Emergency Preparedness for Urban Dwellers

I’m taking a little detour from my usual cooking and fermenting posts to encourage everyone to prepare their home for a natural disaster. I put together a kit some years ago but never updated it and now the food needs to be tossed. Hurricane Sandy got me thinking that every person really needs to be prepared to feed and shelter themselves and their loved ones in case of an emergency, so one of my New Year’s resolutions was to get myself prepared. Since I’m doing all the work and research I figured I might as well share this information with my readers so you can equip yourselves as well. 🙂

In the event of a natural disaster stores can quickly run out of food and supplies. It behooves us all to have a little extra of things we need daily on hand to see us through a period of turmoil. It is also best to prepare yourself to stay in your own home. Shelters tend to be crowded, with little privacy and no autonomy. If you have pets, you would not be able to bring them to a shelter. With this in mind, I intend to stay in my home as long as it is safe to do so and I encourage everyone to plan to do the same. The costs and effort involved in preparing for a natural disaster can be significant; in order to keep this from being too cumbersome I’ve decided to break down the necessary tasks and purchases into 12 monthly installments. As I am an urban dweller my recommendations will be for the kind of preparations someone living in a city or suburb needs to make; if you live in a rural area your needs may be different. Also, this will be a common sense approach to dealing with likely disruptions or disasters – I won’t be advising you on how to plan for the Zombiepocalypse or Total Economic Collapse. I also won’t be offering advice on purchasing weapons of any kind – your efforts will be better spent on building good relationships your neighbors, than on planning to fend them off.

The first step is to determine what kind of emergency situation is likely to occur where you live. Floods? Hurricanes? Blizzards? Wildfires? Tornados? Earthquakes? Where I live (Portland-Metro, OR) storms are fairly common and we have an abundance of very large Douglas Fir trees in the cities that tend to knock out power. In the past there have been ice storms that took power offline for 3 days or longer in some neighborhoods. We also live with the threat of earthquakes, and scientists are always reminding us that “The Big One” is bound to happen one of these days. We’ve had some volcanic activity in the area, but since Mt. St. Helens had such big eruption recently (1980) it’s not likely we’ll have to deal with that again in my lifetime. A large earthquake would be catastrophic, and that’s hard to prepare for, but power outages of 3-5 days are not unlikely so my plan is to prepare for those and also to make some effort toward being prepared for a worse scenario. FEMA recommends having on hand emergency supplies for 3 days, while the Red Cross recommends enough for 2 weeks: my goal is to have enough for about 1 week. (My reason being that the only thing that could cut off power and supplies for longer than 1 week would be an earthquake and it would likely render my home uninhabitable, necessitating an evacuation.)



This month the first step we are taking is to ensure an adequate water supply. Disruptions to the water service aren’t very common here, but if there was an earthquake – even a small one – losing water is a real concern. As well, there have been “Boil Water” orders in the city of Portland recently, and although we are in a different water district that was enough to convince me that having a supply of clean water on hand is a good idea for everyone. FEMA advises that a healthy person will need a minimum of 1 gallon of water per day. That is the amount you will need to drink and prepare your food, and does not include washing up or flushing toilets.

My mom recently attended a seminar for preparing for emergencies, and one of the best pieces of advice she got was to store water in large jugs in the back of your closets. For this purpose you will want to buy jugs that are intended for long-term storage – not the little 1-gallon jugs commonly seen on store shelves. Those are not sturdy enough. Look for heavy-duty jugs in 5-gallon size or larger. Stores like Wal-Mart will usually carry these with their camping supplies. I was able to purchase these jugs at the WINCO store here in Oregon. WINCO has a large bulk section and sells things like rolled oats in 25lb. bags, so they carry quite a bit of food storage supplies. If you can’t find any locally, there are lots of prepper websites to purchase them from.

Heavy duty storage jugs in 5-gallon or 7-gallon size are best.

My family has 4 people in it so I purchased one 5-gallon jug for each of us and another one for my two pets. The jugs should be lightly washed inside with warm, soapy water and then rinsed well. Fill them with water from your tap. It is recommended that the water be refreshed every 6 months – mark your calendar for 6 months from now so you don’t forget. I also purchased an optional spigot for these jugs and keep it taped to one in my closet.

A spigot will make the jug easier to use.

There’s another source of water in most of our homes as well: the hot water heater. The water won’t stay warm for very long, but it will be good for drinking and cooking. I caution you not to rely solely on the water heater though as your family can go through water pretty quickly. We once stayed at a house that lost power in an ice storm so the well would not work. I think the water in the tank lasted a little more than a day (there were 8 of us) and then we tried melting snow on the woodstove for a little while before finally calling it quits and leaving. You don’t want to find yourself in that situation.

Your water heater is an additional source of water.


That’s it for the first month! At a cost of about $35, this month’s preparations won’t break the bank. If you take the time this weekend to store some emergency water for your family, you’ll be much better prepared than most of your neighbors the next time a natural disaster hits your city. At the bottom of this post are links to FEMA, the Red Cross, a website that sells emergency preparedness supplies, and some agencies in the state of Oregon. Be sure to look for information specific to your area by googling “(name of your state) emergency preparedness.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency

American Red Cross

Oregon Office of Emergency Management

Oregon Health Security, Preparedness and Response Program

Emergency Essentials (To purchase supplies.)

4 Responses

  1. Jana says:

    I liked reading your article and appreciate that it made me think of the Hot Water heater as an additional source! I too have a reserve of h20 set aside. A while ago I reasearched online and saw that you can use 2 litre bottles — pop bottles. They don’t advice juice bottles something about even after boiling the inside clean there could possibly be residual bacteria? Anyway we arent’ big pop drinkers so it took a while to gather some– bbq’s and birthdays! I cleaned them, boiled water, poured it in, re-capped it and for extra securty put duct tape around the cap. I then purchased a very large ‘tote’ or rubber made container, put them into it and tucked it into the garage. Always good ot have large and small bottle reserves, some for cleaning / bathing, and some in case you need to be mobile. Thanks for the article I look forward to reading more!

  2. You can’t help but cram most of the time when there is an emergency happened but it’s not recommended because you should be ready for this. Good to know that there are trainings like this that can really help a lot of people.

  3. Bee Prepared says:

    I always have a good 5 minute panic before calming myself down and having to think of what exactly to do. It is something to work on because 5 minutes is already a lot of wasted time if there is indeed a big emergency. Thank you for sharing these tips! These can help me actually prepare better in the future.

  4. Luke says:

    According to me, no one can tackle when there is a disaster. Because at that point in time we tend to lose our mind and our thinking capability becomes zero. But I need to give credit to the publisher of this blog. For showing us the way to manage the situation.

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