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Peschke: Be prepared in case disaster strikes

While attending a meeting on disaster preparedness, a friend of mine suggested that I do a column on personal disaster preparation. It seemed like a great idea, given the recent destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast.

Here in McHenry County we’ve had our share of blackouts and major snowstorms, sometimes leading to long-term power outages and hazardous driving conditions. And while this winter isn’t predicted to be a particularly snowy one, just one good storm can certainly clog up the works.

So, what should we all do to make sure we don’t get caught without the basics, if and when a disaster strikes? Be prepared for a rainy (or snowy) day.

If you are forewarned of an oncoming storm or disaster, don’t wait, as thousands did before Sandy, to fill up your vehicle, snowblower or generator with fuel. Not only may you need to evacuate, but, even in a minor emergency, you may need to stay with friends or family who have power and heat. In a snow emergency, a full tank of gas will also provide traction on snowy roads.

The most important item to have on hand (and relatively inexpensive), is a supply of water and other fluids. You don’t have to buy water, you can simply keep a supply handy. Adults should consume a half-gallon of water or other liquids daily, so you should calculate your needs based on the number of persons in your household. Water for formula for infants and for mixing with freeze-dried foods or for cooking also should be considered. If you rotate your water supply, you will have enough on hand if the need arises.

Canned goods will last for months on the pantry shelf and can be rotated, always keeping enough supply in case cooking is not possible. If there is the potential for a power outage, it makes sense to fill coolers with ice to ensure that refrigerated food and drinks are kept cold enough to safely consume. A small, dependable thermometer should be used to guarantee that the temperature in the cooler remains at 40 degrees or less.

You’ll notice that, so far, none of these items is out of the ordinary and should already be part of your budgeted needs.

There are some things, however, that could cost a little bit, but might be worth the investment. For example, complete disaster kits are available with everything needed for a family of four for 72 hours for around $150.

This may include: Four food bars, 12 water boxes, 50 water purification tablets, a can opener, four blankets, four ponchos with hoods, an emergency tent, plastic sheeting, duct tape, a solar hand-crank powered light and weather radio and a USB charger, which requires no batteries, to charge your phone. The kit also may include three light sticks, five emergency candles, 50 waterproof matches, a first-aid kit, a safety whistle, four dust masks, one pair of vinyl gloves, one pair of work gloves, a Swiss Army-style knife, a multi-function utility tool, a nylon utility cord, 12 toilet bags, a package of toilet chemicals, four tissue packs and a five-gallon bucket.

Subtract all the items you already have around the house and you can see how easy it would be to effectively and cheaply put together your own disaster kit, complete with bucket, for a fraction of the price.

Don’t get caught short like some people out east. I bet in hindsight they wish they would have prepared for their rainy day.

• Virginia Peschke is executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of McHenry County based in Woodstock. Questions on any aspect of credit, debt or mortgages are welcome at 815-338-5757.

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