Thursday, March 17, 2011


The Facebook page of a friend living in Japan has provided a sliver of personal insight into the tragedy there. The comments are few right now. They've got a lot of other things going on. But what comments are there discuss the empty shelves in some areas of Japan, while other areas seem very normal.

A Fox News report this afternoon was held via Skype, with an American aid worker holed up in a shelter in Sendai. He went in to provide aid, and now he and those he went to save are on the nuclear safety fringe, out of food, worried no one will come because of the proximity of their location to the the reactors.

When the Japanese authorities gave out the first safety information after the leaks from the nuclear plants, they were simply this: "Stay inside your homes." Later, officials admitted that staying indoors provided little safety. What these people really should have been told to do was to evacuate, but in a nation with so many displaced persons, the idea of shelter seemed more comforting to many, and now some are stuck in regions within the newly updated 18-mile evacuation perimeter. All three incidents point out a fundamental need for portable well-planned 72-hour kits and long term food storage, some of which also should be fairly portable.

This is history in the making. In the future, experts will look at this situation and create new paradigms for emergency preparedness. As a historical writer who has researched the preparations made by our ancestors, we can look there and see where our guard has dropped in recent years.

Even wealthy plantation owners with money to spend knew the importance of storing food on their premises. Without benefit of refrigeration, they turned to drying, salting, canning, pickling, and smoking food for long term storage. They built cool, humidity-protected root cellars to keep fruits and vegetables fresh beyond their season, smoke houses to preserve meats, spring houses to extend the life of dairy products. It was hard work, but they never forgot an important lesson--that failure to prepare leaves you one growing season away from starvation.

Most of us have grocery stores within our ready reach, and refrigeration so shopping isn't a daily chore, but I doubt there are many of us who haven't looked at Japan and wondered, "What if?" Sadly, many will slip back into complacency instead of allowing the lessons to stick.

I live on the east coast in the midst of a great many military bases. Several years ago, one base was moving missiles from one location to another. Rather than transport them via the highway, a less-traveled route was chosen that took the convoy over a few miles of country roads. At one point the flatbed carrying the payload had to cross an older bridge. The structure wasn't built to handle the weight and as a result, the truck jostled, the missiles slipped, and several broke loose from their straps, breaking through the rail and into the ravine below.

A friend lived within five miles of that bridge. She had no knowledge of the accident until a knock sounded on her door and an official told her she had fifteen minutes to evacuate her house. That's all she knew. No return time or date was given, no best-case, worst-case scenario was provided. She didn't know if she would ever see her house again, but she knew what she should take. She and her family had rehearsed this scene out in preparation for just such an eventuality.

Her important documents and selected photos were assembled and at the ready. Her 72-hour kit was stocked with food, clothes, toiletries, water and small bills. An emergency meeting area and contact plan was in place so other family members could find her and one another later in the day. In short, a stressful situation was made less so, and a possible disaster was made manageable.

We laugh at stories about ancestors who "stuffed their money into mattresses" but if a real emergency arose, would you have small bills on hand? A few years ago a terrible winter storm hit us, knocking out all the power for several days. Electric doors wouldn't open, cash registers wouldn't work. A small convenience store was operating on a cash-only basis. Returning change was a luxury. Some people surrendered larger amounts than their bill because they were at the manager's mercy. We've made it a practice to store an emergency stash of one-dollar bills since then. And change. If cell phone lines get jammed or your battery goes dead, you'll appreciate change for a call.
I copied the fronts and backs of all our credit cards, insurance cards, membership cards, etc. When my husband's wallet was picked from his pocket at the airport we had every number we needed at our disposal. I also had a list of the three major credit reporting agencies, and the Social Security Administration's phone number so we could alert everyone within minutes.
I don't garden. I should, and I might again. Instead, I store food. On more than one occasion our storage helped us out when a paycheck was small, an unexpected expense hit us, a job was lost, or we just wanted something without having to go to the store to get it. Shopping ahead is a great hedge against inflation since you are eating food purchased when foods were cheaper. Also, when you have a nice supply you don't need to buy items that aren't on sale. You can afford to wait for a coupon or a sale.
So learn the need to prepare from current events, and learn how to prepare from the past. Find a cool, dry space in your basement, or build a root cellar. (The web is loaded with plans. It's actually a "new" trend.") Begin with a 72-hour kit. Store a change of clothes, a first-aid kit, some cash, some water, a radio, 3-days worth of meds and hygiene items based on your family's needs. Include a copy of all your important documents like mortgage, investment and bank statements. Update them frequently, but even older statements will at least provide a record of account numbers and a point of reference for research if electronic files fail.
Then increase your storage. There are dozens of reputable companies that will sell bulk food in lots, but you can shop weekly and add a few items with each trip, creating a supply that will rotate into your regular diet. Here's a link to one on my blog.
In short, do something. None of us are completely impervious to disaster. The time to prepare is now.


  1. Great blog post. Constantly learning new stuff. I really gotta get my paperwork in order. Thanks for the reminder. :)

    You need to put in some kind of garden. You need to know the skills in case you really need them or someone you loves need them. My goal every spring is to collect my harvest at the end of the summer, even though the hot, humid and buggy summer. I'm not so good at that.

    Thanks again!

  2. I know. I really need to. We're dreadful at it. Our soil is poor and we weren't dilligent at caring for it daily so it became the dreaded weekly chore to pull the weeds. But the biggest troubles were summer drought and the pests. We were uncomfortable about spraying and then eating the foods we had "nuked." But I've got a new opinion on the matter now. I like the idea of having the power to control the food and what goes on it. I'm not a doomsday person, but I believe part of the counsel to grow a garden has to do with its safety as much as supply. Also, I store a can of seeds in my storage every year. Added protection.