We are living in difficult times. Our livelihoods are threatened by rising unemployment through downsizing, bankruptcies and sending our jobs to India. Natural disasters can occur at any time. Terrorists are constantly inventing new ways to attack our country. September 11th proved we were vulnerable. Since then, the list of calamities has grown to include dirty nuclear bombs, biohazards and chemical weapons. Our electrical grids could be disrupted or destroyed and civil unrest could result in rioting and looting. Is your family prepared for these and other disasters?

When I spoke at a recent UnitePA 912 event, I found only one other couple that was prepared should a disaster or social disruption occur. They felt that they could survive for three to five days without power, water or other necessities of life. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) recommends that you have a survival kit with enough food and water for three days, http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/assemble_disaster_supplies_kit.shtm. They believe that it could take up to three days to mobilize resources after a disaster.

Well, I've seen what happened in Katrina and other disasters. I do not believe that three days is long enough. If the power grid is damaged or destroyed, electrical outages could last for weeks, which is not unusual in some isolated incidents in winter or after severe storms. If there is a general breakdown of our infrastructure, you could be on your own for several weeks or even months. Let's take a moment to examine life without electricity. You probably understand that your freezer will defrost after about a day. Grocery stores will close. You may not be able to get gas for your car. But after several weeks, generators producing electricity for hospitals, water purification and pumping and other essential services could run out of fuel. What then? You are truly on your own. This is the scenario we plan for in our family disaster plan.

Let's look at the basics. You need food, water, medicines and first aid supplies. The most important items are water and medicines. If you are on prescription drugs you require a three to six month supply. It is unlikely that your health plan will pay for this. I suggest that you purchase the extra prescriptions. The out of pocket cost provides assurance that you will have critical medications when you need them. Make sure that you store them properly and that you have them where you live and work. A disaster could strike at any moment. When I travel out of town, even for a day, I take two weeks of pills with me. Also ensure that you have a supply of medicines ready to go either in your disaster ready bag or prepackaged to go into your ready bag.

A ready bag is a duffel bag that should be stored near the door. It should contain clothes, medicines and essentials, survival bars and water for three to five days per person, plus portable radio and a hand held CB radio (walkie talkie) with batteries. If you and your family must evacuate, be prepared on a moments notice. A train derailment in your area could result in a need to evacuate immediately. The ready bag ensures you are ready to go when the evacuation order is given.

Preparing your home for long-term survival is not as hard as it seems. Canned food, dry packaged goods such as pasta will hold you for a few weeks if you have enough water. For longer term, I suggest security food packs. These contain a one-year supply of food for one person, with a twenty-year storage life (http://www.pleasanthillgrain.com/foodpak1.aspx). For a tastier, but more expensive alternative, foodinsurance.com can provide everything from a two-week emergency pack to the full year's supply of food. Water can be stored in barrels or large plastic containers for six months if you add a half-teaspoon of regular unscented bleach to five gallons of water. You can also use bleach in the same ratio to prepare water for drinking, just let the water settle for 30 minutes before adding the bleach.

Disasters do not happen at times convenient to you. It is quite possible that you will be separated from your loved ones when disaster strikes. They will need to know what to do and more importantly, who to call. In some disasters, local phone and cell service may be disabled so that the system will not be flooded with non-essential calls. This makes it difficult to locate your loved ones in an emergency. From my past experiences, I found that long distance circuits are often available. It is very important to have an out-of-state contact you and your family members can call so that you can coordinate your locations and work out a plan to reunite your family members.

There are many other things you will need to be prepared for a disaster. We prepared a very thorough checklist you can use to ensure that you have what you need to survive for both short and long periods. It includes everything from aspirin to solar power! If you would like a free copy or wish to comment on this article, e-mail me at: gordonesmith@verizon.net.