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power outage

Emergency ChecklistIn my previous National Preparedness Month blog, I encouraged you to review what preps you’ve made in the past year and consider strategic purchases to improve your preparedness position. Some of you know off the top of the head what your highest prepping priorities are, but for most of us, I’m guessing a more directed approach to evaluating your preps would be helpful. We’re here to help. Use the Preparedness Check and Challenge checklist below to evaluate where you are now and where you want to be.

There are more areas in which we need to prepare – communications, transportation, and medical, to name just a few. But our readers tend to be beginners in prepping, so we’ll stick with these basic topics for today’s blog.

We’re still working on every area (of course), but we’re making progress. My personal challenge for September is to complete a 3-day and a 1-month food plan with recipes. As I was writing this blog and explaining my alternate approach to evaluating my stored food, I realized that I can easily look at my pantry and evaluate if I have the necessary food to meet my immediate and short-term needs. Today, that is. That wouldn’t be the case in an emergency. You see, cooking is a weakness for me. Phil can grab ingredients and make good food. I can’t. I used to become paralyzed in video rental stores – there were just too many options. I also become paralyzed when faced with an immediate need to make food if I don’t have a plan.

So, by the end of September, I hope to have several written menus for the first three day s and first month of an emergency, and make sure that we keep all the ingredients on hand to make those meals. If we don’t have the ingredients in stock, the menu plan isn’t worth anything.

Let me urge you – spend a few minutes reading this brief checklist, then challenge yourself in one area. Set a specific goal of what you want to accomplish before the end of September (National Preparedness Month). That’s only two weeks away, so be reasonable about what you might be able to do, but don’t be too easy on yourself. The harder you work now, the easier you’ll have it when you need it.

Water

  • Recommendation: The government recommends 1 gallon per person (and pet) per day for drinking and cooking. We say more is better, but 1 gallon is a minimum place to start. Oh, and if you want to keep yourself and your things clean, plan on needing more water.
  • How much water do you need/want to store:
    ____ (Number of people/pets) x ____ (number of days) x 1 gallon
  • How much water do you have stored: ________
  • What are you going to do to upgrade your water storage and/or purification capabilities?

Food

  • Recommendation: The average adult intake is about 2000 calories/day under normal conditions. In an emergency, you’re likely to be burning more calories than that, so if you can plan for 3000 calories/day, that’s a good thing.
  • How much food do you want/need to store:
    ____ (Number of people) x ____ (number of days) x _____ (number of calories)
  • How much food do you have stored: ________
  • Don’t forget pets. If you have pets, how much do they eat each day? Multiply that by the number of days and you know how much pet food you need to have stored.

An Alternate Approach — Having just given you the formula, let me tell you that I don’t use the formula any more. I did at first, as I was developing my plan and understanding of long-term food storage. Now I take a different approach. I consider my preps in three stages: immediate, short-term and long-term. I approach my evaluation according to these three stages:

  • Immediate: How many meals can I make with little or no preparation in the first 72 hours? My goal is 3 meals per day for 6 people. I can easily look at my pantry and determine if I am at that goal.
  • Short-Term: How many meals can I make from my pantry with minimal dipping into my long-term storage food during the first month? My goal is 3 meals per day for 8 people, with some desserts added to help keep up morale. Again, I’m going to visually inspect my pantry to determine if my goal is met.
  • Long-Term: How much long-term food do I have? Phil and I met our one-year plan for the two of us last year, so now we look at how many other people can we help.

Cooking

  • If the power grid is down, do you have the capability to cook the food you have? What key purchase would allow you to say “yes” in response to that question? Consider a propane camping stove (don’t forget to store some propane), an outdoor fire pit with grill, a rocket stove and/or a solar oven. (I have plans for a DIY solar oven that I can’t wait to try. Oh if there were just enough hours in the day!)
  • Do you know how to cook the food you have with the cooking method(s) available?

Shelter/Heat

  • If for any reason your current shelter is no longer available, do you have a backup plan? Where will you go and how will you get there? What kind of challenges are you likely to face in getting there? What will you take with you? What do you need to be able to make the trip? How quickly can you be on the road?
  • In a no-power-grid situation (whether it’s from a snow storm, a tornado, a hurricane, or a power-grid failure) do you have a plan to keep you family warm? Start with buying extra clothes and blankets. Add to it by developing an alternate heat source.

Security

  • Is your home an easy target for being broken into? What can you do to “harden” your home? (Think about things like upgrading your entry doors or planting thorny bushes under first floor windows.)
  • Are you prepared to protect your family? What do you need to do to become more prepared and better trained?

Documentation

  • How’s your prepper notebook coming? Read more about it here. People tend to put off gathering important documents and creating a prepper notebook. If this is the one thing you do during National Preparedness Month, you will have done a good thing.

What’s your Preparedness Check and Challenge goal for this National Preparedness Month?

american-blackoutAmerican Blackout, a two-hour made-for-TV movie, aired on National Geographic Channel this past Sunday night. It was a dramatization of what could happen in the ten days following a nationwide electrical grid failure caused by a cyber attack. This is a very real threat. Just Google “power grid cyber attack” and look at all the hits you get. Things like this report from Bloomberg.com: Power Grid Cyber Attack Seen Leaving Millions in the Dark for Months

I found the movie to be reasonably realistic. I think it downplayed violence, but it certainly didn’t eliminate it altogether. It followed a number of people through the circumstances the blackout left them in, including a prepper family, some urban apartment dwellers, and a group of college students. Seeing how each of them dealt with the emergency provided a good learning experience. Here are some of my lessons learned from American Blackout:

  • Emergencies can happen suddenly. We’ve been seeing an economic catastrophe heading our way for years and have been given lots of time to at least begin to prepare for it. With other disasters, like hurricanes, you only have a couple of days advanced warning. Certainly enough time to bug out if you choose to do so and get to a place of safety. But there are some calamites, such as blackouts and earthquakes or getting laid off from your job, that can hit you with no notice. You can’t always count on having the luxury of forewarning. You can’t start prepping when you’re up to your neck in alligators. Whatever you have prepped when one of these sudden emergencies hits is all that you’re going to have. This movie drove that point home for me. I’m doing OK in some  prepping categories, but hugely deficient in other key areas. I need to apply myself to filling in some of those gaps, because something might happen with no warning.
  • You don’t want to be in a city when it happens. City dwellers must get very tired of hearing this from their county cousins, but it’s true. It boils down to supply and demand. During a crisis in a city, the scale is going to be tipped way over on the demand side, far beyond the ability to supply. The needs will be overwhelming. Which leads to the next lesson learned…
  • Things can get very bad in a very short time. People become desperate quickly. I work as a clerk in a rural hospital. I have to ask people a lot of very personal questions and I have to try to collect any co-payments that are owed at the time of service. I’ve never gotten used to the number of people who are unemployed, or even the number of working people who can’t pay their co-payment tonight because they don’t get paid until Friday. For years I’ve heard that a lot of people are one paycheck away from poverty or homelessness. I see evidence of it all the time at my job. Right now there’s a huge safety net in the form of Medicaid, food stamps, and welfare. All of that comes from our bankrupt government by means of tax paying workers. What happens if it all dries up suddenly? Take a look at these recent news articles:
    Food Bank CEO warns of riots over major food stamp cuts
    Walmart customers riot when unable to use EBT cards

Like I said, things can get very bad, very quickly. Be prepared.

  • The likelihood of collateral accidents rises sharply, with much greater impact. American Blackout showed a lot of traffic accidents due to all the traffic signals being out of service as a result of the power outage. Losing your means of transportation during an emergency takes a lot of options off the table for you and puts you in a position of being more dependent on others at a very bad time. The movie illustrated the heightened danger of house fires because people were lighting their homes with candles. Having your house catch on fire can wipe out all of your preps and make your homeless and penniless in an instant. The movie showed one guy who only had an electric can opener, now completely useless with the power being out. He was trying to puncture the top of a can of food with a butcher knife and (predictably) cut a gash in his hand. It’s bad enough to get in a car wreck or have a house fire when you can count on your insurance company to jump in and make you whole again, but if you take them out of the equation, you’re screwed. Having a significant personal injury can be terrible even when you can get quick medical assistance, but if every hospital is overwhelmed with major trauma cases, you’re on your own. Accidents happen during the best of times. If they happen during the worst of times, even a relatively minor event might have disproportionate consequences. How are you equipped to deal with such things?
  • 911 won’t respond to your call for help. In a full-blown emergency, your house fire or medical emergency or home invasion won’t get the kind of attention from the authorities that you normally would. They will already be deluged with addressing public safety issues. It won’t take the bad guys long to figure out that the cops can’t roll for every victim who needs help. You’re going to have to fend for yourself in every way. How well are you prepared to deal with your own medical, fire, and security vulnerabilities?

Did I “enjoy” American Blackout? No. There was nothing enjoyable about it. But I hope I learned something from it.

If you missed it this past Sunday, you still have a couple more opportunities to watch or record it. National Geographic Channel is going to rebroadcast American Blackout this coming Sunday, Nov.3 at 10am, and again on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 3pm. Take notes. There may be a quiz when you least expect it.

Getting started with prepping can be overwhelming. Once the need to prep took root within my mind, I started to realize just how poorly prepared I was. Questions popped up like mad:

  • What kind of calamity am I prepping for?
  • What do I need?
  • How much do I need?
  • What do I need to buy first?

It’s enough to drive you (and everyone around you) totally nuts. So let’s keep calm, take a deep breath, and take a couple of baby steps toward preparedness.

Laying the Foundation

Some people try to prep themselves to survive global thermonuclear war before they’re even ready to make it through something as simple as a short-term power outage. The most common emergency situations are relatively minor ones, so we’re going to start small.

One of the most typical household emergencies is a power outage. Your electricity could go off for a couple of days because of a storm or a transformer malfunctioning or any of a number of reasons. A short-term power outage isn’t really a big deal, but if you’re not prepared for it, it can cause a significant disruption in your life.

I can deal with sitting in the dark with no TV, but when the electricity is off, my furnace doesn’t work. Until I save five grand to buy that wood-burning stove I’ve got my eye on, I’m going to need to resort to more basic means of staying warm. Got an electric stove? You’re screwed there, too. Electric stoves and microwave ovens are no good in a power outage, so you’ll need a way of heating water and cooking food. And because people are much more likely to hurt themselves in the dark, you’ll need some first aid supplies, too. You get the idea.

The 72-Hour Emergency Kit

Sandy recently wrote about the need for a variety of “Grab-and-Go” bags to help you bug-out in a jiffy with the assurance that you have everything that you’ll need. One such grab-and-go bag is the 72-hour emergency kit. This is an essential, whether you are bugging-out or staying put. You should have a 72-hour emergency kit for every person in your household. They should be stored in a safe and accessible location (like all of your grab-and-go bags), and you should know how to use every item in the kit — before you need to use it. Having all of these products together in one place in kit form prevents you from scrambling all over the house in the dark, assembling bits and pieces after the emergency has already occurred.

Click here to go see an assortment of kits sold by Emergency Essentials (one of my favorite prepper resource vendors).

At the time of this writing, Emergency Essentials sells four different grades of 72-hour emergency kits. The most basic is just called an emergency kit, but the better-equipped models have brand names like Trekker™, ReadyWise™, and Comp™. The one that I think gives the most bang for the buck is the ReadyWise™. Let’s take a look at some of the things the ReadyWise comes with.

First, you’ll find food in the form of a few MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) and a high-calorie food bar. You can eat MREs as-is, but keeping up your morale is important in an emergency, so they also provide MRE heaters and some hard candy. (Apparently, eating cold MREs makes some people cranky.) Next comes water. Besides providing packages of water, Emergency Essentials includes a water bottle and some water purification tablets. Getting cold? To help you stay warm, the kit comes with a wool blanket, hand and body warmers, a poncho, an emergency sleeping bag, and a tube tent. For lighting, they give you a hand-crank powered flashlight that can also recharge your cell phone, a light stick, and a 100-hour candle. To let you know what’s going on in the world, they include a battery-operated radio (and yes, batteries ARE included, but you need to make sure to keep fresh ones in stock just in case). There’s also an assortment of first aid and personal hygiene supplies. All of this comes bundled in a lightweight backpack for easy portability in case you have to bug out and drag it all with you.

Can You Top This?

I think that’s a pretty darned good 72-hour emergency kit at a very reasonable price. Could you do better buying separate components on your own? That depends on what you mean by “better.”

I’m sure that you could find a better radio (maybe one that is powered from both a hand crank and a solar cell, instead of batteries). And a “real” sleeping bag would be better than the emergency one that they put in this kit — but that one item could be as big and heavy as this entire kit, so there are trade-offs to trading up. I’m dead certain that the multifunction tool included in the kit isn’t the best one on the market, but buying a high-end multifunction tool will cost you more than this entire kit. Do you really need a really good multifunction tool? Yes, in the long run I believe that you do. But do you really need a really good multifunction tool for a 72-hour emergency kit? Nope. That’s overkill. Sometimes “good enough” is good enough.

Looking at ways to improve upon Emergency Essentials’ ReadyWise emergency kit is a good lesson in prepper priorities. You could buy this affordable, quick-and-dirty kit that is very appropriate for the purpose it was created for. Or you could assemble your own kit of higher quality components. Or you could buy this kit as a starting point and supplement it with a couple of better-quality pieces here and there. The choice is yours. But I urge you to do something. Don’t be caught walking around with a head full of stuff that you know that you need to do, but none of it actually accomplished. A 72-hour emergency kit is one of the basic Grab-and-Go bags that every household needs, and it’s a quick and easy baby step toward greater preparedness for any situation.

Yes, it’s possible to put together a better emergency kit than this one, but you’ll be doing a lot of shopping and you’ll spend more money. If you’re the kind of person who likes one-stop shopping, this is kit from Emergency Essentials is a good solution for you, and a good starting point for your preps.