How to Prepare for a Disaster

cobs-emergencyWe all know a natural or man-made disaster could strike at any moment, yet most of us don’t do the things that are necessary to be prepared in the event something does happen. This past year has been chock-full of disasters that in many cases have resulted in areas that are still without basic services like electricity and clean water. In other areas, the services may be restored but due to the nature of the destruction and loss, it has forced people to re-build their entire lives. They have had to re-locate, look for new employment (because their former place of employment was destroyed), purchase all new possessions, at the same time as dealing with the frustration, grief, and fear of their losses.

A couple of real life examples for 2017 that are close to us, are the fires that took place in Santa Rosa, California and the surrounding areas. We live about 3 ½ hours north and many of us have friends and relatives who live and work here. We were constantly in contact with these folks as they were repeatedly evacuated. Many of the places we’ve shopped and frequented over the years are no longer standing or are in complete disarray not sure if they’ll be able to recover. The one thing that we’ve heard many times was how important their radio was in these situations. The folks who were able to monitor the status of where the fire was and how quickly it was changing were in a more confident position on making a decision of what to do next.

Another example, is the Virgin Islands and all others down island along the Caribbean Coast that were affected. We have a new team member who comes to us from St. John, USVI who got hit the hardest of the 3 US territories during Irma.  9 miles long of destruction with loss of power poles, cell towers and Internet connection. She evacuated and relocated back here to her home town after 10 years of the Caribbean life. Along with her home and most of her possessions being destroyed, thousands of islanders quickly became unemployed such as her former workplace at Caneel Bay Resort which was decimated.

So how do you prepare? There’s no one size fits all approach. Each individual and family has different considerations based on their family size, age, etc. along with the type of disasters they or their loved ones are most likely to encounter. As a basis being prepared with not only food and water but with a battery operated radioflashlight and extra batteries will be your safety net and lifeline. You may not know, but a radio with an active NOAA Weather Alert feature can alert you up to 30 minutes prior to a major storm. That’s enough time to gather what you need and hurry to shelter or to at least get out the flashlights and shut the windows.

Here are some tips for safety and to help get you better prepared – preparation will vary based on the types of disaster you’re most likely to encounter. Knowing your area and what kinds of disasters you are most likely to encounter will help you make the best plan for your environment.

  • Create a preparedness kit that will last at least 72 hours for each person in your household. Include in your kit- canned food (don’t forget the can opener), bottled water, battery operated radio, flashlights, batteries, blankets, clothing and shoes, first aid kit, money (make sure it’s cash – ATMS need power too), duct tape, survival knife with fishing kit, trash bags, zip ties, sewing kit, tarp, wet wipes and specialty items such as medications (both prescription and non), infant food and pet food. Many sites we visited recommend at least one week’s worth of water.
  • Other possible items that may be needed based on the type of emergency: Specialty rated filtration masks, water pump filter, rain and camping gear
  • Write out your most important contacts – if you have extended power outages you may not have a charged phone that has your contact information saved
  • Consider purchasing a camping stove and extra propane
  • Camera for photos of any damage
  • Flash drive with all important docs and pictures backed up
  • Playing cards or a frisbee – something to help keep you occupied if you’re waiting for extended periods of time
  • Stay home and off the roads if appropriate.
  • Use phone lines for emergency calls only to keep lines open for emergency services

Bob’s tip for potable water – A good source for drinking water in your home is your hot water heater. It can provide you with much needed clean drinking water when your local water services have been disrupted. You should filter the water to remove any contaminates present. You can drain the water using the valve on the bottom of the tank. Be sure to turn the gas or electric supply to the water heater off before draining it.

Will your Mom or Dad or Grandparents be prepared for disasters?  The stress of aging parents living far enough away that you can’t easily get to them is compounded in an emergency situation.  Making sure that they have a good radio to access information will bring peace of mind to you both.  This is particularly important when older adults are usually the higher percentage of victims, as in the case of Hurricane Katrina according to the Huffington Post article.

If you have faced a disaster with your emergency kit, what item would have helped that you did not have?

Additional resources for preparation:

Top 10 Emergency Preparedness Tips


With September being the month of National Preparedness we wanted to give you a short checklist of what to do for being prepared:

  1. Know your area and what disasters you might encounter – this will help you plan appropriately
  2. Create a plan (even something as basic as knowing exit routes and local emergency numbers)
    • Include in your plan any unusual items you might need like medications or hearing aids as well as prescription information and doctor’s info.
    • Consider adding a communication plan in the event everyone is in separate locations
    • Consider adding a meet-up plan if members become separated or if the house is uninhabitable
  3. Create a printed or written contact list and include at least one out of town contact
  4. Create a 72-hour emergency kit with the essentials for each family member:
    • First Aid Kit
    • Portable emergency radio
    • Flashlight and extra batteries
    • Cash
    • Duct tape (really – you’ll never be sorry you included duct tape J)
    • Toilet Paper, wet wipes, personal hygiene items
    • Notepad and pens or pencils
    • Blankets or sleeping bags
    • Bottled Water
    • Pet Food (if applicable)
    • Children/Infant Items (if applicable – think diapers, wipes, formula, inhalers, etc.)
  5. Know where your electric, gas and water shut off valves are and how to turn them off and make sure you have the tools needed nearby.
  6. Meet your neighbors and find out if there is a neighborhood or community plan in place
  7. Create copies of important documents and store them in a secure location, preferably off site
  8. PRACTICE your plan – nothing beats a real live drill especially if you have any kind of special needs or young children or grand children.
  9. Put a reminder in your calendar for twice a year to check your kit and your plan and update or modify as necessary.
  10. Stay – calm. If you’ve followed the steps above you have a plan and a kit. You’re in GREAT shape to survive a disaster.

Keep Your Family Safe – Prepare Ahead of Time


Not many people are really prepared for a disaster, especially in areas where they aren’t common. Maybe folks in areas where there are regular hurricanes, tornadoes or winter storms that shut everything down have a good handle on being prepared or people like the Preppers, but the rest of us find it easy to slack on preparedness and then find ourselves scrambling when a real disaster strikes.

It’s easy to make a case for being prepared. Look around at all of the unexpected emergencies like the recent flooding in Louisiana and tornadoes in the Midwest. Emergencies don’t have to be only weather and naturally caused. In California, recent fires that destroyed entire communities have been attributed to arson. With record breaking temperatures across the US and people using electricity like crazy or an even more sinister possibility – an energy grid hack, our next disaster might be extended blackouts or there is the very real possibility of terrorism that continues to plague the entire world.

Here’s a few questions to ask yourself to see how you fare on the preparedness scale:

  • What essential supplies do I need?
    If you are missing some, it might be time to re-think priorities since stores often sell out, are out of service, or have no way to process payments (even cash).
  • Do I have a written list of important phone numbers?
    If you answered no, then you have some work to do. An electronic list on your cell phone isn’t going to do you much good once the phone dies and the power is out.
  • Do you have any cash or would you need to go to the ATM?
    If you answered no to the cash and yes to the ATM then you need to stash some cash. ATMs go down and require power and banks are so automated now and reliant on computers, they often can’t even provide cash from the tellers if there isn’t any power.
  • Do you have copies of important documents stored safely somewhere else?
    As cumbersome as this sounds, having copies of things (think insurance policies, passports, deeds, titles, etc.) stored in a safe deposit box or at a relatives’ home will really reduce the headache and time spent in the event you lose your home to a disaster. It can help even if it’s just a time where you’re out of town and you end up with a water leak that damages your ceiling.
  • Do you have a good emergency radio and flashlight? How about spare batteries?
    No? Well this is the one we can actually help you with! Call us or visit the links above and order online. We’ll get you set up right away.

We’ve written several articles on how to be prepared and what that might look like. REI has a great article on basic concepts with some important additions that people often forget like medications, infant formula and diapers, and pet food.

If nothing else, at least create a basic plan, get a radio and flashlight, write down the list of phone numbers and read about Bob’s potable water trick with your water heater.

Tell us about your emergency plans in the comments below and be entered to win a CC Solar Observer October 11th– the best all-around emergency radio. It covers AM, FM and Weather and has a built in flashlight. You can even use it without batteries and if it came down to it, it even will charge most cell phones.

What I will hear on the 2-Meter Amateur Radio Band

International competition on the VHF radio become a tradition for a long time. These competitions are held the first weekend in July. Typically, operators of amateur radio stations go out of town - to field, and from there carry out radio communications. On the picture are operators from Russia, at the field day 2011 year Photo taken July 2, 2011

International competition on the VHF radio become a tradition for a long time. These competitions are held the first weekend in July. Typically, operators of amateur radio stations go out of town to field, and from there carry out radio communications. Pictured are Ham Operators from Russia, at the Field Day 2011 Photo taken July 2, 2011

What is the 2-Meter Amateur Radio band anyway?

According to Wikipedia, “The 2 meter amateur radio band is a portion of the VHF (very high frequency) Spectrum, comprising of frequencies stretching from 144.000 MHz to 148.000 MHz.” These communications are generally FM or frequency modulated transmissions although some operators do operate using SSB (single sideband) or CW (Morse code). These modes of operation allow for longer distance communications without the use of repeater stations.

While listening to the 2-meter ham band you can expect to hear normal conversations or “rag chew” as the hams call it. You may also hear a ham operator on his way home from work asking his wife if she needs anything from the store. You may hear a ham operator reporting a traffic accident and requesting emergency services.

You may also hear ham radio operators providing on the scene emergency communications during times of disaster. Often you will hear a ham operator reporting on conditions long before the general public has been advised of the situation via the normal news media. Even before you hear the information listening to a police or emergency services scanner you have already heard about the situation if you are monitoring the 2-meter ham band.

Ham Operators coordinate emergency efforts. SSB (or Single Side Band AM) transmits in long distances. The 2-Meter Ham band can have similar type local broadcasts but is normally much clearer audio and is FM.

The 2-Meter Amateur band frequencies are reserved for the exclusive use of those licensed in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as Amateur Radio Operators or “Ham Radio Operators”. Ham radio operators use the 2-meter band for general conversations as well as for emergency communications. Ham radio operators are often the first called upon to assist in major disasters with communications between the public and emergency services such a law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services. The American Red Cross has recognized that the 2-Meter Amateur band is a very effective way of providing communications during times of emergency and Ham radio operators provide 90% of the coordination efforts during a major emergency. During an emergency a 2-Meter band receiver could save your life or that of a loved one.

How does the 2-Meter Amateur Radio Band work?

In most communities, the local Ham radio operators own and maintain repeaters on the 2-meter band, which assists their communications by increasing the distance that they can communicate with each other while still maintaining the quality of an FM transmission. These repeater stations are located in high locations such as mountaintops or tall buildings in the big cities and consist of a powerful transmitter and a high-gain antenna allowing Ham operators to extend their coverage areas, often as much as 200 miles or more. These stations often have alternative forms of power such as generators, solar power and batteries, which keep them in operation when the commercial power supply has been discontinued due to weather or other disasters. Individual ham operators have also found alternative power sources for their equipment so that they can operate even when there is no commercial power available.

Ham radio operators are very inventive in their approach to communications and can often find a way to communicate when normal communications such as cell phones have been interrupted. As an example, Ham radio operators have been able to make phone calls using the 2-meter band for many years before the invention of the cellular telephone.

More information about the 2-Meter Amateur Radio Band.

Because it is local and reliable, and because the licensing requirements to transmit on the 2-meter band are easy to meet in the United States and many other countries, this band is the most popular Amateur Radio band in the United States. The 2-meter band is often the band on which Ham radio operators make their first contacts. Obtaining a Ham operator’s license consists of taking a simple test containing 35 questions covering such topics as operating procedures, rules and regulations and some minor electronics theory. There is no requirement to pass a Morse code test to be licensed to operate on the 2-meter amateur radio band. 2-meter radio equipment is also very affordable and can be as simple as a small hand held transceiver or a powerful base or mobile transceiver. This popularity also means that it is the most often used band for emergency communications such as providing emergency communications between Red Cross shelters and local authorities. Many neighborhood disaster relief organizations use the 2-Meter Amateur Radio band for their official communications during times of emergency.

To learn more about 2-Meter Ham radio and what is required to obtain a license contact the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) at or call (860) 594-0300. They can provide you with local contacts for training classes in your area and test dates and locations. Your local Amateur Radio Club members will assist you in all aspects of obtaining your license including what type of equipment you need to get started. Also a gentleman named Gordon West would love to help you get started in ham radio. He has a school you can attend in Southern California (Gordon West Radio School) or you can order study materials from the W5YI Group at Bob Crane recommends Gordon West’s course materials as they are extremely well written, while making it enjoyable to learn. Mr. West will even take a phone call if you have a question. Also take a look at our C. Crane blog post The Importance of HAM Amateur Radio by Tim Carter, Ask the Builder . He has a great story about Ham Operators and how important they are in aiding in emergency efforts. You will discover that Ham radio operators are a great bunch of people. They provide this irreplaceable public service for free.

W5YI : Your Resource for Amateur Radio and Commercial Radio
Technician Class: 2006-10 FCC Element 2 Amateur Radio License Preparation – By Gordon West WB6NOA.