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Dealing with loss of power, part two

After seeing on the news last night the people in NY, etc., living in homes damaged by Sandy, I felt I needed to finish my posts on living without heat and other modern conveniences. My post on living without heat would be a good place to start.   (See archives for Dec. 2102)

I will add: If your home has holes in the walls, missing windows, etc, rather than sitting around waiting for that government check and freezing to death waiting, in virtually all areas you can cover windows and holes in the wall with plastic and cardboard. Use a staple gun and cover any openings in the windows or walls. You can help with keeping in the warmth using plastic stapled to the studs, forming an air barrier. It may also be possible to tack up sheets of styrofoam insulation, which are not very expensive. Some areas may not allow this, so plastic and cardboard will have to suffice in those cases. TyVek can be wrapped around the outside of the house. You may have to later take it down, but who cares? How much are you willing to suffer to save money?

Second, if you are living in only one or two rooms, use an electric heater or whatever space heater is available, rather than your furnace. If you must use the furnace, shut off as many vents as is practicable without damaging the furnace.

Third, and most important, people live like this all the time due to poverty or desire to save money, so you too can handle this situation for a short period. I once was told by a supermarket checker that he kept his home at 45 degrees to save money. His family wore coats indoors and stayed in one or two rooms most of the time. Actually, in the days of heating with wood, cold homes overnight were the norm. It’s why you see people wearing hats to bed in the old west. This was the way people lived for years. If America does not get its energy policy together, those times could return. If you have to depend on government help after a natural disaster, it could be months. Be prepared.

How much food do you need for an emergency? Enough for two to three meals per day for each person in the household, and food for any pets you may have. If persons in the household have special dietary needs, you should stock about one month’s worth of food, maybe more. This is especially true if you may be isolated for weeks due to snow or flooding.

There are emergency food companies out there billed as food insurance. These are expensive but have been created especially for emergencies. Some I have seen provide one meal per day, which may not work if you have a diabetic in your house. Frequent meals may be necessary for these household members. If you are wanting convenience and cost is not a problem, this may be the way to go.

If cost is a problem, try clearing a closet out and buying easy to prepare food in bulk. Canned goods are durable and easy to use in emergencies. If you don’t have electricity or a way to heat the product, you can just eat from the can. Crackers and dry goods are good, if you package them well so they cannot get wet and rodents can’t get to them (empty plastic jars and buckets work well for this). Dry goods such as oatmeal and rice will require water so make sure you will have a way to get water in an emergency. (You can get storage barrels for in cities/rural and a general for the well pump in rural areas.) You will also need a way to boil the water. A small camping cookstove may suffice. Be sure you have adequate ventilation for this. If you are very patient, there are plans for solar cookstoves on the internet, which will work if where you live is hot and sunny. If you have never cooked on anything other than your electric or gas range, test your cooking skills on whatever backup you will be using before an emergency occurs.

Other ideas include dried fruits, dried veggies, trail mix, ramen noodles (which I personally cannot stand….), and other ready-to-eat products. Make sure you package these well, again to keep out water and rodents.

It is a good idea to rotate your stockpile items out at least annually. Some items will not need rotated as often—you can use the expiration dates as guidelines. I know these dates are mostly for keeping old products from being sold as new, but if you are not sure how long foods are good for, these can provide guidance.

Medication: You need at least a month’s worth of medication stockpiled. I can hear the shouting now that insurance companies will not allow this—you are limited in when refills can be gotten. Okay, I am going to be blunt here—if you care about yourself and your family, buy a month’s worth of medication out of your own pocket. I would guess most doctors are okay with this and will give you a separate prescription. If not, personally, I’d get a new doctor. If you don’t want that solution, just fill prescriptions as often as you can and hope you don’t get an emergency right around fill time. For those of you saying this is expensive, yes. I have an excellent sense of self-preservation and will cut out whatever it takes to have backup medication. Cable TV, diet coke, anything necessary. Again, make sure you package the meds to keep them dry. Rotate stock annually. (Note: You may NOT be able to do this with controlled medications. Check first or take your chances, whichever you are comfortable with.)

Water was covered above, to some degree. Sporting goods stores sell 55 gallon barrels for holding water and hand pumps to get the water back out. The pumps can be a bit slow, but they do work. The barrels can be stored in a corner of your house—mine is on a wheeled platform in case I have to move it (55 gallons of water are very heavy). You may need to bleach the barrel before using it for drinking water or boil the water before drinking. There are also camping water filters and filtration units that don’t require electricity. Investing in one of these filters can help assure you have safe drinking water. How long will 55 gallons of water last? Figure out how many times per day you flush toilets, wash your hands, how much water you drink and how much you use in cooking. Add the number of gallons together and plan accordingly.

Warning: If you lose heat, your water may freeze and crack the barrel. Plan accordingly. If things start getting cold, move the water to a place where leakage won’t cause major problems. Keeping the barrel warm is your best bet. Place it in a room you intend to heat.

One of the best ways to prepare for an emergency is minimal camping. Spend a weekend outdoors with only what you can carry on your back. If you have a back yard, try camping out in it as practice for a disaster. For winter emergencies, camping is also a good way to prepare. If your sleeping bag keeps you warm in a tent, you’re good. If you have no experience winter camping, some training may be in order. You don’t want to get frostbite learning how to survive a disaster.

You may find it necessary to plug off toilets to keep sewer water from coming up.  If you cannot flush your toilet, due to sewage backup or not functioning, it is prudent to keep a 5 gallon bucket and plastic liners where you can readily find them.  Sporting good stores sell liners and seats for the buckets.  You can use saw dust or cat litter to absorb the liquid.  Change the liner as often as necessary.  DO NOT put the full liners in your garbage.  Find out the proper disposal method for your locality.

This covers what I consider to be the basics for emergency survival. If questions are left unanswered, feel free to comment and I will respond.


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Wandering Words


“We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. We know that in secrecy error undetected will flourish and subvert”. - J Robert Oppenheimer.

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