This is the second part of a post on Storm Preparedness–Make sure you read Storm Preparation with Walmart Part 1 as well!
In Part 1 we covered:
In this post we will be covering:
Part 2 (follow on post)
4) Fire (light/heat/electricty)
5) Health and Sanitation
Let’s dive right in!
When we think about big storms, usually the first thing to come to mind is power outages. When a large area is affected the problem is not only that the power goes out, but that even with crews working around the clock power outages could last well beyond the storm itself.
Power is critical in many ways-so much is run by electricity these days. I’m going to break it up into the various areas .
Candles and oil lamps are the classic response to a power outage. They are easy and fairly inexpensive–but make sure you use extreme caution. Never leave a candle or oil lamp burning unattended. Also make sure you have plenty of matches or lighters. A candle without a match is, well, useless.
Flashlights are another great lighting option. Make sure you either have plenty of batteries or a nifty crank version. Another “flashlight” type option are the LED Headlamps that are now available. Imagine trying to wash dishes or fill up the generator in the dark while holding a flashlight. Now imagine doing the same thing while wearing a headlamp that frees up your hands for the task and also automatically points the light in whatever direction you are looking. It might look dorky but BOY is it handy.
There are many different styles of LED Lanterns you can also purchase. These are great for camping, power outages and even just lighting outside at night. LEDs take very little power compared to traditional incandescent lightbulbs, so the batteries last a long time.
You may want to consider making your life a bit easier with a “blackout kit”–basically just dedicate a storage tub to all your “if the lights go out” supplies and place it somewhere easy to get at. If the power goes out, viola, pull it out and let there be light!
I grew up in the north, so I always worry about staying warm in a power outage. Sure-if it’s summer it’s not exactly an issue (but then you’ve got the opposite-staying cool) but in the fall, spring and definitely the winter it’s a concern.
First things first-dress for successes. If it’s cold you are going to want to wear layers. When you layer clothing it traps air in between each layer making a more effective insulation. Wool is one of the best fibers to wear in a cold weather situation because not only is it very warm, but even if it gets wet it still keeps you warm. When cotton gets wet it actually can cause you to lose additional heat. Remember, fashion doesn’t matter in a situation like this–you may want to wear a hat or gloves indoors if it is really cold.
Sleeping bags and blankets of course will help you to stay warm both at night and during the day. I’ve even heard some folks suggest that in a cold weather situation you could pitch a camping tent in the living room and then sleep in that so that your body heat can heat up the small area (which it wouldn’t be able to do with a big room).
Drinking warm liquids, teas, broth, cocoa etc will help you to feel warmer in the cold as well.
But how about trying to create heat? If you have wood heat you are laughing at me right now, none of this is a concern. Folks with propane heat/natural gas are also sort of chuckling to themselves For the rest of us, somewhere in our heating system electricity is used. Furnaces need ignition and to run a blower fan or pump. Electric heat, well, uses electricity. Even my super cool pellet stove needs electricity to run the little auger that drops the pellets into the stove and for ignition.
You can either try to make your current heating system work through the use of a generator or inverter (more on that later) or you can have a supplemental heat source. Two heat sources that are readily available are Kerosene Heaters and Propane Heaters.
For both of these options you need to make sure that you have the correct fuel on hand and that you follow all safety precautions. Most heaters require that there is venting in the room–some poisonous gases are odorless, so don’t assume you’d “notice” if there were dangerous fumes. Heaters that rely on a flame should be placed carefully (the directions will tell you how far away from walls, furniture etc it needs to be) and be monitored while running. You want to stay warm, you don’t want to burn down the house.
Once you have a method for heating you will want to consider how to conserve and use that heat the most efficiently. In most cases the best idea will be to choose a room or area to heat and then close off the doors to the rest of the house. This will enable you to warm up one room more quickly and to conserve your fuel.
As a note, if you are having the opposite problem and trying to keep cool in terrible heat you can use the same idea. Choose the smallest room with a window that you can close off and use a small window air conditioner run off of a generator or inverter to give a refuge from the heat.
The most basic form of power that everyone reading this probably has in their home are batteries. Make sure you keep batteries on hand that fit your most used tools and appliances. If you have warning of a storm make sure all equipment and electronics you might want to use are charged up fully and then unplugged from the grid (you don’t want it to fry!).
Rechargeable batteries are a great option. If you combine them with another power method for charging them (generator or inverter) then you can pretty much have an endless supply of batteries!
This is a huge topic–there is a lot of information out there about generators, how much they can handle and how to use them. I’m not a professional and I’m not even going to pretend that I can speak with too much authority on this subject.
The big point I’d like you to understand that with a generator you aren’t going to be able to just plug in every blasted thing in your home and run it like normal. You will have to look at not only the wattage usage of all the items that you want to run, but also their “starting” wattage. What that means is that although your fridge might run most of the time at 600 watts, when the compressor kicks on it might spike to double that for a short period. You need to take that into account.
To be honest I let Yankee Bill deal with figuring a lot of that out, but there are some good articles and posts out there if you Google. I found this one that has a sizing chart and the steps for figuring out what size generator you need to run things: GENERATOR SIZING and DETERMINING YOUR ENERGY NEEDS.
Our personal plan is to just run the “mission essential” items–hook up some lights, maybe the TV & DVD Player etc. As needed we can run the fridge and freezer one at a time for intervals (say an hour at a time) to keep the interior cool. Then we’ll just try not to open them up much. If it gets cold we’ll use the generator to plug in the pellet stove as well. Everything else just stays unplugged until needed.
Of course always follow the safety precautions for generators. Do not run a generator inside. Do not run it inside an attached garage. Put it out with full ventilation–it will create carbon monoxide! Follow all safety precautions that come with your generator and err on the side of safety.
Ok, these are pretty cool little gizmos. You know that thing you can plug into your cigarette lighter that has a regular household plug on the other side so you can plug in your laptop or whatever? That’s a power inverter! Because of how your car is wired, the cigarette lighter (aka “power port” for those of you too young to remember cigarette lighters in cars) will only give you about 150 watts of continuous power and 450 watts of peak surge power. That’s fine to charge a cell phone, laptop, portable DVD player etc.
If you want more juice, they sell power inverters that hook up directly to your car’s battery. These give you higher wattage and can be used for a wider variety of power needs. Most of the time you can run it off the cars battery with the car off, then occasionally crank up the car and idle it to keep the battery charged. If you take a look at your fridge and freezer, checking the wattage use and the surge use, you might find that one of the higher level inverters–like an 800 watt–may be able to run them for long enough to keep them cool–say for about an hour one at a time while the vehicle is idling (to keep the power flowing–you won’t be able to do this with the car off).
You can pick one of these up in the automotive department of your Walmart or other retailer–probably for under $100 depending on the size. Remember, you can’t just run everything in the house, you’ll have to be selective and probably have to run certain items like AC, fridges and freezers by themselves.
Here’s a pretty extensive post on how to use an inverter as emergency power: Emergency Power Cheap, Battery Inverters
It’s all well and good to have a generator or an inverter, but if you don’t have some good heavy duty extension cords to bring that power into the house then it’s not going to do you much good. Trust me-you want to get some decent cords. You can’t use those thin flimsy ones–they aren’t meant to handle that kind of power. This is NOT a place to skimp.
Health and Sanitation
When things are already a mess you really don’t want to get sick! Sanitation falls in with health because poor sanitation will cause unnecessary sickness. Remember, in a large scale event emergency services may be stretched thin or might not be able to respond in a timely manner due to blocked roads or poor driving conditions. You need to be sure that you can take care of yourself.
1) Take care of basic medical needs.
Do you have a first aid kit? Do you know where everything is? Do you have anyone in the house who is on prescription medications? Do you have enough of those on hand to last you for at least a week–maybe more? Do you have items on hand to deal with the kinds of cuts, bruises and splinters that might result from post storm cleanup? Band aids, triple antibiotic ointment, rubbing alcohol, and the like are useful.
2) Be prepared to keep clean.
Make sure you’ve got preparations to keep yourself clean, and therefore more healthy, for the duration of the storm and aftermath. Not only do you need that water that we talked about in Part 1, but you need plenty of soap. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are also useful. If you really want to be in the top 10% of the prepared, consider buying a “camp shower” bag that you can fill with water and hang inside your shower for a “the power’s out and the water has stopped running” shower.
3) Be prepared to deal with human waste.
Ok, it’s gross, but it’s a fact of life. We all go to the bathroom.
Even if the water isn’t running most of the time you can still make the toilet work using a method called “force flushing”. Basically if you pour water into the toilet bowl it will cause the toilet to flush.
If there is a problem where your water isn’t running and somehow the sewage isn’t working you can be in for a really, really big (and disgusting) health hazard. One way to deal with that is to have a 5 gallon bucket that you can line with 2 extra heavy duty trash bag. Use it as your “facility” and either toss in some kitty litter or a bit of bleach after every use. As needed tie it up and set it aside to be dealt with post disaster.
Communications and Security
We are used to being connected 24/7 these days. With smart phones, tv, tablets and more we’ve got all the info we’d ever need at our fingertips. But what happens if your cell phone dies? If your router (and thus your wifi) aren’t working? I don’t know about you, but I don’t even have a “real” landline anymore. If the power goes out, my phone goes out. Information and communication are important in any disaster–what do you do?
1) Make sure you have multiple methods to charge your cell phone.
Most phones can be charged via wall, car or laptop/computer. Make sure you have the cables and ability to use all of those in a power outage.
2) Help your phone battery last as long as possible.
In a power outage situation you want your cell phone battery to go as long as possible in between charges. Make sure you turn off “push” notifications for email and other apps so that your phone isn’t constantly “waking up” to go out and check the wifi or data network. You can also adjust your screen brightness down to conserve battery power.
3) Add critical phone numbers into your phone now, then make a paper copy for good measure.
You don’t want to have to try to look up the number for the power company in an emergency situation. What if the towers are down? What if you can’t google? You should have key phone numbers already in your phone. Power company. Water company. Tree services (for fallen trees). Insurance company (with the policy number in the notes). Family and friends. Your doctor’s office. The highway department. Anything you can think of you might need. Again, have it ready to go in the phone AND WRITTEN DOWN.
4) Walkie Talkies
If you have walkie talkies make sure they are charged. You may have family members spread around the neighborhood helping folks out–if cell service is down or spotty walkie talkies can help fill in the gap.
Finally a word about security.
I hate to be a debbie downer–but there are folks out there who might walk off with an unattended generator. Consider a cable/chain/padlock or some such to secure any outdoor equipment that you might be concerned about.
If things go on for long enough (think Katrina) folks seem to lose some of their social inhibitions and there is always the chance of increased crime. Take a look at your house and think about how someone might approach it. If you live in they type of place where “no one locks their doors”–it might be a time when you want to do so. Don’t leave equipment or tools lying out unattended where someone may think it is easy to walk off with it. This is a time for community, so check up on your neighbors. Have everyone keep their eyes peeled for suspicious activity in the neighborhood. I’m not going to get into a big discussion on this post about 2nd amendment rights (although I do intend to address it eventually) but if you have weapons in the house just make sure you know where they are, where the ammo is and that everything is in good condition.
So there you have it, a big run down on basic storm preparation. I hope that I’ve given you some things to think about and that everyone stays safe in this an all future storms. Take care!