To see, or not to see? That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the stubbed toes and fumbling fingers of outrageous fortune, or to store a light, and by opposing, end them?
Whether or not you’re a fan of butchered Hamlet parodies you’d probably agree that having a light to see by is critical in an emergency situation. Today we’ll go over the nitty-gritty of something we all take for granted – light & communication!
Light the Way
Have you ever walked a familiar place at night? The living room you cross ten times a day, or that fateful trip to the bathroom that you really wish wasn’t happening at 3am. In my experience, it’s one hundred times more difficult than it should be. Just this morning I took my dog into the yard and managed to knock over a suitcase and step on the poor animal’s toes. Things that would never happen in daylight… Okay, I’m pretty clumsy in daylight too, but you know what I mean!
Now imagine how much more difficult it would be in an emergency. Depending on the nature of the situation you could suddenly be up to your ankles in water, choking on smoke, or surrounded by fallen furniture. All that to deal with AND the power’s out – talk about a bad night.
Humans rely on our sense of sight beyond any other, making light the most important thing to include in your emergency supplies after water and food. Being able to see the glass on the floor, the buttons on the radio, the instructions on the water purification tablets, or even just the toilet paper, can be a challenge to the unprepared.
Types of Light
Perfect! You have a flashlight in your kit, so you’re all done, right? Well… it’s better than nothing, but to optimize your kit there are a few types of light you should consider including. The more ways you have to see, the better off you’ll be.
Directional light is the most common type you’ll see in most emergency kits. This includes flashlights, pen lights, and the light setting on your cell phone. They are handheld, easy to direct where you need them, and perfect for following a trail or finding the bathroom.
Ambient light is an often overlooked part of any great kit. Lanterns, string lights (i.e. fairy lights), and candles are great sources of ambient light. These light a space, rather than a single beam, allowing for convenient use by multiple people at once. Ambient light is also more gentle than most directional lights, so it’s easier not to blind your family members when you’re trying to see their faces.
Hands free light includes most ambient lights, but also covers things like head lamps and clamping, standing, or magnetic work lights. These are perfect for lighting a work space like a kitchen or first aid station. Headlamps in particular are the best lighting tool for bugging out as they allow you to have both hands free to wrangle the kids, pets, and baggage while keeping the light where you need it most. Most modern headlamps will also have a red light mode which helps prevent blinding those in the beam.
Best Places for Light
Obviously, you’ll want some forms of light packed in each of your emergency kits, or even clipped to the outside for easy access, but there are certain places emergency services recommend keeping lights in addition to your kit.
The #1 suggestion we’ve heard is to store a flashlight (or headlamp) inside a spare pair of shoes, underneath your bed. Use a side table if the bed’s not an option. If you need glasses to see, a spare pair of those secure with your shoes won’t go amiss. Many disasters will break windows, and these simple precautions can drastically reduce the amount of injuries caused by broken glass.
After your kit and under your bed the next best place to keep a light is… “The Spot.” Where is the spot? It’s different for everyone. In my house, its the second shelf of the microwave cart. The Spot is somewhere easy to access and well known by everyone in the household. Most importantly, the spot doesn’t change. There is ALWAYS a flashlight (or similar) in The Spot. No matter what, everyone knows where they can find it if there’s a power failure or emergency, and they can find it with their eyes closed. No fumbling, no pushing through nick-knacks, no pulling every drawer out of the desk, just clean, instant access.
Through the miracle of technology many flashlights now come with built in radios. Radios are an important component of any emergency kit. They keep you in touch with emergency services, response efforts, and the outside world in general. Look for units that access AM and FM wavelengths, but also have NOAA frequencies. NOAA stands for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Although NOAA is an American system, 90% of Canadians live within range of one of their towers and will be able to access life-saving reports if they have the right tools. Radios that tap into short and long range signals are also available, for those that wish to stay in tune with HAM radio operators.
How Can a Radio Save Your Life
During a disaster local radio stations will work closely with first responders to bring updates to the public. They can warn about the direction a forest fire is heading, whether a tsunami is expected, or what roads are impassable.
Radio broadcasters can also give instructions on behalf of rescuers, informing the public of what they can do, where they should go, or how they can help. Always listen to your radio when you can – you never know when that life-altering piece of information might be broadcast.
Weather Band VS Weather Alert
For those who rely on regular, reliable weather forecasting for their day-to-day activities (mariners for example) weather band radio will be nothing new. Weather band radio is a continuous, 24/7 nationwide radio station that reports on the weather for several areas.
These stations are updated every few hours by live, human professionals (not robots) stationed strategically in lighthouses or way stations throughout Canada. Although these channels aren’t exactly ‘easy listening’ they are one of the most accurate weather tools in a layman’s arsenal. Be sure to learn more about weather band radio here.
For those of us that aren’t fans of listening to static-laden, tinny voices for hours on end, there’s also weather alert radio. When activated, weather alert radios will sit quietly until there is an emergency signal received. When this happens, it springs to action and reports, in some cases even flashing yellow, orange, or red (depending on the severity).
If you want to get really snazzy, there’s even something called S.A.M.E technology included in radios like the FRX5. S.A.M.E allows you to program in which locations you want to hear about. This way you don’t have to be interrupted by a warning for a city that’s too distant to effect you. Programming this in is easier than it sounds too – just make sure to have the instructions handy!
Where’s the HAM?
Requests for HAM radios are not uncommon in our industry. They are amazing tools that allow operators to communicate with other HAM users across the globe, and even on the international space station. They are primarily used to assist emergency personnel with communications during a disaster, but during peaceful times hobbyists converse globally on all sorts of topics.
The only downside, if you see it that way, is that HAM radios require a license to operate. They are simple to use, however there are protocols that must be learned to use them effectively. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the Radio Amateurs of Canada, a community for like minded individuals.
Out of Batteries
When choosing your source of emergency light be sure to think about how it will be powered. Candles burn out, batteries run low or leak, and if you’re wounded crank might be difficult and tedious. We recommend looking for options that use multiple charging sources. There are some that can be pre-charged through USB, take alkaline batteries, have a solar panel, AND can be cranked – just in case you REALLY want your bases covered.
Otherwise, be sure to keep your battery drawer well-stocked, or a lot of extra candles around. We’ll talk about solar generators in another post, but if you’re interested in being able to charge or run most electronics during a power cut, check out the Yeti series.
Charging Your Lifeline
Did I say lifeline? Sorry, I meant cell phone. Though in an emergency they can be one and the same. Keep a couple of cheap external batteries charged in your kit and/or a light/radio that can charge a phone. Like all electronics, don’t forget to top up the charge when you update your kit (every 6 months – a year). This keeps the batteries from dying prematurely. We’ve all had the experience of finding a flashlight that just won’t hold a charge, no matter how hard we crank!
Will Cell Phones Work After a Major Disaster?
Great question! I’ll be honest, I don’t know the answer. I’ve searched and spoken to experts but the responses vary from ‘90% of cell towers will still be operational,’ to ‘the earliest we’ll have communications is 72 hours after the event.’ Even with these answers though, I am sure of four things:
- Better safe than sorry. You’re going to have your phone on you anyway, may as well make sure you’ll be able to use it if you can.
- The longest we are likely to be out of service is 72 hours in urban areas. Portable cell towers will likely be getting organized around this point.
- Many emergencies will leave cell towers unmolested, keeping signal alive and well.
- These days smart phones have an incredible amount of utility above and beyond communications. It won’t hurt to have a calculator, notepad, entertainment system, photo album, camera, or flashlight around. Especially if they’re all in one unit!
Best Practices for Cell Use in an Emergency
If your network is still operational in an emergency there are a few things you can do to give yourself an edge. It is likely that there will be a lot of competition for the airwaves as people try to find their loved ones. The best way to get your message through the digital clutter is to text, not call. Texting takes up only a fraction of the space that a phone call does, so they can slip past busy points more easily than a phone call.
The second thing you can do is to limit yourself to calling only your emergency contact and emergency services (if you are hurt or on fire).
‘Who You Gonna Call?’
I know your gut reaction will be to call the school, or the parents, or your partner. That’s very natural, and by all means try them first. But when you get those beeps telling you that the line is busy, call your emergency contact. Who’s that? Someone out of town, or even out of province, who you trust. As part of your preparedness plan make sure this person knows that they are your contact and that they have a list of all your important numbers. Keep them up to date as numbers change!
Ensure that everyone in your family has the contact’s number memorized and knows to reach out to them as soon as possible. That person is going to be your communication hub so you can focus on hiking to the day care.
If you only take away one thing from this article, let it be the importance of having a radio/flashlight option and the means to charge it. If you’re willing to take two things away, add on the value of preparing an emergency contact. Three things? Your electronics require maintenance whenever you’re checking on your emergency supplies.
If you’re taking away four things you may as well read the whole piece! Happy preparing and thank you for reading!
This article was written by Zenia Platten – Writer and emergency preparedness professional. Want to read more of Zenia’s work? Check out her new book, Tethered, available June 1, 2019 on Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and Apple Books.