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Caught in the dark: What Sandy can teach you about preparedness

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30 2012 7:17 p.m. MDT

Dawn Kaufman, an Emergency Essentials employee, organizes canned foods in her basement food storage, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012.

Ben Brewer, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When Sheridan Lyons heard a hurricane was on the way, she called her mother in Utah to tell her she was worried: The family she has spent a year with as a nanny in Connecticut didn't have any emergency supplies.

Lyons knew her parents' house in St. George was stocked with food, water, flashlights and batteries, but she wasn't ready for a disaster in New Canaan, Conn.

Lyons, 24, and her sister Cheyenne, 27, began purchasing water, food and supplies in anticipation of the storm. They were holed up in the basement with the family Sheridan Lyons works for Monday afternoon when the lights went out.

By Tuesday, the two St. George natives could only get occasional text messages to their mother and were literally in the dark about when the power would come back. A small generator provided some electricity, but the situation had become a waiting game filled with questions.

Would the drinking water last?

How long until they could call home and would cellphones work?

How would they get information about emergency shelters and relief operations?

Were they prepared to be without power for a day? What about a week?

Answering questions

Hurricane Sandy's rising tides and 80 mph winds left 39 people dead and 8.2 million people across several Eastern states without power as of Tuesday. As the nation looks on at the path of destruction left by the storm, Utahns are asking themselves if they are ready to endure such a disaster.

While the Beehive State enjoys sunny skies and one of the warmest late October weeks  on record, Utahns who specialize in preparedness say the time to prepare and anticipate possible hardship is now.  What do you need to grab to flee a mudslide or fire? What is needed for an extended blackout during a winter storm?  And is there any way to protect against a catastrophic earthquake?

Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety's Emergency Management division, said the state boasts a high level of awareness about disaster preparations. Polling in recent years revealed that 75 percent of Utahns reported having some sort of emergency kit and 78 percent said they have an emergency plan.

Whether emergency supplies are current is another matter, Dougherty said. 

"Even though people may have these things set up, they may not actually practice their plans and items in their kit could be expired or inadequate," Dougherty said. "Make sure that the clothes you have packed for your teenager are not the same clothes you packed when your teenager was a toddler."

Basic emergency kits, especially those meant to deal with inclement weather and power outages, should include food, water, warm clothing and bedding, flashlights and extra batteries, Dougherty said. Utahns are best prepared when they have enough ready resources to hole up in their homes for an extended period of time, he said.

One step at a time

Dougherty encouraged Utah residents and families to take a step-by-step approach to establishing emergency supplies and plans over time. He suggests starting simple by gathering medical supplies, buying an extra can of food on each grocery trip or establishing an out-of-state emergency contact.

"It can feel like preparedness is an overwhelming task," he said. "Take one thing you can do this week … take that and do it, cross it off your list and then move on to the next thing next week."

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