The best time to prepare for an emergency is right now
Tips from Alaskan readiness experts
September 1, 2021 | View PDF
September is Emergency Preparedness Month, and Alaska's unique geography can leave us vulnerable to a multitude of emergency situations like wildfires, earthquakes and tsunamis--to name a few. The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness encourages all Alaskans to have two weeks worth of emergency supplies on hand, as well as a plan mapped out in advance.
Logan Stolpe, Emergency Management Specialist at Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, recommends working with your social networks to determine how you all will communicate and work together to stay safe in the event of a disaster.
"For example, I keep a wood burning stove with wood stock on hand," says Stolpe. "If an earthquake disturbs gas and electric utilities, and it's winter, I talked with my neighbors across the street about coming over and staying warm at my place."
The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management recommends having at least two people in your emergency network you can contact, as well as one out of area contact.
"Sometimes local calls won't go through during an emergency, but a call to the outside will sometimes go through instead," explains Audrey Gray, Emergency Programs Manager at Municipality of Anchorage.
If your household struggles to keep an entire two weeks' worth of supplies on hand, partner with your family, friends or neighbors to divide up and determine who has access to what and how you might all share with each other when disaster strikes.
Another aspect of emergency situations is whether you will have to evacuate your home. In the event you must shelter in place, your emergency supplies can be stored wherever is most convenient. But if the emergency forces you out of your home, it is imperative to have a "go bag" stashed with all the necessary items to be out of your home for a week or two.
The most important item to have in an emergency situation is a sufficient amount of your daily or weekly medications, usually enough to last a week. With that said, it can be difficult to obtain an extended supply of your prescribed medications from your insurance company or doctor's office.
Instead, Gray recommends keeping a comprehensive list of your prescribed medications in your go bag to expedite receiving refills when they can be filled again.
Another tip from Art Nash, Energy Specialist at UAF Cooperative Extension, is to store over-the-counter medications and supplements in your go bag (Metamucil is a good one to have if you're sitting in one place for a while).
"Every so often, you should rotate out medications to make sure they don't expire," says Nash.
Make sure you always have access to any assistive devices you usually require. Keeping an extra pair of glasses, hearing aids or dentures in your go bag can save you time while evacuating your house. If you're being evacuated with the help of first responders, ask for their help with gathering any assistive devices you need.
Another item emergency specialists recommend you have is a foldable walker that can double as a seat. Nash stresses that even if you don't usually use a walker, you might need it anyway because you could be injured. A foldable walker could be stored with your go bag in an easy to reach spot, or kept in your car or boat.
Keep photocopies of critical documentation in your go bag, says Stolpe, including your driver's license, state ID, the title to your car, house deed and insurance documents. Having these on hand can help you file insurance claims or apply for government assistance, depending on the extent of the disaster.
If you'd like, printing extra copies of beloved photos and keeping them in your go bag can provide solace during difficult times.
"Some things you're never going to be able to replace in an emergency situation," says Stolpe, "but it's important to consider
the psychological impact of disasters."
Gray also recommends keeping electronic copies of important documents on the cloud. Bonus tip: Make them available offline so you can access them even if you're not connected to the internet.
Food and water
Storing at least two weeks' worth of nonperishable foods like canned goods, dried fruit and peanut butter at home will help you wait out an emergency situation. Keeping at least one gallon of water per person per day is also the standard for making sure everyone is well hydrated while sheltering in place.
Keep granola bars and other small nonperishable food items and water bottles in your go bag to sustain you until you are able to make it to a safe place to wait out the emergency.
Something that doesn't always make the list, but is life sustaining here in Alaska, is keeping an indoor-safe heat source and cold weather clothing on hand, says Jeremy Zidek, Public Information Officer at Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
"You may have all the emergency supplies that you need for two weeks, but if your home drops below freezing and your water freezes, you can't stay there," says Zidek.
Propane heaters that are indoor safe burn more efficiently and have emergency shutoffs for carbon monoxide. An electrical generator with a sufficient supply of fuel is another good option. Oil drip stoves that work off gravity can keep your home warm with minimal effort.
Keep extra hand warmers in your go bag in case you have to evacuate.
Other equipment ideas
All emergency specialists recommend having a flashlight or headlamp on hand with extra batteries. Extra power is also important for any assistive devices you have, so keep the right power sources in your go bag or an easy to reach place at home.
Something you might not have considered, but would be hugely helpful if you're evacuating your home, is to purchase a heavy duty cart that can store all your go bag items. That way, you can easily pull everything to your car or boat without injuring yourself or having to make multiple trips.
Because of earthquake country, keeping a pair of shoes by your bed could prevent your feet from getting cut on any glass if you have to jump out of bed in the middle of the night when an earthquake strikes.
To keep yourself comfortable, tuck any hygiene, sanitization or first aid items into your go bag along with any entertainment, like books, magazines, puzzles or the like.
Urban vs. rural
Living in rural communities poses additional challenges that those living in more metropolitan areas might not have to prepare for. You don't want to wait until there is a disaster and potential supply chain interruption before gathering the necessary supplies, says Zidek.
"Ready.alaska.gov has a number of different resources available to help individuals and families prepare, including a guide that instructs you to collect supplies each week for twelve weeks," says Zidek.
Along with supplies, securing the proper medications is even more important. If you receive any medications via mail or travel to a pharmacy outside of your area, making sure you have access to extra refills ahead of time is especially important.
In a situation where you have to evacuate, how you leave your home is crucial in rural communities, says Nash.
"In winter, you should turn off your utilities, if you can," adds Nash. "Using an oil drip stove can keep your house warm while you're gone."
Overall, folks in rural communities should especially rely on their extensive social networks. If you are looking out for your entire village, gathering supplies for your household could feel extra complicated, says Zidek. "In Alaska Native communities, when we say 'have enough food and water for your family for at least seven days,' they say, 'the whole village is a family!'"
In that case, considering who will have what as part of your emergency plan will ensure everyone in your family, even across multiple households, is taken care of.
To view instructional guides on emergency preparedness, visit ready.alaska.gov and select "Quick Docs" under the main menu to view an array of emergency preparedness guides, including "My Emergency Plan" or "Prepare in a Year - 2020."
Visit https://www.uaf.edu/ces/family/emergencyprep/ to view UAF Cooperative Extension's guides on different disasters, including storm surges, wind events, wildfires and more.