15 Things You Should Do Today to Prepare for a Pandemic Flu

By Elizabeth Lang on 30 April 2009 (Updated 21 September 2009) 15 comments
Photo: Paul Keleher

For the past few years people have been telling us that it's not a matter of "if" a pandemic occurs, but a matter of "when."

Well, a pandemic may be upon us in the form of swine flu. Or it may not. Either way, it's a good time to review your emergency preparedness.

There's no reason for alarm, but having previously worked on pandemic planning, I know that you'll save time and money by preparing now, instead of waiting until there is an emergency.

Here are 15 things you should do right now to prepare yourself.

1. Get Extra Cash

I know I should have some emergency cash somewhere in my house. I used to have $200 hidden in a jar, but somehow I kept needing it for an "I don't have time to stop at the ATM" emergency.

If you don't have at least a little extra cash available, swing by the ATM today.

2. Hoard Soap

The best way to protect against the flu is to wash your hands. You can't do this without soap. Alcohol-based hand wash (like Purell) also works -- just make sure it's at least 60% alcohol.

3. Buy Water

I hate bottled water. It's terrible for the environment. But let's face it: without water we can't survive. Buy a few gallons of water to store in case of an emergency.

4. Purchase Dried Grains

If your shelves are looking scarce, go buy a few packages of pasta or rice.

5. Procure Non-Perishable Proteins

Dried beans are amazing. They keep forever, are tasty, and are immensely cheaper than canned beans. Peanut butter is another favorite protein. Unless you want to be sitting in your house eating plain rice during an emergency, now is the time to buy a few other staples.

6. Stock up on Canned Fruits and Veggies

Would storing a few cans a peaches and green beans in your cabinet be so difficult? Canned fruits and veggies may not taste the best.  But, they're cheap and they keep.

7. Check Your First Aid Kit

Do you have the basics in your first aid kit? A thermometer and acetaminophen or ibuprofen are probably the two most essential items for the flu. Here's the Red Cross' First Aid Kit Checklist.  Or you can buy a pre-assembled first aid kit  for about $15.

8. Find Your Flashlight

Chances are you have a flashlight, but it's tucked away in the darkest cupboard in your basement. Find it and check the batteries.

9. Test Your Portable Radio

Neither your iPod nor Pandora will help you if you don't have electricity and you need to get the latest news. You will need a portable radio with working batteries.

10. Make an Emergency Contact List (on Paper)

Again, if there is no electricity your cell phone battery will only last so long. Now is the time to get your emergency contact numbers off of your phone and write them on paper.

11. Stash Away Extra Prescriptions

If you, your pet, or anyone in your family is on a prescription medication, make sure you have 1-3 months extra supplies.

12. Consider Buying N-95 Masks

About 3 years ago my dad bought me a few packages of N-95 masks. His good friend who is a doctor told him that if there was ever a pandemic these things would be gone from the shelves in a heartbeat. At the time I sort of laughed at my dad. But guess what -- I still have those masks.

This may being going a little too far, but buying a few N-95 masks is worth thinking about. They are relatively cheap considering the mental comfort they may give you.
Also note -- studies have shown they much more effective when placed on a sick person than on yourself.

13. Know Your Work/School's Emergency and/or Pandemic Plan

What is your work or school's plan in case of an emergency or pandemic? Will you be expected to work remotely? Will classes be canceled? Most large companies and schools have their emergency plans online -- take a look.

14. Understand Basic Prevention

To keep from getting sick practice prevention methods endorsed by the CDC:

  1. Stay away from others who are sick.
  2. Stay home if you're sick.
  3. Cover your mouth when you cough.
  4. Wash your hands.
  5. Don't touch your face, nose, eyes.
  6. Be healthy; that is get enough sleep, drink water, eat well, and exercise.

15. Do Further Research

Take 20 minutes today to glance through some emergency preparedness websites. Even if you don't stockpile 3 weeks worth of food like they say, it's still a good idea to know what the recommendations are. Ready.gov is a pretty solid site. And as a Minnesota resident I'm proud to say that MN's site CodeReady is another top site that's applicable for people living throughout the U.S.

Honestly, I've never been one for preparedness hype. And so far there has been no reason to panic. But the current pandemic possibility is a good reason to review your needs and your preparedness level. By doing so, you'll save yourself time, money, and anxiety in the long run.

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Guest's picture

I would also stock up on everything you'd need for an extended period, so you could avoid going to the store for any reason. This would include not only food, but paper goods, shampoo, and snacks for the kids. If you can get a prescription for Tamiflu, stock up.

Guest's picture

Most of this list is good, but why would we lose power from a pandemic?

Guest's picture
cavale

bottled water is not a necessity. simply invest in a few reusable 10 gallon containers and fill them up from your tap.

Guest's picture

I totally agree. Why would you go out and buy bottled water? I'm sure we all have jugs lying around. Fill them up at the tap and put them in the freezer.

The most important thing is to prepare but not to panic. I believe this whole thing will blow over. There are few people in the US right now who have swine flu, and none of them (last I heard) were even in the hospital.

Guest's picture

Not sure if we would actually lose power, depending on how bad things got, but if you're really concerned, make sure you have a manual can opener. So many people have electric ones, and if we lose power, it's useless as are all the canned fruits and vegetables you purchased.

Elizabeth Lang's picture

Great suggestions re buying reusable gallong jugs (I actually don't have any just sitting around my house)

@Ryan - Issue with losing power (or water) comes from the idea that if there were a full-on pandemic where 20-40% of the population were infected (plus their family staying home because they were exposed) -- there is a *possibility* that there woulndn't be enough people to work and run these places. Many of the tasks in these departments are extremely specialized and only a handful people may be trained to do them.  So, if they were ill or didn't come to work we could not have power or water.  Is this possible? Yes.  Will this actually happen - I highly doubt it.

Guest's picture
Deb

We lost our power last Saturday in a storm, a tree fell on the wires. If the work force at the power company was compromised because of sick workers who knows when our power would be back on, it took a few days with a normal work force. So yes, prepare for power outages because sometimes they just happen, flu or no flu.

Guest's picture
croatian1

My brother works for the power company where I reside, in a large city. Trust me there is more manpower working there that even if something huge happened our power would never be down. Our city has their own water plant so no concern there either. It also states to exercise to stay healthy. Hard to do any real exercise if we confine ourselves to our homes. I remember the swine flu scare of 1976. My parents got the shot for it. My mom ended up in the hospital for a week and bedridden for 2 more weeks from the reaction to the shot. She never got another flu shot after that. She passed away last year at 81 and never had any of the flu's that have gone around.

Guest's picture

This is all great advice for any emergency, not just this particular one. I wrote a post about emergency preparedness today too, and I'd add that you should have an evacuation plan if necessary and make sure you include pets, because if you have furry creatures you are responsible for, that can complicate an evacuation. Of course, that backup plan isn't really necessary for swine flu, but it is always good to be prepared for everything.

Being prepared for everything is one thing that comes easier when you have a grocery/food stockpile. With my couponing and such, we have a few months worth of food, toiletries, drinks, canned goods, etc. in our house on a regular basis... not only am I prepared for an emergency, but I don't have to go out and buy all these things at full price when something like the swine flu epidemic comes out.

Guest's picture
J.

I always keep a stocked pantry because I buy in bulk,
but I did go to the store today to get a few items I would
*not* want to be without in the event we needed to stay home
for a couple of weeks:

*coffee*. absolutely essential to my well-being. I do have
chocolate-covered espresso beans as a backup in the event of power outage
;-)

cat food/ litter

diapers. I also have cloth diapers. Which I would use would depend on whether we had power/water.

toilet paper

And I do have about 6 jugs of water in the basement at all times.

I feel we could be quite comfortable at home for a couple of weeks, especially since we could spend time gardening in the back yard. After all, you don't have to stay *inside*. You just have to stay away from other people.

Guest's picture
Christie

This flu scare is just that, a scare. People around the world are going to such extreme measures to prevent the rapid spread of this disease that hasn't really spread yet. http://www.newsy.com/videos/swine_flu_precaution_or_paranoia/ has video of a lot of different opinions. I think by far Egypt had the most extreme reaction.

Guest's picture
Guest

Great tips! Also, be sure to keep your vehicle with at least a half a tank of gas at all times (for any kind of emergency, including natural disasters)

Guest's picture
Jim

It should be emphasized that we should not panic. As far as I've heard so far we've got one (1) confirmed fatality from the swine flu here in the USA. By comparison the standard old influenza virus kills over 36,000 people in the US annually. So lets not all let the media scare us to death over this swine flu.

Still, its better to be prepared for a disaster/emergency than to not be prepared. I think everything on this list is good preparation to do for most any kind of disaster that might occur. Most of it is good preparation for a flood, blizzard, prolonged power outage, etc.

Elizabeth Lang's picture

Jim- I completely agree that no one should panic.  Even if a full pandemic were to occur, panic still won't help anything.  (It will make things worse.)  The best thing to do is to be prepared.

Guest's picture
Guest

Forgive me for addressing an distasteful issue, but toilet type solid waste disposal is important. Kitty litter can be used by humans too. If there is a extended power outage, then the sewage facilities can go off line. Also, sewage facilities worker illness can affect operation. Furthermore, most conventional toilets rely on a pressurized water supply. Water pumping and supply facilities are also subject to disruption. For those who rely on well water, pumped by electricity, alternate sanitation is even more important. The Boy Scout manual talks about digging a latrine and squatting over it. I prefer a make shift toilet, over a bucket of kitty litter in the garage. The garage is a bit more private, drier when it is raining and usually has fewer biting insects. Extra plastic shopping bags can hold the residue, removed from the kitty litter.
This works. I had to use it when I lost power for over a week, due to a wind storm. Circumstances mandated staying home. Improvisation was necessary. Fortunately the raw materials were available. Kitty litter has many uses, and not just for cats.