Emergency Preparedness: Going off-grid

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“Be prepared.” — Girl Scout motto

We don’t have the luxury of being unprepared. We live far enough from town utility lines that when we lose electricity — whether from a disaster or extreme weather event — we also lose water as well as heat. Our oven, well-water pump, and oil burner all depend on it. Without electricity, life becomes much like camping in a big wood and sheetrock tent.

We hope that future renovations to our house will enable us to become more self-sufficient. Until then, we keep supplied with a number of things that help us adapt to most emergency situations. In addition to extreme weather, the risks particular to where we live include a nearby nuclear power plant and large bodies of water capable of flooding. The possibility of evacuation is a real one, and has become an integral part of our emergency planning.

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Light
First and foremost in any emergency is to stay safe. It can be perilous to move around in the dark, and we keep a store of candles, headlamps, flashlights and lanterns in a readily accessible place. Weather alerts allows us time to recharge everything, otherwise, we usually check on a yearly basis. While we’re at it, we also recharge the emergency radio. Look for features such as a solar charger and/or hand crank, and a weather band; a television band also allows you to receive news channels. A standard land-line phone gives us another link to the outside world.

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Water
We’re surrounded by water, little of it potable. The real irony though is that while we generally abstain from bottled water, we still need some around for emergencies and store a combination of store-bought and self-filled containers. The recommendation is 2 gallons of water per person per day, and we try to maintain keeping 5 days worth. Before any impending storm, the tubs are also filled to provide water for the toilets. We’ve a sun-heated camp shower bag, however, other than visiting friends with power, we’re still figuring out the shower issue. We’ve found that we can go about 48 hours but, by the third day, we start really really wanting one.

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Heat
While cozy, our fireplace proved incredibly ineffectual in keeping the house warm during a winter emergency. We installed a wood stove a few years ago, and were pleased to find that the top of it can also be used for cooking. A recently acquired portable butane burner keeps us adequately caffeinated to deal with everything, and our solar oven and outdoor grill also serve as back-ups.

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Sustenance
The pantry is well-stocked year round, and can be relied on to feed us no matter the emergency. Where we’ve really had to give it some thought is in the case of an evacuation. We have a friend a few towns over who, when a bordering river threatened to flood her street, was given 15 minutes to gather up her family and leave. Since then, it’s been on our minds what we would want or need if we were ever in her situation.

We keep a couple of bins ready to grab without much thought. They include rudimentary camping supplies such as a portable camp stove, sterno, lighters/waterproof matches, multi-tool knife, water purifying tablets, rope and an emergency blanket. Foodstuffs are highly personal: crackers, canned rice and beans (can be eaten cold or heated, straight out of the can), instant oatmeal, protein bars, and instant coffee. We’re constantly refining what to include but highly recommend some kind of chocolate. Fleeing is not the time to be abstemious.

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Extra necessities
Along with our provision bins, we keep a first aid kit, a notebook containing important contact/account information, an envelope of cash (note: ATMs don’t work without electricity), and what we refer to as the “zombie bucket.” We confess it’s in reaction to the mayhem that followed Hurricane Katrina, and contains such items as sponges, safety glasses, duct tape, spray paint, trash bags, bleach, as well as the bucket itself. Because you never know what you’ll encounter.

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Niceties
Pay attention to weather alerts. They give you time to do the things that make it more comfortable while waiting for the power to come back on:

– Tidy up the house — whatever state it’s in will only get worse as the days pass by. Make friends with a non-electric carpet sweeper.

– Run the dishwasher — better to start out with an empty one than end up with one full of moldering things.

– Make sure washed clothes are dry — ditto above.

– Fill your car’s gas tank — ensures you have enough to get elsewhere, should the need arise. If it’s winter, park your car in the garage with the front facing out; it’ll help keep your car from getting stuck in the snow or ice if you’re forced to leave.

– While you’re filling your gas tank, get some extra for the generator — we intensely dislike the sound the generator makes, however, we dislike losing all of the food in our freezer and fridge even more.

– With the flashlights, lanterns, and emergency radio, charge up whatever electronic device you deem necessary — on the other hand, the electronic break might be a welcome one.

– Make sure to allow time to take a shower and wash your hair. It may be awhile before you’ll get another chance, and having clean hair is always an instant attitude enhancer.

– Along with a good pair of rain boots, pants, and jacket, keep your sense of humor, gallows or otherwise. At a certain point, it’ll all be out of your control.

This is not a drill
What we learned from Hurricane Sandy — we need to put up a sticker alerting emergency personnel that we have pets; we need an anemometer to measure wind speed; we have a dismaying lack of chocolate in the house.

Resources
Plan, Prepare & Mitigate, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Plan & Prepare, American Red Cross
Safety & Preparedness – Emergency Response, UMaine Cooperative Extension

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7 Responses to Emergency Preparedness: Going off-grid

  1. Lou Murray's Green World says:

    What a great post! I was planning on making a similar one today, but got distracted tidying up my garden prior to fall planting here in Southern California. We have most of those things that you mentioned, but no generator. I plan to buy one, and store enough fuel for it too. We face any number of natural and manmade hazards here in Southern California, including earthquakes and tsunamis. We have a LOT of stuff in our emergency “kit”, and I hope I never need it. But if we do, we have it.

  2. Simona says:

    Great post! After Katrina, my husband got our neighborhood started on emergency preparedness. We took a number of classes organized by the city of Berkeley on personal preparedness and also first aid, light search & rescue, etc. Of course, the situation of a densely populated area is different rom that of a sparsely populated one, but the important thing is that we all understand that we need to be prepared for emergencies at all levels.

  3. Judy says:

    You covered it. We bought a generator two years ago and also hate the noise, but being in the dark for days and the cost of losing the food just got to be too much.The only two things I have in addition to what you mentioned are a car charger for one of our cell phones and a cheap phone with no recorder I can just plug right into the telephone line ‘if’ the phone line is still up. It seems like we’re needing to be more sufficient every year.

  4. kate @ bbf. says:

    good reminder; people always think it won’t happen – i learned the hard way when i was without power for a week in southern maryland in ’04. fortunately it was september, so not cold, but the dishes, toilets, fridge/freezer, blech… a little preparedness goes a long way!

  5. Briana says:

    I love this post, and this is the first of the blog that I have read. I’m sure I will enjoy future reading. The preparedness list is perfectly timed as I try to figure what to take to South America for 6 months, without overpacking, but still being totally prepared. There are just some things I don’t want to part with… And really think I should take! But they also seem absurd. If you have any resources, please direct me ;)

    • leduesorelle says:

      Hi Briana, so nice to have you visit me here! I’m sure you’ve heard it many times but I’d recommend going as light as possible. Part of traveling is finding out how little you really need. That being said, I’d recommend taking a headlamp, your sense of humor, and keeping a firm hold on Ameen ;) You and I like to have things planned out ahead but now’s the time to embrace being flexible. And, above everything else, enjoy every last bit of it, even the hard parts. Looking forward to following your travels at breezyameenie.blogspot.com! xxdk

  6. natashag00 says:

    I recommend an extra set of clothing for each person and any “necessities” like contacts or medicine, packed in a bag and ready to go. I learned the hard way 2 years ago during a flood.

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