How to Be Prepared for an Emergency - Especially in Winter
I Thought I Was Prepared, But....
A couple years ago, my family lost power for 9 days in the middle of winter. We knew the storm was coming and I had recently been to the grocery store. We had food. Little did I know that we would be surviving - camping out in our house - for nearly two weeks without electricity and running water. Here are some tips I learned about survival:
You need water
The human body is 98% water so you're going to need a lot of it. You also use water every time you wash your hands, cook, do laundry, wash dishes, use the commode, take a shower, make tea, and water the plants.
Take some time to buy bottled water and store it in a cool place. Check on it every six months or so to be sure it's still good, and check the expiration date. Plan on at least a gallon per day per adult.
Or, if you're like me, you have access to fresh spring water. We had to hike - not very far - to get our spring water. It was potable - no boiling necessary. We filled up gallon-size pitchers and brought them back to the house. With this precious water, we filled the commode and kept the rest for drinking water. This was a task that had to be done three times daily.
If you are ever unsure if water is good or not, you can boil vigorously for five minutes to kill bacteria or use iodine tablets.
- Water is precious and if you have to fetch it to use it, you seem to use it a lot more responsibly.
- I have a lot more respect for the pioneers. It was fun for the first three days without power, but when the house got bitterly cold and Christmas came and went in the dark, I wasn't very thrilled. All the time spent fetching water and surviving barely left any time or energy to do anything else.
You Need Food
The second thing you need to have access to is food. Canned food is always a good bet.
But, you can get more creative than that. When our power went out due to the snow, we didn't want all the food to spoil. So we got out coolers and filled them with snow and put food from the refrigerator in. Then we buried the frozen food in the snow. It never thawed out.
We had extra bread, crackers, oatmeal, dry milk, and granola bars.
Then, we got out our campstoves. Knowing that you can't ever use an open flame in the house because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, we set up "camp" on the front porch. Each morning we were able to make tea and coffee and boil a pot of water to make oatmeal.
- We always keep fresh propane canisters ready in case we ever need our campstoves other than for camping.
- We installed a wood stove the following year and now can easily boil water and cook a lot of different foods on top of the wood stove, even though the model we have isn't designed for cooking, per se.
- It's always a good idea to have extra canned food on hand. You never know when you'll need it.
- I need to find more recipes for cooking on the wood stove - even if the power is on, I'm discovering that there's a whole art to this.
Have You Ever Had to Survive for More Than a Couple Days Without Power?
You Need Heat
If you lose power in the middle of the summer, heating is not going to be a problem (though staying cool presents a different challenge: you'll need more water - see above.)
If you have a fireplace, that's great. It will put out some heat without the electric fan.
If you have gas logs, that's good, too. They seem to put out more heat than a regular fire from a fireplace would. We had these when our power went out. But, if they become your only source of heat, you'll be zipping through that gas. We had to fill our little propane tank three times in those nine days - and we had the fire on the lowest setting. Be prepared for that.
We moved into the room with the gas logs for those nine days. We had a down blanket and lots of other blankets on hand to help stay warm.
If you have a wood stove, you are good to go! You can easily cook on this while getting necessary heat. The downside is that you'll need access to the wood and in the snowy winter, that can sometimes be a little difficult. Just prepare for that ahead of time.
- Installing a wood stove has, for us, been the way to go. It serves multiple purposes including providing heat, a low source of light, a cooktop for boiling water and cooking meals, and the heat it puts out helps to dry out those wet clothes from trekking out in the snow.
- We always try to keep the propane tank for our gas logs full.
- We now have a generator that connects to the house to run our backup furnace.
- Always have extra blankets on hand to help stay warm.
You Need Light
Candles are a good source of light. You'll need matches, too. You have to be careful to not burn unattended or you might burn down the house!
Flashlights and lamps used for camping are great, too. Don't forget new batteries.
The wood stove provides a low level of light, but I admit light from a fire is comforting in the same ancient way our ancestors were comforted.
A generator can provide electricity to turn lamps on. You're better off if you have light bulbs that are CFCs - they use much less power and it's easier to run more things off the generator.
- Light from a fire provides a lot of comfort in times of emergency.
- Always have light sources available for when the power does go out.
Get a Generator
If you live in an area that's prone to power outages (like mine), you might want to invest in a power generator, especially if you're in a rural area.
They come in a range of sizes.
We had a small one that would run 1-2 electric-powered objects, such as a TV to get the news, and a lamp.
After our 9 days without power, we invested in a bigger generator that would hook into the mainframe of the house and will now supply power to the refrigerator and freezer as necessary. Just be sure these have enough gas to run for a few days.
- Make sure the generator is tuned up. There's nothing more frustrating than finding out the generator won't start because it needs new spark plugs.
- Make sure the generator has gas. We used more than we thought we would during our power outage and ended up going to our neighbors' house and getting gas out of their ATV (with their permission, of course).
- Neighbors are valuable! One neighbor helped chainsaw trees out of the driveway and another used a tractor to compress the snow. I still feel such gratitude for them!
You Need Communication
In times of emergency, news and radio outlets are indispensable for finding out what's going on.
When our power was out, we used our generator to power up the TV so we could watch the news.
We also had a radio, but the batteries ran out. (Yep, we could have used some extra batteries.)
- Always have extra batteries on hand - you really never know when you'll need them.
- A portable radio that runs on batteries is a good way to stay informed during an emergency.
Have Some Patience and Roll With It
I admit my extreme frustration with not having power for 9 days. Our family was among the last to get it back on because we don't live near the city. But, it happened over Christmas, foiling my plans to make gingerbread houses and other goodies for Christmas - and of course, it's not all about that.
I knew that electric workers and tree cutters were doing their best to try to get power on to thousands of people as fast as they could. I am so grateful for their hard work. They worked 16 hours a day to get the power back on, sacrificing their own Christmas holiday for the greater good.
I just wished I had been better-prepared and in a better state of mind to handle the disuption.
I recovered, though. Part of overcoming an emergency is remaining calm and enjoying the little things.
© 2011 Cynthia Calhoun