Issue #51

Last Update May 5, 2007

Technology Preparing for Home Emergencies by David Katz April 22, 2007 During the 1950's, the event most feared was a nuclear war, and many families and municipalities took steps, however futile, to minimize the damage that would occur as the result of such an attack. Home fallout shelters, municipal stockpiling of food and water and designation of public shelters, and various tests and drills were some of the preparations of that era. Today,  terrorism, hurricanes, floods, forest fires, power failures, transportation failures, earthquakes and the threat of a lethal pandemic have replaced the threat of nuclear holocaust, and, in most cases, have found us unprepared to cope. Large businesses and government agencies have staffs to prepare business continuity and disaster recovery plans, but most of the serious events have had their greatest impact on ordinary families, and families are almost always unprepared to minimize the impact of these events and survive them with some degree of comfort. There is plenty of help out there, though,  for those who want to protect their families during these kinds of occurrences.

A family emergency plan consists of three components: communications, stockpiling and travel. The communications segment includes such items as designating a meeting place if the family home is compromised; having emergency phone numbers (perhaps relatives in another part of the country) designated to leave messages about each family member's whereabouts, state of health and needs; and having alternative communications devices (cell phones, internet access for email or VOIP phones). The stockpiling segment envisions a period of time in which stores would be closed, but the family is able to stay at home; under these conditions, a stockpile of food and other necessities enhances the family's survival. The travel segment envisions a need to evacuate the home, and perhaps the city or region, and consists of travel bags with documents, money, maps, clothing and other necessities; a vehicle gassed and ready to go, or a public transportation plan; a destination to receive the family; and alternative routes for reaching that destination. These segments can each be modified if family members are elderly, in poor health, or are pets. 

Planning materials are abundantly available from federal, state, county and city agencies, and private organizations like the Red Cross. Special-purpose organizations concern themselves with with specific topics, such as planning for the safety of pets during an emergency, or emergency planning for the handicapped. At least one source provides advice about food stockpiling, and even offers recipes. 

Two topics frequently covered are equipping the home for emergencies, and preparing a "go-bag" to take if evacuation is required. Car supplies are also covered. A disaster supplies list might consist of:
- a supply of potable water (plan on one gallon per person per day)
-Nonperishable food. These can be dried, canned or packaged
-a manual can opener
-clothing, including rain coats and sturdy shoes
-blankets or sleeping bags
-first aid kit
-battery operated radio
-flashlights/candles/kerosine lamps and other lighting sources
-contact lists (doctors, family members)
-a small shovel for digging a latrine, if necessary

A "go-bag" may include:
-Critical family documents (drivers licenses, car registration, passports, children’s birth certificates, house documents (deed, lease, etc.), checkbooks, insurance papers, address book )
-medications normally taken by family members
-a first aid kit
-nourishment bars, water bottle
-laptop, PDA or internet enabled cell phone for email and web surfing for emergency announcements
-computer backups
-cell phones for voice contact
-blankets or sleeping bags

A car kit might contain some of the same items as the go-bag, plus a tire repair kit and air pump, spare fan and generator belts, flares, booster cables, a flashlight and batteries, snow chains and kitty litter and maps.

For the aged, ill or handicapped, additional planning must be done. Copies of medical records, prescriptions for needed medication, and special health equipment must be available if evacuation is required, or if the situation calls for sheltering in place for an extended period of time.

Planning for an emergency is easy to do and not very time consuming. It can make the difference between life and death, or between recovery and poverty. It's worth doing, and, like any good plan, worth practicing so that all concerned know what is to be done when an emergency arises.

A list of web sites providing plans, checklists and other emergency planning advice is available by clicking here.

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