I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that you can live ”3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.” The interesting thing is that it seems to me we gloss over the 3 minutes without air part rather quickly and tend to focus on water, food, and everything else. It’s no wonder we do so because the ability to breathe is never in question (unless you live in Los Angeles, of course) so why would we spend much, if any, time focusing on it? I know I don’t… er, didn’t.
Well, any good disaster plan is going to start with recognizing when your ability to breathe clean air may be compromised. A few instances come to mind such as a volcanic eruption (but probably not a super-volcanic eruption because then we have far bigger problems than just air quality), sandstorm, dust bowl conditions (because of dried out soil which has happened in the past), and even the aftermath of 9-11 are thought-starters.
Such conditions would affect not only your ability to breathe properly but to see as well. Of course, I would think it best to simply hunker down indoors if possible but fine particles of dust can be relentless and find their way into any number of minute openings so it’s better to be ready regardless. Besides, you may find a dire need to work outside (or evacuate) when air quality is compromised as well.
So, what can you do to better protect yourself?
For starters, a set of safety goggles such as these would be useful to protect your eyes. Be sure they form a good seal around your face and remember that simple safety glasses won’t cut it:
Now, move on to breathing…
The simplest solution is to use a Shemagh, something the Arab culture has perfected to deal with common sandstorms (or perhaps a simple scarf or t-shirt if need be) to keep the dust at bay. Apparently, they work rather well:
For more difficult work you might consider a quality dust mask (N-95 is the minimum recommended) but be sure it includes a one-way exit valve otherwise you won’t want to wear it for more than about three seconds. These are meant to be disposable:
For even more serious dust problems, then a respirator is in order (be sure to include plenty of extra filters as they can/will clog up quick) but they are an expensive option so you might want to buy only one for starters:
You might think that a full-fledged gas mask is a good idea but unless you’re dealing with biological and/or chemical concerns then it’s just not necessary in my opinion. I have a few gas masks that I bought many years ago (the filters are probably expired by now) and I really wish I had spent my money on something more practical.
Besides personal protective equipment, it might be wise to invest in HEPA filters for your HVAC system. Who knows if your power will be out or not but if your HVAC system is still functioning and starts to pull dust-laden air into the house, a common household filter might not be able to handle it, and I can imagine you’ll very quickly overwhelm your home with a dusty mess.
Remember that such problems can occur at any time so it’s wise to have filters for your vehicle kits, bug out bags, and get home bags if possible.