Disaster Preparedness: Winter Weather
The extreme weather that caused the recent devastating storm in Texas is a result of climate change. Extreme weather events will only become more and more common as the climate crisis continues. It is prevalent that we must prepare to take care of ourselves in these situations. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but simply a brief overview of things you should start thinking about and planning. Visit Ready.gov for a thorough breakdown of different disasters and plans to combat them. Also, it's a great idea to connect with mutual aid organizations in your community on social media.
Basic disaster preparedness
For your home
Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery-powered backups. Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each household member’s specific needs, including medication and dietary requirements. Know how to turn off and on all of your household utilities. If possible, purchase a backup generator but only use generators outdoors to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Build a kit
The COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have proven the necessity for every household to have an emergency kit. Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each household member’s specific needs, including medication and dietary requirements.
Water. One gallon per person for at least three days.
Food. At least a three-day supply of non-perishable foods. It is best to have some meals planned that require little to no cooking in case there is a power outage.
Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, antacids, or anti-diarrhea
Manual can opener for food
Battery backups to charge necessary devices
Flashlights. The more backups the better
First aid kit
Extra batteries of various kinds
Whistles (to signal for help)
Dust masks (to filter contaminated air) or surgical masks (to protect against viruses)
Plastic sheeting and duct tape to keep water out
Moist towelettes or wet wipes for personal sanitization
Hand sanitizer and soap
Garbage bags and plastic ties for sanitization
Wrench or plier and other tools to turn off utilities.
Matches in a waterproof container
Paper and pencils
Books, games, puzzles
Feminine supplies if needed
Pet supplies if needed
Paper cups, towels, plates, and plastic utensils
Sleeping bag or warm blankets for each person
Store these items in a cool, dry place in a tightly sealed plastic or metal container. Replace expired items as needed. Re-think needs annually. Keep the kit in a designated location and have it ready. Make sure all family members know where it is kept and can access it.
Keep a kit of necessities in your car in case you become stranded in your car.
Try to keep your gas tank at least half-full at all times. You never know when gas stations may close, so it is best to keep gas in your tank.
Find household cleaning supplies, medications, and food recommendations here.
Make a plan
Put a plan together with your household members. Visit Ready.gov for a family emergency communication plan. Make sure your plan addresses how you will receive emergency alters and warnings. Figure out your shelter and evacuation plans.
Preparing for winter weather
Prepare your home for the cold by bulking your insulation, caulking, and weather stripping. Learn how to keep your pipes from freezing to prevent pipe bursts and floods. Remember the needs of your pets and have a plan to bring outdoor pets indoors.
Staying safe during winter weather storms includes
Staying off roads if possible.
Limiting your time outside. If you must go out, wear as many layers as you can.
Reducing the risk of overexertion when shoveling snow and walking in the snow by taking a slow pace.
Learn the signs of, and treatment for hypothermia
Sign: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss. Slurred speech, drowsiness
Action: Warm the center of the body first, beginning with the chest, neck, head, and groin. Keep yourself dry if possible, and layer clothing and blankets, including on the head and neck.
Learn the signs of, and treatment for hypothermia
Sign: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin.
Action: Go to a warm room if possible. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. DO NOT massage or use a heating pad.
Connect with mutual aid groups in your area to locate resources, find financial support, and learn about survival tips. Recently, people have been posting “hacks” to cook with candles and amplify the light of flashlights with empty milk jugs. There are many tips out there to help your specific needs.
When a disaster strikes, clean drinking water may not be available. If your regular water source is cut-off or contaminated, you need a backup plan. The best way to prepare for this is to build a supply of water that will meet your needs in case of an emergency. As stated above, you should have one gallon per person for at least three days. When it comes to water, the more you have, the better. Water is needed for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene. If someone in your household becomes sick, they may need more water. Store your water sealed in a cool dark place. Water that has not been commercially bottled should be replaced or treated every six months to avoid contamination.
There are many ways to treat water. If there are particles in the water, allow them to settle to the bottom or strain them through a coffee filter or clean cloth if possible.
Boiling is the safest method of treating water. Bring the water to a rolling boil for one full minute. Let the water cool before drinking. Boiled water tastes better once you put oxygen back into it. You can do this by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers.
Chlorination with liquid bleach can kill microorganisms. Use regular household bleach that contains 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented, color safe, or bleaches with additives. Use ⅛ tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water, stir, and let stand for 30 minutes.
Distillation will remove microbes that resist boiling and chlorination. Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting only the vapor that condenses. To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. “Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.” (Ready.gov)
Never ration drinking water. Drink what you need to drink today and find more tomorrow. Minimize the amount of water you need by reducing activity.
Drink water that you know is not contaminated. If water treatment is not possible and you run out of water, put off drinking suspicious water as long as possible.
Do not drink carbonated, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages instead of drinking water. These beverages will dehydrate you and increase the need for drinking water.