The first 72 hours after a natural disaster are the calm before the second storm. Residents assume the government and relief agencies will soon arrive with emergency supplies. Most remain calm and polite.

After a few days, social norms begin to disappear, the second storm has arrived, residents remain hungry, thirsty, cold and out of touch with family and friends. They begin to feel desperate and abandoned as they are helpless to help themselves. As anger builds those who would never consider bad behavior under normal circumstances are now capable of behaviors that are completely out of character. We see this happening this week in New York and New Jersey. Who will be next? Where will the next disaster occur? Will you be ready or will you be forced to stand in food lines and wait for gasoline with those who are angry and out of control?

During a weather disaster power failure is the greatest concern. No power means no food, water and gasoline to purchase. Once generators are brought in and limited supplies are available there will be no ATMs and no charge card transactions. No power means no hot food. No power means water treatment plants are not able to operate and clean water is at a minimum or not available at all. Just last night there was a death in New York from hypothermia, no power, no heat.


There are many scenarios which may cause a power outage during the winter months. No matter what the cause, some planning is needed to keep family life somewhat normal. Remember the 2003 power blackout? It was the largest outage in North American history, affecting 10-million people in Canada, and 40-million people in 8-states of the USA. All due to the failure of the electrical grid. Ice storms sometimes paralyze cities as far south as the Carolinas. Blizzard are common and often deadly in many parts of the country. Your home might survive the ravages of the storm, but still be without power for extended periods. Earthquakes can occur any season of the year and imagine if the big one that is expected in Seattle, San Francisco, Utah or along the New Madrid fault happened during the coldest week of the year. If a disaster has happened even once in your area it can happen again.


Years ago I wrote an article for Meridian Magazine describing my memories of a hurricane in New Jersey when I was a very little girl. I received a letter from a man telling me hurricanes did not happen in New Jersey. I thought a lot about that man this week. I repeat, if a weather disaster has ever happened in your area it can happen again, even if it’s been 50 or 100 or 500 years.

Will you be prepared or will you be left wishing you had taken steps to protect your family? If you are still unmotivated turn on the TV and watch the suffering on the east coast and ask yourself if you are willing for your family to face the same fate. Read and study the following suggestions, make a hard copy to keep in a safe place for reference when the power is out, and take steps now to prepare what you will need.


When the power fails in winter:          


1.Stay indoors as much as possible. If you need to leave the house, open and close the door quickly, and keep it closed, not propped open while you carry something in or out.

2.Close interior doors to rooms you will not use during the outage.

3.A radio: You should already have one in your 72-hour kit. You will want to keep informed, so a radio is an absolute must. A hand crank/solar powered radio is a good choice, as it requires no batteries, although it will probably operate on batteries, too. These are available with a built in flashlight, which is also handy. After winding the crank for 30 seconds, the radio will play and the flashlight stay lit for a surprisingly long time. If you choose a battery-powered radio make sure you have batteries stored long term with the radio, but not in it. Also, be sure your radio has both AM and FM bands, since emergency broadcasts are limited and may be on either band for your area.

4.Flashlights: You should have several on hand, and again I recommend a solar/crank or battery operated flashlight. I do not recommend the flashlights that you shake. They have a very low beam of light and have to be shaken every 2-3 minutes to maintain power. Having experimented with several brands and having been dissatisfied with all of them, I have not seen one I recommend. Others have told me the same… A couple last thoughts about flashlights: Except for flashlights in regular service, I suggest storing batteries separate from your flashlight. I recently had a battery explode in a flashlight completely destroying it. It literally did a melt down. Usually, however, battery failure leads to leaked acid that destroys the flashlight or radio, rendering it useless when you need it. For everyday safety, store a flashlight next to every bed in the house in case of a nighttime emergency.

5.Glow Stick: Raid your 72-hour kit for glow sticks. They are so much safer than candles. You simply snap and shake the stick and it glows for hours. Always purchase the white or yellow varieties for the brightest light. Glow sticks come in several sizes and will glow for 30 minutes to 12 hours. Be sure to check when purchasing that you have the 12-hour variety. These can be hung in restrooms and hallways as nightlights providing light all night long without running down batteries. Glow sticks can be hung around the neck of a child to quickly see them in a crowd or to check on them in the middle of the night.

6.Candles: These should be available for use during a power outage but should never be used after a natural disaster. Gas leaks occur frequently after destructive disasters and many, many homes and lives have been lost in fires caused by gas explosions from lighting a candle. Candles sold in glass jars or bottles, such as religious candles, are by far the safest to use in appropriate situations.

7.Battery Clock: During an emergency, time seems to crawl by. Move your clock to a common area where everyone can check the time. Every home should have at least one clock that is battery operated.

8.Your Emergency Kitchen: You will want to plan for your cooking needs. This may include a barbeque grill, fire pit, camp stove, solar oven or your gas range. Each method will need additional preparation and caution. You will need charcoal, propane tanks, wood, aluminum foil, and special pots, pans and griddles. Remember to NEVER use a barbeque in the house either for heat or for cooking.In an extreme emergency such as a blizzard, when there is no other option for heating food and water, place a barbeque in the garage, OPEN the garage door and remove the car before starting the grill, keeping the door open the entire time. You will need to cook in your down coat but you will keep your family safe from toxic fumes. You cannot use a household pan on an open fire or grill but a griddle will act like a frying pan if you are using either of these methods to cook.

Remember to eat the food in the freezer first. If your outage may be long cook everything. Once cooked food will keep for a few days packed in snow or ice you chip from the yard. If you temperatures are below freezing place some small containers of water in the yard and wait for them to freeze. Once frozen place them in a cooler to keep food preserved.

9.Think Hot: It is important to eat and drink hot foods.

10.This is also the time to raid your 72-hour kit, and use your body warmers. If you have purchased “the good ones” they will help keep you warm for up to 20 hours. Remember 50% of body heat is lost through the head, so wear a hat. Warm socks and shoes (or insulated slippers) are also very important, as extremities are the second area of heat loss from theConsider using your body warmers in your footwear only if it is getting extremely cold and frostbite is a possibility. For cold hands, dry mittens that are tight at the wrist are better than gloves for keeping your hands warm.

11.Dress in loose fitting layers. Trapped air between layers helps to insulate thus keeping you warm. As it gets dark it will get colder. Layer your clothing to maintain as constant a body temperature as possible. If you don’t over dress early in the day you can avoid overheating and then being chilled as the temperatures fall. Protect your internal organs by keeping your core, chest area, warm.

12.Generators: If you can afford to purchase a generator, do it now. They will be gone in about 10 minutes after a natural disaster warning or after the earth stops quaking. If you cannot afford a generator, consider purchasing one with a relative or neighbor. The key here is that someone will have to house it, and of course, that is where neighbors, family, and friends will come to in an emergency.

13.Store fuel for your generator. To store gasoline for an emergency generator it’s important to follow simple safety rules. Fire codes typically restrict gas storage to no more than 25 gallons. Store the gas in approved containers of 5 gallons or less. Approved containers will include a label directly on the container confirming it meets specifications for portable containers for gasoline products. Never store gas in unapproved or glass containers. Fill the containers no more than 95 percent full to allow for expansion. Keep the container tightly capped.


Store the container at least 50 ft. away from pilot lights and ignition sources such as water heaters, space heater, furnace or barbecue grill. If storing on concrete place a piece of wood under the container. Store out of reach of children. Store in a garage or shed and never in your home. Store out of direct sunlight.


When storing gasoline always add a fuel stabilizer. Stabilizers prevent compounds and microbial growth from forming and degrading the gasoline. A stabilizer will allow you to store the gasoline for a year before rotating it.


14.Firewood: To produce heat effectively, wood must be seasoned. This means it has dried for at least a year after being cut. These stockpiles of wood will disappear quickly. Acquire a supply of firewood now. Hardwoods such as madrone, eucalyptus, almond, oak, etc. are the best for heating. Pines, firs, spruce, and redwoods are soft woods and will burn cooler and more quickly, providing fewer coals and less heat. Storing a little is soft wood makes a great fire starter.

10.Batteries: Make sure you have extra batteries of various sizes for flashlights, radios, clocks, and tools. And, make sure you know where you have stored them.

11.Manual Can Opener: All the food in the world is no good if you can’t get into it.

12.Detergent: Liquid laundry and dish detergent and a large tub or bucket for washing. Remember, good hygiene still counts in an emergency.

13.Matches or Lighters: Long wooden matches are the best to store as they are easier to use and burn longer.

14.Extra Blankets and Sleeping Bags: These will not only be useful at night for sleeping but also to keep warm during the daylight hours. Don’t forget the mylar blanket in your 72-hour kit. Use your resources to their best advantage. Zip two sleeping bags together and sleep two to a bag, if appropriate. The combined body heat will keep you warmer than sleeping alone. Contain your body heat as much as possible. Remember when as children you built forts under a kitchen table covered with a large blanket? This is a great way to contain heat. Drape the table with the survival blanket from your 72-hour kit, blankets, canvas tarps, or bedspreads and then place throw rugs or even a mattress under the table, crawl in, and snuggle under a blanket and you will be surprised how warm you will be. Two and three man tents set up in the living room can achieve the same result. Both of these “tents” are another great place to use your glow sticks.

15.Speaking of tents, bring in your tent and set it up in the room of your home that you are using as the “warm” room in your home. Play games in the tent during the day and sleep in it at night. Two man tents and play tents that you may have for your children also work for containing heat. If you have a fireplace in a bedroom prepare to sleep in that room and if you want to sleep in your bed place your tent on the bed, now you have the comfort of the mattress and the warmth of the tent.

16.If you have a well that supplies your water, it is extremely important that you have ample water stored. Even if you are on a water system you should be storing extra water. Water pipes can freeze, and if they do, turn off your water and do not attempt to unfreeze the pipes. Keep jugs of water stored for flushing toilets. You will also need water to prepare meals, have water for pets, and for cleaning. Most importantly, remember you will want to drink warm drinks so make sure you have water stored that can be used for hot cocoa and other hot drinks. Store wet wipes and liquid hand sanitizer for cleaning hands and conserving water.

17.Do not drink alcohol or eat salty foods. They dehydrates the body and your water supply will be limited.

18.Store canned foods to use during a power outage. They contain water or syrup which can help hydrate and they can be eaten cold if necessary. Never eat dehydrated or freeze dried foods without reconstituting them as this will cause dehydration and can lead to serious health problems.

19.Designate a room or two to be used as the rooms you will gather in during the day and sleep in at night. Close off unneeded rooms. Take personal items from bedrooms and close the doors. What little heat you generate from a fireplace you will want to retain in the rooms where you will live during the outage. The family should gather in one or two rooms and use only one restroom until power is restored.


Close off hallways by hanging blankets or other fabrics across them. Remember the draperies between rooms in the 1800s and even into the 1940s? These were closed to seal off rooms. To seal off a hallway use your shower curtain rod hanging it as close to the ceiling as possible.

21.Place rolled up towels and rags under and around doors and windows where weather stripping may not completely seal the area.

22.As soon as the sun goes down cover windows in the rooms in which the family is gathered. Once again, the mylar blankets from your 72-hour kits work great for this. You can also use blankets, sheets, tarps, plastic sheeting and drapery for this purpose. Newspaper in layers is a great insulator, too. At night, wind chill will become a real factor in keeping your home warm. Do all you can to keep the wind outside by using weather strip and caulking where necessary.

23.Games: Make sure games, books, and puzzles are easily accessible, and use them to help pass the time. When the sun goes down place a flashlight, battery-powered lantern, or glow stick in the middle of the floor and huddle around it like a campfire. Drink hot cocoa and tell family stories or appropriate spooky tales (like Ichabod Crane and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow). By appropriate, I mean go easy on the scary stuff with young children if you want a full night’s sleep.


With a little bit of preparation, a power outage can be a memorable adventure for your family, and not a big deal. Without planning, well, you might be on your rooftop trying to flag down a helicopter in your mukluks. Good luck!


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