Natural Perspectives: Getting prepared for disaster takes some real effort

Preparing for emergencies is so important that Vic and I are devoting another column to the topic. After sitting in on the city's disaster preparedness seminar two weeks ago, I am more ready for emergencies.

Vic and I have put many of the things that I learned at the seminar into action, but there is still much more to do. For example, I bought a shut-off wrench for the gas line so we can shut off the natural gas in case of a leak. So far the wrench is still in its original packaging, but sooner or later I'll remove the packaging and use some string to attach the tool to the gas line outside.

I knew that we had installed earthquake straps for our water heater and tall furniture, but it turns out that our newer bookcases are unsecured. Ditto our big 1-year-old flat screen TV. I've bought straps to secure those things, as well as latches to keep cupboards from banging open in an earthquake, but haven't installed them yet.

Vic and I have made great progress in our disaster preparedness, but we're obviously not finished. There are so many different types of disasters to think about. Mother Nature might bring us floods, fires, earthquakes or tsunamis. Or a disaster might be man-made. As we saw in San Diego a few weeks ago, even routine maintenance of a power line can knock out power to an entire region.

The power goes out so often at our house that many years ago I bought back-up power supplies and surge protectors for each of our computers. Now when the power goes out, our back-up power supplies sound an alarm letting us know that the computers are running on battery power. That gives us time to save our work and shut down the computers.

We also have plug-in emergency flashlights that go on whenever the power goes off. We have one of these lights in the bedroom and one in the hallway. If the power goes out at night, we have enough light to find our way around the house.

We're all supposed to have a minimum of three gallons of water stored per person, one gallon each for three days. I have six gallons in polypropylene containers in the garage. I keep them on a bottom shelf of a stainless steel storage rack because if the water is stored directly on concrete, chemicals might leach from the concrete, through the plastic, and into the water.

I also bought two new BPA-free containers that hold three gallons. The advantage of these containers over polypropylene is that they don't leach plasticizers into the water. But before I fill them with water, I will sanitize the containers with a solution of a quarter cup of bleach in a quart of water. I'll replace the water every six months.

Vic and I decided to make September and March the months when we review our disaster supplies. Some people choose January and July to replenish and refresh their kits. But because we started this review and upgrade of our emergency supplies during September, which was National Disaster Preparedness Month, our next six-month review will be in March. We're really Druids at heart, so we'll use the vernal and autumnal equinoxes to remind us.

We each have emergency kits in each of our cars with a change of clothes, a first aid kit, emergency food and water, and auto emergency equipment such as flares, reflective vests, reflective triangles, a fire extinguisher, and a tool to break a window and cut a seat belt. We also have both battery and hand-crank flashlights and radios.

Another essential for emergencies is a cell phone. Whenever I am off in the wilds on my own, even on a day trip, I send frequent emails from my Blackberry letting a small circle of family and friends know my whereabouts. I joke that I do this so they'll know where to look for my body. But in fact, leaving your cell phone on when you're out driving can help searchers track you down in case your car goes off the road or you get lost in the woods.

Vic and I do not expect our house to fall down during an earthquake because we don't live in a liquefaction zone. We also live outside the tsunami evacuation area. We believe that the most likely type of emergency for us will require us to shelter in place, possibly without electricity, running water or natural gas. I plan to use the food that we have stored in the house and garage. I always have plenty of canned goods and dry food on hand, enough to last a couple of weeks at least. We have camping equipment and could cook on our propane camp stove or our propane barbecue grill for many days if necessary. We even have a portable camping toilet, so our sanitation needs are covered.

After attending the disaster preparedness seminar, I prepared a grab-and-go bag with copies of important documents, small bills and change, a first aid kit, personal items, and a jar of peanut butter. We could live several days on just peanut butter if we had to. We are keeping a flashlight and pair of shoes by the bed for nighttime evacuation. And I now try to keep the gas tank in my car half full, my cell phone charged, and a good supply of toilet paper and other essentials on hand.

We have designated a place in front of the house to meet if we have to scramble out in a hurry, as well as a place farther away if one of us has to evacuate the home and the other is at work. We have selected two out-of-state people we will contact in an emergency. They can let our other friends and family know our whereabouts and status.

But during an emergency, cell phones frequently go down because everyone is calling at the same time. So we will send a text message or email to our out-of-state contacts. Those messages are likely to get through faster than a local phone call.

This past week, we registered our home and cell phone numbers with the city and county. In case of emergency, they will send out mass phone messages, alerting many people quickly. You can register your numbers at Whether it's an earthquake, tsunami, flood, urban fire, or just another run-of-the-mill power outage, you can take steps to prepare your home and family. Visit to download lists of things that you can do to be ready for an emergency. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

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