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Budget Disaster Prep 

You're used to living with little, but in an emergency that's not enough

Whenever disaster strikes, talk of preparedness is sure to follow. Were we ready? Did we have what we needed? What should we have done differently? Experts exhort community members to stockpile rations, batteries, extra clothes and medical supplies.

But what about those folks scraping by, the ones struggling to put the regular food on the table? Where does the extra couple hundred dollars for all that canned food, peanut butter and rice cakes come from? If you're barely making ends meet, an extra massive grocery-buying trip is untenable -- but so is facing an earthquake, tsunami or wind-induced power outage without appropriate supplies. As always, the trick is to incorporate the extra expenses in the most painless way possible.

Go to humboldt.edu/shakyground. Click on "Supplies for Seven Days." This gives you standard non-perishable food ideas. Print it out. Fold it up and tuck the list in your purse or wallet. Each time you hit the grocery store -- Grocery Outlet is especially great for this kind of stuff -- pick up one of the items listed, two if they're on sale. Check it off your list. Keep that stuff in a box or tub labeled "Emergency Supplies." Hope nothing major happens before you've accumulated enough food to feed the family post-tsunami. Of course, if you live in a tsunami zone, you may not be able to lug your supplies to high ground. Befriend people who live in higher elevations as backup. If they have room, maybe you can keep a stash in their garage.

Don't forget your pets! Take a couple scoops out of the new kibble bag each time and let their food supply build up as well.

Along with the food, have an envelope for cash as ATMs may be down and banks closed. Each payday, tuck $5 or $10 into that envelope.

A hand-crankable weather radio is a necessity on the North Coast. Responsive as our local radio stations are, they are not a substitute for your own connection to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- especially if you're in a tsunami zone.

When the big New Year's Eve storm blew out the power back in 2005, I had two cars with near-empty gas tanks and very little cash on hand. I drove into town hoping to find a gas station with not only working pumps, but a way to run a bank card. Three times I motored back and forth, watching the gauge dip lower, wondering if I'd make it back. A better system is not letting the car get below half a tank. I know: Making that tank of gas stretch between paydays can be hard enough. (Another option is keeping a gas can with an emergency supply, but all sorts of other safety issues arise in that case, so only do so with appropriate caution and guidance.) If you have a bike, keep it healthy and ready for action. Adventure's Edge in Arcata offers regular maintenance workshops.

Humboldt County's Red Cross chapter (humboldtredcross.org, 443-4521) offers CPR and other first aid classes. If you can't swing the registration fee, watch for the free community classes they offer on occasion. If possible, have them do a class through a school, employer or organization. Post-disaster, the Red Cross might be able to help you, so keep that number on hand.

Your home and car should contain first aid kits -- again, if you can't drop the money for the comprehensive version all at once, print out a list of what that kit would ideally contain, then purchase a bit at a time. So often we make the mistake of not buying anything because we can't afford everything. Save yourself that regret.

Another component of preparedness involves medicines and health care supplies. Non-prescription needs like ibuprofen, tampons and ginger tea are no-brainers, but what about insulin, anti-depressants or inhalers? This one I don't have an answer for. Insurance companies and Medi-Cal parse their coverage of supplies, and paying cash for exorbitantly priced medications isn't an option for most people. At least ensure you have as much as possible. If supplies are low, order new ones as soon as you're able.

The "Living on Shaky Ground" magazine provides an amazingly thorough guide to planning for local disaster. So thorough that you might feel trying to prepare for an earthquake, tsunami or power outage will be impossible, especially if surviving week-to-week already takes all your time, energy and resourcefulness. Stay calm. Work your way through it a bit at a time. Lay the non-money-related groundwork: Talk to your neighbors, host a potluck to discuss how you all will help each other next time, sit down with your family and make sure everyone understands what course of action to take at home, at school, at work. I'd recently thought how my husband and I need to ensure the kids know what to do in case of emergency when, lo and behold we found ourselves at the bottom of the stairs as the house was rocking. He yelled at the kids to come downstairs, wanting them to be in the most structurally safe part of the house. I yelled at them to stay upstairs, afraid they'd slip on the shaking steps. Clearly, some advance discussion would have been a good thing. Other people I know ran outside during the earthquake, which is counter to all advice I've ever read. We can't totally predict nature's actions, but we should have an idea of our own.

Make time to volunteer for the Red Cross's Community Emergency Response Team program or, if you qualify, your local fire department.

When your income already doesn't cover the basics, life can feel like an ongoing disaster. Having to anticipate a natural one only adds to the burden. Not having what you need on hand when you need it incites stress regardless of whether an earthquake has just shook your house or not. But when that next earthquake hits, all the small steps toward preparation will pay off. Don't let a lack of money translate into a lack of imagination. Take a deep breath and count your blessings. Maybe your favorite coffee mug crashed to the ground during our recent quake. Maybe your house or apartment suffered more serious damage -- but you have a house or apartment. Unlike Haiti, our community's damage has been measured in dollars, not death. Do what you can, ask for what you need, keep your people close and try to look out for others.

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Jennifer Savage

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