Jenny Piper makes it her business to be prepared.
Piper, who founded West Coast Prepared, was one of the exhibitors at the recent South County Fire-sponsored Emergency Preparedness Expo in Lynnwood. Her company delivers customized disaster kits each month to subscribers living in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California.
Each month, Piper assembles and delivers these kits based on her customers’ location, the season and specific needs based on her consultation. She listens to their fears, priorities and home and life situations and then writes a plan on what they can do.
“That includes both educating themselves, like the Stop the Bleed class, how to organize their supplies, and an Amazon list of suggested purchases, plus any other suggestions, like clearing the brush from at least 30 feet around your home,” she said.
Piper added that she had spent a lot of time coming up with the 12 themes, referring to the different disasters that each season likely brings. She started West Coast Prepared with an “Essentials” box that contained a rain poncho, first aid kit, lighting and similar items.
“I followed up the Essentials box with my ‘Expanded First Aid’ kit in July,” Piper said. “Expanded First Aid means that it goes beyond the typical ‘Band-Aids and burn gel’ items that are in most basic, over-the-counter first aid kits.” What goes in this box depends on the customers’ needs.
Her other seasonal themes include:
• “Illumination” (lighting) in September in case of a blackout
• “Warmth and Shelter” in November when the weather gets wetter and colder
• “Spirit and Entertainment” in December, designed to go with the holiday atmosphere.
• “Road Safety” in January, when there is more ice and snow
“The other themes are just slotted in through the rest of the months of the year,” she said. “All kits have the same items at this time. In emergency management, it’s called the all-hazards model. It means that in most cases, the preps you do are suitable for most hazards you might encounter.”
These items include a flashlight, a crank radio, AA and/or AAA batteries, non-perishable food and first aid supplies.
Piper got the idea for her business during her visit to her sister in Tujunga, California in September 2009. It was right in the middle of the Station Fire burning in Angeles National Forest near La Cañada Flintridge, which is about six miles southeast of her sister’s home. Station Fire is the largest wildfire disaster in the history of Los Angeles County.
“What amazed me in my sister’s preparedness was her three-ring binder with their evacuation plan,” Piper said. “It had lists of everything to pack, what to do around the house, and who was going to do what, including their 3-year-old son (‘grab your favorite stuffie,’ for example).
“My sister was nine months pregnant at the time and had been planning to have the baby at home, so they also had to be ready to pack all their birthing and newborn supplies. I was so impressed by their organization and the thinking that had gone into their prep.”
Since then, Piper had taken online training from FEMA and the CERT course (Community Emergency Response Team) through her local fire district and had taught emergency preparedness workshops for foster parents. She also focused her marketing and providing the kits to women, for two reasons.
“One, because women are the ones in the household who make most of the decisions about disposable income,” Piper said. “Second, there are several other preparedness subscription boxes out there for men, which focus on knives and weapons and advanced preparedness/security. I focus on women and families who are just getting started with preparedness and don’t have any interest in becoming ‘doomsday preppers.’ ”
Damages from natural disasters have been rising almost exponentially since the 1980s. Adjusted for inflation, disasters have cost the U.S. $214 billion from 1980-1989 with an average of three billion-dollar disasters per year.
In the last decade, the cost is nearly $972 billion with an average of 13 billion-dollar disasters per year. And in the 2020s so far, it is nearly $457 billion with an average of 20 such disasters annually.
However, FEMA has reported that a growing number of Americans have reported that they are better prepared for natural disasters in 2020 than in 2013, based on a survey of 5,000 people across the country.
68% of adults have taken three or more of the six basic preparedness actions and have set aside some money for an emergency (an increase of 6% from 2019), but 9% of adults have not taken any preparations in 2020, compared to 21% in 2013.
Piper said that she just wants to focus on the West Coast because her business coaches have taught her to “niche down.”
“I’m most knowledgeable about West Coast disasters, so I feel I can best speak to those in my educational materials, as opposed to things like hurricanes and tornadoes,” she said.
Within the next five years, Piper plans to build some kits for a one-time purchase instead of having a subscription. She is also creating a similar subscription for dogs and cats, which will be out in the next 12-18 months.
“I am also looking to start a fundraising program where schools and other organizations can offer my kits for sale and they will make a portion of the proceeds back,” Piper said. “I conduct occasional workshops so that would be a natural fit with fundraising.”
— Story and photos by Nick Ng