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Mega-Disaster Planning:
Health and Travel Considerations

Without the ability to pump gas, communicate, buy food, get medical care or receive protection from law enforcement, you'll have to rely on your own resources in a long-term emergency. Here's a checklist of first steps in preparing for the worst case scenario:

  1. Assemble your evacuation gear and supplies.

  2. Make sure your Tetanus booster and other vaccinations are up-to-date.

  3. Address any dental problems now.

  4. Wear sunglasses, buy back-up pairs of reading glasses and use sunscreen to protect your skin.

  5. Learn the herbal alternatives to prescription medicine and get your body in better shape.

  6. Apply for or renew your passport in case evacuating from the country becomes necessary.

  7. Follow the links in the red menu bar above for more intensive planning.

Here's a closer look at the first six steps:

1. Assemble your evacuation gear and supplies

In addition to in-home supplies to last you one to two weeks in an emergency, you'll need to be ready to evacuate with a portable set of gear in case of a long-term disaster. That means purchasing backpacks for all adults, kids 3-years-old and older, and any medium or large-sized dogs in your family. Take the time to shop around for good-quality, lightweight gear that fits your frame. Depending on your circumstances, you may also need to purchase a special toddler-carrier with a large compartment where you can stow your gear.

Because banks will likely shut down during a large-scale emergency, along with the ATM and retail point-of-sale systems, consider keeping two or three hundred dollars in small bills safely tucked away in your home. All your gear and supplies should be kept in a readily accessible place, so retrieval doesn't become an issue during the disaster.

See Evacuation Gear for more info.

2. Make sure your Tetanus (aka Td) booster and other vaccinations are up-to-date.

Tetanus is a life-threatening infection that results from dirty cuts and wounds.  The bacteria is commonly found in soil but can be transmitted by an animal bite, nail puncture or other means. Health professionals recommend getting a dose of the vaccine every ten years, or in response to a possible exposure to the culprit bacteria.

The booster shot, known as a Tdap or Td, also includes immunization from diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Unlike tetanus, both of these diseases are contagious and spread from person to person through the air.

And speaking of vaccinations, try not to fall behind on those designated for kids and pets. If your evacuation plan includes a foreign country, research the CDC and US State Dept. travel websites for info on malaria and other recommended shots.

Note: Under no circumstances should child immunizations be rushed . Studies and anecdotal reports suggest that getting multiple shots at once or in quick succession may be a cause of autism.

You may also consider purchasing a supply of potassium iodide pills in the event of a nuclear disaster. When radiation contaminates the body through breathing, drinking or eating, it's possible to block it from being absorbed by your thyroid gland with this chemical compound. Also called Ki, potassium iodide is widely available online. See the CDC page for more info. Note: Potassium iodide is known to be harmful to an unborn baby and can pass into a newborn through breastfeeding. In these instances, a doctor should be consulted before taking it.

3. Address any dental problems now.

Backwoods dentistry isn't pretty. And if you're eating a lot of raw fruits, nuts and other uncooked foods, your teeth will need to be tough as rocks. So unless you're hankering for gum diseases or a tooth extraction without the benefit of Novacaine, take time now get your cavities filled, old fillings replaced and other dental problems resolved.

Young adults should think about having their wisdom teeth removed as soon as possible.

In addition, routine cleanings will buy your mouth several problem-free years into the future. A dental hygienist performs this task, digging plaque out of crevices between the gums and teeth. Such debris can cause abscesses and accelerate the rate of tooth decay.

If you're uninsured, you can sign up to get a free cleaning at a local dental hygienist school. It also wouldn't hurt to get into the habit of flossing, or using a tooth pick after meals. Brush with a toothpaste that contains natural fluoride, like Tom's of Maine. Fluoride helps protect your teeth from the decay that causes cavities. It's a natural mineral found in igneous rocks (especially granites), where it may be attached to quartz.

This mineral shouldn't be confused with the more controversial fluorosilicic acid dripped into municipal water supplies around the country. The acid is a by-product of fertilizer manufacturing. Flouride is only helpful when applied externally and can cause serious illness if too much is swallowed. To learn how to administer emergency dental care yourself, download the book Where There's No Dentist from the Hesperian Foundation, or buy the book.

Finally, you might consider buying a set of dental instruments for your emergency first aid kit, as well as Cavit, a temporary filling material. In a pinch, you can use melted wax (after it cools down a little) to fill a cavity. Stopping decay requires drilling out the affected portion of the tooth and creating a pocket to hold your filling.

To treat tooth pain, oil of cloves works as an effective painkiller. It's sold as a tincture for $6-$8 at health food stores.

4. Wear sunglasses, buy back-up pairs of reading glasses and use sunscreen to protect your skin.

UV rays are no joke. They cause cataracts on your corneas, and in a post-apocalyptic scenario surgical removal may not be an option. You can protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses outdoors. Buy a cord or strap so you'll always have them close at hand.

Skin should also be protected using a high-spf sunscreen during the summer months. Some sunlight absorption is necessary, however, because it's a natural source of Vitamin D, which helps create calcium in the body. This is especially important with kids, so don't overdo it with the sunscreen.

If you don't see well without regular glasses, you'll also want to store up multiple pairs in case of a long-term emergency. It's likewise a good idea to do some research on natural vision therapy. (Here's an article from TheCityEdition.com.)

Keep in mind that eyesight worsens over time, so even with extra lenses stockpiled you may still run into trouble. In most states, drugstores sell eyeglasses up to a 3.0 magnification. However, you can find stronger lenses than that by shopping online. With the low-cost drugstore glasses, you can affort to store an inventory of different sizes.

If you have astigmatism or different vision in each eye, get a prescription from an optometrist and either order glasses online or buy them retail. The cost of frames has become prohibitively expensive, making online ordering perhaps a more practical option for back-up eyeglasses. (Since there are other measurements involved besides the lenses, you'll need to read the info pages of online sellers carefully and do the mesuring yourself.)

In addition, normal, inexpensive, thick plastic lenses will last the longest, so avoid the thinner "high index" plastic that's now widely touted by optometrists. Those lenses scratch easily. High-impact plastic is also available, but costs more.

5. Learn the herbal alternatives to prescription medicine and get your body in better shape.

If you rely on medication for a chronic condition, determine the active ingredients in these formulas and see if you can substitute them with plant-based remedies in an emergency. In fact, at least half of all medicines used in the United States have botanical ingredients.

Obviously, most illnesses and disease pre-date the use of patent medicine and pharmacies. Even today, throughout much of the world, herb remedies are the mainstay of human and animal medicine. Willow bark and caffeine, for instance, comprise the basic formulation of aspirin.  Gingko Biloba is a natural blood thinner. Golden Seal is a natural antibiotic. Angelica root is an anti-bacterial used as a local anesthetic. Chamomile tea has been brewed for centuries to treat fevers and flu. And Feverfew is effective against migraines by boosting serotonin levels in the blood vessels surrounding the brain.

(Check our herbal medicine page for more information.)

In addition, changing bad habits and food choices can go a long way towards keeping your body illness-free in the years to come. Medical experts say many degenerative diseases are the result of misguided eating habits. Diabetes, some forms of cancer and nearly all forms of gastrointestinal diseases get their start in the colon, caused by an easily avoidable imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.

PBS produced several programs on this subject a few years ago with Brenda Watson, a naturopath. The trick is to include in your diet the following: High fiber, Omega-3 fatty oils, Probiotics (e.g. yoghurt cultures, horseradish and pickles) and Enzymes (found in raw vegetables like salad).

One other thing to consider about diet and food: After a mega-disaster, food is likely to be scarce for awhile. A thinner person will therefore have a much harder road to hoe than someone with stores of fat to shed over time. (If you recall, this was the case with the Tom Hanks character in the movie Castaway.) So an ideal weight in an emergency may be halfway between too lean to go without food for a month, and too obese to evacuate on foot.

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Recommended Books

Storey's Basic Country Skills: A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance by John Storey and Martha Storey.

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes. By Amanda Ripley.

When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival
by Matthew Stein.

SAS Survival Handbook
by John "Lofty" Wiseman

When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes by Cody Lundin

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht.

Crisis Preparedness Handbook: A Complete Guide by Jack A. Spigarelli

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

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15 Ways to Limit Radiation Exposure
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Cholera Fact Sheet (PDF)
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World Climates

"Restoring Your Vision Naturally."

"H.O.P.E Formula" (PDF)

"Fluoride minerals in igneous rocks" (PDF)

Quick Reference to Biological Weapons (PDF) American Medical Association

Downloadable Guides

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Where Women Have No Doctor
A Book for Midwives
Hesperian Foundation

Pandemic Flu Guide

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6. Apply for or renew your passport in case evacuating from the country becomes necessary.

It takes about three weeks for the U.S. State Dept. to process a passport application. Children also need passports in order to travel abroad. Because of the slow turnover, don't leave this task for the last minute. You can renew an existing passport by mail for $75. An expired passport that was issued less than 15 years ago can also be renewed by mail.

Check the State Dept travel page for complete details, forms, and travel advisories issued for specific countries.

Many post offices provide counter service for passport applications, even on Saturdays. They also have a photo service for an extra $15. For locations, hours and costs, visit the USPS passport site.

Remember, depending on the climate and proximity to the equator, foreign countries and islands may have particular health issues you'll need to prepare for in advance. Malaria is still the big killer, and may be spreading as global temperatures rise. To get the latest info, the Centers for Disease Control maintains a comprehensive web page called CDC Travelers' Health. There you'll find the latest news on epidemics and water contamination risks, along with recommended vaccinations and medications to secure before leaving home. The CDC also provides advice about pets, children and students studying abroad .

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