Tag Archives: Preparedness Radios

Guest Post: Hans reviews the Freeplay Lifeline and Unity self-powered radios

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Hans Johnson, who shares the following guest post:


Irma-induced Radio Reviews

by Hans Johnson

The primary disaster we face here in Naples, Florida, is hurricanes.  Naples had been spared for over a decade until Irma.  So while I had prepared, I had not needed my supplies or equipment for quite some time.  This included the radios.

I went into Irma with two Freeplay solar and windup radios, a Unity and a Lifeline.  I got these radios probably over a decade ago.  As part of some work I was doing with VT Communications (now Babcock), I was involved with a radio project called Sudan Radio Service.

Both of these radios were being given to listeners as part of this project.  I wanted to have a better understanding of what they faced.  I had some conversations with Freeplay in London, explaining who I was and why I wanted these radios.  During a visit, I was able to purchase both sets with the proviso that I not sell them.

I checked them both out at that time with my focus being on shortwave as that is how Sudan Radio Service was then transmitted.  They were ok at picking out the strongest stations but that’s about it.  I never really needed or wanted to use the radios day to day.  And then Irma struck.

We left Naples on Saturday when we received a mandatory evacuation notice.  The storm struck on Sunday and we returned on Monday.

We were spared.  Many lost everything.  Some lost their lives.  We had a lot of trees down and some roof damage, but nothing substantial.  But we had no power.  Water had to be boiled.  Sewage was backing up in places because the lift stations had no power.  The stop lights were out (this was a real danger, many did not treat them as four-way stops and just blew through them.  But you never knew who it would be.)  A curfew was in place.  The cell phone system was in really bad shape.  I could not call or text my brother across town, let alone get access to the Internet via cell.

This link will give you an idea of what we came back to.  I am the guy sawing wood at 1:47.  (Lesson learned, have two chainsaws in case yours blows a gas line):

http://abc7ny.com/weather/watch-josh-einiger-reports-from-naples-florida/2391120/.

I had blown up some air mattresses before the storm so we slept on them on the screened porch.  I saw the Milky Way from Naples for the first time.

We wanted information and also a bit of entertainment.  Television was out of the question.  The HDTV stations are hard to receive with a great antenna and set in the best of times where we live.  So a battery-operated TV would have been a waste.  Radio was the only game in town, so it was time to put the emergency radios in service.

Sudanese Listeners Receive Unity Radios (Source: Lifeline Energy)

Both of these analogue dial sets cover AM, FM, and shortwave.  The Unity covers 3-22 MHz, the Lifeline just goes up to 18.  The former covers the old American AM band and the latter the new one.   The Unity uses a whip antenna and has a fine tuning knob.  The Lifeline has a bendable wire that fits into the carrying handle and came with an alligator clip and a length of wire.

Ideally, one would be listening a set that has been charged via the solar cell or listening with the set in the sun.  The last place I wanted to be was in or near the sun.  Trying to charge the set and then listen to it is difficult in practice.  It seems that the ratio was about one to one.  15 minutes in the sun would get you about 15 minutes of immediate listening.  It doesn’t seem that the batteries will hold a charge for long periods of time.  I could not charge them during the day and expect to turn them on the next morning, which was the peak time of day for radio to be transmitting local information.  The ratio for using the hand-crank was better, but I grew tired of cranking quite quickly.

I was interested in local stations, so shortwave was not a factor.  We only have a few local AM stations in Naples and I could not receive them (Irma knocked off or damaged a number of stations.)  I tried FM.  Even with the antennas retracted, both sets were overwhelmed by the local stations with certain stations bleeding through over much of the dial.  I could receive some strong, local stations.  With the outlet at Marco Island off and the other apparently on reduced power, receiving NPR was out of the question.

Given how many sources of information I was cut off from, my flow was greatly reduced.  My ignorance increased and learning vital information was hit or miss.  A neighbor told me about the boil order.  Passing on information was difficult.  When we got power I wanted to tell my brother, but the only way to inform him was to drive to his house.

One result was that I put these sets away and broke out my old Sony

ICF-7600GR and used it instead.  I guess I could have used it until I ran out of AA batteries.  I had plenty on hand and can easily afford them.  But that is hardly the case in Southern Sudan and many other places.

The Lifeline came with a few stickers on it that I could not read when I got the set.  Now that Goggle translate is so good I can read them.  They say in part:  “Everyone has the right to receive information,”  “Everyone one has the right to search for, receive, and deliver information.”

The real result of the test was a greater appreciation for how good I have it in many ways.  With regards to information, I have many sources and can readily receive it and pass it on.  It increased my respect for services like Sudan Radio Service and how important they are.  But most especially, I have a much greater admiration for listeners using these sets and what is surely their perseverance, patience, and determination to get information.


Many thanks for your field report of the Freeplay Lifeline and Unity, Hans!

I’m happy to hear you had no serious damage post-Irma. So many in the SWLing Post community have been affected by hurricanes this season.

I have never, personally, reviewed either of these Freeplay units–both are now discontinued and have been replaced with other models at Lifeline, I believe. As you state in your post, these radios are only available to humanitarian organizations. Through Ears To Our World, I have considered acquiring Lineline Energy (Freeplay) radios in the past. However, their radios tend to be rather large in size–we tend to go with smaller receivers that can easily fit in suitcases. In the past we’ve been very happy with the Grundig FR200 (Tecsun GR-88). 

The Lifeplayer MP3

Last year, we did purchase a Freeplay Lifeplayer to test. The hand crank charging mechanism is very robust, though quite noisy. The radio is digital, but performance is mediocre and tuning couldn’t be more cumbersome (5 kHz steps, no memories, only a couple of band steps.  Tuning to your favorite station could literally take a couple of minutes, depending on where it is on the band. When you turn off the radio (or it runs out of power) you’ll have to re-tune to the station again. That’s a lot of extra mechanical wear on the encoder. The real utility of the Lifeplayer is the built-in MP3 player and recorder–a brilliant tool for rural schools. Also, it’s robust and can take abuse from kids much better than other consumer radios.

Your main point, though, is spot-on: these radios serve their purpose, but we radio enthusiasts are incredibly fortunate to have much better grade equipment to take us through information backouts.

Thanks again for your review, Hans!

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Reminder: Emergency radio and a chance to win a prepper radio package

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Enter our challenge and you could win this prize package worth over $200 courtesy of CountyComm!

Let’s imagine that your area suddenly loses power–as well as cell phone and internet service–for an indeterminate period. Home and personal electronics remain unaffected, but must be powered off-grid (without mains power).  Moreover, you may be required to evacuate your home…perhaps even on foot.

In preparation for this event, what portable radio kit would you assemble?  

Submit your answer to this question and you could win a preparedness prize package courtesy of CountyComm!

All entries must be received by November 21, 2015.

Click here to read about this challenge and how to submit your answer!

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Virtual Radio Challenge IV: Emergency radio and a chance to win a prepper radio package

GP5SSB-Front

The CountyComm GP5/SSB portable SW/AM/FM radio is just one of many items in this prize package!

UPDATE: This challenge is now closed.  Click here to read about the winning entries.

The SWLing Post attracts readers and enthusiasts from all walks of life. In the past, we’ve put together Reader Challenges based on actual questions we receive from readers, usually looking for the best radio kit for a unique situation or location. Our first challenge sought gear for the most remotely inhabited island on the planet; the second, for a village in the Himalayas; and the third, for an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.

This time we’re taking a slightly different angle, but nonetheless representative of a quite significant (and growing!) number of reader queries: What is the best radio for use in an emergency? Or, as we’re often asked,”What is the best prepper radio?”

There are many ways to answer this question based upon the scenario a reader is confronting. To help define a scenario for this challenge–perhaps the first in a few similar radio challenges–I enlisted the help of my good friend, David Cripe (NM0S). Dave, an engineer and radio/kit designer, is something of a modern day MacGyver and preparedness expert. Not to mention, a very cool guy.

Dave agreed not only to help author an emergency scenario (below), but has also agreed to judge the reader challenge responses.  Dave will select his favorite from among the best  entries.

But there’s more: CountyComm Government Products Group has generously offered a comprehensive prize package for the winning entry!

Interested? Keep reading…

The scenario

ivan-hurricaneAs is often said, stuff happens. Indeed, our modern communication infrastructure is a fragile thing. Let’s imagine that your area suddenly loses power–as well as cell phone and internet service–for an indeterminate period. Home and personal electronics remain unaffected, but must be powered off-grid (without mains power).  Moreover, you may be required to evacuate your home…perhaps even on foot.

Electricity-Pylon-TowerDoes the above scenario seem far-fetched?  Actually, this is just the sort of scenario we often see occur in regions throughout the world as the result of natural disasters (and occasionally human sabotage), and it’s the scenario we’ll mentally prepare for in this exercise.

In preparation for this event, what portable radio kit would you assemble?  In particular, you’ll want to look for an optimal combination of features and portability for price, ($400 US for all your kit). And it isn’t just the radio we’re interested in, but also how you intend to use it.

Therefore, how do you intend to:

  1. obtain information about local and world events?
  2. communicate within your local region to assist emergency services?
  3. pass messages to friends and family over long distances?
  4. power your kit for an indeterminate amount of time?

Limitations

Rather than making this virtual challenge restrictive, the following limitations are designed to make the challenge more fun and create a level playing field for all participants.

  1. Once again, you’re limited to a (virtual) budget of $400 US to procure your supplies; ideally, this will include the shipping costs of all purchase(s) you make.
  2. You may select new, used, or homebrew gear, but you must base your choices on reality (i.e., actually find item(s) online and document the price and time of availability). If you “shop” eBay, for example, make sure you’re using the final purchase price, not the current or opening bid. If you do locate something used on eBayQTH.comQRZ.com, or at Universal Radio, for example, do include the link to the item (just to add to the fun). If you enter a homebrew radio, it should be based on something you’ve either built or used, and must include a photo. Of course, you can use multiple radios, but keep in mind the amount of space and weight these will consume in your evacuation or “bug-out” bag.

The prize package

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Click to enlarge

CountyComm is generously offering the selected entrant of this contest a prize package that includes the following items, useful whether there’s an emergency or not:

The total value of this kit is $209.94 US!

How to enter the challenge

This challenge will continue for one month, ending on November 21.

To enter, simply describe the kit you’ve chosen and how you would address the scenario above. Please be specific, but also as concise as you can. If you’re describing a radio or gear you already own, consider sending photos, as well.

Simply send your entry to SWLingPostContest@gmail.com.

Spread the word!

If you’re active in a preparedness group locally or online, please help us spread the word in your group!  Although there is a serious element to this exercise, in that it might really help you or another reader in an emergency situation, it’s intended to be fun; enjoy the challenge, and good luck!

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Gizmodo: Preppers who are ready for next solar storm

BC-348-Q-Dial

Many thanks to several SWLing Post readers who shared a link to this post on Gizmodo which focuses on preparations for a major solar storm like the 1859 Carrington Event.

Gizmodo touches on several preparedness basics and specifically mentions tucking away a shortwave radio with your survival gear:

Several preppers suggested keeping shortwave receivers handy, preferably of the hand-crank or solar-powered variety (because, you know, the grid’s out). “Personal two way com should be stored in metal boxes in each family vehicle,” one individual recommended. Another source emphasized the value of hunting down older, “tube type” communications gear. “Modern amateur radio gear is hugely susceptible to EMP,” he said. “Amateurs who have made it a part of their hobby interest to rebuild/salvage discarded military gear, especially heavy receivers, and transmitters, are thought to be very survivable.”

I have opinions about the ideal receiver to keep on hand for preparedness reasons. While it’s true that older tube type gear is less susceptible to EMP damage, much of this gear requires 110-220 volts AC to operate.  If the electrical grid is down, you’ll need to have a reasonably robust power supply to bring these rigs to life.

I’ve had a prepper radio post in the hopper for nearly a year now; indeed, this is one of the most common questions I’m asked. Perhaps it’s time for another virtual radio challenge to flesh-out more options? There are a number of Post readers who are experts on this topic.

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Include in the CIA’s Survival Kit: the Sony ICF-SW100

CIAEscapeandSurvivalBag

I recently discovered an article on the excellent blog, LifeHacker, which describes the contents of the CIA’s Escape and Evasion Survival Kit.

The kit’s contents currently include:

Lifehacker believes the small bag used is the Maxpedition M-2 Waistpack. I like Maxpedition packs: they’re very durable, typically military grade, and reasonably affordable. But the M-2 is small–quite small.

This led me to thinking about über-portable shortwave radios I would carry in such a small pack for survival purposes. If I were a foreign operative, ideally, I’d want a shortwave radio that has SSB mode, in case my home country’s numbers station broadcast in SSB.

In reality, there are very few good radios that are so compact they could fit in the M-2 Waistpack.

A few that came to mind were the Tecsun PL-310ET or Tecsun PL-380, but the fit would be very tight, if at all; both radios are slightly wider and taller than the M2’s main pocket, which measures 5 x 3 x 1.5 inches. I then remembered the Kaito KA1102 that I owned a few years ago–a very portable radio, but it, too, would be too large at 143 x 88 x 28.50 mm.

But then, it hit me: there is one radio, which, though no longer on the market, would fit the bill (and the pocket)…

The Holy Grail of über-portable receivers: The Sony ICF-SW100

Sony-ICF-SW100

I have never owned an ICF-SW100, but I’d love to. Occasionally they show up on eBay, but prices range from $300-$800 depending on condition. That’s simply too pricey for my budget. Universal Radio has acquired used units in the past on rare occasions; these have sold between $200-400.

Then there are the lucky few, like my radio-listener buddy, The Professor. Remarkably, he tracked down (and knows I’ll never forgive him for it) an ICF-SW100 on Craig’s List for about $50! That was a steal.

Performance is superb for a radio this size. Not only does it have SSB mode, but selectable sideband sync detection.

One note of caution, should you be lucky enough to acquire one: the ribbon cable that connects the lower portion of the radio with the display (especially in the mark 1 production units) is known to fail. Fortunately, there are a number of videos (like this one) which walk you through replacement.

Click here to search eBay for a used Sony ICF-SW100.

Honorable mention: the Sony ICF-SW1S

icfsw1cs

The ICF-SW100 predecessor, the ICF-SW1S (above), would easily fit in the M-2 Waistpack–it measures a mere 4.75 x 2.785 x 1 inches. Like its younger brother, it is highly sought after on the used radio market, and usually fetches $300+. The ICF-SW1S does not have a sync detector and lacks SSB mode. Still, as a broadcast receiver, it is truly superb for its size.

If you purchase a used ICF-SW1S, do ask the seller if all 6 original electrolytic capacitors have been replaced. If not, you may have to replace them in short order as the originals were known to fail. While not a repair for the faint of heart (as parts are quite small), there are several instructional sites and videos to help you.  Alternatively, you can send your ICF-SW1S to Kiwa to be professionally re-capped.

Click here to search eBay for a used Sony ICF-SW1S.

Any others–?

Do you know of any other high-quality shortwave portables out there compact enough to fit in the M-2 Waistpack?  Let us know!

The hunt is on…!

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My New Year’s preparedness test

Last year, we published two popular articles on preparedness. As I mention in the articles, I’m no hard-core survivalist, but I certainly believe in  being prepared.

This year, on New Year’s day, I got tested. Big time.  Here’s what happened:

Our hero on New Year's Day 2012

We had planned a New Year’s day lunch for twelve, which meant quite a bit of food preparation. I was chef for the day.  At 11:00 am, right after I had just begun searing a large pork roast with the intention of cooking it in the pressure cooker, the lights went out.  I thought perhaps a circuit breaker had tripped. One glance at the power meter, though, and I knew there was no electricity on tap.

So–although we’re not talking life and death here–I had a huge, raw (and frankly expensive) hunk of locally-raised pork to prepare, not to mention all the vegetables I intended to cook; no lights; no water (i.e., no toilet flushing); no auxiliary heat–and a herd of guests, all of whom had driven at least an hour’s distance, en route and looking forward to a delectable dinner.  I didn’t even have time to call the power company to report the power failure. What’s more, as we live in the middle of nowhere, in a best-case scenario it would take the company at least two hours to get here…and on New Year’s Day?

But I try to practice what I preach.

I have a 5550 Watt portable Genrac generator that we use in case of power failure –mainly to supply power to our water pump, lights, and a few appliances (like a microwave). It’s at least six years old, but works beautifully for those modest energy requirements. BUT:  I had never tested the generator with the stove top.  And looking at my raw dinner, and at the clock, I decided I was going to.  No way was my nice cut of pork going to be crammed into our microwave.

So I washed my hands, and zipped around the house turning off all unnecessary power loads and sensitive equipment (radios, computers, router, modem, lights, etc.). I then stepped outside, poured about two gallons of gas from the 10-15 gallons I keep on hand for emergencies into my generator, and fired her up. Though this unit doesn’t have electronic ignition, it did start almost immediately, because I test it every couple of months.

Our external generator connector box

I plugged the generator into our breaker box via an external junction and 12′, 240V  cord that we had installed by a certified electrician earlier this year.  This system included a fail-safe switch that forces us to disconnect our house from the grid, prior to permitting the generator to do its job (lest our power hurt someone working on the power lines).

I flipped the switch, walked back into the house, and saw that the generator had restored our lighting. Still, the lingering uncertainty in my mind was, “Will the generator power the stove’s burner so that I can at least cook the pork and veggies?” I listened to the generator hum as I turned the burner dial on…it barely strained. Whew!

This switch, located on our breaker box, prevents the generator from being connected to the house while the grid is connected.

Over the course of the next hour, guests started arriving; I continued to cook as if we had grid power. It was amazing. Everyone looked a little puzzled when they drove up and heard the generator running, but inside, found us enjoying lights, music, warmth, and the delightful aroma of the succulent pork and apples.  Happily, the meal went off without a hitch.

Mind you, I don’t think the generator could have handled the load of the water pump and the stove top if we didn’t have solar hot water and passive solar heating.  An electric furnace and electric hot water heating elements in a traditional water heater would have simply been too much of a load.

So what’s my point?

I know people who go through a nasty power outage and say, “never again!” They either:

  • Install an extremely expensive automatic propane or diesel backup generator
  • Buy a portable generator like mine, but fail to keep spare fuel on hand, or to test it on occasion

Obviously, neither is ideal.

Preparedness is as much about testing and understanding the limits of what you have–running a few “real-life” scenarios to flesh out anything you might overlook in an actual outage–like fuel, a non-functioning generator, power cords, etc.

And my radios?  Not only will the generator power all of my tabletop receivers and ham radio transceivers, but I keep a separate 40 aH sealed battery fully charged, and at-the-ready, at all times.

After all, every seasoned radio hobbyist who lives in a populated area knows that the best and quietest conditions for catching a little DX is when all of your neighbors’ power is out!

Always keep spare batteries and power for your radios when the grid fails. Don’t just do it for preparedness’ sake, do it for your listening ears!

Happy New Year, and 73s, friends!

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Emergency Preparedness Part 2: All the basics for emergencies

In Emergency Preparedness Part 1: Choosing the right radios, we focused on various types of radios you should consider having on hand in times of disaster. This section focuses on other aspects of emergency preparedness.

Beyond radios

Of course, there’s more to the art of being prepared than simply purchasing a few radios. Being prepared is about having enough supplies, making a plan, and knowing how to get in touch with family/friends, where to meet and what to do should you lose contact. Fortunately, a great percentage of the time, being prepared is about dealing with a few days–not months–of difficult conditions.

What I’m trying to say is, don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money stock-piling months of food, or buy several bricks of gold to bury at your house (hate to burst your bubble, but gold is, unfortunately, a rotten investment).

Don’t feel like there’s a financial barrier to being prepared, either. It’s easy, and you can gather everything you need in one day.

 

I find that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a well thought-through list of items you should have in your preparedness “kit.” I have listed them below (courtesy of FEMA) and included my own comments under some of the suggestions.

FEMA Recommended Items To Include In A Basic Emergency Supply Kit:

    • Distilled water is inexpensive and very easy to store.

      Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation

      • I suggest purchasing inexpensive gallons of distilled water from your local store. When you bring them home, mark them with the date purchased. Over time, you can use and replace them with new ones.
    • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
      • Include a lot of shelf-stable foods ready to be eaten without preparation–trail mix, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, etc.
      • FoodSafety.gov has an excellent guide to preserving, preparing and storing food
    • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
    • Flashlight and extra batteries
      • Also consider purchasing at least one flashlight that can be hand-cranked
  • A first aid kit is a must–make sure to include any specific medications family members may need

    First aid kit

  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
    • At least have a Gerber or Leatherman tool with a built-in pair of pliers.
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
    • Very important–have you ever tried opening a can of food without a can opener? They’re cheap–buy one specifically for your kit
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
    • Many of the radios above can charge a USB-based cell phone. If you are looking for a durable solar panel, consider the Goal Zero foldable panel or any roll-up/foldable panel by Power Film Solar.

Additional Items To Consider Adding To An Emergency Supply Kit:

  • Prescription medications and glasses
    • This is extremely important–you should certainly stock up on medical supplies if you’re in the path of a natural disaster like a hurricane. Pharmacies may be closed for several days and you certainly want your prescription heart medication on hand!
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
    • Don’t forget Rover or Whiskers–!
  • Cash or traveler’s checks and change
  • Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) – PDF, 277Kb) developed by Operation Hope, FEMA and Citizen Corps to help you organize your information.
  • Emergency reference material, such as a first aid book or information from www.ready.gov.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Complete change of clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Please do not use scented or color safe bleach, or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
    • Often overlooked, but quite important–you may be without power, television and internet for days. You should have a back-up plan for your children. Board games are fun, burn a little time, and require absolutely no batteries!

Other recommendations I would add

  • Fill up your vehicles with fuel.  Indeed, it’s not a bad idea to top-off your fuel on a regular basis.
  • Listen to local radio stations and follow any directions from local officials who are coordinating recovery.
  • Know potential evacuation routes and emergency contact information. This is especially important if you live in an area prone to hurricanes or typhoons

Making a plan and being informed

Being prepared, as I said earlier, is more than just having supplies. It’s about being prepared mentally and having your close family and friends on the same page should disaster strike. Also, you should be well aware of how things are handled locally.
Ready.gov has an excellent guide to making a plan (including downloadable forms) and general information about being informed.
SWLing.com has a lot of guests (almost half of our guests!) who visit us from outside of the USA. The information I have posted above may not be relevant to the place you live (for example, NOAA weather radio).  Still, keep in mind the following:
  • Check to see if your national weather service has specific frequencies with weather or emergency information. If so, make sure you have a radio that can receive these broadcasts.
  • Check with your local emergency management office. If you have any specific needs (medical or otherwise), make sure your local authorities know.

Summary: Preparedness is crucial!

This is, perhaps, one of the longest posts I’ve ever written on the SWLing Post; you can probably tell that I’m an advocate of preparedness.  I hope I’ve shown you that there’s a lot to think about prior to a disaster, whether natural or man-made. It’s not expensive to prepare, but does take a bit of dedicated time and energy.  Once you you do it, though, I promise that you will feel better prepared and more secure than before.  And one more thing:  once you’ve taken care of your own or your family’s needs, please be prepared to help others however you can–sharing and caring is part of any disaster recovery process.

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