Disasters have been on my mind a lot lately. Oregon has had a wealth of earthquakes off the coast, and it didn’t help when my colleague (an earth science teacher) described how these smaller earthquakes are causing bigger pressure to build up underneath. And with our local Albertson’s grocery store going out of business, I spent my Friday night doing a little Doomsday prepping (canned corn and spaghetti sauce for all!).

But there’s another disaster I think about frequently, as well…….

In Season Two of Six Feet Under, a woman starts choking on her food and throws herself against the corner of her kitchen counter, but it’s useless and she falls on the floor and dies. SHUDDER. I don’t want to be a Mama Cass and die choking on a sandwich, people. All the canned corn and spaghetti sauce I buy for the end of the world  won’t save me from choking alone.

Tonight, my friend, Tricia, posted a video on Facebook that addresses this issue. What do you do if you start choking and there is no one around to give you the Hemlich?

Another fear I have is that the house will catch on fire, and we will be trapped up in our third story bedroom. I’ve added an escape fire ladder (only $30 on Amazon), and I’ve never forgotten a great suggestion from a reader that you can throw your cats into a pillowcase for quick escape – although I’m not sure I can hold three thrashing pillowcases while descending an escape ladder (maybe that will be a practice drill).

And while we’re thinking about disaster scenarios, what the heck would I do if I was at work and things were really bad? Portland is the “City of Bridges” and traffic is horrendous enough on a regular day. During last year’s snowstorm, I literally had to find a hotel because all the roads home were closed. Downtown Portland is separated by the Willamette River, and while there are many bridges to cross, what if they are inaccessible? Even by foot? Should I borrow a hipster’s urban kayak?downtown-Portland-map-enlarged

Well, the good news is that I found this handy map that at least has several points of communication help (with so many close to work!):

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The bad news is that if I’m actually home during a massive earthquake, the nearest emergency center is miles from my house.

We’re all gonna die someday (although I’m still betting on replacing most of my parts with robotic ones later on) – but I plan on at least being informed about how to save myself if I can. Tonight, at least I can sleep better knowing these few tips.

Survival of the fittest

Back in 2012, one of my successfully achieved goals was to build Emergency Preparedness kits for my home, work, and car. The problem is that I never really get to test myself in emergency situations. In fact, I walk around waiting for them to happen in hopes that I’ll be able to put myself to the test. 

Yesterday, I got to have a little taste of survival in a very urban-yuppie kind of way (is urban-yuppie an oxymoron?). Portland doesn’t get much snow. We can handle rain, flooding, and even a week long heat spike, but snow is not our forte. While many of us enjoy mountain sports, sadly much of the city is not well-versed in snow driving or equipped to handle an icy commute. 

In addition, my school district is NOTORIOUS for not calling a snow day correctly. Earlier this month, they made us go in on a day with freezing rain, and then later gave us a snow day when it was 50 degrees and sunny. Of course we were all teaching when the highly publicized snowstorm rolled in at lunchtime yesterday. Yes, they did call an early release, BUT WE CAN’T LEAVE TILL THE CHILDREN ARE ALL PICKED UP (to those four parents that made me stay till 3:00, I prefer a grande cinnamon dolce latte with half the syrup, please). I have a Pathfinder with 4WD so I’m never worried about my own driving, just all those Southern California transplants that might plow into me.

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Traffic was snarled all over town and Google Maps announced that my commute home would be 3.5 hours. No thanks! My friend, Amanda, lives right down the street from my school so I parked myself on her couch to wait it out. Everyone was texting me heinous stories of being stuck on the freeway, and I was enjoying a frosty beer. Once Google alerted me that my commute was down to 32 minutes, I was on my way. Or so I thought.

Once downtown, things deteriorated. I live in the “West Hills” area (hills being the operative term) and of course there are only three routes over the hills to the westside. They were all closed and I was stuck in traffic with nowhere to go as the sun was going down. Cars were strewn everywhere; flashing lights saying “Road Closed” kept diverting me. I quickly decided to park my car next to Pottery Barn (a sure sign of safety) and book a hotel via the Expedia app on my phone.

Then came the fun part.

Snow was already several inches deep and coming down hard, so I threw on my snowboarding pants, jacket, and snow boots. I always keep my snowboarding backpack stocked (in addition to the emergency kit) with some basics: gloves, goggles, hand warmers, hat, socks, cash, etc. I then strapped my workbag to it and trekked a couple miles down to the hotel. 

It was like those apocalyptic movies. People were running EVERYWHERE. Cars were going the wrong way down major streets. Police and fire sirens were screaming in every direction. Even Taco Bell was closed. Yes, the word “apocalyptic” is totally valid when snow hits our city. Once I at the hotel, I took stock of what I still needed and went another half mile down to Target (as I was still without a toothbrush and a Snickers bar).

Me and my supplies

I was feeling pretty confident as I stepped off the elevator; then the power went off. You know those green EXIT signs? Yeah, they went off, too. I fumbled my way around and used my phone’s flashlight for several minutes until it came back on…but I admit it was unnerving. Then the front desk informed me that the heat was out.

Back in my room, I prepared for a Laura Ingalls Wilder meets Carrie Bradshaw kind of night. I wrapped myself in two down comforters, ordered a cheeseburger, and watched some Project Runway.

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I woke up early in the morning and trekked back to my car. The entire town was dead and I made it home in about ten minutes. 

So what? What’s important to learn about this? (<—- that’s one for my SIM friends)

First off, I played things safe. To me, it is NOT worth risking my safety or others to get home. It will still be there in the morning.

Second, while it was stressful to not go home as planned, it felt great to be so prepared when everyone else was clearly not. As I was walking down Burnside and the winds were hitting 50-60 mph, one guy pointed at me and yelled to his friends, “Now that’s smart! She’s ready for anything!” and I waved in approval.

Here’s a list of all the items I had with me, easily stored in my Burton backpack:

money, 3 pairs of gloves (heavy, fingerless, & lightweight), goggles, running shoes, socks, padlock, hand warmers, cough drops, ibuprofen, hat, earmuffs, bottled water, protein bars, deodorant, and a phone charger. I did leave some of the more “serious” items in the car (like an emergency blanket, etc) because I knew I wouldn’t need them at the hotel. 

We don’t have many disasters here in Portland (which is just one of many reasons it’s ranked one of the best places to live in the world) but when we do, I find most people I know are terribly unprepared. Don’t be that person. 

#14: Create a disaster relief kit for home, work, and car. Check.

Tomorrow is December 21st, 2012…otherwise known as THE APOCALYPSE. I remember hearing rumors about the Mayan calendar prophecy a couple years ago, and a few other teachers and I got together and were googling what it was all about. We were pretty interested by the switching of the magnetic poles, but pretty much laughed it off.

However, over the last month, I’ve had to have many conversations with my students about how the world is NOT going to end. Many of them were really scared and uncomfortable talking about it. One student told me her mom spent over $1000 on bottled water and emergency food. I told her that I applauded her mom for being prepared, but that those supplies would probably come in handier if we have a major earthquake, which is supposedly set to happen since Portland is built right on a huge fault line; she looked terrified. Whoops.

Then last week, there were two random shootings that made national attention – both are personal to me. The first shooting happened right down the road from my school at the mall where an ex-student of mine was shot (luckily now released from the hospital). Then everyone knows about the school shooting in Newton, CT. No, I don’t know anyone personally, but as a teacher, I think about that possibility very often.

When I set out to build my disaster kits, I was thinking natural disasters (or Mayan apocalypse), where we would need food, water, and basic medical supplies. A school shooting is more on the fly – something that I think would be very hard to prepare for. Over dinner the other night, I told Thor I was seriously thinking of purchasing a bullet proof vest to keep stashed in my classroom closet. He put his fork down and said, “I hope you aren’t telling other people that. You sound like a kook.” Well, here I am telling you all: I’m thinking about it.

In the meantime, I feel pseudo-prepared. I have posted before about the ready disaster kits I have in my classroom closet and car which are meant to keep me alive for a couple of days. Nothing long term. At home, I have a similar kit and have purchased 30 days worth of emergency food and 10 days of water (for two). I’ve heard a lot of friends joke that they are coming to my house for an emergency, but the reality is that we are just set up for a short period of time until real help can come. No, we do not have radiation suits, a bunker, or loaded weapons at hand. We simply don’t have the money or the room…but I do envision something along those lines later in life (really, I do). Some people collect purses, I collect emergency supplies.

I’ve always felt like a planner, an organizer, a coordinator – but the point of this particular goal was to have a moderate amount of peace of mind, and educate myself more about disasters so that theoretically I will have what it takes. Now if there is somewhere (other than Navy SEAL training) that can put me to the test, I would like to sign up!Image