelch says he “leans toward a better safe than sorry” approach to preparation rather than waiting too long for updates from local authorities to decide what to do. Putting protection of self above property should be a key priority. “Things can be replaced, lives can’t,” says MacWelch.
All families should have a 72-hour survival kit containing food, water, medicines, a first-aid kit, a non-flame-based lighting source (hand-crank or solar-powered flashlights and radios are ideal), and a way to receive information via a radio of some kind in case the electricity goes out.
Make an Evacuation Plan
“When an emergency rears its ugly head, this reminds us that we’re not in charge,” says MacWelch.
One way to feel in control is to develop an evacuation plan, says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director of UL, a global independent safety science company. “Establish an emergency meeting spot,” he advises. “Make sure that children know exactly what to do in the event that you become separated.”
He and other safety experts also recommend establishing an out-of-town contact and meeting location in case family members become separated.
Avoid Unnecessary Damage
Other considerations, according to Deborah Holtzman, author of the books “The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety” and “Healthy Living,” include installing smoke alarms in every bedroom, running generators only outside a home (20 feet away from structures), and posting emergency telephone numbers, including local emergency services, near or on your phone.
It’s also important to learn how to turn your utilities off and on. In situations such as a wildfire or an earthquake, turning off gas lines, for example, could prevent explosions and leaks.
Do Your Research Early
Even if you’ve never experienced more than a gentle rain, chances are climate change will bring surprising weather to your very own doorstep, whether or not you’re prepared. But you can take action ahead of time. Many cities have a Reverse 911 system that allows you to register to have alerts sent to your mobile phone. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other sources of aid are just a few clicks away.
MacWelch says he finds it empowering to get prepared well in advance of a catastrophe. It can “remove some of that feeling of helplessness that a lot of people feel when they start to think about emergency planning” — or climate change itself. The urgency of a warming planet becomes more real for me by the minute, as a visible wall of flames rises into the night sky behind my home. But I admit my emergency plan and recently compiled survival kit have staved off panic.