The first 72 hours after a natural disaster are the calm before the second storm. Residents assume the government and relief agencies will soon arrive with emergency supplies. Most remain calm and polite.
After a few days, social norms begin to disappear, the second storm has arrived, residents remain hungry, thirsty, cold and out of touch with family and friends. They begin to feel desperate and abandoned as they are helpless to help themselves. As anger builds those who would never consider bad behavior under normal circumstances are now capable of behaviors that are completely out of character. We see this happening this week in New York and New Jersey. Who will be next? Where will the next disaster occur? Will you be ready or will you be forced to stand in food lines and wait for gasoline with those who are angry and out of control?
During a weather disaster power failure is the greatest concern. No power means no food, water and gasoline to purchase. Once generators are brought in and limited supplies are available there will be no ATMs and no charge card transactions. No power means no hot food. No power means water treatment plants are not able to operate and clean water is at a minimum or not available at all. Just last night there was a death in New York from hypothermia, no power, no heat.
There are many scenarios which may cause a power outage during the winter months. No matter what the cause, some planning is needed to keep family life somewhat normal. Remember the 2003 power blackout? It was the largest outage in North American history, affecting 10-million people in Canada, and 40-million people in 8-states of the USA. All due to the failure of the electrical grid. Ice storms sometimes paralyze cities as far south as the Carolinas. Blizzard are common and often deadly in many parts of the country. Your home might survive the ravages of the storm, but still be without power for extended periods. Earthquakes can occur any season of the year and imagine if the big one that is expected in Seattle, San Francisco, Utah or along the New Madrid fault happened during the coldest week of the year. If a disaster has happened even once in your area it can happen again.
Years ago I wrote an article for Meridian Magazine describing my memories of a hurricane in New Jersey when I was a very little girl. I received a letter from a man telling me hurricanes did not happen in New Jersey. I thought a lot about that man this week. I repeat, if a weather disaster has ever happened in your area it can happen again, even if it's been 50 or 100 or 500 years.
Will you be prepared or will you be left wishing you had taken steps to protect your family? If you are still unmotivated turn on the TV and watch the suffering on the east coast and ask yourself if you are willing for your family to face the same fate. Read and study the following suggestions, make a hard copy to keep in a safe place for reference when the power is out, and take steps now to prepare what you will need.
When the power fails in winter:
1.Stay indoors as much as possible. If you need to leave the house, open and close the door quickly, and keep it closed, not propped open while you carry something in or out.
2.Close interior doors to rooms you will not use during the outage.
3.A radio: You should already have one in your 72-hour kit. You will want to keep informed, so a radio is an absolute must. A hand crank/solar powered radio is a good choice, as it requires no batteries, although it will probably operate on batteries, too. These are available with a built in flashlight, which is also handy. After winding the crank for 30 seconds, the radio will play and the flashlight stay lit for a surprisingly long time. If you choose a battery-powered radio make sure you have batteries stored long term with the radio, but not in it. Also, be sure your radio has both AM and FM bands, since emergency broadcasts are limited and may be on either band for your area.
4.Flashlights: You should have several on hand, and again I recommend a solar/crank or battery operated flashlight. I do not recommend the flashlights that you shake. They have a very low beam of light and have to be shaken every 2-3 minutes to maintain power. Having experimented with several brands and having been dissatisfied with all of them, I have not seen one I recommend. Others have told me the same… A couple last thoughts about flashlights: Except for flashlights in regular service, I suggest storing batteries separate from your flashlight. I recently had a battery explode in a flashlight completely destroying it. It literally did a melt down. Usually, however, battery failure leads to leaked acid that destroys the flashlight or radio, rendering it useless when you need it. For everyday safety, store a flashlight next to every bed in the house in case of a nighttime emergency.
5.Glow Stick: Raid your 72-hour kit for glow sticks. They are so much safer than candles. You simply snap and shake the stick and it glows for hours. Always purchase the white or yellow varieties for the brightest light. Glow sticks come in several sizes and will glow for 30 minutes to 12 hours. Be sure to check when purchasing that you have the 12-hour variety. These can be hung in restrooms and hallways as nightlights providing light all night long without running down batteries. Glow sticks can be hung around the neck of a child to quickly see them in a crowd or to check on them in the middle of the night.
6.Candles: These should be available for use during a power outage but should never be used after a natural disaster. Gas leaks occur frequently after destructive disasters and many, many homes and lives have been lost in fires caused by gas explosions from lighting a candle. Candles sold in glass jars or bottles, such as religious candles, are by far the safest to use in appropriate situations.
7.Battery Clock: During an emergency, time seems to crawl by. Move your clock to a common area where everyone can check the time. Every home should have at least one clock that is battery operated.
8.Your Emergency Kitchen: You will want to plan for your cooking needs. This may include a barbeque grill, fire pit, camp stove, solar oven or your gas range. Each method will need additional preparation and caution. You will need charcoal, propane tanks, wood, aluminum foil, and special pots, pans and griddles. Remember to NEVER use a barbeque in the house either for heat or for cooking.In an extreme emergency such as a blizzard, when there is no other option for heating food and water, place a barbeque in the garage, OPEN the garage door and remove the car before starting the grill, keeping the door open the entire time. You will need to cook in your down coat but you will keep your family safe from toxic fumes. You cannot use a household pan on an open fire or grill but a griddle will act like a frying pan if you are using either of these methods to cook.