Preparedness: Where to Begin?

Flashlight in the DarkSeptember 2011, a blackout swept across parts of the U.S. Southwest and Mexico leaving roughly 6 million people without power. There was no warning, no stormy weather, no earthquake. One minute we had electricity – the next – nothing.

We lived in Southern California at the time and my husband and I managed to get one text to each other before the cell phone towers were overwhelmed. Landlines were of no use. Radio towers did manage to keep Twitter alive so we could get updates from the utility company.

Many of us resorted to listening to our car radio, to try and figure out what had happened and how long it might be. We were told it could be days before power would be restored. Traffic lights ceased to function – creating a huge gridlock of vehicles not going anywhere. Elevators stalled between floors in buildings. Hospitals discovered that some of their generators were out of repair.

If you were lucky enough to live near a neighborhood store, you quickly discovered stock was wiped out within an hour. And if you didn’t have small bills you were out of luck, because store clerks couldn’t give change. No cash on hand? You were really out of luck. For most of us who experienced it, it left its mark. And more than one person I know vowed to be better prepared the next time something like that happened.

Have you experienced something similar?

Cars stuck in blizzardGrowing up in the Midwest, losing power was common. Downed lines during ice storms could mean no power for up to two weeks. So, we prepared accordingly. But not everyone did. One year we even had a blizzard. Once we could dig out, I remember taking food to a neighbor and her small boys. She admitted she had planned to go to the grocery store that day. The storm caught her with only orange juice and Cherrios on hand. She had no food storage beyond what she purchased each week. If you are reading this, I’m betting you are one of those people who has vowed not to get caught so unprepared in case of a future emergency.


But, Where do You Begin?

Looking at the big picture, and all the possible scenarios, can be completely overwhelming and you may give up before you begin. I felt the same way. I tried making lists and figuring out a game plan, but I had so much to accomplish and my wheels were just spinning in place.

My Recommendation: Start with Baby Steps!

The Beginning Sign That’s how we all learned to walk. One step at a time – and we fell on our butts a lot – but we eventually got there. And soon we were running!

Too many possibilities to consider just overwhelm us. We need to break this down into smaller bites to digest and understand.
Let’s start with discussing the three types of preparedness you might want to consider:


Emergency Preparedness: Basic emergencies can be power outages, water shortages and/or weather conditions that require you to be without outside services for approximately 72 hours. And what about personal emergencies such as sudden illness or loss of job?

Disaster Preparedness: Natural disasters can be anything that nature throws your way, tornadoes, flooding, ice storms, blizzards, mudslides, hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes. You may also have to contend with the civil unrest that sometimes follows these disasters. If you live in an area prone to wilderness fires, this preparedness might include evacuation, in case authorities insist you must suddenly leave your home.

Survival Preparedness: Hikers and backpackers aren’t the only people who can find themselves lost in the wilderness without communication with civilization. What if you’re stranded during a winter snowstorm? Your car runs out of gasoline in the desert? Your bicycle is damaged in a wreck in the mountains. Knowing some basic survival skills could save your life, and someone else’s life.

Start at the beginning.

Matches and CandlesHere’s where those baby steps come in.
Start with something as simple as this:
Select a container and fill it with emergency lighting options such as: a flashlight & extra batteries, a hand-crank flashlight, candles & matches, headlamps or lanterns.

There – now you have a handy go-to box in case of a power outage, and it’s a first step for your Emergency Preparedness plans.

Your next step might be to pick up some extra canned food each grocery trip, then add in some dried beans and powdered milk. Soon you’ll have a full pantry of foods that will feed your family in an emergency. Later you can expand this supply to include some cooking options, such as a propane camp stove. Then you’ll add in a water filtration system and some water storage. Soon you’ll discover that you have painlessly moved up into the Disaster Preparedness planning stage.

Now that you have an idea of where to start and how to move forward, we’ll cover lots of projects in my blog posts that might help you along the way. I hope you’ll share your ideas and success stories with us all, too. We learn quickest when we share ideas – and that includes what didn’t work, as well as what did succeed.

Remember: Each one of us has different circumstances, live in different parts of the country and have various factors to consider, such as if you have children or elderly living with you. So, you can see there is ‘no size fits all’ guideline. You are the only one who can educate yourself and make the best decisions possible for your scenario. But we can network and help each other discover new ideas.


Do you have an experience you can share? What did you learn?


  1. Fushin Eva

    Wonderful post, Indy. Having lived through 9/11 with a group of friends, they also came up with an Emergency Preparedness worksheet that goes further than this article, and which perhaps it might be beneficial to share with your readers. This worksheet was a brainstorm of 3 types of threats and their mitigations. The first was Threat 1) Danger from other Americans in the event of a freak-out and run on stores. #2) Threat was from proximity to an assault – chemical, biological or other. #3)Threat of evacuation (fires!). I’m not sure how much space I’ll have here, but here is a checklist of items to have: $500 cash, 2 ltr nalgene bottles, a platypus or camelback 2 liters full, an air mattress, matches in waterproof container, flashlights, extra batteries AAA AA C D, power bars, seasonal clothing, boots, socks, 2-3 duffel bags, plastic sheeting 4mm or greater (for sealing cracks in case of biological or smoke hazard) with staple gun and stapler, candles, water purification device, duct tape, 100 feet of nylon rope, fire starters, utility tool (leatherman/Gerber) ziplock bags, Garbage bags, canned foods, protein bars, can opener, toilet paper, soap, first aid kit with sterile gauze pads, soap, bandages, flu and cold rememdies, echinacea, antibiotics, roller and ace bandages, tweezers/forceps, topical antibiotic, scissors, hand sanitizer, ibuprofin and anti-inflammatories, moistened toweletes, thermometer, toothbrushes & toothpaste, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, prescriptions meds 2 month supply, potassium iodide for use after nuclear blast or radiation exposure, syrup of Ipecac (in case there is a need to induce vomiting), activated charcoal (for animals, same use), survival book, maps, important phone numbers, pens and paper, whistles, blankets, sleeping bags, tent, heat packs, short wave radio, extra eyeglasses, pet supplies, shovel, axe. Now that all seems like alot – where are you going to put the 7 pets and the two people in a sedan? But yeah, peace of mind. If I can only get my spouse to agree on the need. These are must-haves for anyone with common sense!

    • indy

      Thanks for the kind words Eva and thank you for sharing this list. There are indeed many scenarios to consider when thinking about preparedness (whole books are written about it), and I hope to cover most of these in my blogs, over time. My experience has been that looking at a list, such as this one, we feel so overwhelmed that we become paralyzed in how to begin. Taking that first step and continuing one step at a time gets the momentum started. Soon we are going along at a pretty good clip and it becomes second nature! Maybe you can try that tactic and see if the resistance with your spouse eases. Worked for me. :0)

  2. Lois Joy Hofmann, Author

    I was in that same black-out, in San Diego at the time of the power outage. Fortunately, I was at a Home Depot when it happened, and drove home through all of those blinking red lights, before rush hour began. The entire neigborhood was outside, exchanging ice cubes, candles, and food. I actually met some new neighbors! That was the positive side: people pulling together and sharing.

    • indy

      I agree Lois! The first thing that happened in our neighborhood was everyone wandered outside into the street to exchange information. We gathered at one home, sitting outside in the shade, because of the heat. As evening fell, we brought out candles and sat around talking. Of course we all decided that the beer needed to be ‘saved’ by drinking it before it got warm. We stayed outside as long as we could, to keep cool – and cold-cut sandwiches made our evening meal. I remember the relief of having the electricity come back on during the wee hours of the morning – and the disappointment that we would all go back to our ‘normal’ lives. We never did have a community moment like that again…but it was nice to experience!



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