We live in anxious times. There's talk of an influenza
pandemic that could kill thousands in Ontario and our spy agency calls a
terrorist attack in Canada probable. That's in addition to the old-fashioned
natural disasters: massive flooding, devastating hurricanes, killer tornadoes.
Not to mention nuclear plant accidents, toxic substance spills, widespread
utility blackouts. Cheery, eh?
Or better yet, Cheerios, lots of them, because short of
joining some survivalist cult in the mountains, you're going to need supplies
This is not just the musings of a neurotic newspaper
reporter with an overactive imagination. Our government, from the feds on
down, is advising families to be ready. During National Emergency Preparedness
Week earlier this month, the message was clear: all citizens should be able to
take care of themselves and their families for up to three days should
Being ready doesn't mean having a flashlight buried
somewhere in a drawer and cases of beer stashed in the garage. To properly
prepare — and prevent yourself from hungrily eyeing the house plants —
government agencies and the Red Cross offer lists — many lists — for small
children; seniors; pets; for emergency food and water; equipment; and
evacuation in a car.
Here's a sample of what you might consider.
Water in the basement isn't a bad thing, as long as it's
bottled. The conventional wisdom: store four litres of water per person per
day — two for drinking, two for food preparation and hygiene. That's 48 litres
for a four-person family for three days. Once you find room for it, don't
forget about it. The Red Cross advises replacing stored water every six
months. Also keep some bottled water in the car, for quick getaways.
If you're staying home and have forewarning, fill the
bathtub, a handy supply for flushing the toilet.
Should you run short of water, there are hidden sources in
your home — the hot water tank, pipes and toilet (reservoir tank, not
bowl). But purify it first. Pick up some purification tablets ($17.99 for 30
at Canadian Tire) for your survival kit.
Think non-perishable, little preparation or cooking: Cans
of meat, fish, soups that don't require water, fruits and vegetables. Crucial:
manual can opener. Peanut butter, ready-to-eat cereal and energy bars are good
calamity comfort foods. Keep a stash at home as well as a food pack in the car
— a new take on take-out.
If you're marooned at home without power, you can cook
outdoors on a barbecue or camp stove ($50 for a one-burner Coleman butane
stove at Canadian Tire). Or you can finally use that chafing dish or fondue
pot you got as a wedding present.
To spice up your catastrophe cuisine, consider splurging on
some freeze-dried delicacies. Imagine dining on paella with saffron rice and
chicken (Mountain Equipment Co-op, $10 serves two) by, of course, candlelight,
followed by French vanilla mousse with raspberries ($4 serves two). And you
can snack on wild smoked salmon jerky ($7.25).
Resist the temptation to dip into your survivor supplies on
nights you're too tired to cook.
Should you run short of food, there are hidden sources in
your home — behind the sofa cushions, inside kids' school backpacks or under a
teenager's bed. Just half-joking.
Distaste de rigueur: Candles with matches and
flashlights with plenty of batteries. To free your hands and still see,
consider a head lamp ($20 to $40 at Mountain Equipment Co-op). It's basically
a flashlight strapped to a head mount: coal miner chic.
For those paranoid about being left in the dark — or who
need to contact the mother ship — Hammacher-Schlemmer (http://www.hammacher.com)
offers what it calls "the world's brightest flashlight." It shines with 15
million candlepower, the equivalent of about 150 60-watt bulbs, for $79.95
U.S. Or, considerably dimmer, two 12-hour glow sticks are available for $4.99
at Canadian Tire.
To keep abreast of weather and news, a radio is essential.
The Source (http://www.thesourcecc.com)
sells a selection of crank radios at varying prices.
If you're power mad, Canadian Tire has some backups. A
folding solar panel ($130) converts sunlight to charge small electronics such
as a cellphone and MP3 player. The Eliminator PowerBox ($190) is kept plugged
in; then when the power goes out, you can use the portable box to run a mini
refrigerator or other small appliances, charge electronics or jump-start a
A power box or solar panel may help ward off electronics
withdrawal for a while. But don't forget the cottage classics: Candyland and
Monopoly; Clue and Trivial Pursuit; and of course, rounds of Go Fish, gin
rummy and euchre.
If three days of board games and cards starts wearing thin,
there's always that pile of still unread books on the bedside table.
Recommended reading: The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Its
chapters on how to escape from quicksand, wrestle an alligator and land a
plane might put things in perspective.
Personal care items: include plenty of toilet paper and a
minimum of seven days' supply of prescription drugs.
It's smart to store a list of important phone numbers in
your survival kit. Keep vital family documents in a waterproof, portable
container and devise a family plan about how to contact each other or where to
meet in an emergency.
Keep a cache of cash, preferably small bills and coins.
During the 2003 blackout, credit and debit cards and teller machines didn't
Without cash, you might have to barter with neighbours —
two AA batteries for one can of pork and beans.
And, finally, a luxury item. Even the contestants on the TV
reality series Survivor are usually allowed one personal item while
they slog it out on some remote exotic beach.
What one thing would you most like to have while you're
holed up at home? In a highly unscientific survey, the most common response: a
case of champagne.
Why not? You've already got the candlelight.