When I was a kid, my parents’ unfinished basement held dozens of milk jugs filled with water and shelves of large silver cans with words like “rice” and “oats” written across the side in black marker.

Some people might have looked at that and thought my family was some sort of weird doomsday preppers, but having a few weeks’ worth of nonperishable food and water stored at home was a pretty standard part of the self-sufficiency culture I grew up in as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It’s also a pretty standard part of the advice the Red Cross, the government and every other organization involved in disaster response wish everyone would listen to. That’s why this month is being celebrated as National Preparedness Month.

I’ve used my platform as a journalist to harp on this subject a lot over the years, but it’s an important one. If the big Cascadia earthquake hits the Pacific Northwest, Umatilla County is expected to go weeks — not days, weeks — without electricity, internet, cell phone service and landlines. Failure of those services will cascade into a series of other failures, because just about everything in our modern life, from using a debit card to pumping water into homes or gas into cars, requires electricity.

To put it nicely, those of you who have to drive to a restaurant the next town over for dinner every time there’s a two-hour power outage would be in huge trouble. And the government won’t be rushing to save you first when there are people on the other side of the state who had whole buildings collapse on them.

The important thing is to build up your supplies a little at a time as you can afford it. If bottled water is on sale, buy an extra case and stash it in your closet. When canned green beans go on sale, grab a couple extra (just make sure you own a can opener that doesn’t depend on electricity).

Also think about the specialty items your family might need, from diapers to dog food.

My family never used our food storage for a natural disaster when I was growing up, but it did come through for us a few times when a large, unexpected expense came up and money was extra tight.

Beyond some extra food and water at home, I like to stay prepared by keeping a “72-hour kit” in the trunk of my car. I purchased a large, sturdy backpack with numerous pockets and stuffed it with a pair of jeans, T-shirt, jacket, extra socks and underwear, fleece blanket, nonperishable snacks and a few water bottles. Then I started shoving toiletries and camping supplies such as waterproof matches into every pocket. I also keep a first aid kit and extra pair of boots in the car, just not in the kit.

I have yet to use my emergency kit while stranded in the woods or fleeing a massive flood, but I can’t tell you how many times it has come in handy to be able to pull a dry pair of socks or travel-sized bottle of contact solution out of my car when I’ve been away from home.

Considering a natural disaster might not come with internet access, now is also the time to look up and maybe even print out information on topics such as which woodland plants are safe to eat, how to tie a tourniquet and how to start a fire without matches.

Stocking up on batteries and beef jerky is a privilege that not everyone can afford, but for those of you who can, please consider how you might prepare to be a help instead of a drain on our community in the event of a disaster.

Jade McDowell is the news editor for the Hermiston Herald.

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