Watches, Warnings & Advisories for Sunflower Co.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Preparedness: The Big Book

Disaster preparedness and planning can be a complex, lengthy, and sometimes expensive endeavor.  Communities, states, and federal authorities constantly refine their plans for response and recovery.  Mitigation projects like flood control systems and building codes help reduce the potential effects of disasters.  Preparedness requires that we acquire and maintain supplies, equipment, and trained personnel in a state of readiness.  While our governing authorities do what they can, there remains one area of preparedness that no governmental entity can address:  you and your family's own personal state of readiness.  By undertaking a family disaster planning project, you can reduce your household's potential demands on your community's response.  By extension, the more well-prepared families there are, the more prepared the overall community is.

There are dozens of resources online to guide you through various aspects of personal disaster preparedness. is a great place to find basic information on disaster kits, food and water supply ideas, and other simple steps you can take.

While food, water, clothing, and shelter are absolutely essential to survival, I want to use this blog entry to remind you that following the immediate threats of an emergency, information is as essential to your recovery as the items previously mentioned.

A highly useful tool that I'm adding to my family's growing emergency plan is The Big Book of Everything, compiled by Erik A. Dewey.  Clicking that link will take you to a page where you can download either an Adobe PDF, or Microsoft Excel version of The Big Book.

The Big Book may seem daunting at first, but by compiling the information in incremental steps over the period of a few weeks, you'll develop a comprehensive document that details emergency information such as family contacts, as well as capturing important financial and other critical data.

What do you do with all this valuable - and sensitive - information?  I wouldn't recommend having a printed copy laying around the house for burglars to find your banking information.  Instead, print out only those essential pages that contain emergency points of contact, and keep it safely stored in a location known by all family members.

An option that we're exploring is storing a non-editable PDF version of The Big Book on key-shaped flash drives.  These won't occupy valuable space in your pocket, but will allow you to keep vital information easily accessible.  Yes, it is sensitive data.  But you can easily encrypt it using a very lightweight program called TrueCrypt, for which the price is right: it's absolutely free.  We'll also store scanned copies of important documents in that encrypted file as well.  If you wish, it may be helpful to have a non-encrypted version of The Big Book on your jump drive.  Just redact any information that could be used should the drive become lost. (Think CIA black pen marks - just black out the sensitive information on Excel then save it as a PDF).

We'll most likely have multiple copies of these flash drives, distributed out to family members both locally and non-local.  Twice a year (or more often if needed) they'll be collected and updated as information changes.

Why go through this exercise?  We have the capacity to digitize a huge portion of our lives, for relatively little cost.  I have several years worth of bank records, payroll records, and other documents stored digitally in multiple locations.  In the unlikely event that a disaster requires our evacuation, consider how much time we would save by not having to identify, find, collect, and store the paper documents.  Digital copies will never replace certified originals. Having volumes of information compressed into something the size of my house key, easily portable and securely encrypted will give my family the chance of a less-stressful recovery should we need it.

The Big Book isn't - and shouldn't be - your family's entire disaster plan.  It is just one part of a multifaceted plan that includes out-of-town/state contacts, pre-determined family evacuation locations (in town, out of town), basic food & water supplies, and emergency action steps for specific hazards like fires and thunderstorms.  The Big Book does, however, give you a one-stop-shop for a host of critical information that you'll wish you had.

What's your plan? 

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