Are You Ready For Disaster?

Welcome Instapundit Readers!  Please note that I do not claim to be a preparedness expert, and would like to encourage your thoughts and comments, particularly anything specific to your neck of the woods!

Two days ago, my town was ravaged by a massive storm.  Trees were ripped out of the ground throughout the city, and thousands of us were without power for long periods of time.  It was ugly, though my community dodged a bullet since, despite the number of trees down, remarkably few were hurt.

Photo by Tim Patterson, From Flikr
Photo by Tim Patterson, From Flikr

Also luckily, the power outage at my place was from 10:30 pm to about 8:30 am, a time when most people are doing some sleeping.  However, it still reminded me of just how important it is to be prepared for situations like this.

I’m not talking about going full on prepper, though that’s not a bad way to be prepared for a nasty storm, but I am talking about the basic preparedness that even the United States government says you should take on.

Men, it’s in your roles as both provider and protector that you should take it upon yourself to make sure you’re prepared for such events.  However, I will also say that this isn’t just a man thing.  Everyone should be prepared for disaster.

First, the most likely thing you’ll have to deal with is power outages.

In the day time, power outages are a mild annoyance, but as they go on, they can become an issue.  First and foremost, you need light.  Many folks like the idea of a propane lantern for camping, and they work great for that but do not use one in your house.  It can kill you.

Instead, I used a combination of oil lamps, battery operated lanterns, and candles.  (I’m assuming you already have the ubiquitous flashlights floating around the house.)

The oil lamps and candles come with a fire risk, so do not leave them unattended and have a fire extinguisher handy.  Battery lanterns are, of course, perfectly safe.  However, I do recommend that you have plenty of batteries on hand for obvious reasons.

While it wasn’t an issue for us, the cold could have been a problem, so make sure you have plenty of blankets on hand to keep warm.  If you have a fireplace or a wood stove, even better.  My next home will have one of the two, just so it’s not a concern.

 

Next, you may need to eat during the time the power is down.  Sure, if power is still up in some places, you might be able to order a pizza, but don’t count on that.

If you’ve got a wood stove, a fireplace, or even a gas stove, you’re probably good to go.  The wood stove and fireplace will probably need cast iron cookware and practice before you need it, though, so don’t forget about that.  Luckily, your gas stove should be fine.

But what if you don’t have one of those?

Camp stoves exist, and if weather permits, you can use those on the porch to prepare supper.  Like the lanterns, if used in the house the possibility for carbon monoxide poisoning exists.  You can do it if you have proper ventilation, and you’re also using it for a shorter duration, but I’ll be honest here.  I had a close encounter with carbon monoxide ages ago, and I’m more than a little paranoid about the stuff.  Personally, I lean more towards having stuff I can eat without cooking if I can’t cook outside.  If you do use a camp stove indoors, that’s on you.

Obviously, you will also need food.  For power outages, if you keep your fridge and freezer closed, they’ll generally hold onto the cold.  After 10 hours of no power, we had nothing in the freezer thaw and everything in the fridge was still cold.  So minimize trips to the fridge as much as possible.

I recommend having some foods that can be heated up and served.  Dried foods like beans and rice can be cooked, but they require a fair bit of fuel for whatever you’re using.  If you have plenty, then no worries.  Otherwise, I’d stick with canned meals like beef stew, chili, or even canned pasta.  No, they may not be healthy, but eating is the most important thing right now.

Those are the big things but don’t forget about the small stuff.  For me, I have an inner ear condition that causes dizziness from time to time, especially under conditions like near total darkness.  We normally have a light on somewhere so I can get a bit of that light and not have a problem, but with the power out, that’s an issue.  That means this is something I need to account for and plan accordingly.

Of course, if you’ve got the money, a generator will take care of all of your problems.  Fire it up and have power for your whole house.  Unfortunately, they’re expensive and most folks have a hard time justifying the expense.

Now, this isn’t a comprehensive list, just something to get you started.  I recommend every man be ready for such emergencies. After all, small stuff like this will happen from time to time, so make the necessary adjustments so it’s nothing more than a mild annoyance.

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10 thoughts on “Are You Ready For Disaster?”

  1. You must have live in one of the towns hard hit by storms in the South. Here in the North a generator is not a nice-to-have. If the power goes out in the winter, no amount of blankets will keep you warm enough. And water pipes freeze. You can buy a portable generator that can power the furnace, water heater and some lights for under $1,000.

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    1. You’re right. I’m in Southwest Georgia, and we got our butts kicked on Monday. Worst storm damage I’ve seen in down, and we occasionally get full force hurricanes coming through.

      I’ve never lived north of the Mason-Dixon line, so I freely admit that I am probably wrong about the generator for you guys up North. Under those circumstances, you’re absolutely right.

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  2. Here in South Texas power fails more frequently in the warm months during severe thunderstorms, which knock out power to thousands of homes in a single stroke. Lighting is the big need; we keep a couple bags of tea candles handy, and burn them in small canning jars to keep them safe. Oh, and keep a few recycled 2-gallon jugs of ice in the CLOSED freezer.

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  3. Don’t forget the most important disaster aid you’re likely to have. That’s your car. It can provide heat, light, and power. Yes, it may be a bit crowded if your whole family has to squeeze in to make it through a chilly night, but that will beat freezing in a badly damage house. And for long-term disasters, where the power may be out for a week or more, you may find your best move is to get in that car and drive someplace not affected. That’s common when hurricanes hit the Gulf coast.

    You can prepare that car by filling up the tank when a storm looms and never letting it drop below a half-tank. You might even look into getting the switching gadgetry that boaters use to keep two batteries charged up, one inside the car for starting and one you carry inside to run basic necessities. That’ll spare you the hassle of maintaining a generator, running it to make sure it is operable and changing out the gas before it goes bad. The more hassle something is, the more likely your are to neglect it.

    Also, understand and get involved in the disaster response teams in your community. Don’t try to lone it out when working together will be far better. Organize your neighborhood too. Circumstances you can easily manage might not be easy for a neighbor who’s elderly or in ill-health.

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  4. The recent wildfires in Gatlinburg Tennessee brought home the need for a Bugout Bag (BOB) and of knowing where your most valuables are (birth certificates, shot records, spare cash, passports, etc), in addition to having 72 hours worth of food readily accessible. Overloading of the cell towers in Gatlinburg may have prevented some residents from receiving the evacuation notice in a timely fashion, but the 80 mph winds caused the fire to spread more rapidly than most folks to react. I keep a 72 hour kit in my truck with food, water, clothing, sleeping bag, emergency radios, etc, so that I can spend 72 hours away from home, but would need to augment that with other supplies and valuables if it looked like I might not be able to return, ever.

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  5. The 72 hour kit above is a great idea. If you don’t have one, and the emergency is nigh. Fill every pot you have with water. Water is the #1 need, you can go without food for a couple of days unless you have a few very specific health needs. In the south you don’t need a generator as big as what the guy above is talking about. Hang blankets in walkways, let other parts of the house go cold, concentrate in one room, Body heat is good. keep your core warm, wear multiple layers in addition to any blankets, it’s ok to sweat and stink, if you have water for hydration. 72 Hour kit for each person (it’s important, if you don’t want to put one together yourself, there are about a bazillion websites where you can order them). A great link for Ideas, https://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse , don’t get thrown off by the title it’s a really good page.

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    1. I remember when the CDC did that page. They said they did it because of the popularity of zombie scenarios and thought people would look at a page done like this than would look at such a listing otherwise.

      Pretty clever, if you ask me.

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  6. I lived in South Florida most of my life, including the 2004-05 hurricane seasons (3 direct eyewall hits in those years). I have been living in North Alabama for almost the last decade, and we get frequent tornadoes including the massive outbreak of 4/27/11 which left the entire north of the state without power for at least 3 days, and up to weeks. You might say I am familiar with weather emergencies and power outages, and I try to stay reasonably prepared.

    A plethora of flashlights is great advice. You want both bright/powerful lights, and small lights to keep on your person at all times. My preference for the latter is the Fenix EO1…it takes ubiquitous AAA batteries, very rugged, good battery life, and they can be purchased for $12 – $15 easily. I sleep with one on a lanyard around my neck when severe weather is expected. I keep other lights at various locations throughout the house. Of course appropriate batteries, in quantity enough to assure several days’ operation.

    Camp stoves are a god-send…I have eaten plenty of meals prepared on one on the front porch following various disasters. Still, I often say if a can of cold beans isn’t the most delicious thing imagineable, you just aren’t hungry enough (and I have pics to prove it LOL). Still, any “luxury” making your life seem a bit more normal (hot coffee…) during stressful periods helps. Keep plenty of non-perishables and canned goods on hand, enough for several days at least, always if you can manage or at least during whatever periods your area might be prone to severe weather.

    A hand-cranked radio is a great idea. If power is out on a large scale, you aren’t getting TV, internet, or cellphone data. But television stations will usually be up and running on generator power and you will be able to listen in on simulcast with your radio. Official broadcasts and other information can be literally life saving, or at very least help you make the wisest decisions. Likewise, a good weather alert radio with battery backup is a must. An hour into a 4-hour continuous onslaught of tornadoes we lost power/cable tv, and the county’s warning sirens failed, so the weather alert radio kept us informed of nearby tornadoes.

    The one thing I didn’t have which I wish I did during these past events is a solar charger. Cellphones may be challenged after weather events due to traffic or loss of towers, but generally if you can get any signal at all, texts will go through eventually even if calls can’t be placed. But none of that matters if your phone is dead. Our ubiquitous smartphones won’t go more than a day or two without a charge, so if power is out longer than that the benefit of a charger should be obvious. I would also recommend a back-up phone…get the cheapest no-contract phone you can find (non-smartphone, so flip or brick). They will have outstanding battery life (several weeks on standby) and can be purchased for as little as $10. Most of the pay-as-you-go providers seem to require a minimum of $20/60 minutes every 90 days…that works out to less than $7 a month. Many will also use multiple providers’ cells so they are not tied to a single company (if you use the Tracfones, etc. instead of say T-Mobile or Verizon prepaid), so your chances of getting a good signal increase.

    Cash reserves are a good idea. If power outage is widespread, there may be some businesses open but they are likely to be cash-only. Nothing like driving around looking for supplies after the fact, eating up valuable gasoline, only to be told over and over again they can’t take your credit or debit card, and all ATMs are offline.

    Finally, yes your car is a valuable asset. Not only as another source for possibly charging electronics or powering an inverter, but depending on the nature of the damage/power outages traveling out of the area either for necessary supplies, or just to get out of an untenable situation may be necessary. If you have any heads-up whatsoever that severe weather or other disaster might be imminent, take the time to put a full tank in the car. After severe weather events, if you can find open gas stations lines will be long, tempers will be frayed, and cash might be king. You’ll wish you had taken the extra 5 minutes to gas up yesterday.

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  7. One heat source to consider is a kerosene heater. There are two basic styles, a big columnar round one (stands about 2 feet tall), and a smaller “radiator” type.

    We have been using the column type for over 10 years. When I first looked into this, I was very concerned about using it inside, wondering how it would be possible to avoid CO. Apparently, when burning the proper fuel (1-K kerosene), there is essentially no CO (OK, some, but not enough to be of concern). I have two CO detectors and a smoke detector in the same room, in the event of any malfunction, but since the heater is just a wick burning the fuel, there is not really anything that breaks.

    The “rap” against kerosene heaters is that they “stink”. For several years, we did notice a distinct odor, very similar to what you might smell at an airport when boarding a jet (jet fuel is similar to the heater fuel). For the past two years, I have been buying 1-K at Lowes or Home Depot. It is not cheap, about $10.50/gallon. The heater has a capacity of 1.99 gallons, and if completely full, will burn for about 20 hours. As an aside, it is best to always refuel it outside, usually with a hand-held “pump” syphon (about $5, usually sold alongside the fuel). If you spill any of the fuel inside, there is a distinct odor, which your wife will promptly bring to your attention and assume that something is wrong with the heater.

    Another “rap” against the heaters is “they are dangerous”. In fact, some of the better Japanese manufactures (kerosene heaters are big in Japan) no longer sell in the US, probably due to product liability issues. From what I have read, the problem here is that idiots put gasoline or some other flammable liquid in for fuel, and then of course, the whole thing ignites with a whoosh and burns the house down. Having only used the correct fuel for over 10 years, I can state that I have never had an issue with unexpected or uncontrolled flare-ups. When first ignited (with 1-K fuel), there is a brief period where the flame “huffs and puffs”, which lasts for about 10 seconds, then it calms down to a pleasant bluish-yellow flame, about 1/2″ high. When I extinguish it (by lowering the wick), it huffs and puffs for a about a minute, then with a little “pop”, it is out.

    The type of heater that I have puts out an enormous amount of heat. We have a fairly large bedroom with a vaulted ceiling, so it gets cold in there. Our house’s heating system is all electric, and the vents are up in the ceiling, so it would take forever and cost way too much to try to use the house’s system for our heat. Within an hour of starting the heater, the temperature in the room is raised about 15 degrees. In a smaller room, it would heat up even more.

    We live in SoCal, where it can get chilly at night (I’m from upstate NY, so I know what real cold can be). Apparently, homebuilders in SoCal didn’t think it would be necessary to insulate the walls or ceilings, and with the aforementioned ceiling mounted heating vents, we needed some alternative.

    Most years, I get by with about 50 gallons of fuel. Before going the expensive Lowes/Home Depot route, we would buy from a local hardware store that dispensed it out of a barrel. But over the past few years, there have been some issues with water getting into the barrel, which absolutely kills the wick. The only solution then is to take the heater apart and install a new wick (about $15 and 1 hour of effort, no special tools involved). Rather than wonder about the quality of the fuel, I just but it from a better source. It is sold in 1 gallon or 5 gallon containers, the 5 gallon container, when you get it, is usually about $8.50/gallon.

    As an alternative or backup heat source, I would endorse a kerosene heater, using good quality fuel.

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