If the news announced tomorrow that a pandemic had begun and that your area, in particular, was at risk, would you be prepared?
It was only a couple of years ago that Ebola arrived on the shores of the United States. By sheer luck (certainly not by a well-managed response) the virus was contained. I had been prepping for quite some time, and had dealt with lengthy power outages, winter storms, and nearby forest fires with aplomb, but when Patient Zero was diagnosed in Dallas, I realized that out of all of the things I was prepared for, a pandemic was not one of them. Sure, I’d have been better off than people who were completely unprepared, but I was lacking some vital supplies.
There is usually a little bit of warning before an outbreak becomes severe enough to warrant the title “pandemic.” It isn’t like The Walking Dead, where suddenly 80% of the population is affected overnight. With a pandemic, you hear a little hum about it before it gets bad. The World Health Organization makes some flyers, reports are given, and there is a mention on the evening news. But, generally speaking, officials are stingy with information because they don’t want to “start a panic.” This means that the judicious prepper needs to pay close attention when new viruses begin to be mentioned.
Now, just because a virus is mentioned, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to become a pandemic, of course. However, it can be an early warning sign that you need to get your ducks in a row. Think of it like a tropical storm. You hear about it gathering steam out over the ocean well before it ever makes landfall. Just because there is a storm somewhere in the Atlantic, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to hit, but it means that the wise person begins to pay closer attention to the weather reports, makes certain that the basics are stockpiled, and puts together a plan just in case the time to board up the windows arrives.
While the government is busy fanning the fear of Zika, I’m not convinced that is the one we really need to worry about. At this point, I find the potential of an avian virus to be more concerning due to its 30% mortality rate. (Learn more about the recently-discovered pandemic potential for the avian flu here.)
This doesn’t even touch on the potential for a biological attack, something that more and more people are sounding the alarm about. A biological attack could be delivered by drone, or even by a person who has been deliberately infected. In the book Failures of Imagination, which describes possible terror threats against America, one of the potential scenarios depicted some women who had infected themselves with smallpox, then went to Disneyworld in order to reach people who would be going home to places all across the country, quickly spreading a deadly illness.
What does pandemic preparedness entail?
It’s also very important to understand what you’re dealing with. You will have to make adjustments based on variables like how the virus is transmitted, how it is treated, the course the illness takes, and the virulence and mortality rate. Well before an outbreak occurs, you’ll want to have information on hand that will help you to plan efficiently. The book I recommend for this is Prepping for a Pandemic by Cat Ellis. This guide breaks down a number of different potential pandemics. You can use it ahead of time to help make your plans, and in the event of a pandemic, you already possess this vital information. Seriously, you need this book.
In the event of an illness that has a high death count, one of the most basic ways to avoid catching the illness is to go into lockdown. Avoiding contact with people who have the illness is the only way to prevent getting it. Isolating your family is the best way to stay safe and healthy. It’s low tech, doesn’t require an untested vaccination, and it’s highly effective.
This isn’t something most of us would be willing or able to do in ordinary circumstances, of course. Few of us can pull the kids from school, stay home from work, and refuse to open the door to the UPS guy for a period of 6-8 weeks. To make a move so extreme, the concern wouldn’t be about an ordinary virus – it would be about a serious, life-threatening contagion.
If the situation hits close enough to home that you decide to go it’s time to isolate yourselves, the rules to this are intractable.
No one goes out. No one comes in.
I know this sounds harsh, but there are to be no exceptions. If you make exceptions, you might as well go wrestle with runny-nosed strangers at the local Wal-Mart and then come home and hug your children, because it’s the same thing.
Once you have gone into lockdown mode, that means that the supplies you have on hand are the supplies you have to see you through. You can’t run out to the store and get something you’ve forgotten.
That means if a family member shows up, they have to go into quarantine for at least 4 weeks, during which time they are not allowed access to the home or family, nor are they allowed to go out in public. If it is likely that some people will show up, set up an area on your property that is far from your home for them to hang out for their month of quarantine. If at the end of the month they are presenting no symptoms, then they can come in.
Sadly, it also means that you may be forced to turn someone away if they are ill, because to help them means to risk your family.
Now is the time to plan with your preparedness group how you intend to handle the situation. Will you shelter together, in the same location, and reserve a secondary location to retreat to if the situation worsens further or if someone becomes ill? Will you shelter separately because of the nature of the emergency? Decide together on what event and proximity will trigger you to go into lockdown mode. Make your plan and stick to it, regardless of pressure from those who think you are over-reacting, the schools that your children have stopped attending, and any other external influences. If you’ve decided that there is a great enough risk that you need to go into lockdown, you must adhere to your plan.
Prepare an isolation area.
In the event that a member of your group becomes ill, they need to immediately be quarantined from the rest of the group. By the time they’re showing symptoms, it could be too late to prevent the spread of illness but an effort should still be taken to isolate them.
Here are some tips on isolating a patient.
- The sick room should be sealed off from the rest of the house. Use a heavy tarp over the doorway to the room on the inside and the outside. This will make a small breezeway for the caretaker to go in and out.
- The caretaker should cover up with disposable clothing, gloves, shoe covers, and hair covers.
- The caretaker should wear an N95 mask.
- The sick person should use disposable dishes and cutlery. All garbage from the sick room should be placed in a heavy garbage bag and burned outdoors immediately.
- The sick person should not leave the room. If there is not a bedroom with a connected bathroom, a bathroom setup should be created within the room. Great care must be taken with the disposal of this waste.
You can learn more about preparing a sick room HERE.
What supplies do you need when prepping for a pandemic?
When preparing for anything, you must have the basic supplies in order to care for your family for a length of time without leaving the house, and pandemics are no different. But with a pandemic, there are other supplies you’d need that you may not have on hand. You’ll want to be able to create an isolation area for potentially ill family members, have supplies on hand to care for people safely if they do become ill, and the necessary tools to prevent the spread of the illness through the household. It’s most likely that services such as public water and electricity will remain intact, but you should prepare as though they won’t be, just in case.
Here’s a quick checklist along with some links to resources. Base the amounts on the number of family members you’ll be sheltering.
- Drinking water (1 gallon per person per day)
- Food: Besides your regular pantry supplies, stock up on emergency buckets for situations like this, as well as items that don’t require fuel for preparation)
- Heavy duty garbage bags – the 3 mL thick contractor type are the best
- Sanitation supplies such as toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes, and feminine hygiene supplies
- Entertainment – you’ll want to be able to keep children and restless family members busy so get craft supplies, books, games, and puzzles
- Basic medical supplies (here’s a list)
- Pandemic kits that contain protective clothing
- Extra N95 masks
- N100 masks
- Nitrile gloves
- Safety goggles with an elastic band to ensure a snug fit
- Protective clothing
- Antibacterial cleaners such as disposable wipes, bleach, and spray cleaners
- Antibacterial hand sanitizer
(Note – we do not commonly use anti-bacterial products but in a pandemic situation, it’s important to have this type of thing on hand, particularly in the event that there are issues with sanitation or running water. Even the FDA has recently announced that anti-bacterial soaps aren’t good for you.)
Books and Reference Materials:
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