Now FLY! An Adventure in Leadership

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I can’t sleep.  My mind is racing and it generates a continuous slideshow loop of what can go horribly wrong for me tonight.  It’s Sunday, New Years Day, I’m home trying to get some extra rest as tonight I fly solo and will be responsible for several million dollars worth of equipment and inventory not to mention the 100 lives that go along to operate it all after only a whole two weeks of whirlwind training, I’m managing the first production startup of the new year.

It turned out the rumors were true about a buyer for the company.  A much larger corporation that produces the same product under a well-known brand name and actually understands the manufacturing process has become our new benevolent masters. Right after the sale, they were all over our plant watching, writing, asking, observing, tallying, poking, prodding, and judging.  After a few weeks of intense scrutiny, the changes came down from the mountain top (corporate) and it began with the immediate disbanding of the three gangs that previously operated the territories. (For more info and history on the gangs read The Company Civil War).

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What was the Creatives gang had now become the Production Department and their management team was beefed up with the hiring of new superintendents.  Along with that word also came that the long-feuding DC and Wrappers gangs were to be combined into ONE department that controlled everything from the packaging of the product to palletizing, storage, and shipping so we all had to find a way to get along let alone learn to trust each other.  Our former leader, Raoul was quickly pushed into retirement and shoved out the door, along with one other longtime DC superintendents.  Pete the sweet was demoted from leader of the now-defunct Wrappers to a Packaging Superintendant and soon after that our new head of the new packaging department arrived. 

Back after the sale when they were reviewing us all it was decided that the other DC superintendent, Brad, and I were worth retaining for entertainment and torture purposes as we were now going to be trained and transformed into packaging superintendents.  Brad and I had an awful lot to learn especially since before this merger of the gangs we were always discouraged from entering or nosing around in Wrappers territory. 

I walked into the kitchen, “What are you doing up?”, my wife asked.  I can’t sleep and all I’m doing is just laying there and torturing myself.  “Do you want something to eat?”  Sure, I answered and while you do that I’ll put up some coffee.  I’m going to need a full thermos tonight.  As the coffee brewed I pulled out the drawings and notes that I quickly jotted during my so-called training.  My training consisted of me just barely keeping up with my trainer as I followed him around, up ladders and down man lifts, under moving conveyors and behind spinning dryers.  For a man 20 years my senior he moved with ninja like quality at an incredible speed but spoke even faster while giving me a running dialogue of the sights we were seeing just like a tour guide.  He had a heavy accent and I was behind him as he spoke 90 percent of the time while wearing earplugs and surrounded by loud machinery so I wasn’t really sure what he had pointed out or what he was telling me and before I could get my bearings as to exactly where I was in the plant he was off again.

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The most unfortunate aspect of our training was that good old Pete the Sweet was put in charge of it and he still carried a grudge against us so it wasn’t going to be easy.   He’d call Brad and I into his office and would roll out maps and diagrams of the areas we were supposedly in earlier but they never quite look the same on paper as in real life.  At the end of each day, he’d ask with a silly smirk on his face, so you got it now?  Every day I’d look at him straight in the eye and say, no.  He’d chuckle and say, well you don’t have much more time.  Whatever the hell that meant.  What helped me the most to learn and figure it all out was to wander around on my own usually during my lunch break and I’d come in a half-hour before and stay half-hour after my shift, making notes and asking the operators questions.  It’s amazing how much employees love showing off their knowledge of the operation to someone who shows a genuine interest.

Well, ready or not it all culminates tonight.  In my head I hear, “Now FLY!” and laugh at myself as the thought of a Monty Python cartoon where a giant foot kicks people off the top of a mountain as it yells, FLY!  Of course, all of them just drop straight down the side of the mountain and land with the loud sound of a splat!  Could be me tonight.  “Aren’t you going to eat that?”  My wife’s voice brought me back to reality.  Oh, yea, sorry.  I ate, packed my lunch, filled my thermos, grabbed my notes, kissed the family goodnight and drove to work for my solo flight.

As I drove down the road towards the plant it appeared to look larger than usual and could have been a distortion due to all the plant lights against the darkness of the night or just an overflow of adrenalin.  I parked and got out of the car.  Stood there for a moment, closed my eyes deeply inhaled the cool night air, and walked up to the guard post and checked in.  Since this was startup there was no previous shift to take a handoff from so after checking and finding no call-ins on the sick line, a positive, I walked packaging to check in and introduce myself to all the stations and make sure everyone was getting ready for the fun ahead.

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The first thing I realized during my rounds was that not only did Pete see to it that our training was less than stellar but the team he had assembled for my shift was scattered with a few experienced people but mostly those with the least amount of seniority as well as the least trained and then for good measure, threw in every misfit and malcontent from the other shifts.  Pete had stacked the deck against me and I would soon learn one of them was planted there so Pete could track my activities.

Back at the office and was worried about my green staff who were being led by a green superintendent and that my first day was going to be my last.  I sat in my chair, looked at the packaging schedule, actually just looking through it as my mind floated when I was Jared by the phone ringing.  Production was sending over the finished product to the bins and we could begin to pack.  I regrouped and remembered what had gotten me this far but also had something going for me that Pete or myself never imagined.  

We were scheduled to run seven packaging lines and now that the bins were full of product we were ready to go.  Most of the crew knew that I was brought over from the distribution/warehouse and had gained respect there for championing safety, in fact, shutting down a palletizer because it was missing a chain guard exposing employees to leg amputations and also generating work orders to be expedited for safety reasons then posting the work orders progress so all the employees could see it.  It was a great morale booster as most of the w/o were generated by issues employees pointed out.   

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It took a year there to get to that point of trust and it didn’t help that people like Pete the Sweet and most of the previous old management treated employees like crap.  They yelled, threatened, harassed, and discriminated against them, and if one of Pete’s spies could find something juicy they would blackmail on top of everything else.  That wasn’t my approach and it had worked very well for me.  As I touched base at each station I didn’t tell them what to do, I asked if they were aware of the schedule, did they have all the raw materials they needed or anything they needed.  Some of the operators were so welcoming, demonstrating how their machine worked and how it could work more efficiently.  It was the best education I could get and I was getting paid on top of it all. I took notes on issues brought to my attention so I could look into them.   

Even those that were deemed as trouble makers or non-redeemable approached me and only wanted to be heard and not told it’s none of their business or promise to get back to them and then didn’t.  It turned out they were capable and job knowledgable employees just no one gave them the opportunity to care before.   The one thing that Pete never counted on is that his dislike by all would help us bond together and as much as I empowered them they taught me manufacturing, maintenance and patients.  During the next six months, we became an amazing team out producing the other two shifts on a regular basis but this would spur jealously in Pete as he could never motivate a team to achieve what we were doing.  Luckily it was soon after he began cooking the production numbers before sending them to corporate to make us look bad that he would be caught.  In addition the team knew who his spy was and several of my staff quietly pointed him out to me from day one and sometimes for pure entertainment we would feed him all kinds of stuff which we knew would drive Pete crazy.  Soon Pete’s rhein would end as the company terminated his employment for several issues and the general culture generally improved to a more positive and productive one.  This was an exceptional team of people, from every spectrum of the human race and I was truly proud of them all.  We got through some tough spots but got it done through strong communication, training, trust, and respect.  

You don’t have to know everything to get the job done as long as you can motivate a team to navigate, you can learn to fly.

 

Learning to Fly
Well, I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up and the world got still
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
Now the good ol’ days may not return
And the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
Yes, it is
Now some say life will beat you down
Yeah, it will break your heart, steal your crown
So I started out for God knows where
But I guess I’ll know when I get there
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
But coming down is the hardest thing
Yeah, that’s
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(I’ll tell you one thing, baby, I’m gonna learn to fly)
Coming down is the hardest thing
(Yeah, and fly over my troubles, fly over my worries)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Fly up high in the blue sky, lookin’ down on the world below)
Coming down is the hardest thing
(Yeah, above all my worries, and over my troubles)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Yes, it is, yes it will, gonna work, fly)
Coming down
Baby, that’s the hardest thing
 
 
 

Downtime Can Be Good Time

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Downtime!  A word that can send chills down the most seasoned production manager’s spine especially when it’s unplanned.  These little headaches often arrive in the form of product packaging jams, a broken belt roller, a burned out motor or a blown fuse but are quick fixes with production back up and running usually at most within two hours, (as long as there is a spare motor in the storeroom which I can tell you from experience is not always the case).  Then there are those real shift killers of downtime when a pallet stacker has lost its memory and refuses to be reprogramed or the main screw conveyor that brings product from production snaps and a fire watch must be set up before it can be welded.

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When you encounter a long downtime period whether it is planned or out of the blue you can be the hero if you already have a list of projects ready at hand for just such an occasion.  Depending on contracts, company policies or other past practices when there is no product to pack or produce some employees are able to and may opt to go home, please check into your situation before assuming you’ll have the staffing to accomplish your lists of projects.  However, if you can and want to keep employees busy then you can use the opportunity to actually make your team stronger.  Some items you may want to include on your list are:

1 – Cross-training – One of my favorite things to do during downtime.  I expected my supervisors to work one level up and two levels down and all other staff to be able to accomplish at least two functions.  For a shipping forklift driver on the dock that meant they could also pick an order via voice or operate the bailer.  This helped greatly during peak season and was able to reward employees with higher hourly salaries based on the number of jobs they could perform.  Downtime is the best time to refresh or conduct training and the best people to train are the ones currently doing the job.

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2 – Drills – Great time to have an emergency drill and see if everyone responds to a spill, gas leak, fire or employee injury as they should and make sure they use all the emergency PPE required for those emergencies to ensure they properly function.  Breaking the group up into teams and competing in response times can make the training fun.  Rewards for winning teams can be pizza, sandwiches or one team serving breakfast to another.

3 – Walk Around (Gemba walk) – It’s also a great opportunity to walk your facility to see if there are any issues that may need to be addressed.   Sometimes when you are caught up in the day to day activities going on around you, it’s easy to miss small issues like bent rack support, missing fire extinguisher label or burnt-out light.  Make notes and get those things repaired immediately.  One thing I have found out over the years if your facility looks good people don’t look deeper as they have confidence you know what you are doing and besides you owe it to your employees to give them a clean organized place to work.  Don’t know if you’ve heard the term Gemba walk, but it’s part of Six Sigma a philosophy on improving and solving problems.  I love the sound of the name, Gemba but you can call it whatever you want.  Google Six Sigma, 5S, or Gemba when you get a chance it’s an interesting aspect to add to your repertoire.

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4 – Cleaning – One activity that never gets done enough especially since a lot of companies have severely reduced or totally eliminated their sanitation departments.  Keep a list of areas and equipment that would benefit from a good deep cleaning.  Other areas to consider would be dusting the racks, cleaning under the dock levelers (it’s amazing what collects under there), sorting pallets, washing ceilings, or dealing with the dreaded employee refrigerator.

What other tasks would you tackle during downtime?  When it comes to downtime for retooling, modifying changes to production lines or yearly maintenance that is another situation altogether as most employees considered non-essential for retooling must take their vacations like it or not.  Some companies track downtime for performance-related issues and determining future expenditures as well as longevity of equipment and materials but think how good your production report will look when you have downtime but demonstrate what you accomplished to make the company better.  Yes there are companies that understand stuff happens but more interested if you can make lemonade.  So far be it from me to tell you what to do with your employees during downtime but make sure you’re not missing out on that golden opportunity?

 

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It’s 9 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Contractors Are?

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As your company grows in sales and expands to accommodate more SKUs, greater inventory, new machinery, and additional employees at one time or another, your business is going to need help from an outside contractor.  They may be in the form of an engineering consultant, general contractor, painter or other types of specialists needed for a project well beyond your or your staffs’ current expertise.

When you make that final selection on your outside contractor before you sign anything make sure to do your homework and check up on their history.  If it all comes back good and you’re ready to offer a contract for the work to be done, on their first day at your facility they should be treated like any other new or temporary/seasonal worker that you bring in and participate in a safety orientation before doing anything. 

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Why?  They don’t know what your expectations are on safety and you don’t want to assume they do.  They don’t know your facility very well and you want to make sure as heck that they don’t contaminate your staff with their bad habits.  You also want to make sure they know that if their workers don’t follow those rules at your facility they’ll be banned from entering.  It’s your facility, your rules and you don’t need additional headaches because an outside contractor couldn’t follow direction and is now in need of medical attention.

You’d be amazed how many outside contractors are injured or killed every year on the job because they either cut corners on safety procedures, were traveling (via foot, electric cart, forklift) in an unfamiliar layout, lack of training or the company didn’t communicate instructions to them properly or incorrectly.  Here’s a contractor who’s paying a hefty fine for not following safety rules.  OSHA Fines Contractor $94K After Worker Burned At McDavid Sawmill and here’s another contractor being investigated for a chemical spill, OSHA investigating contractor B.L. Harbert over Birmingham Water Works chemical spill

As I stated earlier, it’s amazing the number of contractors injured or killed and it appears this is becoming a more serious problem as the numbers have increased.  A sharp rise in US contract workers killed on the job

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We hired an outside contractor to do some work on a new production line we were installing and it involved electrical and concrete work.  The main mode of transport within the facility was by man-lift, elevator or stairs with man-lift being the main one and the rule was if you rode the man-lift you didn’t carry a backpack, tools or other cumbersome items.  If you dropped it someone could be injured below or if it got caught riding up you could fall.  Our maintenance crew knew to take their carts and equipment up by the elevator.  The outside contractor didn’t go through any safety orientation as the company assumed all would be well.

A few days after the work began there was a commotion on one of the upper levels in the facility and our in-house emergency team responded to a call at the north man-lift where someone had fallen.  It was one of the contractors and it was bad enough that a call was made to 911 for an ambulance.  He was in a rush and had decided he didn’t want to wait for the elevator but took his tools up the lift with him and wound up falling two stories.  He broke both ankles, a leg, two ribs, a shoulder and sustained back and head injuries.

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The very next day the company had every manager doing recertification on every employee in their department.  I had to watch all 60 of my staff get on the lift, one at a time go up one flight, get off and then come back down one flight.  Documented it for all and then had myself recertified.  A fun evening was had by all.  Here lies the problem.  When you don’t take care of business the right way the first time, by proper training, proper documentation, you wind up spending and wasting time documenting while trying to keep production going full speed just to cover the company’s ass.

However, this will not be a problem at your facility and you will be in full control if you follow these guidelines:

  1. This is your facility, your rules, you are in charge!  As the supreme leader responsible for what goes on, it’s your rules of the road that are followed to protect everyone from employees to outside visitors.
  2. Any individual from the outside contractor must complete your in-house safety orientation. This is important especially if your facility has man lifts, elevators, confined spaces, danger areas, and flammables.
  3. Constant sustained communication between the contractor and you, the hiring company is critical to everyone’s safety.  What equipment will they be using that day, noise level, dust level and so on?
  4. To achieve #3 designate a point person at your company for the contractor to communicate with, answering any questions at any time while the contractors are physically on-site.
  5. Check-in and check out daily with the contractor.  Greet them upon arrival, go over any new details and see them when they leave.
  6. Stop by periodically to touch base and see how the work is progressing and that the contractor’s workers are not wondering anywhere they shouldn’t be.
  7. Don’t hesitate to ban any outside worker not following the rules or committing an unsafe act.
  8. It’s your facility, you are in charge, be in charge.

 

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The TopTen OSHA Violations Before Christmas. On the Eve Day

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It’s Christmas Eve at the Northpole and everybody is busy and celebrating!  Santa and the elves did an outstanding job of fixing all the violations which included hours of training and practice and then completing the seemingly impossible task of getting all the toys and gifts that boys and girls around the world had asked Santa for produced and loaded on the sleigh!  This could only have been accomplished thanks to the great team effort of the elves.

That’s what it takes when it comes to safety at the workplace,  It takes a team of dedicated workers watching each other’s backs and reminding how to properly deal with hazards.  Even if the call for safety doesn’t come from the top executives you can still control what goes on in your work area.  You make the decision to wear your PPE, (safety goggles, ear protection, dust mask, and bump caps.  You make the decision to wear your fall protection gear, you make the decision to work on your machine without LOTO.  You make the decision to inspect your forklift before using it.

It is against the law to bully or threaten an employee to commit an unsafe act.  It is against the law to tamper with any kind of safety shutoff.   Yes, some companies are disrespectful dumbasses and may fire you for insubordination but do you want to work for a company that doesn’t care enough about whether you live or die on the job?   You do have OSHA in your corner.  That’s why they have an 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA) HOTLINE.  

Tomorrow is Christmas day, and around our beautiful country, as families gather and celebrate the holiday, there will be over 5,000 empty seats.   Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, cousins will not be there because they died in an industrial accident this year.  We will miss the way they carved the ham, that special pie she made, the awful jokes Uncle told or the great laugh she had.  They will be missed and the heartache will have to be relived all over again.  We are all like snowflakes, no two alike.  Each with our own combination of skills and talents which makes us unique.  We come into this world for a short time to accomplish goals, have families, make a comfortable living.  You never know if they were the one with the next cure for a disease or invention to benefit the human race.

Thank you for stopping by and taking time out of your busy day to read our presentation of the TopTen OSHA Violations before Christmas.  The reception has greatly exceeded our expectations and that’s only because of great fans like you. Thank you.  Wish you all a Happy Chanukah and a Merry Christmas.

 

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The TopTen OSHA Violations Before Christmas. On the First Day

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Santa received a notice of violation( 1926.102) lack of PPE – Eye and Face Protection. This is #10 on OSHA’s TopTen violations for 2019.

The industrial revolution provided us with many great inventions of machinery.  Machinery is great because it helps to do the jobs of drilling, sanding, polishing, cutting, shaping, bending a lot easier and more efficiently.  However, as most machines do, they are also loud and noisy when used which creates a new set of problems.

As you can see, the elf busy drilling holes is not wearing any PPE.  In this environment, how many kinds of PPE should the elves be wearing?  At least,

  1. Safety goggles or face shield – Prevents the wood chips from the drilling entering your eye creating serious sight issues or from hitting your face.
  2. Dust mask – Prevents you from inhaling wood sawdust into your lungs.
  3. Earplugs or other hearing protection – Prevents the loud noises from damaging your ears and hearing.

Can you think of any other PPE?  Will this be enough to fix this ticket let alone save Santa’s workshop?  Find out tomorrow.  On the Second Day.

 

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Are You Prepared?

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California. Always unique in many ways and last week was no exception.  As the headlines will tell you, we celebrated the fourth of July with a 6.4 Earthquake Rocks Los Angeles Area on Fourth of July and of course, that was upstaged by No deaths reported after 7.1 earthquake rocks Ridgecrest and California soon after.  When the ground shook near Ridgecrest in San Bernardino County it created an expected reaction from the media and the public of reminding everyone that we live in earthquake country and that means we need to be prepared for the big one which WILL happen at any time, any day any night, either a Monday or a Sunday or even during a World Series game.  So let this be yet another awake up call for those of you who just keep putting off getting that “To-Go” bag and/or survival kit assembled.

This is why I’m concerned, not enough of us are prepared and ready for that coming catastrophe.  Now would be the best time to put together that kit while it’s fresh on your mind and with the kids home from school on vacation you can make it a family project and include items that’ll keep everyone happy.  If you don’t have the time to put a kit together then sit down right now, go online and purchase a “ToGo” bag now!MintyOptimisticAsiaticmouflon-max-1mb

Some believe the aftermath will only be a slight inconvenience and that calling 911 will take care of it all your issues, that’s why we pay taxes right?  Sorry to tell you that a lot of cities, of all sizes, struggle daily with their budgets and juggling the cost of firefighters, police, infrastructure repair & maintenance, parks, and recreation, public transit, administrative staffing, courts, pensions, and lawsuits.  The level of city services is not what they once were while some large cities like NYC have fabulous central commands staffed with well-trained people directing other well trained, dedicated folks, ready and able to respond to any emergency, smaller cities do not have that luxury and even with the heroic efforts of first responders, emergency services can be quickly overwhelmed.  Immediately after a large-sized earthquake, they would be immediately tied up responding to the hundreds of calls they would receive in the first few hours.  During Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area alone, they had over 75,000 emergency calls in the first four days. 

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In my town with a population of 122,105 living within 49.5 sq. miles, on any given shift there are only 21 firefighters on duty.  That’s 21 to safely handle house fires including multi-level homes, car crashes and related injuries, medical emergencies, grass fires, hazardous material spills, and other assorted emergencies.  Throw in an earthquake and now you have 21 firefighters resorting to triage to handle the hundreds of calls that will pour into 911 making severe trauma and heavy bleeding priority and those with minor injuries will have to wait or treat themselves.  What’s worse is they can’t count on backup from the other shifts reporting in due to the possible poor conditions of the roads, bridges, and fires as many firefighters live out of town.  Mutual aid will not arrive as they’ll be too busy with their own town’s emergencies.

That’s why you need to put an emergency kit together.  Until the utilities get back online and first responders can get to you, you are on your own.  This is not just for the home but your place of work should also have an emergency kit that everyone in the facility knows about. Earthquakes have no clock.  Stock it well and keep an eye on expiration dates. FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) website says you should have enough food and water for each person for at least 3 days, but one to two weeks is advised.  So please,  don’t just nod your head in agreement.  DO IT!  If you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask, or reach out to other experts or to the FEMA website.  Oh, and by the way, as a side note, when was the last time you changed the batteries in your smoke/carbon detector?

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My Survival Chest – This is what I used and put together for our home of two adults and one dog.  I was able to purchase just about everything on Amazon.com.  Use your imagination when it comes to the container and what you want to stash for an emergency.  The Rubbermaid 50 gallon capacity container, waterproof and made of sturdy plastic, it’s durable and on wheels, in case you have to move. Yellow so it can easily be seen.  Now, what items and how much of each do you need to put into your survival chest? Base the amounts to store on a worst-case scenario for your location and take into consideration how isolated your location is.  Are you within city limits or an unincorporated area and are there bridges or tunnels to cross?  I have items for 7 days.  Next, how many people and pets are you planning for?  ie: Two adults and one dog?  

WATER – Plan on 2 gallons per person per day. One gallon for drinking and one gallon for hygiene, sanitation and other.  Multiply 2 gallons with the number of people in the home and don’t forget to include water for your pets.  I have a mixture of bottled water and packaged sterilized water.  I would also add one or two of the straw water filter tools just in case things take longer to get back to normal and you begin to run low on bottled water.   Water can be boiled to sterilize it and if a fire isn’t possible to accomplish this, keep a small bottle of bleach in your kit.  It can be used for purifying water for drinking, 8 drops for a gallon of water, shake and wait thirty minutes.

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FOOD – Any combination of prepared camping meals that you enjoy, freeze-dried fruits and canned goods (make sure to include a can opener) as well as some of your favorite snacks, power bars and chocolate which will come in handy to help with the stress.  Don’t forget to store food for your pets as well and some of their favorite snacks.

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RADIO/CHARGER/BATTERIES – There are several radio choices but my favorite are the ones that have multiple ways to recharge the battery either with a hand crank and solar-powered.  You can leave it in the sun all day to charge or use the hand crank and it also can be used to charge your phone.  The radio is both AM and FM as well as shortwave so you can listen to the latest updates.

Flashlights/batteries/Candles and matches/fire starter – With no electricity, you’ll have to rely on flashlights, candles, and lanterns to illuminate the area.  This is very important for everyone’s safety especially if there is debris on the ground.  Don’t use candles until you know the area is free of gas or other combustibles and never leave candles unattended.  Check your equipment now for the battery size requirements of all your items and store extra batteries in your kit.

 

First aid kit/nonlatex gloves – A first aid kit is a must and can help you greatly for treating minor injuries of family members or neighbors.  If you are trained in first aid then you know gloves are for your protection when treating others.

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Latrine/Outhouse – Chances are you may not have running water after an earthquake and not just due to water main breaks but the pump station may have lost power or been damaged and they will also take time to check infrastructure before turning the water back on.  One item that can help is the Backpack John which I recently added to my emergency kit.  It takes up little space and is easy to use to all ages and sizes.  

Sleeping bags/tents – It is possible that your home may not be safe for occupancy after a large earthquake.  If you have a large yard in the front or back you may want to set up a tent for protection from the elements.  Our tent can sleep 8.  Even if you can stay in your home, it would help get the kids through this by setting the tent up inside and pretend you’re on a family camping trip.  Sleeping bags to keep warm and comfy.  A tarp in your kit can help protect from rain or use to keep you off the ground or help move someone who can’t get around on their own.

Blankets/warm clothes – Natural disasters don’t care what time of year it is so be prepared and keep some extra sweatshirts, jackets in the kit along with blankets for those chilly nights.  Other items to include, nylon rope, duct tape, plastic garbage bags.

Make sure to keep an inventory of what’s in your emergency kit along with the expiration dates of those items so you can replace them when needed.   Designate a meet area so you know everyone who was in the house or apartment is out.   Phone traffic will be crazy as people call 911 for assistance, family members calling to tell others they’re fine and family members calling to find out if loved ones are fine along with the possibility of downed cell towers.  I suggest you designate a family member who lives in another state as the contact person you can call to say you are fine and then let them contact everyone else about your status.

You can get more information about how to prepare for a natural disaster or other emergencies by going to the FEMA web site at fema.gov and get stuff like an Earthquake Safety Checklist and other great information.  Check it out but don’t wait too long as it’ll be hard to research and prepare when you’re in the middle of a disaster.  Really, do it now!

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The Hawaiian Shirt Rebellion

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Some times the best way to improve morale in a company is with a subversive action especially if it just ever so slightly breaks a rule and has been coordinated with the entire staff.

Our family-owned company had recently been bought by a large corporation.  We were their new shining addition to the family and after a long grueling process of upgrading our systems and intercommunications, we learned the new rules of the road.  New training, new reports, new programs, new ways of doing things and new dress code.  Morale was very low and our new corporate masters were not seeing it at all and just kept pushing without stopping even for a second so we could catch our breath. 

The leaders of the resistance were all young professionals in their late 20’s to early ’30s. Even though we each worked in a different department, (engineering, maintenance, production, quality control, and facilities) we had become pretty tight over the years not only because we were close in age but our eclectic mix of personalities worked so well and our positions naturally had us working together to resolve production issues.  We also went to ballgames after work together, Oakland A’s were only a few BART stations away and we shared drinks on Fridays to celebrate our victories and console our loses that week.  

Even though the statute of limitations has long expired I still will not reveal the other members of the resistance but admit that I was one of the members.  On one particular Friday, while drinking and complaining, it came up that July 1st was around the corner and the beginning of the new fiscal year.  What could we do to celebrate the occasion and help break up the funk at work and get morale back to where it needed to be.  There was a definite correlation between the number of drinks consumed and the innovation and creativity of ideas put forward by the group.  Silliness turned to anger and then anger back again to silliness.  The drinks and hours went by until we broke for the night and our weekend.

Monday morning seemingly came around too fast and at our morning break, we again went over our plan to make sure this is the statement we wanted to make.  The six of us talking just above whispers and constantly looking over our shoulders so no one else could hear us or most importantly know we were behind what was about to happen.  We thought a strategic strike against the new dress code would get a smile out of almost everyone.  Previously there was no dress code except the unwritten rule of, when we had visitors at the plant we had to wear slacks and a button shirt and now we had to dress that way every day.  They wouldn’t even listen to having a dress down Friday.  We swore our allegiance to each other after the break and each put their part of the plan into play.

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The fake memo was completed by one member and the copies made late at night by another and I came in extremely early to place memos directly on the employees desk.  The company leadership such as the President, VP’s and Plant Manager were left off the distribution list.  The memo on the usual company letterhead was plain and simple.  A picture of a Hawaiian shirt and the following,  “To Celebrate the new fiscal year, Friday has been declared as Hawaiian shirt day!  Wear your best Hawaiian shirt and be ready to party.”

The rest of the week we monitored all gossip and conversations to make sure this was still a secret, really going to happen and be a pleasant surprise for all.  Friday came and we met in the employee lot, donning our Hawaiian shirts and to no surprise, all of us had brought a backup outfit just in case it really went south as we had no idea what kind of participation we would get from the rest of the staff.  People sounded excited about the idea but would it carry all week?  We huddled, put our hands in and shouted, “GO HAWAII”!  

The six of us walked in together to meet our destiny, but were stopped in our tracks by our dropped jaws and were totally blown away!  Not only did most of the staff arrive wearing Hawaiian shirts, but the rest had brought them and changed into them here.  Some really embraced the spirit of the day and were wearing leis or playing ukeleles and a few had plastic blow-up palm trees and one surfboard.  Then there was a sound coming from the lunchroom that we hadn’t heard in a while.  Laughter.  People were laughing, talking, smiling and enjoying themselves. WE did it! 

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Then the inquisition came. Our VP of Human Resources was a particularly special stick in the mud.  No sense of humor, no jokes, no laughs and extremely pompous.  If you had the misfortune of a meeting with him they always took twice as long as with anyone else since he constantly took phone calls during the meeting so you can add rude to the list as well.  Our VP of HR began his investigation into Hawaiigate and seek out the culprit or culprits responsible!  First, the usual suspects’ were interrogated and then other people were summoned to the office and asked, “Where did this memo come from?”  They all answered as we hoped, it was on my desk when I arrived.  Each member of the resistance was also called into his office, one at a time and asked if we knew or heard anything?  We all responded in kind, as shocked as he was that this could happen but had no clue as to who.

Mr. VP of HR eventually gave up his witch hunt and no one was ever punished for the crime but a flurry of new policies followed along with the consequences for future infractions of HR law. The President of the company actually loved the Hawaiian shirt idea so much,  every Friday was now a dress-down day and the second Friday of each month was a different themed employee day. 

Sometimes the only way to shake a culture up is with a little internal rebellion.   

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