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Thursday, August 7, 2014

What Camping taught me about Preparedness

My earliest childhood memories are of family camping trips. Not just camping, but backpacking – Mom and Dad carrying food, water, the tent, sleeping bags, etc. on their backs. My brother and I shouldering much smaller backpacks with room enough for just a few items. When you are preparing for a trip where you carry everything on your back, you must plan very carefully in order to bring all your necessities, and still be able to carry the backpack.

Photo Courtesy of NPS Photo

This week, as I began to plan and prepare for my family’s non-roughing it camping trip (no items will be hauled on our backs), it made me think about how comparable planning for a camping is to preparing for potential emergencies.

The first thing I always do is make a list of needed supplies. Then I go through the garage and kitchen, gathering items and placing them in the center of the room. I check them off my list one by one as I place them into the plastic tubs that will go in the back of the car. I double check the important items (mosquito repellant, matches, water, tent, air mattress, etc.), knowing that if we don’t have one of those, the family will be miserable.

A few years ago, we forgot to pack the pump for the air mattress. While you don’t need an air mattress to survive while camping, it sure does make the experience nicer. My husband and I were both slightly grumpy most of that trip, due to sore shoulders and backs. My friends forgot their tent cover one year, and it started to rain right before nightfall. They slept, rather uncomfortably, in their truck. When they learned it was most likely going to rain the next night, they drove home. It didn’t rain, and they missed out on the fun and games that day.  

When preparing an emergency supplies kit, most people remember the large stuff – water, food, first aid. But what about a manual can opener? It would be pretty tough to open all those canned items you stocked without one. Or is there something new in your life, such as a puppy or kitten? If so, add supplies for him or her.

When we purchase a new item for camping, I always try it out before we leave. Have you ever tried to set up a new tent in the dark? No fun. If you purchase a water purifier or a satellite phone for your emergency supplies kit, make sure you know how they work before you need to use them. When you create an evacuation plan with your family, practice evacuating so everyone is comfortable leaving the house and getting to the meeting place.

I tend to write out plans for the entire trip out when we are going camping. I plan, and write out, the menu ahead of time. It’s no fun when you have a missing main ingredient, like beans, when you are trying to make chili in the middle of nowhere.  Or even worse, no marshmallows when you are about to make s’mores (check out this Emergency Kit Cook-Off recipe for Ultimate S’mores) with your toddler, who has been talking about said s’mores all week. Even though we have a map feature on our phones, I print the maps out. How do I know we will have a cell signal driving the winding canyon roads? I make a list of our planned hikes and share them with a friend. I also let a friend know when we are expecting to return home.

Just like planning for a trip and writing down important information, everyone needs to plan for an emergency and write down their important information – phone numbers, doctor information, family meeting places, evacuation plans, etc. Having all the necessary information in one place eases the panic that can set in when you are trying to find Dr. Smith’s contact information when your cell phone isn’t working.

Doing the work before the camping trip ensures that I will relax and have a great time with my family out in the middle of the woods. I will be in the moment, helping my daughter fish for the first time, and laughing at my dog splashing in the water. I will enjoy those sticky s’mores, instead of worrying about what I forgot and how to fix it.

If you write your family communication plan and create an emergency supplies kit now, you will be one step ahead if a disaster does affect you.


Please visit www.AzEIN.gov for more tips and information. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Happy Birthday Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear is turning 70 August 9. A funny PSA celebrating his birthday can be found on Smokey’s website. Check it out. I grew up with Smokey Bear as a constant in the background of my life. Smokey visited my grade school regularly talking to the kids about how each of us could help prevent forest fires. And I believed him with all of my heart. 

My family spent a lot of time outdoors hiking and camping. I was always reminding my parents (who didn’t really need reminding) about fire safety. I can’t even count the number of times per trip I would say “Only you can prevent forest fires, Dad.” “Remember Mom, you can prevent forest fires.” My parents would just smile and agree with me, knowing that an important lesson was being ingrained in my brain.
Some of you may be thinking that I am using the wrong slogan. But I’m not… at least not back then. When I was growing up, the slogan was Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires. In 2001, it was updated to what it is today, Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.

Smokey’s message stuck in my head and I am very careful when I do use fire. All kids should learn about Smokey Bear and his message so they can help to protect our forests. If your children don’t know about Smokey, introduce them. Smokey’s website has a great section for kids with many fun activities.
Generations of children have grown up receiving Smokey’s message, but each year countless wildfires are started by humans, many of them due to campfires not being extinguished properly. Fires are also started by burning debris, equipment sparking, and other incidents. Many tips can be found on how to prevent wildfires on Smokey Bear’s site.

Another great campaign is the United States Forest Service’s One Less Spark Campaign. The Arizona Department of Transportation has created a One Less Spark educational video.
Oak Fire Burnout, June 2014
Photo By: USFS
Wildfires burn thousands of acres in Arizona each year, causing injury to people and damaging property and the environment. Arizona’s hot, dry climate is perfect for wildfires and we are in the midst of the season when fires spread across our state. While we continue to be at risk, it is greatly diminished due to the monsoons. Traditionally, most large fires start in June.  AzEIN has many tips on how to be prepared for a potential wildfire and what to do if one occurs near you.

Visit Arizona’s Interagency Wildfire Prevention site for more news, prevention tips and fire restrictions.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fireworks are beautiful, but dangerous

Growing up in Washington State, I loved the Fourth of July. My family would get started early in the morning. Mom would pack the cooler with food and drinks, and the family would head out for a day of skiing and swimming at the lake. It would end with an amazing fireworks show over the water. We would go home happy, sunburned, and tired from the day.

Fourth of July in Arizona was a very different celebration. I spent many a hot, sweaty night sitting in somebody’s backyard (preferably in a pool), watching the show the city put on. We certainly didn’t make a day out of it. If we weren’t in the pool, we would stay inside the cool air-conditioned house until the show began.

Occasionally, my husband and I would strap on headlamps, fill our camelbacks with ice water and hike up a mountain peak in the dark to catch the shows all around us. It was extraordinary… fireworks of every color exploding in all directions. I believe we counted seven different displays one year. But it certainly was hot and uncomfortable, even at 10 p.m.

These days, we are back to the pool or staying inside the house until show time. We then amble all the way to our driveway where we watch the Phoenix fireworks from lawn chairs and then head back inside as soon as it is over. I listen to the celebrations in my neighborhood and get nervous when I hear the crack, sizzle, and pop of consumer fireworks exploding down the street. The next morning I notice pieces of darkened grass or leaves. Last year, I found a rather large palm frond burnt around the edges.

Sure, for some, it isn’t Fourth of July without being able to light a fuse and seeing a firework shoot into the sky. However, I can’t help but think how easily an errant firework could start a fire in a place as dry and hot as Arizona.

Most fires are caused by people. They may be careless, don’t follow fire restrictions, intentionally set fires, or do so by accident. It only takes one spark to cause a fire. And fireworks certainly create sparks. If you  must set off fireworks this weekend, use them safely, dispose of them properly, and know the local fireworks ordinance.  For fireworks safety tips, visit fireworkssafety.org.

Many people like to camp over the holiday weekend. If you plan to head to the high country or somewhere else around the state, ask the campground about restrictions. Most national forests are in Stage II restrictions, which prohibit or limit the use of campfires and smoking, chainsaws, welding, explosives, internal combustion engines, fireworks and the discharging of firearms. To see all fire restrictions, visit firerestrictions.us.az.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Vacation Preparedness

Enough procrastinating, it is time to work on those mid-year work resolutions.  Near the top of the list is getting back to writing for the Arizona Emergency Information Network blog.

At the end of this summer I am spending a week hiking and camping in the cool Sierra Nevada Mountains at Yosemite National Park in California.  This sounds like heaven after hiking in the Phoenix desert in the early morning to avoid the heat.  But hiking longer distances, at a higher altitude and carrying a 20-pound backpack will not be heavenly if I don’t do my prep work.

Munds Park
At work or at home, preparedness surrounds me.

I started my research a few months ago to identify what hazards I might encounter at Yosemite.  Weather in the High Sierra’s is unpredictable, temperatures can range from the low 30’s at night to the high 80’s during the day.  Now throw the possibility of black bears and mosquitoes in the mix.
Once I knew the hazards, I started my packing list with items that will minimize their impact. I will dress in layers; bring a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, knit cap, gloves, lip balm and mosquito repellant.  As far as the black bears go, I will store food and scented toiletries in a bear-resistant locker. I’ve also studied what to do if I encounter a bear.  Lucky for me, yelling—one of the recommended actions to take-- comes natural..  The challenge will be NOT running away.

Another hazard that I may encounter is altitude sickness.  I hike around Phoenix multiple times a week, but with the highest Phoenix peak about 2,500 feet that is really no match for the Yosemite altitude range of 7,100 feet to 10,100 feet. A couple weeks ago I hiked at Munds Park and Snowbowl in northern Arizona to test my skills.  Good thing I did, the altitude and the heavy backpack definitely slowed me down.  There is more high altitude hiking in my Yosemite preparedness plan.
So what vacation do you have planned?  Have you done the research to know what hazards you might encounter?   Do you think we put the same energy into knowing what hazards are in the city we live in?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The monsoon that almost took me to Oz

My first Arizona monsoon was quite memorable. I had just moved to Arizona from the northwest. I was adjusting to the heat and humidity that is July. My car was a Jeep Wrangler - open in the back, with only a small fabric cloth providing shade to the front seats.

One afternoon, I was driving to my job at a local restaurant. Along the way, I noticed a large wall of dust, moving across the horizon, heading my way. I figured I could make it to the restaurant before the ominous-looking cloud reached me. How fast can it move, right? Within minutes, the wind picked up around me. I rolled up my windows (Remember, the back of my Jeep was wide open to the elements) and looked around. I was on a street with no businesses for me to duck into when the dust cloud hit.

Picture courtesy of NWS/NOAA

I pulled over to the side of the road just before the swirling, yellow dust cloud enveloped me. I grabbed my sweatshirt on the seat beside me and tucked my face into it. And I waited. I felt little pieces of dirt blowing across my arms and legs, feeling like a piece of wood being rubbed by a piece of sandpaper. My hair was whipping around and my Jeep was shaking. How long is this going to last? Is my Jeep moving? Thank goodness I have on my seatbelt. Please stop soon. As the many thoughts were flying around my brain, I noticed the wind starting to die down. My arms and legs did not feel like they were being exfoliated anymore. When I looked up from my sweatshirt, I hardly recognized my Jeep. It had gone from a nice, clean gray interior to tan. Dirt was everywhere – every part of my Jeep and my body was covered in the remnants of that dust cloud.

I got out of my Jeep and shook myself off… and created my own dust cloud.

This week is Monsoon Awareness Week. While we all enjoy the rain that a monsoon can bring, we need to remember the hazards that go along with it: lightning strikes, high winds and dust storms, wildfires, flash floods and extreme heat.

Learn more about severe weather and how to prepare yourself at www.AzEIN.gov

Check out Arizona Department of Transportation’s Pull Aside, Stay Alive campaign.

The National Weather Service has some great information regarding severe weather.


The Arizona Department of Insurance has information regarding claims as a result of storms and other disasters.