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Emergency preparedness: Tampons among essentials, expert says

March 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many people fear a major disaster, but most are not prepared. And much of the information out there is outdated or too extreme. That's what motivated a firefighter who decided to make it his mission to teach people what simple things can really help save lives in an emergency situation.

Chris Wharton is an American-trained firefighter who was sent to Japan to save lives days after the 2011 7.9-magnitude earthquake. But it was so difficult to get anywhere because he arrived too late.

"Our mission was actually declared a recovery mission before we even stepped foot on the ground," said Wharton.

Wharton realized then most Southern Californians aren't ready to survive on their own in a disaster zone. He founded a company called Basecamp Expeditions. He gives lectures on innovative survival techniques. He says you should be able to fit most everything you need in a backpack.

Wharton's main message is that low-tech and inexpensive works best. Get a reflective vest so rescue crews can see you. Get a reflective vest so rescue crews can see you, and get a whistle so they can hear you. Get a flashlight for your head, so your hands are free. But perhaps most of all, buy a tampon -- it's not for the reason you think.

As we saw in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, clean drinking water can be a premium. Wharton's website shows how a tampon can serve as a water-filtration system at the bottom of a cut-open water bottle. Make sure all the fibers of the tampon are exposed first, and then put it at the bottom of a cut-open bottle. After a few minutes, the results are pretty impressive, but the water still needs to be boiled and purified.

Wharton says nothing is better at starting a fire to boil that water than the fibers from -- what else? A tampon. He says the tampon fibers light quicker and burn more efficiently than newspaper. Because they come in a waterproof sterile container, he says a tampon can serve as an effective dressing for wounds as well.

Of course you need far more than tampons to survive. Another key purchase is a solar-powered Red Cross radio with a flashlight attached and manual charger for your cellphone battery.

In earthquake country, Wharton hopes Southern Californians listen to him now.

"It's not a question of 'if.' It is a question of 'when,'" said Wharton.

See photos of disaster preparedness supplies to pack.


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