by Ross Bishop
Disasters are rare, but the effects are devastating! Even lesser events can still cause considerable hardship.
We’ve all been without electricity for a few days. It’s not such a big deal, but with storms getting worse and more frequent, what if you’re stranded for a week? What if a flood, earthquake or tornado hits your town, even if it misses your house?
If you are lucky enough to have your home, you will have two of the essential survival requirements: shelter and food. However, you might want to take steps beforehand to consider your other survival needs: heat, water and energy.
In the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, there were many people in NY and NJ whose homes and apartment buildings were intact, but they had no utilities—no heat, no water, no electricity. These people could have left and gone into shelters, but many of them refused to leave from the fear of looters and that set them up for real difficulty.
Water availability was a problem from day one, and after their food ran out, they were in a real bind. And since most of the building basements had flooded, heating plants and elevators were inoperable. These people ended up in miserable living conditions for quite a while! The lesson is, when the infrastructure goes, the one constant is that life can be extremely difficult. And even a little preparation can make a great deal of difference.
Electricity is usually the first thing to go, and our lives today are very electric dependent. No electricity means no furnace, no lights, and no computer. It also means that the refrigerator won’t run and that you won’t be able to recharge your cell phone.
Natural gas is more reliable, so you may have the stove for cooking (even if you have to light it by hand), and you may have hot water. The furnace however, needs electricity.
A flood, hurricane or earthquake will put your water supply at risk. Even though you may have water, it may not be safe to drink. Depending on where you live, this may not happen very often, but the consequences are dire. You can go without food for a month if pushed, but without water, you’ll die in a matter of days.
You are going to want to know what is happening. A good, sturdy radio with a hand crank is a must. One with solar panels is even better. Some even have cell phone chargers built in. Receiving short wave frequencies can be a real bonus. The Kaito Voyager ($50), Eto’n Solarlink ($80), and the FreePlay GSW ($100) are excellent choices. The Eto’n FR160 ($30) is one of the best little crank AM/FM radios available. It is sold at Home Depot, Amazon and also under L.L. Bean and Red Cross labels.
There is probably no time you’ll need your cell phone more. Cell towers are remarkably resilient, although circuits do get jammed.
You might want to consider a battery powered cell phone charger. Your can get a rechargeable battery pack that will give you a couple of cell phone charges ($30). A step up from that is to add a solar re-charger to that. Some solar chargers have to be angled precisely at the sun and have a totally clear sunny day to operate properly. Some solar units can even recharge laptops and iPads. I am very partial to the Solar JOOS Orange ($149) It works great for all my portable devices and batteries and is practically indestructible. It isn’t as fussy about solar alignment as most units. If you live in the Southwest, a crystalline solar cell unit (less expensive) will work fine. In cloudy areas you’ll want CIGS panels (more expensive) that work better in indirect light.
Another option is to recharge your portable devices using your car battery. If you don’t already have car adapters for your mobile devices, get them. You don’t have to start the car’s engine, just turn the key on. Your cell phone won’t drain the car’s battery that much.
A big consideration is whether you want to invest in a generator. Having one can be a real blessing. But, generators are expensive and require fuel. A small generator will produce 2,000 KW of electricity, not a lot of power, but enough to get you by; larger units generate about 4,000 KW and up. The larger the unit, the more fuel consumption.
If you get a generator, keep a couple of filled 5-gallon cans of gasoline in the garage. Rotate the gasoline regularly, as gas does not store well after a few months. Don’t plan on being able to get gasoline if there is a storm. There may be no gas available if the power goes out (gas pumps run on electricity) or you might not be able to get to the gas station at all!
Never run a portable generator indoors! And in the winter, have a plan to run an extension cord indoors without having to leave a door or window open. You can also have an electrician install a power transfer switch that will connect your generator to the house’s electric panel.
Keep plenty of batteries on hand. Store regular alkaline batteries in a cool, dry space, but don’t bother refrigerating them. Refrigeration adds very little to the battery’s normal four-year shelf life. Do not store batteries in their devices and never throw them in a fire. Rechargeable batteries are a different story. Store them in the freezer in airtight bags or containers to keep them dry. Allow them to return to room temperature before you use them.
A camping electric lantern is a good investment. Recharge it periodically. Kerosene lanterns are quaint, but they are smelly, messy, a hassle and a fire hazard. Plus you must have fuel. Then there are candles.
I recommend buying a set of “olive oil lamp parts” from Lehman’s ($20). From these you can make 5 lamps out of jars (put some rocks or marbles in the bottom) that will burn almost any vegetable or olive oil. They last for many hours and can add a very soothing element to a stressful situation. I keep an extra bottle of cheap olive oil in my pantry, just in case.
You probably have some flashlights. Do they work? If you need new ones, buy LED units. They give much better light and run a great deal longer on a set of batteries. They are somewhat more expensive to buy. By the way, children feel much more safe and secure if they have their own flashlight.
In the winter, staying warm can be difficult if you don’t have a fireplace or wood stove. First off, have everyone sleep in one room and close off the rest of the house. You can run your furnace from your generator, but that heats the entire house. You can also buy electric or oil room heaters that run off the generator, but I think a propane heater is a much better way to go. In survival situations, systems that have to depend on each other always present a risk.
I like the BIG Buddy propane heater ($150). It is small, lightweight, portable and puts out enough heat for a good-sized room. You can run it off a bottle of propane like the ones used on gas grills. It also has a built-in oxygen sensor that shuts off automatically if things become unsafe (carbon monoxide). This is very important because heaters like these are not vented to the outdoors like your furnace or oven are.
If the city water goes out, sanitation will be a problem. Be sure to save your grey water in a bucket. Even if you don’t have water to your toilet, you can manually flush it by rapidly pouring a half-gallon of any liquid into the bowl. Don’t be too proud to pee outdoors.
You can live for a long time from what’s in your pantry, but a little advance planning will keep you from having to eat pancakes with ketchup.
Fresh food is the tricky part, especially if you are without electricity. Eat from the refrigerator first, then the freezer. Don’t open to door to either more than is necessary.
As part of your planning, add to your food pantry canned or powdered substitutes for your regular fresh food – things like powdered milk, powdered eggs, canned butter, powdered or canned fruit juice, canned cheese and canned or preserved meats. Most of these things have very long shelf lives. Some of the special items you’ll have to get from survival food suppliers. But these things will go a long way towards filling in for fresh food, once the fridge is empty. Incidentally, get yourself a really good, hand operated can opener.
If you eat meat, canned meats are usually loaded with undesirable chemicals, but there are several suppliers of canned organic meat. It’s expensive, but . . . I shy away from most canned vegetables because they are just so lousy. You can buy freeze dried fruits and vegetables, but they can be quite expensive.
Because I camp quite a bit, I have taken to dehydrating my own fruits and vegetables. That also gives me a great food supply for emergencies. I buy fruit in season from local growers who don’t use chemicals and I get vegetables from our local organic community garden. I make my own jerky (beef, chicken and fish) and fruit leather too. It’s not hard to do. After dehydrating it, I then vacuum seal everything for storage. If you are considering buying a dehydrator, get an Excalibur. They make a great line of products and are well worth the money!
Freeze dried backpack meals are convenient, but they are expensive, have nominal nutritional value and are loaded with preservatives. I do not recommend them or military style MRE’s (which are truly awful!).
If you can use your stove, that’s a blessing. If not, you will want to have a camp stove (I do not like backpack stoves. I find them to be too small and too flimsy!). You can cook on your gas grill or get a single burner propane camping stove ($25).
If you want a good stove that you can also use for camping, one design I particularly like is the “Vitalgrill” ($70). It is very sturdy and compact. It produces a good deal of heat from a small amount of fuel. The Vitalgrill has a small battery powered fan attached that really boosts its output and is very useful if you have to use damp wood. (http://www.vitalgrill.com/)
Another solution that I think is absolutely brilliant is called a “rocket stove” assembled at home from bricks. Rocket Stoves can be made from almost anything and they generate a good deal of heat from a small amount of fuel. You assemble this stove on your patio from 16 bricks. Here’s a good “how to” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XSMR2ANIZ7E. Get 16 bricks, learn how to put the stove together and then stack them in a corner of your yard or garage until you need them.
Trapped in a house for 4-5 days, nothing raises a family’s morale like baked bread and biscuits. Biscuits are easy to make and the “no-knead” bread making technique (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13Ah9ES2yTU) has turned the once onerous task of bread making on its head. Also, using the oven will help heat the house in the winter. Stash some yeast with your pantry supplies.
If you have water, even if it’s bad, you can probably treat it and live. If you don’t have any, you will be working against the clock. Storing water can be a hassle, and no one really wants to do it, but the risk is just too great to be without it. Stash as much as you can deal with. One piece of advice: you will need a good deal more water than you realize. Plan on at least one full gallon of drinking water per person per day, plus more for each pet. That’s a lot of drinking water! For a family of four plus a dog, for three days, that’s about 13 gallons just for drinking!
You may not want to trust the water quality, especially in a flood. There is a good chance that contaminants (like sewage or agricultural waste and run-off) could have been drawn into a compromised municipal water system. At the first hint of trouble, if the tap is still running, fill your bathtubs and any other containers you may have. Use buckets, pots – anything! In a crisis, you can even put garbage bags (untreated) in cardboard boxes and fill them. Survivalist shops sell bathtub sized plastic bags that you can fill for an emergency stash.
Store-bought drinking water has been sterilized and will store for a year. Date the bottles with a marker. If you want to store tap water, sterilize (sanitize) your containers and then either UV or chemically treat it (see below). Keep your water stored in a cool, dry and dark place and rotate your stock every 4-5 months. Gallon containers like milk jugs are fairly easy to handle and can be refilled. Watch for pinholes!
My disaster planning involves the possibility that I may have to evacuate, so gear like camping water filters suits my needs. They’re convenient, well designed, and expensive! But, if you plan to stay in your home, you can easily create your own water filter system and save some money. There are a lot of YouTube videos with ideas.
Be sure and wash your hands thoroughly before treating water. You will want to sanitize anything that comes in contact with water: Mix 1 tablespoon of regular bleach with one gallon of water. Wash and rinse everything first, then let the items soak in the sanitizing solution for at least 2 minutes. Drain and air dry.
I recommend treating water in two sages. The first stage kills organisms, the second removes chemical contaminants. If your water looks cloudy, let it settle out for an hour and then run the upper ¾ths of it through a funnel lined with coffee filters. That’s to get the big particles out.
The first stage of treatment has three options: UV, boiling or chemical treatment. The purpose is to kill pathogens, especially viruses, that are so small they slip through most filters. But this won’t get chemical contaminants. That’s what the second stage is for.
Boiling is probably the simplest and most reliable first stage treatment method. Boiling kills most (not all) microbes. Simply bring the water to a rolling boil and then take it off the fire to cool. Covering the pot will shorten the boiling time and conserve fuel. Do not drink hot water. It will cause you to vomit. That is why we sip tea. Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by shaking it up in sterilized soda bottles. This will improve the taste of your stored water too!
UV treatment is relatively new. You insert a small light device into a liter of water and swirl it around for 45 seconds. UV is fast, but only works in small batches. A big advantage is that there is no chemical taste and you don’t have to wait for the water to cool down. UV can consume a lot of battery power if you are treating for a family, although some units do have solar rechargers. One big concern is that UV does not work in cloudy water, so run your raw water through some sort of pre-filter first. I have had excellent results with Steri-Pen UV water treatment units (http://www.steripen.com/).
Chemical treatment works fine, but has drawbacks. Bleach is the most common chemical. It is cheap but it leaves a taste to the water. Use only regular bleach, no flavors or additives. Pour your water to be treated into a sanitized container and add regular bleach as follows: 2 drops per quart of water, 8-10 drops per gallon of water or 1/2 teaspoon per five gallons of water. (If the water is cloudy, double the dosage.) Don’t pour water to be purified into contaminated containers. Sanitize all containers first.
Mix well. Wait 30 min. The water should have a slight bleachy odor. If not, repeat the treatment. Wait 15 min. Sniff again. If it still does not smell slightly of chlorine, discard it and find another source. I have had excellent results using chlorine dioxide tablets (it’s like bleach only better and not nearly so toxic) but it is a good deal more expensive.
The second stage of water treatment is to filter your water through activated charcoal to eliminate chemical contamination. A good filter will have a ceramic first stage and an activated charcoal second stage. The ceramic filter gets germs and larger microbes; the activated charcoal removes many (not all) toxic chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.
There are a number of good, easy to use, systems available today. Berkey, Katadin and MSR make excellent filters, or as I said, you can create your own system. If you purchase a water filter system, get one with enough capacity to handle your family needs. EPA approval is important, too. Some systems use gravity, others pump through the filter. Pay attention to flow rates or the effort required to pump. At some point, you’ll need to either replace the filter or clean it. Replacement filters can be expensive. Cleaning filters carries a risk because after all, they are filled with contaminants, so be extremely careful!
Read filter claims carefully. Many water filters claim to be effective against both organisms and chemicals. The critical thing is to be able to filter out tiny viruses. Bacteria are large and easy to snag. Not so with virus’. But that means you would only need one process. It’s a great concept, but I find that virus filters have such teeny-tiny holes that they tend to clog very quickly. I also like to have backups for my survival essentials and nothing is more important than water, so I stick with the two-stage approach.
Copyright 2013 Blue Lotus Press