Micro-Prepping: How to Prepare for Small Disasters

If you are unprepared, even a small disaster can turn into a major setback, costing you a lot of time, money, and lost productivity. Everything from a power outage, a house fire, car accident, water shortage, or a sudden evacuation due to flooding can leave you feeling panicked and lost without the right planning and resources.

Micro-prepping is essentially making small moves now to get you and your family set in the event of a small disaster. And being prepared for small disasters gets you on the path to better handle larger disasters such as a tornado, hurricane, flooding, an earthquake, or terrorism. Here are some steps you can take to get started.

1. Establish a rendezvous point

A simple micro-prep is to develop a family plan for where to meet in case something happens during the day and you can't return to your home. In such an event, communications systems may be overloaded or otherwise unavailable, so you may not be able to call or text family members to work out a plan on the fly. This is why it is so much better to have a plan for where to meet worked out in advance.

Pick a nearby meeting point in case of an isolated incident such as a fire or gas leak at your house, and pick another meeting place outside the immediate area in case of a more widespread issue.

2. Stash some cash

I was once greeted by signs taped to the entrance of the grocery store that read "cash only" when their credit card network was down due to flooding. Most people went away from the store without food, but fortunately I had cash with me. I keep a small supply of cash hidden in my car in case I find myself in need of fuel or a small repair and for some reason credit cards aren't working. Keep enough cash hidden at home to ride out at least a few days of expenses in case disaster strikes.

3. Create a first aid kit

Be prepared to treat minor injuries by having a fully stocked first aid kit on hand. Quick treatment can reduce the severity of an injury, and you may even be able to avoid a trip to the doctor's office or emergency room if you can handle some scrapes and minor injuries yourself. (See also: The 5 Best Emergency Kits)

4. Stock your medications

If you are taking prescription medication, try to time your refills so you have at least a couple weeks of medication on hand. This buffer makes it much less likely that your supply of medicine will be interrupted in case of disaster or if you need to travel suddenly.

5. Have a list of phone numbers on you

If you lose your phone, or it stops working, you may find yourself without access to contact information for most people. I keep a small list of key phone numbers and email addresses in my wallet printed on a piece of paper the size of a business card.

6. Water

Real "preppers" keep a supply of water on hand for full-scale disasters, typically about a gallon of water per day per person to ride out a disaster when water is not available. But even if you don't keep a supply of water, there are some emergency sources of drinking water you can tap if you didn't stock up before the disaster:

  • Melted ice cubes

  • Water drained from the water heater (if the water heater has not been damaged)

  • Liquids from canned goods, such as fruit or vegetable juices

  • Water drained from pipes

7. Use your flashlight

Stumbling around in the dark is the worst time to be looking for a flashlight! I keep a flashlight next to my bed for those power outages that happen every year during thunderstorm season. You may be able to use a flashlight app on your cellphone to find your way around in the dark as well.

8. Save your radio

If the power is out, you will want to know what is going on, but you may not have access to TV or even the internet if your router is down. This is when you will want a battery-powered radio. I have an emergency radio that has a crank on the side so it can run even without batteries. Consider getting a NOAA weather radio that provides storm warnings and information about severe weather and other emergencies.

9. Stock up on batteries

You will want a supply of batteries on hand for your flashlights and radio. If your cellphone is running out of battery during a power outage, you can use your car charger to charge it up. (See also: The 5 Best Power Banks)

10. Save those candles (and Crayons)

Candles are a handy way to provide long-lasting light during a power outage, and you can save your batteries. If you don't have enough candles, you can use crayons as a substitute to provide emergency light. Stand a crayon up on a plate and light the top.

11. Keep canned food on hand

The food in your refrigerator can start to spoil within two hours of a power outage. Keep some canned goods and nonperishable food items on hand. Don't forget to get a manual can opener so you can open your canned food when the power is out. (See also: 10 Foods You Need in Your "Emergency" Pantry)

12. Be mindful of fuel usage

In the event of an emergency, you may not be able to get gas for your car. As a habit, keep at least a quarter tank of gas in your car all the time, and keep a five-gallon can of gas in your garage as a reserve supply in case you need to leave town and all of the gas stations have big lines or are closed.

13. Hand sanitizer

If the water supply is interrupted, you can use moist towelettes, or hand sanitizer and paper towels to keep clean until water service is restored. Wash hands before food prep and eating, and keep cuts and abrasions clean at all times.

14. Store important papers and documents

Keep a list of your credit cards and "lost card" contact numbers somewhere safe in case you need to report a card missing, for example if your purse or wallet is stolen. In case you need to evacuate your home, have your important papers and documents organized so you can quickly grab them to take away with you. Even better, keep them hidden in a portable fire-resistant container.

15. Add a backup heat source

In case your furnace goes out or there is an interruption to the natural gas supply in your area, have a plan for backup heating. I have used a portable kerosene heater for this purpose, and now I have a wood-burning fireplace. A backup heat source can also provide light, and can be a backup for cooking in case your oven is not available. Make sure your backup heat source does not produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide — don't use a gas grill or gas-powered generator indoors!

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