Be Prepared?

This post was inspired by my ongoing contemplation of the Canadian Doomer’s Blog.

Home safety is second nature to me because my dad worked as a safety officer. At my house, I have smoke detectors, a carbon monoxide detector, and a fire extinguisher. I’ve always had a well-stocked first aid kit. The electrical outlets are capped and I don’t even have kids in the house! I would not dream of leaving a drawer open or storing anything on the stairs. I don’t even have to think about these things, I just do “the right thing” routinely.

I have all the emergency stuff I’m supposed to have in my car. That comes from having lived in Saskatchewan with its -40C winters. I feel more threatened by the possibility of a car breakdown or accident in a remote place, than I do a home emergency.

On the other hand, when it comes to public emergencies, my preparations are half-baked. I am aware of what’s on emergency checklists and I weakly attempt to collect a few things when I think of it.

A detailed guide is available for purchase!

What are my real risks?

  • Personal injury or illness
  • Car breakdown or accident
  • Theft of personal property
  • House fire caused by electrical fault or roofing repair
  • Power outages due to snow, rain or wind storms (with corresponding lack of heat and water)
  • Weather-related damage to communications lines (phone, Internet)
  • Roads blocked due to storms (fallen trees, severe snowfalls)
  • No ability to purchase goods because of the above (e.g. stores closed because of storms)
  • Remote risk – warfare because Halifax is a port city and a centre of military operations

I don’t expect I will ever have to barricade myself in my house and live off my own resources, nor do I think I will ever be trapped in my home. However, a one-week power outage with no ability to buy anything is a real possibility.

Otherwise, the risks of earthquakes, landslides, tornadoes and heat waves are very low in my area. Floods and forest fires could impact neighbourhoods within a few kilometres.

Effects of Hurricane Juan (Photo: cbc.ca)

The biggest emergency I’ve been part of is when Hurricane Juan struck my town in September, 2003. Just 5 months after that, a nor’easter dumped 95 cm of snow and brought the city to a standstill. After the hurricane, I got off very easy because my power was out less than 24 hours. My parents live outside the city and theirs was out for 5 days.

Everyone in my area realized what they should have done to be prepared. If you look at my parents’ approach to weather events, compared to mine, you’ll learn from their wise ways!

First of all, because they live in a wooded area, they are always aware of the potential for tree damage. They keep a zone around their house clear of trees. They also have a wood stove as secondary heat, with access to free wood. They have a chain saw and an axe. They can remove fallen trees and collect firewood. So, they do not remain trapped on their property, and they have heat. Because they also live next to a freshwater lake, their house is essentially “below sea level” and vulnerable to flooding. A sump pump was not able to keep up with water seepage in the basement, so they now have two in good working order. On the plus side, the lake water is clean and can be used for drinking, cooking, bathing and toilets.

At the time of Juan, my parents were raising chickens, turkeys and trout. They keep two large, fully stocked freezers. They had a small gas generator which they used to power their freezers for the 5-day power outage, so they had no losses.

We all realized the importance of having a full tank of propane for our barbecues.

My parents can’t get cell phone service because their house is in a deep hollow. They do have an old-fashioned telephone that just plugs into a jack, with no electrical connection. It would work if power was out and phone lines were still intact.

All told, my parents fared well for the 5 days, with access to heat, water, cooking on the barbecue, and lack of food spoilage. Their greatest difficulty was lack of phone service. They relied on neighbours with cell phones to get messages out. The only lingering irritation is that the TV cable lines were down and they weren’t repaired for weeks. If they’d had their phone service through the cable company, it would have been a serious complication.

Lest you think the picture is all rosy, my safety officer dad, with the chain mail chaps, still managed to gouge himself with the chain saw and it was remarkable that my mom discovered him injured and was able to get help via the neighbours. My dad has not even given up using the chain saw – he just got a suit with better protection for the next time!

They later purchased a much larger gas generator which can power all of their lights and major appliances.

Meanwhile, I had heard a storm was coming, but did not take it seriously because in the past, every one of them had turned into a post-tropical storm. However, one very concerned woman warned me that I should take in everything from the yard and deck that might blow away. Because I am too cheap to want to replace my stuff, I did, thankfully. I forgot that the latch on the screen door was broken. During the storm, it banged repeatedly against the house and eventually came off its hinges. My landlord was not impressed that I hadn’t reported the faulty latch and now he had to replace the door.

I made the big hurricane preparation that seemed important to me at the time: I made a pot of coffee and put it in a thermos. Although the coffee was very welcome in the morning, I certainly did trivialize the storm. I was worried about the food in my freezer but since the power outage was only one day, it survived. I did end up cooking a meal on the barbecue.

I had numerous flashlights with working batteries. I tried to go out before the storm and get extra batteries but they were sold out everywhere, as was bottled water. I managed to get a couple of bottles after checking at 3 or 4 stores.

The greatest panic after both the hurricane and the nor’easter was that with extended power outages, bank machines were not accessible and gas stations remained closed. As soon as they were able to open, there were massive line-ups for gasoline and for barbecue propane. Stores sold out of generators, and the following winter, snow blowers.

The biggest revelations to people were:

  • how community-minded everyone found each other, checking on their neighbours and sharing resources, and
  • we all want Tim Horton’s to be declared an essential emergency service!

We want our Tim’s!

After all that, am I prepared for another emergency? I have improved. I bought a crank radio. I keep extra flashlight batteries and water. I have all of my critical documents in one place. My computer files are on an easy-to-grab back-up drive. I keep a full tank of propane. I also have a camp stove. I don’t let the car gas tank get too near empty before topping it up (I’m especially diligent in the winter, when I might have to run the engine for heat). I keep up to 4 weeks’ worth of groceries in the house including a decent stock of non-perishables that I actually know how to make meals with. I always keep home insurance up to date, which covers a few perils. And I am the only adult I know, outside of hospital personnel, with my DPT vaccination up to date!

I keep mulling over a secondary heat source. I have no desire to buy and split wood, so a pellet stove or direct-vent propane fireplace might be the best options. But, our worst power outages are always during hurricane season, and not in the winter when heat is needed. So I have not proceeded yet.

For me, a more serious emergency would be an evacuation. I would have to go where I was told. The idea of sharing quarters with hundreds of people alarms me. This morning I thought of the following emergency kit for a forced evacuation in a public building:

  • Sleeping bags and air mattresses
  • Eye shields
  • Ear plugs
  • Mini board games
  • Card games
  • Notebooks
  • Pens
  • Unread or favourite books (actual, print books)
  • MP3 player (not iPod with rechargeable battery)
  • Batteries
  • Earphones

I might even have to ask Rom to pack a few decks of Magic the Gathering cards! I would hope that nice musicians would bring their guitars and violins so they could entertain us with sing-alongs and dancing.

Evacuated to a shopping mall for Cyclone Yasi
Photo: brisbanetimes.com.au

Over all, I do think that people are woefully under-prepared for even brief emergencies, and they have not thought through any personal challenges such as their dependence on medications, public transit, or keeping track of their pets. I might not have the best emergency kits, but I have thought through various scenarios, and feel somewhat mentally prepared.

As Scar sings in The Lion King, “So prepare for the coup of the century, be prepared for the murkiest scam, meticulous planning, tenacity spanning…BE PREPARED!”

There is a basic emergency supplies checklist here and a more detailed family emergency preparedness booklet here.

18 comments

  1. I just want to point out that pellet stoves (we have one) require electricity. We have lots of power outages in our area, but we also have a wood fireplace, oil lamps, a propane stove in the kitchen, a generator and lots of candles. The barn has an old hand pump well that just needs a prime to get started. We’ve survived power. Outages without too much difficulty, but it’s a bit easier out here in older farm houses, maybe.

    • Heidi, is the electricity just for the fan on the pellet stove? Thank you – I will have to do more research! I would think that older homes would be a lot more likely to have fireplaces, etc. I have a 1997 suburban special! (Update: I am now informed about pellet stoves which have an electronic feeder system as well as forced exhaust and a blower into your living space.)

      • Just saw your update – I was going to tell you that the electricity is needed for the hopper, which feeds the pellets slowly into the fire – but see you already found that out. It’s still a nice way to heat the house, but not one you can rely on in power outages. There are outdoor wood furnaces – they would probably still have a fan, but would still work during power outages (I think). You’d have to buy wood, though.

  2. We’re badly unprepared for an emergency, even a small emergency. Thanks for this post because it will make me take action.

  3. I’ll add a little thought (beyond the fact that I’m flattered and pleased by the mention!) that preparedness is a) never complete and b) a mindset. Make sure you don’t consider your preps to be like a fire extinguisher – sitting there and (hopefully) never used. Use them regularly and maintain an attitude of adaptability.

    Great post. 🙂

  4. SarahN

    This is one of my favourite topics. As I just commented on your previous post, I don’t really buy books. But when I did (in NYC on holidays) I picked up one on emergency preparedness. Fascinates me! I routinely stockpile a couple of hundred dollars – til a tradie prefers cash and then I have to start again! I have extra batteries. I haven’t yet bought the canteen of water, but I keep thinking about it! GET ON IT! Thankfully, Australia has mild weather, so the heating/cooling is of less concern.

    And power/electricity. Well – I work for the power company, so in a way, I feel like if anything major happens here, I’ll be working! (actually the cyclones ‘up north’ as well as Brisbane’s floods, people I work with were deployed to assist their power companies… I want to be one of those people one day!).

    With food, I have lots of grains etc. I’d be stuck without fruit, vege and meat, but in an emergency, I think ‘balanced’ is less of a concern!

    Thanks for the reminder – I’ll get that water. And maybe some more ‘canned’ meat for the pantry.

  5. SarahN

    Agh, although I have electricity for my stove – fail… Hmmm (and a tiny balcony… and then most gas BBQs have an electric sparking thing…)

  6. I just loved this post about your emergency preparedness – I could seriously go OCD on this one if I got started. I will take note of all your advice and see how we measure up at our house (both of them in fact!). I think we already fail on the trees – both properties have trees too close but it would break my heart more than the tree would break our roof if I had to have them taken out. However, before I embark on any other project I am committed to my Healthy Eating objectives – which I must go and get on with!

  7. The worst emergency we had in recent years happened during the summer months. Road crews were working on an intersection about 4 miles north of me, but it knocked out our power. The wonderful people who make the decisions decided that it wasn’t worth fixing right away, until the road work was completed as they might knock it out again. Electricity and phones went down. It was out for 5 days! Had it been winter I had a place I could have stored all my food in the fridge and freezer but being the end of summer and having an electric stove only, all my food in the freezer froze. Since power was out we had no water (as we were on a well) so I filled up jugs each day at work and washed at a friends place.

    I’ve gotten better about keeping things that I can eat in case power goes out again for an extended time, but I have only a week of food (not counting the rice, beans, legumes that would need cooking. I have a neighbor with a grill, so I would probably cook on that if need be.

    • anexactinglife

      Wow, hard to believe that was intentional! I would be in the same boat if we had a summer emergency – would lose the contents of the freezer, and need to cook on a grill. Probably the only ways I could be more prepared would be to have more bottled water and more shelf-stable food.

      • livingsimplyfree

        I agree, I wasn’t prepared for a summer outage, although it was nice and quiet in the evenings and I took the time to appreciate that.

  8. Pingback: An Exacting Life is One! « An Exacting Life

  9. Pingback: How prepared are you? | No More Spending | No More Spending

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