Tuesday, June 24, 2014

No Child Left in a Hot Car

This is a repost of a piece I did around 2011 or so, and in light of recent news, it deserves to be posted again.

I’ve followed the news story about the toddler left in the car.  Tragic, avoidable, and yet a lot of us are at risk for doing things like this to some degree or another because of all the distractions, demands, and a host of other external factors draining our attention on a daily basis.

In my work as a disaster preparedness trainer I frequently cover the subject of how emergencies can throw us off our daily routine and how easy it is to forget things.  That’s why “911” is only three digits long.

Personally, I travel a lot with my dog and I have a morbid fear of becoming distracted and forgetting he’s with me.  So I set reminders for myself.  The list below is some of the things I do and the things I teach others.

While not addressing the distractions, I did want to cover a few notions on preventing tragedies like this.  These are things anyone can do and don’t require anyone spend money they don’t have on “gadgets” they really don’t need (and which, sadly, many marketers are now popping out of the woodwork trying to use tragedies such as this to line their pockets).

1.       Keep the child’s car seat where it can be seen in the rearview mirror.  (Visual reminder)

2.       Play a song the child likes on your car’s stereo.  This will help pacify the child and remind you. (Audio reminder)

3.       Have GPS in your car? Program it as soon as you get in for the child’s destination.  For example, if you meant to take the child to daycare but your imagination becomes engrossed in work, well, that’s a major distraction.  GPS will make sure you stay on track.  Literally.  (Procedural reminder)

4.       If you don’t have GPS (or even if you do) your Smart Phone can be set with a timed reminder.  (Audio-Visual reminder)

5.       Place some of your personal items that you’d need to start your day next to the child’s seat.  That way you can’t accidentally head to work or other destination and forget about the child since you’d have to get your coat, purse, briefcase, whatever from right next to the child. (Procedural reminder)

6.       Place an item of the child’s on the dash, on your keys, on your wrist, or somewhere up near you as a reminder they’re with you. (Visual reminder)

7.       If the child’s destination is daycare, school, etc. you should have a standing arrangement with them to call both parents if the child doesn’t arrive.  This is a good safety step for a variety of scenarios.  (Teamwork reminder)

8.       If the  parent taking the child for the day is the forgetful type and the other parent wants to check to make sure the child was dropped off as planned without nagging or insulting the other, they can do so with a random but related question.  For example, the question could be “Hey. When you dropped Jimmy off at daycare, did you notice if Jane Smith was there?” or something like that.  Innocuous, and yet you’ve checked on the child.  (Teamwork reminder)

9.       Both parents can help set up all these reminders as a team effort for protecting the child.  Dad’s driving today? Mom can help set some of these reminders in place and vice versa. (Teamwork reminder)

10.   And last, but certainly not least, “It takes a village.”  Don’t have a kid? Don’t have a dog? Your friends do. When you arrive at work , go shopping, etc. casually scan the parked cars along your path to make sure no one has left their little loved one in a vehicle unattended.  (Teamwork reminder)

I hope these help.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Home Fire Preparedness Tip for Summer

Although winter typically sees a few more home fires from things like alternative heating use and extra cooking during the holidays, summer sees just as many from all manner of causes. 


One reaction step to a house fire that is unique to the hotter summer months has to do with your central air conditioning system.


Let’s say you have a house fire that’s too big for you to fight and you’re in the process of evacuating your home.  The first thing you want to do is make sure all people and pets are accounted for and safe.  The next immediate step is to call 911 and get the fire department on the way.


One thing you want to do on your way out is restrict air flow inside the house.  Air flow will feed the flames and make the fire bigger.  There are a few ways you can help do this: 


1.     On your way out, you should close (but not lock) room doors behind you to help restrict the air as well as the flames.

2.     If your evacuation route takes you through your hallway past your thermostat, turn it off.  During the summer, we usually have our AC on.  In a fire, the house will get hotter and that means the AC will more than likely come on.  This will do nothing but distribute smoke all through the house, and it will carry fresh air room to room which will feed the flames. 

3.     Some units will have a breaker switch outside by the compressor.  Find out if turning off this breaker will turn off just the compressor itself, or will it turn off the blower unit as well.  Your central heat and air service company can answer this question for you.

4.     If your electric panel is in an outside area, or an area not yet affected by the fire you can access safely (such as in a garage), you may be able to turn off the central AC unit by flipping the breaker.  (Only flip that particular breaker since you don’t want to turn off alarm systems, lighting, or other useful devices.)


To help you remember these steps and options, the best thing to do is incorporate them in your family fire drill and do it the same way regardless of the weather.  In other words, even in the winter when a warm house would actually cause the heat to turn off, you want to turn off the central heating unit as soon as possible and not wait on the thermostat to do it for you.


For other detailed fire protection tips, be sure to get a copy of our ever-popular “Disaster Prep 101” at www.disasterprep101.com.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Amplify Your Car's Remote

So… raise your hand if you’ve seen all manner of videos online where people do all sorts of weird things to open their car doors.  Yep, we’ve seen them too.


What we’ve seen is a whole lot of things that haven’t worked for us.  We’re not saying they never  work or that any of these folks are trying to pull a fast one, we’re just saying they haven’t worked for us.


We’ve seen people call someone over their cell phone and use the remote key fob over the phone (didn’t work for us), we’ve seen people use a half a tennis ball to create pressure on  a key hole to open a lock (that didn’t work either), and we’ve seen ads for homemade electronic gizmos that are supposed to be able to unlock any car (we didn’t even try those).


But, we did find one thing that worked when we used our heads.  Literally.


We found that if you hold your car’s remote up under your chin, open your mouth, and face your car, you can open (or lock) the doors from a much greater distance than you get by just pointing the remote at your car.  We think it’s because the mouth creates some sort of echo chamber (and with some of us, it might be the empty skull) like you’d get with a megaphone.


Give it a try.  The next time you park somewhere, keep locking your car as you walk away.  When you notice that you’re out of range, walk a few paces farther away and try the remote just like we described; up under your chin with your mouth open. 


If this works for you, then you know you can make sure your car is locked from farther away, you can use this to remember where you parked when coming back to the lot, and it also gives you greater range to use your panic button, which is crucial if you’re trying to use your panic button to warn neighbors that you have an emergency.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

5 Car Prep Tips for Ice Storms

You should never drive in an ice storm.  Period.

You should already have the things you need where you are so that you don't have to drive anywhere.  Also, you should exercise safety where you are so you don't need to do things like drive to the hospital after ridding yourself of "cabin fever."

However, all that being said, there are a few reasons you might want to get in your car during an ice storm.  You might need to use the car adapter to charge your phone or laptop in a power outage.  You might also need to use something like a power inverter to run an important appliance.  Or, your car's heater might be the best source of warmth you have.

At any rate, there are a few things you can do to protect your vehicle, keep it accessible in an ice storm, and to protect it from the ravages of ice and cold.  Let's look at a few tips:

1. Top off your tank.  If you need the car to recharge your electronics, or for warmth, or as a generator, that means you have to run the engine.  That of course means you need fuel.  A full tank is a cardinal rule in all preparedness; not just ice storms.

2. "Dock" your car.  This means to move it to a safer area if you can't park in a garage and your driveway has "issues."  "Docking" is a common term in areas prone to flooding where people park their car on higher ground during heavy rains. In our ice storm example, you may have a tree with overhanging limbs that could fall on your car if they accumulate ice.  Or, the driveway might be kind of steep and you'd rather park on the level street. 

3. Pre-treat your locks.  Locks can freeze in cold weather, so pre-treat yours with a little squirt of WD-40.  Just stick the nozzle inside and spray.  If they still freeze up a little, you can gently heat your door key with a lighter to help melt the ice when you slide the key in the key hole.

4. Cover your car.  In an ice storm, a sheet of ice will certainly form all over you vehicle and make it very difficult to get the doors or windows open.  Putting a tarp or other cover over your car will keep it accessible pretty much all the time.  Just be sure to anchor the tarp or cover in place so it doesn't blow off in windy conditions.

5. Keep the engine block warm.  I extreme cold, the limits of your radiator's anti-freeze might be put to the test, and your engine block could crack.  Or, your battery could freeze and prevent the engine starting at all.  One thought is to run an extension cord out to your car and place a drop light with a 75 to 100 watt bulb (if you can still find any) to generate just enough heat under the hood to keep things from freezing solid.  Or, you can run a cord and cover your engine with an electric blanket or heating pad.

For tips on winter driving, see our earlier post entitled "Driving in Winter Weather."

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Winter Driving Prep Tip: Map your Assets

While the weather is good (you know, while you have time and there is no emergency – the perfect time to take preparedness steps) , take your paper map with you and spend some time driving your normal daily travel routes.  Look for things that would help you during any emergency that involved impassable roads or gridlocked traffic.  Look for things such as:  


·         Highway exits that are level or only slightly downhill so you can use them safely in snow or ice. 

·         Potential parking areas where you could stay a while or leave your vehicle.

·         Exits with more hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, or medical / emergency services.

·         Exits with more gas stations.

·         Locations where you have better walking routes to get you where you need to be.

·         Areas that are generally safe in good weather.

·         Highway or roadway areas with wide shoulders where you could park or safely leave your vehicle if you couldn’t make it to an exit.

·         Bottlenecks or obstacles such as bridges that might be impassable or extremely narrow areas where you could not exit the roadway. Map these so you can avoid them if you have the opportunity.

You need to record these things so you have a written copy of all assets and options at your disposal.  If you're sitting in traffic that's going nowhere you'll want to know what's available to you at any point along your normal routes so you can make an informed decision on how to react. 

Once you plot all this on your map, make a copy and share it with your significant other and your emergency contact person.  Let them know what your travel routes are, your plan if stranded, and any alternate routes or walking routes so that if they know you’re caught up in post-event gridlock, they’ll have a good idea of what you did and where you went.


Do this in hardcopy form so you can have reaction plans already in place that don’t depend on electronic communication working. 


By the way, we’ve added a new sample to our free forms page.  It’s the “Notify In Case of Emergency” forms and you can get them at http://www.disasterprep101.com/forms.htm


(This is a small portion of the “Evac Atlas” concept from our main book “Disaster Prep 101.”)


Saturday, January 04, 2014

Extreme Cold: Tips to Remember at Home

At the time of this writing, the US is about to experience an arctic blast that will drop temperatures across the country to levels not seen in over 20 years.

In an outdoor survival situation, this would be potentially deadly unless you were well equipped and/or knew what you were doing.

But that’s another story for another time.  At InfoQuest, our goal is to help you maintain your lifestyle as you know it, so for our article today, we’ll focus on ways you can help take the bitter edge off this cold front and keep you and yours safe and warm.

A few things to consider as the icy front approaches:

1.     Do everything in your power to make sure all outdoor animals are safe, warm, watered, and fed.  If any of these animals are pets, such as dogs that are kenneled outdoors, see if you can bring them inside.

2.     Fill up water containers around the house in anticipation of municipal water lines freezing and bursting.  Fill up your normal water pitchers, pet water bowls, plant watering cans, fill your washing machine on the cold water cycle (no detergent!) and turn it off so you’ll have a full tub of water, and maybe fill a clean bath tub with water as well.

3.     Open all cabinets under sinks so that the pipes are exposed to the room’s heat.  In weather like this, our pipes will need all the help they can get.

4.     Let all faucets drip.  The colder the weather the more you should let the water run.  Moving water doesn’t freeze as fast in the pipes.

5.     Wherever you can get to your pipes in or under your house, do what you can to provide a little warmth.  You might run some 75 or 100 watt bulbs in a crawl space, or place a bulb next to an incoming metal pipe (not to a plastic pipe), or you can lay an electric blanket against any of your pipes.  Just try to get some safe heat to keep them from freezing.  And by safe, we mean something that won’t damage your pipes, or that will cause a fire that will burn your house down.

6.     If you’re having trouble heating your home, have everyone sleep in the same room, and the smaller the room the better.  Also, try not to let anyone sleep on the floor since the floor will be colder.

7.     If you have a space heater be sure it’s properly placed and is not too near anything flammable.  Also, it’s best not to run it all night.  Just warm the room at first, shut off the heater, and then set an alarm to get up in a few hours to run it again for a bit.

8.     If you’re on limited power, like you would be if using a generator, then you can only do so much for so long.  One trick is to take a blow drier to warm your bedding right before you crawl in.  Don’t leave the drier running though, it’s only for short interval use.

9.     In our training manual “Disaster Prep 101” we have an extensive chapter on home heating in emergency situations.  One of the notions we discuss (since you want to limit open flame) is to heat rocks or fire-proof bricks on your grill or outdoor fire, and use the heated rocks to warm the room you’re in.  Again, be safe with these hot rocks.

10.  Draw the curtains, close the blinds and do what you can to prevent drafts from doors and windows.  You can seal around your door and window seams with painter’s tape, and you can also place rolled-up towels along the base of windows where they open, and you can hang blankets over your doors and windows to further reduce draft or loss of heat through poorly insulated surfaces.

11.  Hint: If you have a “power inverter” (available at most mega-marts, hardware stores, and automotive supply stores) you can use your car as a temporary generator.  Just don’t run it too long, and be sure it’s secure from theft while you have it outside running.  On a related note, if the temperature in your area is really going to fall, you might consider running an extension cord and a "drop light" (workshop lamp) with a 75 or 100 watt bulb to keep your car's engine warm to prevent freezing.

12.  If you have a generator and have several items to run, you’ll have to rotate usage.  Contrary to the TV commercials, your average household generator won’t run everything in the house all night long!  One trick is to use “light timers” (like you would for home security) and have your generator power cord coming in to the house to a bus bar or power strip and use a few light timers to alternate appliance usage.  Hooking up a few timers will free you up from having to monitor power switching all night long.


While we have you, let’s remind everyone of a few things to NOT do:


1.     Don’t heat with open flame unless you have a fireplace in the room and someone will stay up to monitor the fire.  Flame presents a danger and it also consumes breathable oxygen if you’re in a sealed or well-insulated room.

2.     NEVER heat with charcoal, even if it’s in the fireplace.  Charcoal produces more carbon monoxide than just about any other fuel.

3.     If you have a generator, do NOT run it inside the house or near a door or window.  Numerous fatalities occur each year from carbon monoxide poisoning after someone used a generator improperly

4.     Don’t heat with water or steam (unless it’s a sealed hot water bottle) because then everything just gets damp and that much colder when the heat wears off.

5.     Don’t use duct tape to seal around doors and windows.  Painter’s tape works fine and it won’t rip the paint off when it’s time to take it down.

6.     Don’t waste your time with the “tea candle and clay pot” heaters.  Some will raise the temperature of a very small room a degree or two over the course of eight hours, but most designs won’t (especially the designs where two or more pots are held stacked together with a steel bolt through their drain holes), and they’re still a flame heater which pose fire and oxygen consumption risks.


These are but a few of the hundreds of “warm in the winter” tips from our manual “Disaster Prep 101.”  We wanted to share some of these now since the cold front was on its way.


Stay safe, and stay warm!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Driving in Winter Weather


With severe winter weather dominating the headlines in recent weeks, and with no letup in sight despite recent groundhog prognostications, it’s best to know how to protect yourself should things get I.C.E.D. over.


Intel – Awareness is key in any emergency.  Know what might happen, when and where and what to do.

Communication – Be able to get the word out if you need help.

Emergency Personnel – They might not be able to get you.  The best thing you can do is not need them.

Driving – It’s best not to drive in severe winter weather, but if you do, make sure you’re ready.




w  Pay attention to the weather.  Know when and where it might snow or ice.  Ask your employer to do the same and let people leave early or stay home altogether.

w  Don’t rely on electronics.  Sure, “there’s an app for that,” but since we can’t rely on cell towers being functional or you to conveniently experience trouble only when you have good cell reception, then it’s best you have some hardcopy backups of a few things like a map of where you travel in case you get stranded and have to set out on foot.

w  Speaking of setting out on foot, know how to read a map and use a compass. 




w  If you get stuck, you need to be able to summon help, and catch their attention when they come by.  You might be snowed in, either in your vehicle or residence (where address #s might not be visible) and you need to let help know where you are.  These items can and should be duplicated between vehicle and residence.

w  Cell phone – Always keep a phone charger in your car that plugs into the accessory (cigarette lighter) port.  Nothing worse than a dead cell phone in an emergency, and if you’re at home and the power goes out, you can go out to your car to charge your phone. Same rule applies for laptop computers; get a vehicle charger for them.

w  Light – flashlights and spotlights (vehicle mainly), “chemlite” glow sticks; all of these can be used to see when there’s no power and to signal for help.  Notice we don’t list any flame-based light sources.  Those are better left off of immediate emergency kit lists since you have no way of knowing in an immediate situation if there are gas leaks, etc., or conditions in which flame is dangerous.  Also, using flame inside an enclosed car is not only dangerous from a fire standpoint, it also uses up breathable air.

w  Other visual signals – fluorescent pink spray paint can be used to make a sign on a snow bank either at your vehicle or in front of your house.  So can brightly colored towels.  It’s better to be able to tell the 911 operator “I’ll be the guy out waving a large orange towel!” than it is to tell them “I’m one of 20 stranded vehicles near the mile marker so just keep looking!”

w  Pen and paper – if you leave your vehicle, leave a note listing day, date, time, intended destination, and your cell phone number for road crews and emergency responders.  You don’t want them wasting time searching for the driver of a car found in a ditch after sliding off the road, and if you do go missing, you’ll want rescuers to have a clue about when you left and where you were going.  Even if they’re only there to tow your car when the ice melts, it’s easier for them to contact you if you left a note than by them putting your info down and trying to find you by your tag number later.  You can also leave a note in grease pencil inside your front and rear windshields.


Emergency Personnel


w  In periods of heavy snow and ice, it’s important to guard your health for many reasons, but one in particular: the rescue crews can’t come get you.  You’ll want them to and they’ll want to, but road conditions may make it impossible.  The best thing to do in any emergency is to not need the services of emergency / rescue personnel.

w  Eat!  For two reasons:  One, cold weather uses up a lot of your body’s energy because your body is trying to maintain your body temperature.  Two, being full causes you to be restful, which is a good thing for the kids who might be snowed-in and cooped up in the house. 

w  Entertain the kids.  Since rescue personnel can’t necessarily come get you, it’s best that the kids not get restless and injure themselves.

w  Rest.  If you don’t absolutely have to, don’t bother shoveling the driveway or walkway.  Some areas require that you do, but if you really don’t have to then don’t.  This activity is a major trigger for heart attacks every year.





w  Don’t travel if you don’t have to!  (But when you do, make sure you always start with a FULL tank of gas!)

w  Leave work early as you can.  – Employers should keep an eye on the weather, mindful of their employees’ safety.

w  If you’re on a road trip, pay attention to the weather, and yes, there’s an app for that!  Also watch truckers.  If you hear of snow up ahead and see all the 18-wheelers pulling off at truck stops, maybe they know something you don’t.  Better to look for lodging than emergency assistance.

w  Too many news headlines during winter weather occur because of wrecks on the roadways, or people getting stranded in ice or snow and attempting to walk out of the area.  Also, if you’re involved in a wreck on an icy road, stay in your car as long as possible.  Other cars might come along and add to the pileup or you might slip and fall on the same icy road that caused the wreck.

w  In addition to the normal road safety gear that should live in your vehicle year-round, your winter weather driving survival kit should contain:

w  Clothing – carry an extra jacket, over-pants, boots, socks, gloves (preferably mittens since they’re warmer), winter hat or head covering (all clothing should be brightly colored), sunglasses, chapstick, moisturizing lotion, wick-based pocket warmers, and a blanket.  Repeat this for each person that regularly rides in your vehicle.

w  Food – protein bars, peanut butter and crackers, water (2/3 full containers in case of freezing), instant coffee, plug-in immersion heater, maybe some MREs with the heater pack or the “5 Minute Chef” kits with heater pack.  Note:  If you’re stranded and need water, you can melt snow in a cup sitting on top of your car’s engine.  You can also heat food this way.

w  Cold weather car gear: chains for the tires, a bag or two of coarse sand for traction (NO kitty litter!), spotlight for signaling, “Jumpstart” if you can afford it, hand-cranked winch, rope, medium shovel, notepad and pen to tell rescuers where you've gone if you set off on foot.

w  Note- If you’re stranded in your vehicle, you’ll need heat.  Provided you followed all our other advice, your gas tank is nearly full so that’s no problem.  For heat while stranded, make sure there’s no snow blocking your exhaust pipe and run your engine 10 or 15 minutes out of every hour, but no more, and be sure to open a door or window a few minutes each hour for fresh air.  You don’t want carbon monoxide building in or around your vehicle, and you don’t want to cause engine damage by idling for too long.

w  Maps – Since one of your options if you do get stranded is to walk out of the area (again, only do this if you absolutely have to) you’ll need to know where you are and where you’re going.  Sure, there’s an app for that, but in emergencies, redundancy is our friend and since we can’t guarantee cell towers are going to be working, or that you’ll conveniently get stranded in an area with good cell reception, you need to have a paper map of the areas you travel kept in your kit.  And, you’ll need a compass, especially if you’re in an area you’re not familiar with.

w  And by the way, all the personal items in your winter weather driving survival kit (not the items used on your vehicle) should be stored in a backpack so you can take them with you if you absolutely have to try to walk away on your own.