By Rich Patterson
It was four days after Hurricane Sandy hit before I could make contact with my 89-year-old parents. Finally, Mom’s voice came through a weak cellphone connection.
“We’re just fine Rich. We have lots of food, the wood stove is keeping us warm, and Dad brought out the camping stove and lantern. We just cooked a pot of clam chowder and the camping lantern keeps the house fairly light,” she told me.
This was the third lengthy power outage northern New Jersey has endured in the past 15 months. Even though previous storms shut down utilities, many people were caught off guard by Sandy and had little food stored away and had made no provisions for heating the home, cooking, or even minimal lighting beyond flashlights. Some bought generators, but Sandy left New Jersey with little gasoline to fuel them.
Perhaps I developed a sense of emergency preparedness from my parents, but my Iowa home is ready for disasters that I hope never come. The Hawkeye State enjoys reliable utilities and this may be why many Iowans are unprepared for the possibility of an extended power loss in subzero January weather.
Simple and relatively inexpensive actions before a disaster enable a family to ride out days without power. Marion and I have done the following to enable us to live comfortably no matter how long the power is off:
l Heat and freezing: Most furnaces won’t work without electricity. We have four ways to heat our house. Three do not require electricity — a natural gas fireplace insert, a basement wood stove with six cords of dry wood in storage, and a simple propane heater. Backup heat also is important to keep pipes from freezing and bursting. Some homes in northern climes have valves that enable easy pipe draining. Open the valve and sponge water out of toilets and there will be no freeze damage.
l Food: We keep a week’s worth of backpacker-style dehydrated meals plus plenty of flour, oatmeal, nuts, beans, and other foods that store well at any temperature. Our small flock of laying hens give us eggs daily and don’t need electricity. Marion and I also know how to find, prepare, and eat common suburban wild plants.
l Water: We keep 20 gallons of drinking water in big camping jugs in the basement. To back them up we have a backpacker’s water purification filter and several bottles of water purification pills so we could dip water from Indian Creek and make it safe to drink.
l Cook: Three camp stoves and keep plenty of fuel will keep us cooking for a month or more of power loss.
l Light: Our three trusty camping lanterns provide light and some heat — one by gasoline, one by kerosene and the other by batteries.
l Cash: When power goes down, credit and debit cards don’t work. Cash always works. We keep small bills stashed in an emergency bin that also includes medications, batteries, a radio, books, extra flashlights and various other survival items.
Our basic emergency gear is stowed in two large plastic totes. If we need to evacuate we could load the totes, sleeping bags and a tent, clothing, and spare fuel in the car and be on our way within five minutes.
I will lead a workshop on household disaster preparation at 1 p.m. Dec. 8 at Indian Creek Nature Center. See www.indiancreeknaturecenter.org for more information.
Having basic survival items in a home and having basic survival knowledge provides peace of mind, even if there is never a power failure.
Rich Patterson is director of Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org