The Importance of Disaster Preparedness: A Personal Story

The Intellihub
By Jack Evans Contributing Writer
May 4th, 2011

On January 12, 2007 at approximately 11 PM, the lights went out in our modest four-bedroom two-bath country home sitting on five wooded acres in Southwest Missouri Webster County.

Freezing drizzle had been falling most of the afternoon and into the evening hours. I was keenly aware of this fact seeing as I worked out in it on and off for a period of four hours collecting shopping carts for the local Wal-Mart.

Little did I know that my wife, her 92-year-old father-in-law, or I would live through the greatest natural disaster of our lives, and more particularly that of Southwest Missourians since 1987 in regards to power outages.

My wife and I both being Southern California natives, had lived through all of the major earthquakes the San Andreas fault had to offer since the 1960’s as well as the seasonal desert dust storms and pretty much knew how to react when those natural disasters happened, however what we were about to face was a new beast entirely, something that would change our  life forever.

Having lived in Missouri since 1995, we have seen our fair share of natural disasters from tornadoes, ice and snowstorms, flooding and occasional fires so we were not too concerned when the freezing rain started to fall. Even with the power off we we sure that the power company would have the power back on in due time, however after waking up the following morning the temperature had dropped in house by almost 10°, the power was still off.

Being the self-reliant types you have to be when you live out in the country, I went out to the pole barn and gathered up a bunch of wood to start a fire in the fireplace. The stove was electric everything in the house was electric but I figured it wouldn’t be a problem.

Starting a fire in the fireplace, breakfast was prepared as we waited for the utility company to restore power.  Little did I know it would be another five days before the power was on? In some places, it would take more than a week.

After breakfast we dugout an ancient battery-operated radio by my account, and proceeded to try to get more information from local radio station in regards to exactly what was happening. According to the National Weather Service office in Springfield Missouri, ¾ to 1 ½ inches of freezing ice had dropped on us in a period of two days. My father-in-law who was reclining in his easy chair periodically asked for additional blankets for which to cover himself,  he suffered from arthritis so was it very hard on him at the time.

Of particular concern to us was the food in the refrigerator and freezer. Since we had no power we had to figure out what we were going to do with it. So we decided to take all the perishable frozen meats put them in plastic bags put them in plastic containers and set them out on the back deck seeing as the temperature was well below the freezing point.

Other items such as milk, eggs, and fresh vegetables we simply left in the refrigerator. While we had plenty of fresh water, we had no nonperishable storable food items such as MRE’s, no “go bag” and worst of all no plan on what to do.

By Saturday afternoon, it was clear to us that the power was not coming back on anytime soon. Considering the condition my father-in-law was in, it was essential that we find another place to stay so we called some friends that lived approximately 9 miles away in a small town called Niangua. Their power had not been affected as of yet so we packed up the Jeep and headed down the road and end up staying Saturday night at their place and awoke the following morning to their power being out.

So we measured options and decided that we would go to a Red Cross shelter that had been set up at the Baptist Church my father-in-law attended while our friends went to Springfield to a relative’s home that was heated by propane gas.

The 6-mile trip to the church was a site I will never forget. As far as the eye could see all the trees were glimmering with three quarters of an inch of ice and the tops looked as if they had been blown out by an air fuel bomb. Telephone poles lay on the side of the road, snapped off like toothpicks and down power lines lay sprawling everywhere.

The governor of Missouri Matt Blunt had declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to help provide relief operations for local organizations including the American Red Cross.

We spent the next five days a Red Cross shelter and both my wife and I eventually volunteered to assist the Red Cross in meal preparation and distribution of food for other people who were staying there, as well as offering rides to shower facilities at the local high school.  We have been Red Cross volunteers ever sense.

In retrospect, we were as far from being prepared as a paratrooper jumping out of a C-130 without a parachute. We were among the 3600 residents that sought shelter in one of 85 shelters the American Red Cross set up. .

Four years later now living in a different state which could pose its own different set of natural disaster scenarios, we are more prepared than we were four years ago. We have portable water, and nonperishable food stored for sheltering in place and if need be should we have to evacuate we have a “go bag” which contains important personal documents, clothing, and personal items such as medications etc. While not experts in the art of survival and living on a limited income, we are able to prepare inexpensively.

While it may be impossible to prepare for every possible scenario, the important point to remember here is to start somewhere with your own personal preparedness plan. Your life or the life of a loved one may depend on your foresight. Work within your means plan and prepare.

Copyright 2011 Jack Evans