Hurricane Sandy is on it’s way and up and down the eastern seabord folks are scrambling trying to get themselves prepared.
But how do you actually prepare for something like this? What do you do? In a weird coincidence of timing, Walmart had offered all of the Walmart Moms to do a post on the topic of their choice and, thinking ahead to the winter and the chance of blizzards, I had chosen “Storm Preparation” as my topic. Little did I know I’d have an actual storm on the way so soon!
There are many things to think about when dealing with a storm, be it a Tornado, Hurricane, Nor’easter or Blizzard. It can get overwhelming. So lets break it down into the main areas you need to think about and then go through them one by one It’s a huge list with a lot of information, so I’m breaking this post up into Part 1 and Part 2
Part 2 (follow on post)
4) Fire (light/heat/electricty)
5) Health and Sanitation
We all have to eat! But how do you keep food from spoiling and get everything cooked when the power is out?
1) Have easy to cook and eat foods on hand.
You really don’t want to have to do any kind of complicated cooking in the middle of a storm or while dealing with post storm cleanup. During the storm easy and filling are the name of the game–even better if you stock up things you can eat without heating if necessary-think heat and serve soups, canned pasta, canned chili etc. Next up are the items that are easy to cook but take a bit more effort. Boil in a bag rice. Canned meats. Instant coffee. Powdered creamer. Powdered or shelf stable milk.
If you’ve got a gas stove or a wood stove with a cooking surface you are golden when the power goes out. If you’ve got an electric range, well, you are out of luck. Even if you have a generator, using it to power your big old range is not the most efficient use of your limited power. You should have at least one alternate method of cooking and boiling water in order to be prepared for a storm. Items like grills, camp stoves and even little Sterno stoves are good alternative cooking methods! Just make sure you have enough fuel (propane, butane, sterno or wood) for your stove and please, please follow safety and ventilation precautions while using them.
Personally we plan on using our grill with the side burner, our Coleman propane camp stove and now a slick little Sterno Emergency Stove. We picked up several extra canisters of propane at Walmart as well.
Keeping things cold isn’t really a problem in a blizzard–after all, the entire outside is a huge deep freeze. But in hurricanes power outages often mean the fear of losing hundreds of dollars worth of frozen goods. To have the best chance of keeping your frozen goods frozen–don’t open the freezer! Freezers are well insulated boxes–if you keep the door closed as much as possible the interior will stay cold for quite a long time. If you have a generator use it judiciously to bring the temperature down. If you are at all concerned about the safety of any food please err on the side of caution.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a 16 page PDF on “Food and Water in an Emergency“. It’s a good resource with tips not only about what types of food to store and how long they last, but other things like what order to use things up if the power goes out, nutritional needs, and a lot about water.
Speaking of water. . .
Clean drinkable water is a necessity–as is water for hygiene. The general recommendation is 1 gallon of water per person per day–that’s half a gallon to drink and half a gallon for food preparation and hygiene. Remember, if it’s hot, if you have nursing mothers or small children you probably need even more. FEMA says to be prepared with water for 72 hours (3 days)-personally I think that is underestimating it. . . I’d rather be prepared for a week or so just in case.
If you are on a well, then when the power goes out your well pump stops working and you immediately lose water from your tap and to flush your toilets. If you are on municipal water you may continue to have water come out of the faucet either for quite a while or the entire duration depending on if your water requires a pump somewhere in the system or is gravity fed. Even if your water continues to come out of the faucet it may not be drinkable–flooding frequently causes problems with municipal water systems where contaminants wind up in the water rendering it unsafe for drinking unless sterilized. That’s where those “boil water advisories” come in.
So how can you store water?
You can head on in to Walmart and buy water in gallon jugs or individual servings. This is convenient and easy–but can take up a lot of storage space and money. Plus the stores tend to get wiped out of water as soon as folks realize a storm is coming!
2) You can store your own water.
Drinking water in the US is of high quality and can be easily stored at home. You can either purchase products specifically intended for water storage or store your own in a variety of food safe containers.
The commercially available water jugs can be found in your Walmart or other retailer camping section. They usually are in 5 gallon or 7 gallon sizes and are made of a heavy duty food grade plastic. This can store a decent amount of water–but the jugs are rather pricey. Of course they will last a long long time.
You can also store water in other well washed food safe containers. 2 liter soda bottles, milk jugs and vinegar jugs come to mind. These containers are not necessarily good for long term storage-for example the thin plastic of the milk jugs have been known to leak over time-but they will work when prepping for an immediate situation. Make sure that these containers are well washed and then consider sanitizing with a bleach/water solution (1tsp of bleach to 1 quart of water according to FEMA) and then rinsing with clean water to make sure you’ve gotten out anything that might encourage bacterial growth.
3) You can utilize additional, unusual water sources.
There are a few large receptacles in your house that you may not have considered for storing water. A standard bathtub will hold about 50 gallons of water. Your washing machine (if it isn’t HE) will probably hold 20 or 30 gallons (just start it empty with the lid up so it fills but doesn’t wash or drain). Your hot water heater probably has 30 or 40 gallons in it (do you know how to drain it?). If you have a pool or a hot tub then you’ve got a large amount of water there.
Of course unless you have a filtering system (and no, a Brita or PUR or any of those is not sufficient in this case) I would only use those types of water for washing dishes, washing people and force flushing the toilet (ie pouring water into the bowl of the toilet to make it flush).
A NOTE ON TREATING WATER
According to FEMA’s PDF on “Food and Water in an Emergency” as long as you have water that is already chlorinated and you are putting it in a clean container you do not need to add anything addition to keep the water safe. If you are using non chlorinated water add 2 drops of unscented bleach. They recommend only storing this water for 6 months before rotating it out.
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office has a great page on Emergency Drinking Water Supplies as well–they address water treatment devices and have a chart for treating water with bleach and include directions for several other ways to make water safe to drink such as boiling and distillation. Please note that they recommend 1/4 tsp of bleach per gallon of water, which is a lot more than FEMAs 2 drops. Personally I go with the higher 1/4 tsp to be on the safe side.
For most of us shelter in a storm preparedness situation means hunkering down at home. You should of course be prepared mentally to evacuate–if you had to leave where would you go, what routes might you take, and how would you figure out how to get there if your GPS was dead?
If you are “sheltering in place” there are some things to consider:
1) Protecting your home from the storm.
What types of problems are likely in your area? Flooding? High winds? Storm surge? Think about the possible damages and do as much exterior home preparation as you can. For some folks this can include boarding or taping up windows, using sand bags, or just clearing the area of anything that can become a flying missile in bad winds.
2) Create a safe haven indoors.
If the storm you are preparing for is a tornado or something with high winds, make sure you have a safe place chosen and prepared in your home. Sure, in my house I could run everyone down to our damp, unfinished stone turn of the century basement and we’d be safe–but without any chairs, blankets or lights we’d be pretty uncomfortable.
3) Be prepared with quick fixes for immediate structural damage.
Duct tape and tarps. A fully charged drill. Screws. Seriously–have some supplies laid in and accessible to be able to deal with the immediate issues you’d have if a tree limb came through a window or a section of your roof went out. You don’t want to be running out to your detached garage in gale force winds looking for the tarps and the drill bit attachments.