Stocking up on ... everything

Emergency preparedness always sounds simple in magazine articles, or public service announcements on TV. Do this, stock up on that, have such-and-so handy.

But let's be honest: Is it possible to have a contingency plan for dealing with every potential crisis? Too often, I find myself prepared for the wrong problem, and recent events around the country have only compounded my uncertainty about this issue.

Our family snow shovel hangs in the garage like a piece of folk art. It is easily accessible but untouched since early last year. Meanwhile, news reports informed me that people in the mid-Atlantic region were scrambling to buy snow shovels once forecasters began warning about the big nor'easter. I probably could have made a tidy sum by offering mine on eBay.

Also, in this era of endless media spin, one has to wonder if perhaps the National Weather Service, in cahoots with snow- shovel interests, was deliberately exaggerating the severity of the storm in order to create a buying panic. Let's not even go near that slippery slope.

I live in the webfoot state, but rainfall here during the past few months has been woefully short of normal. Meanwhile, our normally sunny neighbor to the south has become a giant atmospheric Twilight Zone. There was snow in the Bay Area a few weeks ago, and Los Angeles has been inundated by numerous heavy storms. I suspect that in the months ahead, many Californians who found themselves unprepared for such harsh environmental conditions may start a new trend by heading to Oregon in search of a milder climate.

One hazard they'll still have to be ready for is an occasional earthquake. I have bottled water and canned food stored away, but as the walls of our house shook last week it occurred to me that a really big temblor could bury everything under a pile of rubble. So it would make sense to keep an extra cache of supplies in our old Saturn, which sits in the driveway a safe distance away, and could be used as a mobile survival pod.

I was also keenly disappointed to learn that my dog has no special powers of prognostication when it comes to massive ground movements. Other canines may commence frantic barking or backward somersaults before a big quake, but Lassiter barely raised his head during the whole episode.

It all goes to show that plans are fine, but they don't always mesh with reality. A guy down the street recently decided to get a new roof, and the crew arrived on a Friday and tore off the old wooden shingles just as a rare band of showers moved across our area. So all weekend, the exposed gaps were covered with blue tarpaulins that flapped loudly with every gust of wind.

But my neighbor's personal disaster made me realize that plastic tarps are handy for all kinds of emergencies, so I made a mental note to buy a couple of them real soon. One can go in the trunk of the Saturn. And there's a perfect spot for the other one in the garage, next to the snow shovel. Then I'll feel like I'm one step closer to being almost ready for any conceivable catastrophe. Maybe.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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