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Dealing With Disasters

Earthquakes and hurricanes...and Brookline kids.

How do I watch out for Muffin and Squeaker in case of a disaster?

The past four weeks have seen three events that have placed this question at the forefront of my mind.

First of all, there was the we felt on Tuesday, August 23. Then there was , which hit Brookline as a tropical storm on Sunday, August 28, just a few days later. Finally, this week we commemorated the .

So it’s probably no surprise that I’ve been thinking about how I would take care of the kids in the event of something like an earthquake or a tropical storm. After all, we’ve just been through both. We even had a in Brookline earlier in the summer. Hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes...

When the earthquake hit, Nomi and I were working in our respective downtown Boston office buildings, and we both felt the shaking. After we checked in with each other, we called the babysitter, who was with the kids at home. Although people working in at least two Brookline buildings felt the earthquake and had to evacuate, the babysitter’s reaction was to ask, “What earthquake?” Apparently, our building experienced no shaking at all, and our kids, who were napping, slept right through it. I felt relieved, as I had no idea what I would have done over the phone had the news been worse.

Hurricane Irene did not hit Brookline nearly as badly as it hit other places on the east coast, for which I am very grateful. It seems almost churlish to complain about what did happen, given that some people lost their homes and others their lives. But again, it reminded me of the need to be prepared, as we did feel the effects of the storm through the temporary loss of power.

Our power dipped once in the morning and again in the early afternoon. Then, at 2:42 p.m. – which I know because I checked my watch, as I always do when the power goes out – the power dipped twice, went out, and stayed out. The power came back on at 9:17 p.m. but then went out again at 9:31 p.m., and didn’t come back for good until 11:37 p.m. So, like much of the Washington Square area and parts of Brighton, we were essentially without power for about nine hours.

We were somewhat concerned that Muffin and Squeaker would become very upset at the lack of power. Fortunately, we had made a point of buying extra flashlights and batteries at and just before the weekend started, although by the time I got to Aborn, José told me that much of the selection had been picked clean. We gave Muffin and Squeaker each a Maglite Solitaire flashlight, and they went up and down the long hall of the apartment shining their flashlights like delighted spelunkers in a cave. For some reason, they were particularly interested in shining the lights on their toes.

We were grateful that the lights so easily distracted them, as Muffin kept asking for us to turn the light on or play music, and we had to remind her that without power we couldn’t do either of those. Then I remembered that we could play music, as we had made a point of charging our electronic devices in full before the storm, just in case. So instead of playing music for them on the SoundDock, we played music for them on one of the laptops.

As for dinner, well, we didn’t want to open the refrigerator while the power was out, but we had also prepared for this possibility. We had fed the kids a very large and very filling lunch before the power went out, so dinner for them could be crackers and cookies and other assorted non-perishable foods. That worked for one night, but had the power stayed off longer, we probably would have taken advantage of the offer from friends of ours who live in JFK Crossing, and decamped there for a few days. Although that does lead to the question of where the kids would have slept...

Remember the ? On May 1 of last year, a water main break led to Brookline residents not being able to drink tap water for a few days without boiling it first. There was a run on bottled water throughout much of the metropolitan Boston area. We were a little worried, but because the kids were still nursing and on formula, we already had stocked up on bottled water. Muffin and Squeaker offered to share it with us – well, we assumed they would have made the offer, if they had had the words to do so yet – and so we took them up on it.

Still, none of these experiences would help in the event of a real disaster, one that required evacuation or something more extreme. Fortunately, the Brookline Police Department provides a website of Emergency Preparedness Tips that includes three main points: create an emergency communications plan, establish a meeting place, and assemble a disaster supplies kit. I think we’ll need to revisit that third one soon. With Muffin and Squeaker around, our kit needs to include stuffed bears...

This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.

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