Most people are, by now, at least a couple weeks into their social distancing. Some AU students are already used to staying indoors since there’s no need to venture outside; we already get a great education through AU. Others were already working from home before this and are well-familiarized with telecommuting. Many AU students even live in remote areas, and these people tend to have a great survival mindset. They understand what emergency provisions should, and shouldn’t, look like. Yet, the panic and chaos that ensued last month, for the majority of the population, is an obvious sign of how underprepared society is.
Most people didn’t expect this to happen this fast and at such a large scale. Only underground-bunker survivalists are smirking right now and thinking, “I told you so.” The importance of being better prepared for next time is now obvious. It’s not a matter of if there will be a next time, but how soon it will happen again once this storm has passed. Risk management and legal blogs are now warning organizations that this new state of affairs is not going to be a one-off. Society needs to have a better resiliency strategy going forward. Stowing away a few basic emergency supplies at home is no longer something people laugh at. Many agree it is essential in keeping you and your family safe during crises.
If you’re still a skeptic, keep in mind things could have been much worse, like in other countries outside Canada. Not only could all the grocery stores and pharmacies have shut down, but the power could have gone out; the Internet could have gone down; water treatment plants could have all come to a standstill. Even the hospitals could have closed shop, leaving us with no essential services whatsoever. This is why I’m such a persistent advocate of each family sitting down together and formulating a clear, no-nonsense plan. There’s no better time than now, since we’re all indoors together, even though we’re all isolated. The one obstacle I perceive, nevertheless, is that knowing where to start is no longer as inherent to human nature as it once was. As a society, we have grown comfortable with how there’s a grocery store or the nearest Starbucks simply a few blocks away. We even have the luxury of all our necessities and treats now delivered right to our front door, with the click of a smartphone button.
So how to plan? A good place to start is the Canadian Federal government. They suggest having at least 72 hours of emergency supplies and rations available at all times (Public Safety Canada, 2018). Their website also has some very good resources, including basic emergency kit checklists.
A very reputable colleague and business continuity leader at ISM Canada gave the Saskatchewan Risk Management Society a brief lecture and presentation in 2018. This presentation focused on how to fully prepare for a crisis like this. A couple tips she shared, which stuck with me, are incorporated in the summary given below. I am ashamed to admit, however, I never did find time to put together the zombie apocalypse backpacks she had suggested (sorry Shannon!).
Once we get through this pandemic, the backpacks will definitely move to the top of the to-do list. Regardless, the whole subject is fascinating. Virus or no virus, humans will always be susceptible to external threats beyond our control. Suddenly, the Americans with their underground bunkers don’t seem so crazy after all.
There are tons of websites out there selling emergency survival food and various food kits. A well-known emergency preparedness supplier is 72hours.ca. Their headquarters are in Burnaby, BC, but, there are other companies out there, as ready and willing to take your cash.
There are quite a few cool products out there, especially for the avid survivalist. Being the frugal one, however, I personally feel emergency survival food kits are just packets of really expensive, freeze-dried meal-replacement powder. I’m all for preparing, but with common sense. These emergency freeze-dried foods are just plainly impractical and could cover a mortgage payment instead. You can just as easily prepare meal kits by making a trip to Costco or even your local dollar store.
But you shouldn’t get carried away and just start throwing anything and everything into your shopping cart. Kawashima, Morita, & Higuchi published a study in 2012 in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, assessing emergency stockpiling tendencies, at the household level, of emergency food supplies and drinking water. The results were a bit disheartening. They noted, “Urban residents … may in fact be more vulnerable because they tend to take food supplies for granted. Emergency preparedness is thus also vital … to minimize nutritional vulnerabilities” (p. 114).
The first point to keep in mind is that while every person has different dietary needs, you also want to aim for practicality. You aren’t preparing for long-term sustainability, you’re preparing for short-term survival. Therefore, you want to aim for foods that are nutritionally dense and forgo the Twinkies for now. If you’re uncertain about where to start looking, there are plenty of resources to get information from—searching for them isn’t always obvious, though. A good place to start would be the U.S. Department of Defence. They have, unsurprisingly, funded countless studies on how to keep their soldiers going in survival mode. Log in to the AU Library, or even open up Google Scholar, and look up “Emergency Food” or “Military Ration Bars” to discover some of their whitepapers. You won’t be disappointed with the collection of reading material. The main theme throughout is consistent—emergency survival foods should have a long shelf life and high nutritional content. Some quick tips follow:
The very best emergency foods are items your family will actually eat. In emergency situations, you don’t want your family to reach the point of starvation before they start to eat the Styrofoam.
No Prepping Needed
You should aim for food items which are easy to prepare, or need no prepping at all. It’s unlikely you’ll find time to look up a recipe on Pinterest or will be able to track down a muffin pan and Pam, in the middle of a nuclear attack or an alien invasion.
Next time, we may not have the luxury of being quarantined like we are in our current situation. Call me crazy, but it’s possible we’ll all have to start running for the hills the next time something happens, with no warning or time to prepare in advance. Therefore, emergency food should be light enough to carry around and, consequently, unless you plan on feeding the masses, emergency food in bulk should be avoided. This is because most foods with a long shelf life only stay fresh until you break open the seal or jar. After that, you better make sure it doesn’t need refrigeration or is completely consumed in one sitting. Carrying around giant cans of five-pound beans in your backpack for days, only to have your picky toddlers eat two bites and then throwing it all away, would be enough to make anyone go postal.
Finally, let’s not forget the emotional side of dealing with an emergency. Comfort foods and smells often help those going though rough times crack a smile, possibly just when it’s needed the most.
Emergency Sanitation Supplies
Now, to address the other side. It’s not the greatest thing to think about, but look at what just happened. We will forever be remembered throughout history for our toilet paper hysteria. Avid campers understand that plumbing will likely be unavailable after a major crisis or disaster. You also have to consider that any given situation could call for the masses to remain indoors—or outdoors—with no plumbing for months. And if you think that sounds horrible, imagine being cooped up not just with family, but with many other strangers and with no concrete deadline to look forward to. I foresee the ER being flooded with people suffering from bowel impaction already—if they are able to remain open, that is.
The nonobvious solution some urbanites are aware of is camping toilets or emergency toilets. While there are websites out there selling five-gallon buckets with toilet seats glued on them, for $50 a pop, putting something together on your own is just as easy. You’ll need an empty five gallon bucket, which you can get from Home Depot or your friendly neighbourhood family restaurant; 10 or 13 gallon trash bags; several plastic grocery store trash bags; medium-absorption sawdust or peat moss; and a pool noodle (yes, you read that right). Don’t forget the toilet paper!
Store all this with the remaining of your emergency supplies, so if you ever need it you know where it is and you can assemble it quickly. When the time comes, where you need to use it, place the ten-gallon trash bag in the five-gallon bucket. Then, line the bottom of the trash bag with a handful of the sawdust or peat moss. On top of that, insert the plastic grocery store bag and fold it over the rim. Cut a slit through one side of the pool noodle, all the way down, and place it around the bucket rim for a comfy sitting. Add another handful of the sawdust or peat moss in the plastic grocery store bag, and you’re ready to go! After each use, tie the grocery store bag closed. Leave that bag at the bottom of the five-gallon bucket, and fold a new bag overtop that. Once the five-gallon bucket is full, you can transfer all the contents to a large trashcan — or whatever you can find given the situation.
But if you’re not handy and insist on spending your cash, you can search for “Emergency Bucket Toilet Seat” on Amazon or 72hours.ca. Additionally, for those readers feigning shock and disgust at the above instructions, please let me know how your search for a “proper loo” goes in the middle of a FEMA, Public Safety Canada, or Canadian Red Cross rescue and relief mission. See what I did there?
Regardless of how we carry on with our days indoors for now, things will eventually return to normal—whether it’s in a week, a month, or six. And we will all likely forget and move on. That is a small part of what it means to be human. We will all, once again, start running around, like chickens out of the coop, and reminisce of the opportunity we had to stand still. This can be an opportunity to let the days simply pass through mind-numbing entertainment. Or we can choose to spend time with our loved ones, let go of some stressors, and be better prepared for next time. Let’s all try not to forget all the promises we made to ourselves, to our fellow humans, and to our planet — even if we do all return to business as usual.
Siri, remind me in six months to start putting the zombie backpacks together