One might think the Patch article about the history of major quakes on the San Andreas fault becoming part of the Cajon Pass tour would get more folks starting to build those long put off family earthquake kits. However the real problem for most procrastinators, other than stocking up on bottled water, is they really don’t know where to start. Others due to the economy are justifiably concerned about the cost of stockpiling food, which foods to stock, and then there is the collateral issue of expiration and spoilage to deal with.
The truth is, being prepared for earthquakes and (other emergencies/disasters) really isn’t expensive as some might think. The biggest problem is getting past the so-called urban legends (and frankly the marketing hype) about how to build and store such a cache.
Before going any further, I’d like to share two keys I’ve discovered to cutting the largest cost factor, food. The first is to clearly mark every can and package with its half-life date. That would be the midway point based upon each product’s posted expiration. Some products “Use By” dates are much longer than others, so separating items by half-life dates rather than brands will make the following much easier.
Second, every year on or about the 4th of July we go through our supplies and collect all that have reached or exceeded their half-life dates. I then use the saved receipts to establish the cash value of these items and donate them to a local food bank in return for “a fully tax deductible receipt”. This is a win/win because the food banks are just ramping up for the upcoming holiday season demand, and the tax deduction works to offset the cost (i.e.; you can give it to the government or put it on your shelf) of replacing your supplies. So not only is this an easy way for any person or family to offset the cost of being prepared, it’s a generous way to help others as well.
In regard to the cost, twenty to twenty-five dollars per month can easily build a solid cache for any family. The trick is to set a schedule of which items to buy each month and stick to it. The first obvious item on the list is water. Two plats per family member minimum is a good rule for starting out. Be a good shopper and look for the sales! Even with the recycle deposit, twenty-four-bottle plats go for around seven dollars in most grocery stores and often less at warehouse outlets.
The second item should be discussed among family for a consensus of which brand or flavor to buy. There are plenty of heat-and-serve cans of soup on the market that sell for around one dollar per can or less. I usually recommend the fourteen-ounce or larger beef or chicken and vegetable variety. If there is one thing all survival experts agree on, it’s that you should never eat without also taking in water. Such soups can be consumed warm or cold, provide plenty of protein along with a balanced amount of fat and calories for energy, and an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals to help maintain your immune system. Top it off with a self-contained water ration and an easily transportable container, who needs to buy those expensive MREs? This is also a viable option for vegans, however I strongly suggest choosing the vegetarian brand highest in protein, calories, vitamins and minerals available. Remember, you will be in both a full stress mental as well as physical environment in which the brain requires an adequate supply of protein to continually process your situation and correctly make what may very well be life and death decisions.
Other choices like canned pasta entrees, hash and good ole Spam are cheap and can also be eaten hot or cold and have a multi-year shelf life. By keeping the list short, being disciplined to your purpose and date marking your supplies for rotation, an effective cache can be built within six months or less. Also by including your kids within the decisions of which brands and flavors to buy and store, you are empowering them with being part of your family’s emergency plan which will help them to better cope with whatever may come. And don’t forget to add some version of fun food like candy, cookies or gum. One of the main ways of beating mental shock is to keep things as normal as possible given the situation. A simple dessert after a meal or afternoon treat can go a long way to help maintain a positive mental attitude for both children and adults. A two-week supply of daily medications and a spare pair of prescription glasses should also be kept with your family’s cache. If your glasses are not an exotic prescription, inexpensive over the counter reading magnifiers rated as close to your prescription as possible is much better than not being able to see clearly at all.
Your cache location is also a great place to keep a couple of flashlights and some spare batteries. But which are the best for long term storage? The Internet and late night infomercials are full of shake-the-magnet and windup flashlights, not to mention the old bunny versus the robot battery commercials. Since (like your food) you should be replacing these batteries at their half life, the brand is much less important than the type. Alkaline batteries have an average three-year shelf life and much less expensive when bought in bulk. Lithium and other exotic batteries have up to a ten year shelf life, but are more expensive and really don’t last any longer (during consistent use) than Alkaline batteries. Many sports enthusiasts are familiar with the military and law enforcement tactical flashlights using the CR123 three-volt lithium (a.k.a. camera) batteries to produce a high output, opposition blinding beam. This popularity has brought the price of many high-quality “tac-lights” down over the years, but alas they still don’t come with a quartermaster to issue as many of the (average $5.00 each) CR123 batteries as needed! Not exactly the best option for the average family’s cache.
But when looking into what emergency responders stock and use, we find the standardized battery for emergency services has become the AA. This is because all police and fire handy-talkies are required to work with auxiliary AA battery packs, thus all fire camps and shelters are well supplied with AA’s throughout all activations. The other advantage of AA’s is their price and portability. For the price of a twelve pack of D-cell batteries one can buy a thirty pack of AA’s weighing slightly over half that of the dozen D-cells. As for flashlights, the new L.E.D. lights offer a much superior power curve, bulb life and are relatively inexpensive. However, the 2-AA lights are rarely greater than one watt in radiance and produce a limited beam. But as always for just a few dollars more, there are several 4-AA L.E.D. flashlights available (many designed for SCUBA divers) that have a much brighter bulb and penetrating beam. AA batteries should also be your cache’s standard for other personal electronic devices like AM/FM/NOAA (weather alert) radios and cameras. Although having a solar and/or wind-up powered radio is not a bad idea.
The latest trend in hi output L.E.D. flashlights are the slightly oversized tactical style lights using 3-4 AAA batteries. These lights are bright, handy, inexpensive, and the AAA like the AA is much lighter and cheaper than the Cs or Ds. But again one runs into the problem of the AAA batteries trading off size, weight and price for their use in only one device. However, if you already own several devices using AAAs the issue is negligible.
Other items like tents, sleeping bags and other camping equipment should also be considered. Take a good hard look at where you live and think realistically about what options you might have if your home was destroyed or otherwise rendered unusable. If your only immediate option is evacuating to a shelter, it might be a good idea for every family member to have a backpack to more easily transport cache and other important items. And since we live in the computer era, think about producing a CD or memory stick that contains copies of all your important documents, home-life-medical insurance information, photos of your home and valuables, etc. Another idea is to make a memory stick that contains your child’s medical history, insurance information, both local and out of area contact information, and some family photos. Attach the memory stick to a chain so that it can be worn around your child’s neck like a military dog tag. This information could be very important should your family somehow become separated. And since virtually every computer on earth contains a PDF program or reader, recording the above in PDF format is much better than hoping the shelter, police or hospital computers have a compatible .txt, .wrd., .wpf, etc. program installed.
Now while having a cache is a major part of being prepared, all the supplies in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t have a plan. This is even more important where children are concerned! When developing your family’s plan it helps to also know the emergency plans of your children’s school(s). Know where the primary and backup evacuation sites are located and discuss your family’s and the school’s plans with your children’s teachers. Every plan should include a common out of area contact who will know to stay put and act as the family’s information clearing house. One way to help younger children to remember the contact(s) is to turn it into a song or rhyme and sing it as a family at least one a week. If your kids have cell phones, teach them that even if a voice call can’t connect, that a text message to Grandma or Uncle Joe may still go through.
If your children are at school when the incident hits and there is no plan to fall back on, the terror of the moment will only multiply. Where a child who knows the family plan will be much more secure in knowing exactly how the rest of the family will be working toward the common goal... "To reunite"!