Preparing for the worst

Could you survive for two weeks or more without electricity, tap water or a trip to the grocery store?

“Everybody thinks of these things right after a disaster occurs — like the snowstorm we had Jan. 27 — then they forget about it,” says Madison County resident Chuck Blackburn. The local martial-arts instructor says it’s crucial to be prepared and plan ahead.

At his home, “We’ve always got extra food that takes little or no cooking, several ways to store water, and three different types of emergency lighting,” Blackburn reports. These are some of the simple ideas he hopes to pass on to participants in his Disaster Preparedness seminar, which will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Unity Center in Arden.

Blackburn should know about coping with disasters: He grew up in the Midwest and lived through tornadoes; he survived two earthquakes just weeks after moving to California, after college; and he saw his share of hurricanes while living in Florida. “We are all potential victims of a variety of disasters, [but] most people are incapable of taking care of themselves and their families for any extended period of time without outside help or supplies,” he points out.

Blackburn notes that the American Red Cross advises people to plan to be self-sufficient for up to two weeks at a time. “How many of us are prepared to do that? We’re so used to being able to flip that switch and have lights, or turn on the tap for water,” Blackburn observes.

What’s an Asheville-area resident to do?

“Anyone who has access to the Internet can check out the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Web site [],” replies Kathy Henry, family preparedness coordinator for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.

“The Asheville area is subject to a number of possible emergencies,” she continues, listing, “winter storms (like the one a few weeks ago), flash flooding, heavy rains, thunderstorms, heavy winds, [and] hurricanes” as the primary types of emergencies hereabouts

Hurricanes in the mountains? Just recall the wind damage our area suffered from the tail end of Hugo and other coastal storms in recent years.

Henry notes that the interstates and railways traversing the Asheville area also bring the potential for hazardous-material spills. In addition, this part of the mountains rests on a fault line that has brought us level-2 and level-3 earthquakes.

To prepare for all such emergencies, Henry offers a few tips:

• Plan for alternate sources of heat and light, such as portable heaters, flashlights and lanterns. “Don’t use candles,” Henry suggests, because they pose a fire risk. Safety precautions must be considered for all types of alternate heat and light sources, including kerosene heaters, she says.

• Understand your insurance policy. For instance, you may not be covered for flood damage, although the mountains are subject to frequent flash-flood conditions.

• Know how to stay warm. Use multiple layers of light clothing.

• Keep nonperishable foods on hand that everyone in the family likes.

• Set aside one gallon of water per person, per day, for drinking and sanitation needs.

• Maintain supplies of prescription drugs. If you’re evacuated from your home, you may not be able to get more.

• Plan how to to care for livestock and pets. Emergency shelters aren’t equipped to care for them.

• Have responsible members of your family take basic first-aid training, in case emergency medical services can’t reach you right away.

• Have an out-of-state contact you can notify in case of an emergency. That way, friends and family can check with that contact and not tie up local lines.

For more information on Blackburn’s Disaster Preparedness Seminar/Workshop, call him at 649-9352, or e-mail him at The seminar costs $45 ($75 per couple). You can reach the local Red Cross at 258-3888, and Buncombe County’s Emergency Management office at 255-5638.

FEMA says …

Here are some Federal Emergency Management Agency recommendations for emergency preparations, found at its Internet Web site,

Step 1: Find out what types of disasters are most likely to occur in your community and how to prepare for them.

Step 2: Hold a family meeting to talk about the steps you’ll take if there’s a disaster. As you would for a house fire, have a plan.

Step 3: Take action. Implement your plan, having all family members do their part to install smoke detectors, post emergency telephone numbers, determine escape routes and assemble disaster-supply kits.

Step 4: Practice and maintain your plan.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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