Thursday, April 23, 2009

Preparedness Focus: Pandemics

Given today's news item on the possible human-to-human spread of swine flu in two California children, I thought it would be good to discuss how to prepare for a pandemic.

If a pandemic occurs, you should expect it to hit quickly due to the universality and speed of modern travel. Quarantines will be likely; expect major services and utilities to be unavailable as the people who staff those facilities fall ill or become subject to quarantine themselves. Schools will be shut down. Food and supplies will be unavailable either due to quarantine or, more likely, because of massive runs on supplies. Anyone seeking to prepare for a pandemic should attain self-sufficiency capabilities for a minimum of 6-8 weeks up to three months. While the length of time a pandemic takes to run its course may be a year or two, the action is compressed into 2 or 3 periods lasting two or three months each.

Consequently, you can break down pandemic preparedness into several key areas:

1. Food and Water. The government recommends a two-week supply of food and water. I consider this to be completely insufficient. As stated above, you should prepare for 2-3 months. Even if the grocery stores have supplies, if everyone around you is a potential incubator for a deadly virus, do you really want to go to the grocery store?

Three months' food storage is very doable, but that much water takes up a lot of space and is very heavy. Assuming that your home maintains water pressure but the water is of questionable drinkability, I would recommend purchasing a water filter such as the ones made by Katadyn. You can use the Home Emergency Water System (HEWS) to store water in your bathtub while there's still water pressure and the sanitation facilities are operating. Lehman's also has a gravity filter that might work well.

In addition to food and water, you'll need a means to prepare it. Since the power may be out, be prepared to use a solar cooker, gas grill, JetBoil personal cooking system (or Helios system for families), or other camp stove. You will need plenty of fuel.

Any regular reader of this blog knows that I harp on food and water storage ad nauseam. The good news is, food and water will see you through nearly any type of emergency, not just a pandemic.

2. Hygiene and Sanitation. You can acquire N-95 particulate masks from for a reasonable price. Each family member will need a new one each day for maximum protection. Hand sanitizer and nitrile gloves will also be needed.

You may want a portable toilet with plenty of liner bags, and plenty of toilet paper. You will want heavy duty large trash bags with rubber bands or strong plastic ties to store your waste as trash removal services will probably not be running, as well as a large plastic waste barrel.

3. First Aid and Medical. You will need to store prescription medicines as well as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other flu-related items. Focus on fever reducers, anti-nausea medications, anti-diarrhea medicines, and cough medicines. A simple first-aid kit could also be useful.

A multi-vitamin is critical for maintaining your health. There are vitamins available that can be stored for up to ten years without losing their potency.

I would store powdered gatorade or another electrolyte restorer such as CeraLyte to help with dehydration from diarrhea.

4. Entertainment. Since you will not be reporting to work unless you are critical personnel, be prepared for boredom. Have books on hand, jigsaw puzzles, board games, playing cards, books of crossword puzzles, crayons and coloring books, paper, knitting, or anything creative that does not require electricity and will keep your mind off the complete disintegration of society occurring outside your door. Also, you will want gas lamps or other light sources (candles and flashlights are not really sufficient) so that you can entertain yourself after dark.

5. Personal Protection. Imagine the family next door, who hasn't prepared, has a sick eight-year old daughter. She's in severe respiratory distress. The hospitals are overwhelmed and closed to new patients. The neighbors know you're still healthy and suspect you have food, water, and medicines. What do you think those parents are going to do, or how they are going to behave, in an attempt to save their daughter's life? Enough said.

6. Other items. Since emergency services will probably not be available, have a fire extinguisher on hand; take a First Aid course; and make sure you have plenty of batteries for your emergency radio. Telephone services will probably still be available, but you will want to use a simple phone that jacks directly into the wall - not a cordless or digital phone. Finally, keep cash on hand to avoid having to run to the bank, or in the event that ATMs are not working or are out of cash.

Further reading:

The Bird Flu Manual (US Health & Human Services)

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