Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Are You Prepared? I'm Not.

The fires in California and the tornado that swept through Nappanee, Indiana last Thursday night (October 18th) have set me to thinking again about my preparations for a disaster. Nappanee is only 30 miles or so due west of where I live, and the area where some of my ancestors lived between 1860-1910. Luckily there were no deaths reported with the tornado in Nappanee, but there was extensive damage with at least 100 homes and businesses completely destroyed. That really doesn't compare with the extensive property loss in California, but to anyone who has had their home destroyed, it is devastating. Imagine losing everything you own, in a matter of minutes. It was heart-breaking watching the television during and after hurricane Katrina and it is the same now with the fires and tornados and floods.

Living in northern Indiana and knowing the area is prone to tornados, and having had several friends lose their homes to fire, you would think that I would already be prepared. I should be, but I'm not. You always think "It won't happen to me" but as we all know, natural and man-made disasters happen all too frequently. The thing is, if you live as though disaster is waiting around the corner, you won't have time to enjoy life, you'll be too busy worrying about what might happen next. You have to find balance. Think about what is truly valuable to you, what can not be replaced. Make plans to save those things, then follow through with the plan! Easier said than done.

With a forest fire, a hurricane, possibly even a flood, you might have advance warning of the pending or potential disaster. But with a tornado, as with the one in Nappanee last Thursday, there is no advance warning. For those people who had their homes demolished, very little is left. So, what can you do? Not much, in that situation, but with those disasters where some time is available for evacuation you can be prepared.

Put together a
Family Disaster Kit. Written in 2005, this webpage is a goldmine of information for creating a plan and building a disaster kit as well as providing guidelines for the important documents and other necessary things. You don't have to do everything it suggests, and you don't have to do it all at once (the cost would be prohibitive, I think) but if nothing else, it will give you something to think about.

Prepare a
Home Inventory. The Insurance Information Institute has software for recording your stuff. The software is easy to use. I downloaded it yesterday and have started adding some items. It allows you to attach pictures and scanned images. Best of all, it is free.

Create a Bug Out Box. The box should be small and light enough to be carried by one person. The contents should include copies of important papers, household inventory, prescriptions and other documents needed to reestablish who you are and what you had. Important phone numbers such as doctors and relatives, emergency contacts, credit card and other business numbers should also be added.

Important Papers includes suggestions on the critical documents necessary to rebuild your life.

There are a few things that I am already doing to prepare for a disaster, but I definitely plan on creating a disaster kit. If I had to rely on my pantry for survival, it wouldn't last more than a few days - I just don't keep much food on hand.

Bug Out Box.
I sort of have one but I'm sure it doesn't include all the important papers that would be needed, so I'm going to go through the box and add the things that are missing. I created a document listing critical addresses and accounts and printed a copy for my brother for safekeeping, primarily in case anything happened to me but also as a backup. I'll be getting a safe-deposit box to store some of the more important items. I'll also make copies and scan them before putting them away. It's important to have paper copies available immediately because if power is out, computer files won't be readily accessible.

Data Backup.
I have several external hard drives for backing up all my computer data. One of the drives is stored at my mother's apartment, 30 miles away. The drives are rotated weekly. I backup my data nearly every night on one of the two drives I keep at home. So at most, I'd only lose one day's worth of work.

Scanning documents and photographs.
This is an on-going and seemingly never-ending project. Also very time-consuming. But, to me, it is critical. I just started scanning stuff this summer and haven't gotten much done. I really need to get back to it. Not just family photographs but important documents also.

First Aid Kit.
A very basic first aid kit is kept in the car, along with a few blankets, but after reading the above articles I think more needs to be included.

That's a lot to think about. Not much fun either. But what would you do if your home was destroyed in the blink of an eye?

Follow-up post (11/14/2007): My Plan to Prepare for Disaster


footnoteMaven said...


This is so important and timely!

When they tell you to evacuate, that you may not be able to return to your home, it is far too late to stop and think about what you need or what you should take with you.

Last year my family learned this first hand and it hit home that we needed serious planning.

All your suggestions are excellent.

Just when you think it can't happen to you, it does.


Jasia said...

Great post, Becky! I'm not ready either. I know what I need to do I just keep putting it off because it's such a big task. Your post was a good reminder. Thanks!

Lori Thornton said...

I've been preaching data backup to my students. There are several online backup utilities out there. Most will back up your "My Documents", "My Pictures," "My Music," etc. folders, but I know that my Genealogy Data is actually in the Legacy Directory instead of in one of these. My cookbook software also has data inside the program folders. So - I made sure to add those folders to the online backup. I use but there are some others out there that work well too. Mozy uses encryption.

Thomas MacEntee said...


Great blog and great post! We must have been on the same wavelength on Wednesday - see my post about the same topic:

You weren't by chance wearing sweats and a blue fleece pullover as well when you wrote that, were you? Hah! ;)

I lived through the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and witnessed the 1991 Oakland Hills fires when I lived in California. I know first hand what it is like to possibly lose all your research.

Again - great post!

Thomas MacEntee

Becky Wiseman said...

Thank you all for your input, and thank goodness neither I nor anyone in my immediate family has ever had to deal with any of these major disasters! It was brought home once again how important a home inventory is last night while watching the news - one of the people that had lost their home mentioned that they had to create a list of "everything" they owned for the insurance company. I'd have a hard time doing that, I think, especially after having lost it all and dealing with that stress as well.

Lori - Online data backup sounds like it might be a good idea. I have a lot of pictures and other data files and it takes quite a while to backup to a local drive. I can't imagine how long it would take to upload it all to a server.

Thomas - You brought up some interesting points in your post also. Just more to think about!

Janice said...


You have provided some excellent advice. With families gathering for the holidays it is a good time to talk with your family members about plans you have made.

And it is also a good time to update your wills.


Anonymous said...

I made a flickr group where you can post pictures of your disaster kit. Hm. I need to update it. Since I posted fotos there, I bought more disaster stuff for my boyfriend and me. What did I want for my birthday? MREs! Yes! I have one kit that rides in the trunk of my car, all the time. a kit with foil-wrapped who-knows-what food and water, first aid, space blankets, and the like. I need to shoot those and add em to the foto pool.

So if you have disaster kits, shoot em and post them.

Speaking of disasters, this Thanksgiving will be spent in Green Valley Lake, where 100 of the 1000 cabins burned in the fires last month. I'll have a report, no doubt.