I’ve written that my family was well prepared to survive with no power for a week.
There’s a mnemonic that someone taught me sometime during some disaster prep training. The fact that I can remember the mnemonic and not where I heard it means it’s a good one, I suppose.
You’re on your own – for 120 hours. Five days. In a major disaster, this is how long it takes to get services to you. It could be longer. Shelter, food, water, waste. A gallon of water per day per person.
Count the people in your house. Now extend that – if your unprepared uncle or brother or mother or elderly neighbor needs help, can you take them in?
Here’s how we were prepared – Mostly it’s because we camp.
We still had our house. We do have tents, but I think it’s a bit unrealistic to think that they would have been useful if the house wasn’t inhabitable. In that case we would be without shelter until we received help or would use the skills of the four boy scouts (and ex-scouts) among us to figure something out.
Food and Cooking:
We have a propane camp stove, several individual backpacking stoves, a lantern, and fuel for them. We also had more than a week’s food in the pantry, a lot of which was not perishable. I was joking during our five days without power here that the worst thing that could happen is that we would have to start eating food we didn’t like. We had about 35 pounds of rice, which would have lasted a long time. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it much, but I was glad we had it. We cooked the food in the frig first, then the frozen food when it started to thaw. After that it was canned and dry food. We ate pretty well. And every day while the power was out, the cat brought a chipmunk into the house and released it alive. I’m not sure whether she was doing her part to provide food.
Unfortunately, she’s continued to do that.
Had we been limited to the cooking fuel we had on hand, we would have needed to be very conservative in its use. As it worked out, my ex-wife had a grill bottle of propane that she didn’t need because she had a natural gas stove, and we had a camping drip coffeemaker that would work on her stove. We swapped. Had the bottle in our gas grill not been empty, we would have had plenty of fuel. For camping, we have a propane “tree” and hose to connect the lantern and stove. It makes it really easy to use a big grill bottle. We were also glad to have spare mantles for the lantern. The ones on it were broken.
We never lost city water. But it would have been OK if we had. The morning after power went out, I mixed a little bit of bleach water and sanitized every container in our recycling bin. A teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water will do it. I filled them with water, about 8 gallons in all. We were under a call to conserve, but it seemed a reasonable compromise, as we used almost none flushing toilets or bathing. I also turned off the circuit breakers for all the large appliances in the house – this has several benefits. First, it helps prevent a heavy load on the system when your neighborhood comes back on line. Second, it turns off your stove. If you left anything cooking on the stove, it could cause a fire when the power is turned back on. Third, it keeps the water heater from coming on in case you drain it while the power is off. Once the power was off, I turned off the valve at the water heater. This keeps the water in the water heater from going anywhere else. Your water heater holds 40 or 80 gallons of fresh water during an emergency. By opening the drain valve at the bottom and pulling the test lever on the pressure relief valve, you can drain out what you need. Beyond that, we have a couple of filtration pumps used for backpacking. These could keep us supplied with water for weeks, as long as there is water to be found anywhere. We happen to have a nonfunctional spa in our back yard that we just got and plan to install, and it had another 100 gallons or so of brackish water in it that could have been filtered.
In addition to the camp lantern we had some LED camping flashlights that worked great. a head mounted one is really handy for when you need both hands.
If you live where it’s cold, you need to figure this out. In this recent disaster, it wasn’t an issue for us, as the weather has been really nice. We do have a kerosene heater and 5 gallons of kerosene, which in Alabama can keep a room inhabitable for days.
Which brings us to Carbon Monoxide. Camp stoves, lanterns, candles, and kerosene heaters generate Carbon Monoxide, and it can kill you. Be sure to get adequate ventilation with outside air. That wasn’t a problem this time, as the doors were open most of the time.
Wait, what? A generator?
I own the generator mostly to support amateur radio activities, and used it after the power went out until the bad weather was over. I had enough fuel for us to run it for at least 2-3 hours each day, which allowed us to charge all our cell phones and amateur radio batteries. That was nice, as the cell phone system was working pretty well for SMS messages within a day, and for calls after about 3 days. I wouldn’t think a generator an essential item for post households, although we did hook up the DVD player and TV and watch movies on two nights while charging batteries. We lucked out. There have been times when I did not have much generator fuel, but this time my generator can was full, and the lawnmower can was almost full. In reality, there is no dedicated can of gas for the generator – I rotate them so the fuel remains fresh, but I try to always have a full can.
We had three vehicles at the house. Each of them had more than 1/2 tank of gas. I try to make sure they don’t get too low, because we live about 22 miles downwind of a nuclear power plant, and because for any number of reasons, I might need to take to the field to help with a weather event or disaster assistance.
So to recap, my order of things is:
Assess the situation. Open the frig quickly and make a mental inventory of what you have. Avoid frequent opening of the frig.
Collect what water you can.
Turn off major appliances at the breaker box
Turn off water to the water heater
Set up the cooking and lighting using camping equipment
Figure out how much fuel is on hand for each device and how many hours a day you can operate it
Decide whether to stay or evacuate (if you can)