My friend Jeana was in NYC during 9/11, was evacuated from Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and now has experienced the biggest earthquake to ever hit Japan. I don’t think I’ll follow her to her next duty station. :)
In Oklahoma, Thomas and I made a huge effort to be prepared for emergencies. We had a one year food supply, 72 hour kits packed in hiking backpacks, and a huge supply of stored water (including a water drum). Luckily, we never had to use it. When we moved to Japan, we weren’t sure what we’d find, so we sold our food storage for 50% (I’m kicking myself so hard now. You can’t find wheat for anything here), drained our water barrel and sold our propane tank among other things.
In the year and a half that we’ve been in Japan, we’ve been nudged here and there to take care of our emergency preparedness. I might say to Tom, “We really need to fill our empty water drum” or “we should stock our pantry with food instead of buying just what we need for the week”. We should....we should...we should became...If only...if only...if only....
Now, after having experienced “safe” emergency conditions yet watching the unfortunate situation of our Japanese friends who have gone through an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor disaster all at the same time, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share.
#1-This is obvious but...Don’t Wait! It is hard to take time to prepare for emergencies on a sunny day, but it’s impossible to do it in the middle of a storm.
#2-Tom says “Unexpected things will/can happen, but we will be okay.” We can make it through hard times with some positivity and being prepared helps us to be calm and our children to be calm.
#3-Being prepared allows us to serve others. (We found ourselves with very little light and our friends brought us over two flashlights. I asked if they needed it. They said they had “enough.” Meaning they could have used the lights, but were willing and able to share with us. How humbling to be on the receiving end. How wonderful if we could have been on the sharing end. Within two days of the quakes, Misawa branch members scoured our cupboards for food to donate to the Japanese. Luckily, I had stocked our pantry a little fuller than usual and was able to contribute.
#4-Don’t get too attached to “stuff.” It can all be gone in a moment. My friend had been watching about 20 items on e-Bay prior to the quake. When the power came back on and she saw a bunch of e-Bay emails, she deleted them with disgust. She didn’t need all that “stuff.”
#5-Conservation is easier than you think and can save you lots of money. During the last week and a half, Thomas has carpooled to work with four other people, I’ve driven almost no where, we’ve bought nothing online, purchased no gas and bought only what was necessary for food. When the power came back on and we looked at our bank account, we were amazed at how “rich” we were. What we sometimes label as "necessities" really aren’t.
#6- Have a plan. Go through the likely unexpected events that could happen where you live and make a plan of where you will meet and what you will do. It makes Lizzie nervous to talk about these things, but I think in the end should make us all feel better.
#7-You can’t be over-prepared. There are some things that are "gotta haves" in an emergency and other things are just nice. However, I don’t think we’ll ever regret the “just nice”s that we have in our emergency preparedness. There is no such thing as being too prepared.
#8- If you do end up in an emergency situation, rumors will fly and the news media isn't always your best source of information. I think they created a lot of panic for people back in the states in the Japan situation. Know who you can trust, go there for information, avoid rumors and remain calm.
The “Argh-How could we not have this?” Gotta Have List
(we were saying “argh” a lot the last few weeks:))
1. Flashlights, especially head lamps
-In almost ANY emergency, it is likely that the power will go down. You need to be able to see.
-Thomas and I have a really powerful flashlight that has to be charged. There was almost no charge in it when the earthquake hit. Argh! Charge your lights. We also had another smaller AA battery flashlight I had bought a few months before, but we only had like two batteries for it. Argh! Don’t think you buy batteries when you need them because there will be a run on them at the store. (Trust us). Our friends brought over their head lamp. We decided this was a MUST. We could actually do things with both of our hands and see at the same time. We are going to buy two of them.
2. Candles are nice to have too. We ended up having to use them a little because of our flashlight situation. BUT...we had continual aftershocks during the two and a half days we were without power. It is a little scary to have candles around when your house is shaking. (Lizzie freaked out every time I lit a candle. She was sure I was going to burn the house down). Even so, I realized that I only had one lighter in the house and wasn’t sure how much fuel was in it. Argh!!!! Have matches or extra lighters on hand. (I now have a pack of lighters).
3. Water. Immediately after the earthquake, the water off and on base was tested. Wonderfully, the water on base was okay, but the water off base was contaminated. All Americans off base had to boil their water for 10 minutes before use. They could do this because they had gas stoves. All water was cleared off the store shelves. Our 30 gallon water drum sat empty. Argh! We did have a case of water bottles on hand.
4. Emergency kit in car. When the earthquake hit, we ran outside immediately. We ended up in our car where it was warmer. I had to run back into our house several times for food, water and blankets. We should have had some of those things in our car just in case we couldn’t go back in our house.
5. Extra food. We weren’t sooo bad in this department because as I mentioned before, I had stocked up a bit. When the power went out, we tried to keep our food cold by burying it in the snow outside. All of the non-perishable food at the store cleared out quickly. Tom waited in a two hour line at the grocery store the next day. I know the Japanese people have been very worried about their food supply. We are planning on having a 3 month supply of food here in Japan from now on. You want to be able to help others too. Don’t forget your can opener! Paper products on hand is important too. Especially if you can’t use a dishwasher or hot water.
6. Medicine. Rebekah got the flu during the “Crazy Week.” We were very low on tylenol and we couldn’t have bought it off base. (Can’t read the kanji on the boxes). We often run out of tylenol here. We should have stocked up.
7. Radio, battery powered. My Mom and dad bought us a weather radio for Christmas a few years ago. It might have been put in our permanent storage in the states because we couldn’t find it. I don’t know if it would have worked here, but we were so frustrated we didn’t have a radio. We live in the north area of the base, far away from main operations and we lost phone communication for several days. We of course had no computer or television so the only way to know what was going on was through the radio broadcasts. Thomas had to go sit in the car in order to get important info. Argh!
8. Gas. Thomas feels really strongly about this. He never wants to let our gas tank get below half-empty again. Luckily, he had just filled up our van before the quake, but his car was almost on empty. The gas pumps didn’t work anymore when the power went down and now because of the national situation, gas is scarce. We can only fill up when our tank is 1/4 full and then we can only get 10 gallons at a time. This is still happening a week and a half out. When the pumps did come back up, people waited in line for 4 hours to get gas. Have a full gas can on hand and keep your car filled up.
9. Lots of blankets. This is something that everyone has at least some of. You really can’t have too many of these though. (Especially if you have bed-wetting kids). We needed these to keep us warm at night and was one of the biggest things being requested for donations in Japan.
10. Cash. Some of the credit card machines didn’t work on base when the power was out. They were offering a hot meal at a dining facility on base, but for cash only. (They were offering to let you eat now, pay later). Still, we were glad that we had plenty of cash on hand. We were thinking that we should probably have more yen on hand though.
11. 72 hour kits. You never know what kind of disaster you are going to be faced with or whether or not you will have time to grab these. In the case of a tsunami or radiation evacuation like Japan, there would have been time to grab this stuff and it would all have come in handy. (Think about daily needs for three days, i.e. toilet paper, toothbrush, sunscreen etc.) Our stuff was three years out-dated. I don’t think our kids could have fit into the clothes we had packed. Argh!
12. NEO Preparation- Non-combatant Evacuation Operation-
This is a military thing, but the principle can be applied to anyone. In the case of a mandatory evacuation of dependants, the military has NEO folders for each family. This folder has lots of important information to help you get out of the country quickly and must be taken with you. This needs to be in order. I didn’t even know what this was. Argh! Along with this, your other important documents need to be organized and accessible. We feel like a fire-proof locked box is a good thing to have. Along with this, we don’t have an official will yet. Argh!!! Taking care of it as soon as possible.