As some of you may know, significant numbers of people across the US were affected by this past week’s ice storm, thousands of whom won’t have any power for three weeks. By the time this hit us, it wasn’t much of a storm (even though that’s what they were calling it on the news), though there were a lot of people who lost power for a short period of time. But it got me thinking about sharing my thoughts on being prepared for a storm like this – because you don’t know how bad it will end up being until it hits. And it’s lots better to be prepared and not need your preparations than not to prepare at all and end up having to go to a shelter somewhere.
What would be some good things to do if you know that an ice storm (or any other kind of storm that would affect your power supply/access to stores) is set to come your way very soon? This is far from an exhaustive list; there’s a lot more to be written on this, but what I’ll post now is intended as a starting point, not an end all and be all.
Firstly, I’d suggest some super important things, followed by some minor things. #1 – Make sure you have enough food and water in the house for at least a week (remember that a lot of people now are doing without power for three weeks – better to overprepare than to be overly optimistic). You don’t want to be one of those people braving their ways to the store after the storm hits, to find out (if you manage to get there safely and the store is actually open) that everything was cleaned out and the food you were counting on buying has been sold to people who didn’t wait as long as you. This happens every single time there’s a big storm; it’s predictable and I don’t know why it comes as a suprise to anyone when it happens. I don’t like going shopping at the last minute, but still, better to go shopping a short time before a storm than to wait until afterwards (of course, having a stocked pantry at all times makes this much less urgent). Use your head – don’t buy lots of prepared frozen foods that you’d have no way to heat up or to keep frozen if you lost power (an advantage of losing power in the winter is you can pretty easily keep things cold outside). Canned foods are especially useful (make sure you have a couple of manual can openers), bottled water and juice is good.
Fill up empty pots, pitchers, and any other available containers with water for cooking and drinking with, and put some large buckets filled with water in your bathtub – those are for washing with. Why do you need to store water? Do you know that most of us are dependent on electricity for our water? Yep, it’s true; the power is necessary to pump the water out, for most private wells as well as for city water supplies. You’re going to want to wash your hands, flush the toilets, etc. (Baby wipes come in handy in this situation for preserving your stored water supply – you can use them to keep your hands clean.)
How will you heat up your food? I have a gas stove, which is good since often the gas lines are still functional when the electricity goes down (this is why I wanted one). There are lots of alternative heating sources; you’d need to look into them before you need them. We have a small grill that we could use outside if necessary, but I wouldn’t really want to in freezing temperatures. Our solar oven wouldn’t help much on cold and cloudy days, but could come in handy if the sun made an appearance. (This is where you’ll appreciate having food that doesn’t need much cooking, if any.)
What about household heat? Think how much fun being inside all day is without any heat in the coldest part of the winter. Knowing how to dress for the cold makes a big difference in being able to stay warm even without much (any?) heat. Since we keep our heat pretty low all the time, going without heat would be unpleasant but manageable for us. We’d seriously layer up, and make sure everyone had several blankets on their beds, fill hot water bottles for each person, etc. Alternative heat sources like wood stoves would be invaluable in staying warm (and can be cooked on, too).
Those are the biggies – water, food, and heat. Now for some smaller things that would make life lots more comfortable.
When you hear the news, do some house cleaning. Wash and dry all the laundry – if you couldn’t do it for another week, you’d be a lot more comfortable having it done. Do all the dishes. Cleaning the house when you have no heat or lights isn’t fun. Have all family members take showers. Physically and emotionally you’ll feel a lot better if you’re clean and if you can’t take a shower for a few days, it won’t be so bad. I don’t usually use disposable dishes, but this would be the time to use them – so buy some when you’re shopping for the storm. Also diapers – you definitely don’t want to run out of diapers. Even if you use cloth diapers, limited water and power would make washing them lots less convenient. Make sure you have plenty of toilet paper – though you could use pages of a phone book in a pinch, it’s nice not to have to.
Lighting – you don’t technically need lights when it gets dark, but it’s a lot more pleasant. Get some flashlights and batteries, candles and candle holder, fuel lamps and wicks and fuel for them - any and all of these can keep the dark from becoming frightening for little ones, and help you accomplish what you’ll want to do. Make sure you have games that don’t require electricity – I think of this as obvious, because all of our home entertainment falls into this category, but I realize that many people are dependent on computers to keep their kids occupied and they’d be up the creek without it. Kids who are bored and have nothing to do are kids who will be very unpleasant to have home all day long. Books are important, too.
I’m not going to address more specific needs like showering and laundry because I’m just touching on what I consider the bare basics. You can manage without these (might not be fun) and survive. You can’t manage without water and food, though. You might have noticed that I didn’t put a generator anywhere on my list, which is the first item on most people’s lists. That’s because generators are a) hugely expensive to buy; b) dependent on gasoline; and c) hugely expensive to run. What happens if you run out of gas and you can’t get to the gas station? Or you get to the gas station and they’re either sold out or unable to access it because they also don’t have power (not uncommon in these kinds of situations)? Plus, it’s one of the first things that thieves look to steal in emergency situations. Too many people put all of their (preparation) eggs into one (generator) basket. I think it’s better to find smaller ways to be prepared that don’t involve so much cash outlay, things that you can use even if the storm doesn’t hit you hard.
Anyone who’s ever been unprepared in a situation like this will tell you it’s not fun – not at all. And anyone who’s been prepared in a situation like this will tell you how worthwhile it was to have been able to take care of their needs even when there was no outside help to be had.