How to Be Prepared for an Emergency - Especially in Winter

Updated on January 16, 2018
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Cynthia is a writer, artist, and teacher. She loves studying language, arts, and culture, and sharing that knowledge.

Potable spring water is not only great for emergencies, but for anytime!
Potable spring water is not only great for emergencies, but for anytime! | Source

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.

Lessons Learned:

  • 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.

Canned food and long-lasting veggies are an essential part of emergency preparations.
Canned food and long-lasting veggies are an essential part of emergency preparations. | Source

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.

Lessons learned:

  • 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?

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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.


Lessons Learned:

  • 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.

Having wood handy is great before a storm, especially if it's all chopped up.
Having wood handy is great before a storm, especially if it's all chopped up. | Source

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.

Lessons learned:

  • 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.

Lessons learned:

  • 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.)

Lessons Learned:

  • 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.

This is the part about "rolling with it".  We took out our kayaks and went "kayaking" in the snow.  Meanwhile, our cat wanted to join in on the fun.
This is the part about "rolling with it". We took out our kayaks and went "kayaking" in the snow. Meanwhile, our cat wanted to join in on the fun. | Source

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Cynthia Calhoun

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      • profile image

        Charleen 

        12 months ago from New York. USA .

        good idea to have the food and candles you recommend, in case a natural disaster isolates you temporarily. Voting this Up and Useful.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        4 years ago from Western NC

        Rebecca - haha, I know, right? I very much look forward to spring each year. After all the cold and snow and all that, spring flowers give me SO much joy. :P Have a great day!

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        4 years ago from Western NC

        Vicki - thanks! 3 days with no power? Ugh. I know we didn't have any for 9 days, but the power hasn't gone out much since then. The very thought of not having power in winter is awful. :\ It is always good to be prepared, though. Take care!!

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 

        4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        It sounds like you all went through that power outage like real troupers. I have never gone that long without power. Wow! I can only imagine. Spring, where are you?

      • Victoria Lynn profile image

        Victoria Lynn 

        4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

        What a great list! We don't have power outages often, but after our big ice storm in 2009 and having no power in a 40 degree house for 3 days, I have bought a few things. I haven't gone all out for a generator, but I would if power outages were a regular thing. I need to put the things I do have all in one easily accessible place. It's always good to be prepared. Great hub, Cyndi!

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Robert - thank you so much! Yeah, these experiences can be a lot more fun with a little preparation. I definitely learned a lot from that experience. :)

      • Robert Erich profile image

        Robert Erich 

        6 years ago from California

        This is a very beneficial article! Especially considering the hurricane fast approaching (or already arrived). Thanks for the important tips. I certainly know that I need to pack up a few extra cans of food - just in case.

        It is, also, as you mentioned, so much fun to just enjoy the opportunity to love life without electricity. If you are prepared, it can be a blast.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        alocsin - you're right. SoCal has those earthquakes and fires - it's always good to be prepared. Always great to see you, friend!

      • alocsin profile image

        alocsin 

        6 years ago from Orange County, CA

        Fortunately, here in Southern California, winters are mild and not usually life-threatening. But it's a good idea to have the food and candles you recommend, in case a natural disaster isolates you temporarily. Voting this Up and Useful.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Thanks, Marcy! I'm definitely much more a believer than I was before we didn't have power for 9 days. Whew! Of course, I'm not one to stock up for six months as I have known some people who do. That, to me, seems like it's hoarding. But, that's just me. :)

      • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

        Marcy Goodfleisch 

        6 years ago from Planet Earth

        I'm a believer in preparedness - thanks for these tips! Voted up, useful, and shared.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Thanks, marriedwithdebt. I enjoyed writing this. Oh, and I might do one on "getting out of debt" - I only have mortgage debt...we paid everything else off. Something like $40,000 in the last ten years. A longer timespan, but on a teacher's salary, it's been interesting. :D

      • marriedwithdebt profile image

        marriedwithdebt 

        6 years ago from Illinois

        Great hub - very useful. I wrote a hub on the same topic, but mine was nowhere near as helpful as this. Glad to meet you!

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Moon Willow Lake - thanks for stopping by. I've thought the same thing: I am trying, little by little, to use alternative sources of energy...for so many reasons.

      • Moon Willow Lake profile image

        Moon Willow Lake 

        6 years ago

        Thank-you for the information. It really makes me want to move towards my goals of not being so dependent upon the systems and install so-called "alternative" electric sources instead.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Serena - You're so wonderful for giving me all the feedback. Hopefully it'll be a mild winter this year. Hehe. That way, our emergency measures will just have to stay at the ready.

      • profile image

        Serena Gabriel 

        6 years ago

        Good hub! I probably ought to pick up a generator some time. Where I live, it's important to be prepared for winter, so I already do a lot of these things, but I see some areas for improvement.

        Great article - accolades!

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        xshaun, thanks for stopping by. :) I hope this hub helps anyone to be able to be just a little bit more prepared.

      • profile image

        xshaun 

        6 years ago

        Interesting hub. It made me realize how ill-prepared I am.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Thanks, Movie Master. :) And of course, now that we're all prepared, we haven't needed the generator or haven't had a power outage since. Oh well. Hopefully we'll just stay prepared for next time. Lol.

      • Movie Master profile image

        Movie Master 

        6 years ago from United Kingdom

        After last years hard winter, this is great information on being prepared!

        Thank you for sharing and voted up.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Thanks, vasantha. Best wishes to you! Thank you for stopping by.

      • profile image

        vasantha T. k 

        6 years ago

        Great source of information.Voted up. Best wishes.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        uknow: thanks for stopping by and reading. :) I can relate to the power going out, haha.

      • uknow profile image

        uknow 

        6 years ago

        Very informative- our power went out almost every other week and we don't live up in the mountains like you do. luckily ours came back on by the end of the day.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Thanks, DzyMsLizzy. Your hub is awesome, too! Congrats back to you. :) Thank you for stopping by and for the votes.

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 

        6 years ago from Oakley, CA

        Congratulations on Hub of the Day! This is a great, well-thought-out and well-presented article.

        Luckily, we don't get snow, or very many outages, but we do have camping gear, so I consider myself pretty prepared. ;-)

        Voted up, useful, interesting and awesome.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Haha, Dan. I could also take my cat along. He likes to kayak. Thanks for reading.

      • Outbound Dan profile image

        Dan Human 

        6 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

        Great hub about being prepared. We found out up here in Buffalo a few years ago that you have to be prepared when an October snowstorm knocked power out for weeks. I was all happy with my camping gear, but sadly mine was only out for three days. You could do a hub on the joys of snow kayaking.

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Yes, our little cat Ralphie is quite the adventurer. :)

      • Ardie profile image

        Sondra 

        6 years ago from Neverland

        I surely will...but I can just about guarantee my cat will not join me in the kayak!!!!

      • cclitgirl profile imageAUTHOR

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        6 years ago from Western NC

        Haha, Ardie. I hope that you will benefit from my trials and tribulations. :D

      • Ardie profile image

        Sondra 

        6 years ago from Neverland

        This is a timely perfect hub for me. Winter is just starting and we lose power, get snowed in, and have a difficult time driving out for supplies when bad weather hits. Thanks for reminding me to stock up the basement with cans of food, water, batteries, and extra meds :) Voted UP so others can prepare too!

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