Caught in the dark: What Sandy can teach you about preparedness
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?
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."
Tim Pedersen of Emergency Essentials, a Utah-based preparedness retailer, recommended the same basic supplies for Utahns, focusing especially on light sources. Pedersen warned that power outages like the ones plaguing the East Coast threaten comfort and security, especially as the days get shorter.
"Psychologically, it's interesting that lighting tends to be a big one," he said. "Come 6 p.m., things just suddenly become uncertain. You can't see things very well … that's disorienting and also troubling."
Pedersen estimated that based on what he hears from customers, only about half of Utahns would be ready if a disaster struck today. While most would be able to survive in their homes for several days based on what they already have, he worries that many wouldn't have supplies ready in the event of an evacuation.
Means for communication and news can play a vital role in emergency situations, with social media taking a prominent role as Sandy unfolded. Mashable reported Tuesday that "We are safe" became the top Facebook status during the storm.
Pedersen recommends portable battery packs and solar charging units, which are smaller than generators and don't emit fumes, to charge mobile devices during an emergency.
Goal Zero, a Utah company, sells chargers and battery packs designed for personal electronics online and at several outdoor retailers with prices starting at about $130 for small kits. They can be used to recharge cell phones or other electronic devices.
While power companies make restoring power a top priority following an emergency in order to facilitate relief efforts, Dougherty said Utahns caught in an earthquake or a large storm could be without electricity for a week or more.
Generators can be used to power larger appliances like a refrigerator if families are able to invest in them and take safety concerns into account, Dougherty said. A variety of generators are available, ranging from portable models to built-in units that can power a house.
"A generator is an engine," he said. "You want to think about where that generator lives and where you store the fuel."
Something as simple as a hand-crank radio with the ability to charge a cellphone could be an option for someone with fewer power needs, Dougherty said.
Preparedness checklists and information are available at bereadyutah.gov.
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