When I returned to work as a single mother with three young children attending pre-school and kindergarten, I quickly realized that I needed a better plan if disaster struck while I was driving or at work and my children were in the car or at school. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to strengthen this aspect of my preparation.
Many preppers, myself included, are very enthusiastic in those prepping activities that involve acquiring and storing, (dare I say hoarding?) supplies. To be sure having a GBH (Get Home Bag) ready is an important first step. But I will suggest that training and practice are more important, especially for those who have younger children. As I moved from simply having a Get Home Bag and stores of supplies at home, to actually using them, I realized many weaknesses and deficiencies in my planning.
For as long as I can remember, I have always kept a backpack full of emergency supplies in my car. Only after having children did I become more intentional in this process. Every prepper needs to stick with her own world-view. For me, I decided early that I didn’t want “prepping” to drive my life and I certainly did not want it to be a focus for my kids. At the same time, I didn’t want to be a total fool. So for now, I have primarily focused on the possibility of a major earthquake because I consider it to be the most likely emergency scenario for my area. My thinking was thus: a major earthquake might involve electricity blackout, phone blackout, water shortage and significant structural collapses. It could also involve fire, flood, rioting and nuclear disaster. These scenarios have given me more than enough to concentrate on for now but I understand that many preppers take additional scenarios into account.
My original Get Home Bag included most of the basics:
- Sturdy shoes (I often wear heels to work)
- A change of clothes (tough pants, shirt, fleece hoodie)
- Change of clothes and shoes for the kids
- Water and some MREs, kid-friendly snacks, etc.
- Lighter and fire-starter
- Flashlight/headlamp and glowsticks
- Turbine charger for batteries
- Two-way radio with a.m. capability and headphones
- First Aid kit
- 3 emergency blankets, 3 black plastic bags and some empty ziplock bags
- My emergency contact list and a roll of quarters + copies of key papers and
- Knife, axe, and crowbar
- And a few other unmentionables…
I had identified two very different routes from my workplace to my childrens’ schools and a number of variations within those routes. I was able to identify three very distinct routes from their schools to our “home” base. It seemed reasonable. For a while, I thought I had done a pretty decent job. And then I decided to do some training, practice drills, etc. I quickly saw that my disaster plan was a disaster.
I realized that even though my workplace is only about five miles from my kids’ school that I was not in good enough shape to run that route with my backpack. In fact, I wasn’t in good enough shape to walk it at a reasonable speed with the heavy pack I had created. And on a couple of practice walks, I started noticing all of the hazards that were potentially going to block my way: power lines, bridges and overpasses that might come down, areas that looked very prone to landslide, 16’ cement walls that I would need to scale if the bridges were down, etc. How had I not noticed these problems? I also tried walking part of the Get Home Route with my children and became painfully aware that they were slow, clumsy, and well, whiny. In my mind, I had calculated that barring injury, I could have my kids and myself safely returned to home base in under three hours. Reality intruded on that fantasy.
I also realized that a number of complications were likely to arise in the process of picking my kids up that would lead to delays. What if the rest of the kids in their class had no supplies? Would I just leave them there to fend for themselves? What if my close friends’ kids were there—should I take them with me also? Leave them to wait for their parents? What if someone arrived at one of my kids’ schools first? Would they take my kid home? While I have a fair amount of confidence in my children’s schools under normal circumstances (I have been pleasantly surprised by their security measures), one has to assume that when the SHTF, all sane decision-making will go by the wayside.
So I realized it was time to adjust and while my adjustments are by no means perfect, they have put us in a substantially better position.
One of the first steps I took was getting myself appointed as the Earthquake Preparedness director at my kids’ schools. I know many preppers choose to homeschool but that is not financially possible for me. So I became Earthquake Mom. This was easy as no one wanted this job. No one looked over my shoulder either. I stockpiled about 100 times more water and food than they had on hand previously and I insisted that most of it be inside actual classrooms (before they had it all locked away in a storage area). Each classroom is now also equipped with solar and turbine battery chargers, two-way radios, flashlights, emergency toilet, and first aid supplies.
I insisted on having individual student emergency cards inside each classroom kit (as opposed to in the administration office) with specific instructions from parents about what they want done in the event of an evacuation situation. Information like out-of-state contacts and physical addresses are included. Many parents with useful skills were eager to become involved: firefighters, law enforcement officers, engineers, doctors, etc. Their involvement led to much better first aid kits, communications equipment, “inside information,” and a host of smart planning that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. We also revamped the school’s policies for evacuation and child pick-up. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the false sense of security that existed before. Training sessions were held for other parents and the schools conducted significantly more teacher training. Obviously not every school will be as cooperative in embracing and implementing such robust preparations but I was surprised by how easy it was in my case.
Now one of the obvious downsides of becoming the public face of emergency preparedness at your kids’ school or anywhere else is that you completely blow your OPSEC. I am not particularly worried about this for both unselfish and selfish reasons. My better side hopes that the preparations made the school safer, that other parents might be inspired to better prepare themselves at home and that in the event of a disaster, all of the students will be a little bit better off than they might have been. More selfishly, we have a secure Bug-In location that is about half a mile from our actual home that no one (including my children) knows about, so I feel we are relatively secure if we need to just hole up.
The next major area of improvement has simply involved getting myself and my children in much better physical condition. My three year old can now walk six miles at a decent pace and actually enjoys it. I’ve always loved hiking and now we hike every weekend and on some afternoons. It has become part of our family fun time. I also have introduced them to geocaching and have set up various geocaches along our routes home.
I have cached a variety of supplies along my routes to lighten my backpack. Even though we live in an urban area, it was not difficult to find many easy cache spots. Since we now walk one of our get-home routes every other week, we are able to check on the caches to make sure they haven’t been spoiled. So far, none have been discovered. I often hide little surprises for the kids to make these practice walks more fun. Sometimes they even run along the route wanting to get to the next cache to see what they’ll find (needless to say, caches following uphill stretches always have the best surprises). Another advantage of this frequent practice is that these routes are now familiar to my children. They could lead others. They could manage at night. They do not find them scary or difficult anymore.
Lastly, I have done far more research on all of my possible routes. Printing satellite maps has enabled me to identify all the different possible hazards and ways around them. I have marked power lines, overpasses, etc. I learned that SoCal Gas publishes maps of its Gas Transmission and High Pressure Distribution Pipeline (http://www.socalgas.com/safety/pipeline-maps/). Looking at those maps was sobering and dramatically altered some of my ideas about which routes were most likely to be safe. I also obtained maps of the water main infrastructure as broken main pipelines can cause significant flooding and sinkholes. Strategic analysis of these maps is difficult because there are water mains everywhere but the maps might help me navigate around flooding during an event. I keep map and route printouts in my Get Home Bag and caches along with some new supplies (climbing rope being a key addition).
I am now much more familiar with the risk of fire in my area. Part of this came from discussions with parent firefighters and part of it came from my own research. I have had to recalibrate my risk assessment significantly. I originally had undervalued fire both in terms of likelihood and seriousness. I feel foolish because I spent time and money prepping other types of supplies first when fire protection should have been a much higher priority. I also concluded that I needed a much better contingency plan in the event that fire prevents us from getting to the Bug-In location at all. These areas are where my next prepping efforts are focused.
Overall, practicing and really working through my prep plans has led to a number of adjustments and improvements. Camping and hiking are great activities to do with young children and I highly recommend that all preppers incorporate these activities into their family life.