Sunday, January 27, 2013

D.K.Richardson Guest Post - Safety and Defense

Safety and defense

This Chapter is a brief discussion of safety issues faced by those displaced by a disaster. I list ways to protect yourself and family members, your valuables and offer suggestions on ways to avoid problems before they impact you. A brief discussion covers the pros and cons of carrying a firearm - since laws in the US vary so wildly, I cannot offer specifics for your area.

The safety issues faced by people displaced by disaster are multifaceted. Even if you seek shelter in an 'approved' Red Cross or other organizational sponsored shelter, you need to remember - "Safe" is relative term.

For this reason, I'll begin by saying, if you don't have to leave your home, don't.

Some climate-related or technological accidents (man-made disasters) will leave you no choice. Flooding, long term loss of utilities or the releases of deadly toxins from a transportation accident are just a few of the reasons you might have to leave home. You should have a plan and "Know Where to Go" should you be displaced. Your County, State or maybe even a local Emergency Services department should have a list of pre-approved shelters and who is slated to run those shelters. That is no guarantee that the shelter will be, open, habitable or livable, but it is a starting point. And one you should know.

Weather extremes - hot or cold, are the primary reason I suggest knowing where your nearest shelter is located. These normally have at least minimal facilities for heating/cooling and basic sanitation - normally.

What if a shelter isn't available or is full/uninhabitable? Friends or relatives used to be the place to go, but as many families are scattered across the Nation, this option has become less of a choice for many - especially if transportation is difficult or impossible and distances to relatives are great. A nearby motel is a possibility, but if the disaster is widespread, likely these facilities are damaged as well. Last choice would be a developed campground. These will usually have basic sanitation (cesspits) but water may be an issue in the best of times.

Living out of your vehicle in a parking lot or on the street is the ultimate last resort. No relief from the heat or cold, lack of water and no sanitation will soon show this option is the worst of options. If you own an RV, things may be acceptable for a short period, but without a sewer dump station and fresh water, even these become unacceptable.

Bottom line - if you are forced to displace from your home, you will likely need to travel some distance to find a place to live until and if things return to normal.

Once you leave your home, you have become a "refugee". So, what to do now?

Once you have found shelter, you need to decide how you will ensure your own safety. Few public "shelters of last resort" will have an assigned security staff or police - and are intended for very short term use. This means you are on your own. Determine where the exits are located and if they are actually operational. If you are traveling/sheltering as a family, plan on one adult staying awake as the others sleep.

Most shelters have no food or water, if the public water system fails. In my research, most jurisdictions tell you to bring your own food and water to a shelter - most people won't. If you travel by car, I would suggest you leave any food items in the auto trunk. I'd hate to be the one person with a packet of cookies surrounded by a mass of unprepared folks who haven't eaten all day...

Rarely do public shelters have cots, bedding or blankets. More organized areas and Red Cross shelters do have cots and may even have blankets. This is why you have a blanket in your DIY kit.

Sanitation will be a big issue, so bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Putting these in a small bag or purse makes it easier to carry. Understand now, that at unstaffed shelters, the sanitation faculties will get nasty - fast. Women may want to consider carrying one of any number of available 'sanitation devices' or female urination device (FUD) (this is how they are found on the Internet) which will allow use of the facility without the need to make personal contact with a filthy toilet surface.

Water from public sources (water mains) may be compromised after a disaster - unless you know the water has been treated, any water obtained from drinking fountains, facets or hose bibs must be treated. The water tote in your DIY disaster kit will make a great 'holding tank' for the time it takes for your treatment method to take effect.

Public shelters may or may not serve cold meals.

Consider this - If you can't wash your hands with hot, soapy water after a bowel movement - neither can the food handler. Unless the food is pre-packaged, I would exercise extreme caution on eating anything served. Life may be miserable - but life in a shelter while fighting a bad case of diarrhea from contaminated food is a far more miserable existence. Use some sense, and have at least some packaged food in your kit.

A shelter will be noisy. A few sets of foam earplugs will go a long to allow you to sleep when it's your turn. For the same reason, a set of earbuds for your radio will go a long way to reduce tensions in a shelter area.

Finally, most shelters are in public schools, so find a comfortable corner, set up in the corner and be prepared to make the best of it.

Your valuables -

Real valuables, that is to say cash, money, precious metals and so on should go into a lock box at your bank. I've not seen any bank vaults wash away in a hurricane. Paper items should be sealed in a plastic bag just in case the vault floods.

Banking with a large bank or credit union - one with branches far outside of your local area, will provide the best bet to have or retain access to your bank account information and the money it represents.

Contact your insurance agent to confirm what documentation you need to file a claim - and gather the necessary paperwork or photos/images now.

Your paperwork and negatives of your insurance documentation can go nto your lock box - again, protected from moisture. But before you lock the papers and photos up in your lock box, take the time to scan them and then store the data on a so-called USB thumb drive.

RENTERS SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE RENTERS INSURANCE! Sorry, didn't mean to shout, but a basic policy is only about $100/year. Just to replace your clothing and kitchen 'stuff' would cost many times that much. Spend the money, you won't regret it. No, call your agent right now. Don't wait.

You may not have the paperwork in hand, but a digital copy is normally enough to at least get started on the claims process. The price and size of these storage devices have fallen, so more than one copy is not only possible, but recommended - but take the time to put some kind of simple encryption on the device is case you lose or it it is stolen. The internet has many, many sites that describe just how to encrypt this kind of data. Find one that matches your operating system and hardware. One last thought - save your 'paperwork' as an image file onto a SD chip device. If needed, a one hour photo can 'print' out your paperwork for claims...

Carrying large amounts of currency after a disaster is almost a necessity - if the electricity is out, credit cards are worthless.

Avoid displaying large amounts of cash - in private, put different amounts in different pockets. Remember, small denominations are best, a mix of one, fives and tens are best. If few places will take a hundred dollar bill now, even fewer still will want to bother with them in a disaster. One exception to that would be to pay for lodging. Combo lock car safes are available that bolt under a seat - a consideration if you live in an area where frequent evacuations are required. Money belts are an old school solution worth considering as well.

When I say security, most folks I know think of some kind of firearm. And while being armed can provide a sense of security, please take some time to think things through. Once you pull the trigger, you own that bullet until it stops. And after. Don't believe that a shooting event in a disaster will be treated differently - it will not. In the afterwards, and there will always be an afterwards, you will have to face the results of your actions.

Having said that, there are predators that inhabit disasters, so check you local gun and knife laws now to fully understand what is legal and more importantly, what is not. If you haven't received professional training of the safe handling of firearms, get the training now.

Safety once you return home.

Safety equipment. Heavy leather gloves, safety glasses, hard hats, dust masks and thick soled leather boots should be part of your clothing choices if you will be doing any kind of cleanup or demo work at home. Debris will be scattered and present sharp surfaces that can injure you. If you are planning on doing any backhaul/salvage of home contents, you still need the gloves and good hard-soled shoes.

If your community has a debris removal/disposal plan, ask for a copy of it now. If they don't, consider bringing up the subject at a planning or Emergency Services meeting.

Sanitation - if you are on a septic system you generally won't have a problem, if on a city sewer system, check to see that it is operational before using your home facilities - if they are even available.

I've covered water and food in an earlier segment.

Home security. This is another area where folks might think a shotgun is all that is needed. I would suggest a bright search light/floodlight and someone to use it will provide a lot more security for your belongings. Thieves will generally stay away from an area they know is being watched. So, again, one adult should plan of being awake all the time until things return to 'normal'.

Here is where knowing your neighbors and watching out for each other is golden. If you belong to a Neighborhood Watch, it is worth asking about what actions are planned, post-disaster. It is certainly worth asking. If you don't have a Neighborhood Watch - at least consider asking your closest neighbors what might work for your area.

I hope this segment has given you some things to think about now - and the push to add these to your overall planning.

So, are you saying a having a gun is a dumb idea?

No, I am not. What I am saying is that security is a lot more than having a firearm. And depending on where you live, the laws covering firearms can very - wildly - from city to County to State - so if you chose to carry a firearm, ensure you know the laws in your area. A jail cell is a crappy place to shelter. I am also saying that you ensure you know how to employ that firearm - legally, before you start packing. That means professional training. Get some - training. Again, a jail cell can be a lonely place to be.

So, where is a good spot in a shelter?

If you are forced to stay in a public shelter, find a small space, with a fire exit, or window. A corner is better, as you have two walls to your back. Some spot far away from the toilets as possible, for obvious reasons. If you can snag a couple of chairs or a table to use with your blanket to make a 'tent', you will find it easier to sleep and have a tiny bit of not-quite privacy. The reality, of course, is that there is no 'good spot' inside a public shelter.

What services can I count on in a public shelter?

That's an easy one to answer - NONE.

Okay, what options do I have?

Do you own your own home? I've built a 10 x 12 'shed' in my back yard, and set it up to support a stove, if needed. It is insulated and has a small sleeping loft and can be pressed into service as a shelter should my primary residence be so damaged as to unlivable. My fall back is a 5th wheel RV. Both are expensive options, but I live where is is both cold and suffers from earthquakes. I look at the shed as dual use, holding my gardening equipment now and the RV is our summer escape vehicle. If you rent a home or duplex with a yard, the landlord may allow a small storage shed. A camping tent may allow you to at least stay near the remains of your home as you recover what you can..

Man, you seem pretty hard over on renter insurance, why?

I've seen people burned out of their rental unit - and with the loss of everything they own. Then it hits them, with no insurance, they are starting all over again - from scratch. Basic policy coverage starts at under $100 a year, the least expensive coverage you can buy. Well worth the ten bucks a month. The landlord's insurance won't cover you, so you need to cover yourself.

Refugee? Are you kidding me?


A person who has been forced to leave their home or country in order to escape war, persecution, or a natural disaster. Homeless and without support.

Do you want to be that person? I don't.

Where can I learn more?

FEMA has on line lessons covering, among many things, shelter operations.


Courses IS-7 A Citizen's Guide to Disaster Assistance


IS-22 Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness are recommended as your first courses. There is no cost for these on-line courses. I've complete most all of the courses - it will help you understand better what the FedGov will for you and to you in a disaster.
Thank you, Mr. Richardson, for this fine post.  For those who are new to this site, D.K.Richardson is the author of several excellent survival- and preparedness-related books.  We've fortunate to have him share his knowledge with us here on the blog.
Please leave comments and questions below, or email them to


  1. Thank you so much. Very good information.

  2. A valuable post giving an important view of what you CAN'T depend on.
    Firearms safety is an extremely important subject, and a person really needs to "get into" it mentally and go over "the rules" many times both in their heads and physically. But there are not really that many things to remember to handle a gun safely. I have a document at
    that I believe is pretty complete. Please check it out, Susan, and see what you think. (I have 65 years experience with guns including many self defense situations, and defending myself in court on gun matters).
    Gentle Miant

    1. Thanks for your comments. We did check out your link and find it to be good information, and encourage others to go read it too.

      Thank you for sharing this with us.

  3. I was is in Colorado Springs during the waldo canyon fire this past summer. My family had to evacuate. I felt that refugee feeling. We didn't have family in the area.I did check out one of the shelters first. It was rows and rows of cots in a gym. I have a four year old and a baby. The idea of taking them to that gym really scared me. The hotels in the non evacuated area's booked up fast. We ended up in a really horrible motel that I would not have normally considered. . One of those places where you don't want to use the towels. I took the motels towels to a laundromat. Luckily safe food and water were not an issue. We did have to go to good will and by clothes to get us through the week. My husband kept getting up through the night to look out the window and check on our car. One tough issue for us was at the time we were living one paycheck at a time. Our food money for the month had already been spent. Of course all that food was in our evacuated house. Except for the baby food which we to with us in our bags. Having emergency money can be a real life saver in this situation.

    1. Wow, you went through quite an experience. It means a lot to me that you shared this with us. We read about things like that fire in the news, but don't hear many personal stories from those who lived it. I hope your house was okay when you returned home.

      Thanks for an excellent report.