FORT RUCKER, Ala. - While in the Boy Scouts at a young age, I remember our scoutmaster telling us to always be prepared. "For what," I would ask. "For anything," he'd respond.

As I grew older and a little wiser, I began to see the logic in the Boy Scout motto. Years ago, I had moved to Florida for work and had my first experience with hurricanes. Yes, plural hurricanes. Three hurricanes passed through the area I was living over the summer. The first time, I was totally unprepared and learned a great lesson the hard way. Being raised in Ohio, I had experienced tornados, but nothing like this. We had no electricity for nine days, the roadways were blocked and homes were destroyed. Instead of the mile-wide path of destruction you might see from a tornado, this destruction was miles across. There was no driving to a nearby town to get supplies because adjacent municipalities were also destroyed.

When I bring up the topic of disaster preparation, many people call me a survivalist and doomsday prepper, to name just a few. To me, it makes good sense to take some basic precautions and ensure your family is protected and prepared in the event of an emergency. My approach to preparing for a natural disaster is broken into categories so I can ensure I address all my possible needs. Some of the most important human reactions, and hardest to control, are panic and fear. When all methods of communication are lost - no television, radio or cellphone coverage - your emergency action plan must kick in so you can focus on survival.

Safe haven
The remainder of the precautions will matter little if you do not have a safe room, basement or other location strong enough to resist the forces of nature. An interior room in the home may work for an EF1 or EF2 tornado, but if the twister makes a direct hit on the structure, your safety may be in jeopardy. Tornadoes EF3 and higher will destroy homes even if they do not directly hit them. The winds generated by these storms can leave nothing behind but debris and bare concrete slabs.

Your first order of business should be to find your safe haven - a space or building that is structurally sound. This structure must be able to endure the forces of wind and strong enough to protect individuals inside from windblown debris traveling at high speeds. Storm bunkers can be installed under your garage and offer very good protection when there is a need to get below ground level.

You may have a basement under your home, which can offer good protection against flying debris. The key to safety when hunkering in a basement is to stay away from chimneys and try to find something structurally sound to get under in the event debris falls into the basement. As a child, my parents always told me to go to the southwestern side of the basement and get under something. It's a good idea to take a sleeping bag or blanket with you just in case you end up staying the night down there.

The third type of shelter is a storm bunker not attached to the home. A downside to this type of shelter is they are constructed at a distance away from the home. This requires the users to be exposed to inclement weather as they move from the home to the shelter. This shelter offers the maximum level of protection because, in addition to getting the occupants below ground, it also reduces the potential for home debris to fall and block safe operation of the door.

If having a storm shelter put in, plan to use only licensed companies with experience installing them. Ensure your shelter door has a locking device on the inside to prevent an accidental opening during high-wind situations. We've all seen the beginning of the movie "Twister" when the door was sucked open. Once inside the shelter, lock the door and move away from the entrance.

Water
After you've worked out your safe shelter, water needs to be No. 2 on your survival list. Anticipate a need to store a minimum of three to five days of drinking water per person in the shelter. Add an additional 5 gallons for meal preparation and sanitation.

Many survivalists use bottled water or large plastic containers to store drinking water in the safe haven. The type of container is a personal choice. However, after my adventure in Florida with no electricity, I've taken some additional precautions in the event it becomes evident it will be a long time before drinking water becomes available from the tap. At little cost, I built a water filtration system by using stones, sand and activated filtration charcoal to purify collected water and convert it to drinking water. These units can purify hundreds of gallons of water taken from the rain, streams or ponds.

If interested, there are good instructional videos available on building water filtration systems on YouTube. The Mayo Clinic recommends 15.5 cups of water a day for a male and 11.5 cups for a female. Temperature, activity, your gender and body structure are just a few of the factors used when calculating your needed water intake. The easiest way to plan for a drinking water storage is to place at least 1 gallon per day for each individual in the safe haven.

Weather radio/radio
After water, it is imperative you make connection to the outside world to determine what is going on in your area. Have at least one radio with several extra packs of batteries. You will have no outside communication during the time when electrical systems are down, and alerts and advisories from the local radio stations could be essential to your survival.

Try to purchase a survival radio that has the hand-charging feature in the event your battery supply becomes exhausted. The American Red Cross offers an emergency radio system that can recharge by either solar cells or hand cranking. The radio costs about $60 and also provides a port to recharge a cellphone. For more information, see the American Red Cross website.

Food
When stocking your shelter, in addition to items such as power bars and granola-type snacks, take into consideration the food group categories when planning. Three to five days of eating these products can provide sufficient nutrition to keep you alive but offer little additional extra calories. Unheated cans of soup, pasta products and dried meat can help fill in the gaps. Attempt to stay away from canned food products containing high levels of sodium.

Canned fruit and vegetables will also help ensure you're receiving a stable diet during the event. My emergency food supply not only includes items in the meat, vegetable and fruit categories, but also some purchased packaged food items from survival food suppliers. Many of these products do require that water be added, but the meal offers nutrients and vitamins needed to keep the body functioning.

Sanitation
This is one area where I am currently researching to upgrade in my shelter. One person I know has a 5-gallon bucket in his shelter and just inserts a plastic trash bag in it for his sanitation needs. Another option is a marine chemical type of toilet that is commonly used on a boat. During my research, I even found a disposable cardboard type of toilet device that uses disposable bags. When the emergency event is over, you properly dispose of the toilet and used bags. The internet offers several options to address your shelter's sanitation needs. Take the time to review them all and select what best fits your situation and the number of individuals staying in your save haven.

Emergency lighting
Some safe havens have windows or skylights that will offer some illumination during the daylight hours, but planning needs to be in place for evening hours. Small LED lanterns powered by batteries are a better choice over petroleum-based powered lanterns, which produce carbon monoxide and could present a fire hazard. Ensure your safe haven has at least two handheld flashlights along with several packs of new batteries. If kerosene lamps and petroleum-based lanterns are used, make sure there is adequate air movement in the safe haven space. An incoming fresh air duct, along with a strategically located exhaust duct, is very important when these carbon monoxide-producing devices are used in enclosed spaces. Included are propane or petroleum-based cook stoves, which also put off carbon monoxide. No matter what device is used, ensure the air within the space remains safe.

Conclusion
People survive disasters by putting forth the effort to plan for and prepare before the event strikes. As demonstrated in other national disasters, until resources can be mobilized and assembled in your area, you are on your own to care for your family and neighbors. Will you be prepared when it strikes?

Did You Know?

Each September, National Preparedness Month encourages and reminds Americans to be prepared for disasters or emergencies in their homes, businesses and communities. Homeowners, families, communities and businesses can use this opportunity to find ways or help others understand more about preparing for disasters and reducing risks to health and the environment. There are many ways to reduce risks from contamination, leaks, spills, hazardous materials and other dangers. For more information, visit https://www.ready.gov/.

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