After a disaster we often resolve to be more prepared next time, but it is easy to quickly forget the lessons learned. Let me share some comments I have heard the past few weeks.

The mayor of one small New Jersey town wants to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. He is currently trying to find money to repair the firehouse and replace an ambulance damaged in the storm. He fears that taxes will need to go up to pay for the repairs.

We often fail to consider the damage to the infrastructure after a disaster. Two lessons to learn here: (1) It may become more expensive to live in your community as repairs and replacement needs are addressed, and (2) we need to be prepared to care for our own needs because first responders may be unable to reach us if their equipment is no longer usable.

“We piled under layers of blankets and sleeping bags on the floor… we ran a generator for a few hours at night to drift off into a warm sleep. But when morning came, we were chilled to the bone.”


Create a plan to enclose the room you are using as your sleeping space. You should cover the windows, lower the ceiling, close off hallways, set up a tent, and gather as many bodies into as small a space as possible.


When you turn in for the night, don’t bundle up too much. Be sure you are warm but not hot. If you sweat you will be wet and as the temperature drops you will get much colder and have a harder time warming up. Keep a hat, gloves, socks and extra blanket nearby so as you get cold during the night you can easily grab these items and put them on.


“All of us have really bad colds.”


Be sure to stock supplies for colds and flu. When you are stressed you will be more susceptible to illness.


Things disappeared never to be seen again, at least not for a long time. Top missing supplies:

  •  Fuel of all kinds for both heating and cooking – wood, charcoal, propane etc.
  • Matches and lighters
  • Toilet paper, Paper plates and cups, plastic forks and knives
  • Batteries
  • Milk
  • Spark plugs (for generators)
  • 2 stroke motor oil, (chainsaws)
  • Anything that could be used to wire a generator to the house
  • Extension cords
  • Medicines

Look at the list above and consider not only your own needs but also the needs of those around you. All of these items would be great to use as barter for items you have forgotten or services you may need.

“We spend our days shuttling back and forth between the hotel and the house, cleaning the house and cooking meals on the gas stove, which is one of the only things in the house that still works. We must wait for the landlord to work things out with his insurance company. As the days grow shorter, the place has become a damp breeding ground for mold. We have to bleach the walls, the bathroom, the kitchen cupboards, the fridge, everything.”


Bleach and disinfectant will disappear from store shelves as everyone will need to prevent mold. Before you receive permission from the insurance company, there are things you cannot do, such as removing walls and floors. You will have to do as much as possible to be sure you protect your family’s exposure to mold. Bleach destroys your hands, so in addition to bleach you will need gloves and once you begin destruction, masks.


“My husband lost his job as a truck driver because he missed so much work after the storm.”


This is not unusual. More than 40% of businesses never reopen after and storm. Many others lose their jobs because transportation routes are no longer viable or time must be spent trying to work through the insurance maze or helping your family cope with the stress of loss.


“Our teens lost all of their school books and supplies in the flood. They just got their report cards, and they’re not doing very good. It’s hard to study when you have to go home to a destroyed home.”


After a disaster you will need to pay close attention to the ways in which your children are coping. You will need to be patient and you may need to be more involved with your child’s school.

“The excitement and coolness of a major disaster wears off around day three.”

“The hours go by very slowly when the power is out and you get bored fast.”

Be sure you have plenty of games, books, crafts and other things to keep your family occupied for those long hours. The hours are very…long without power.

“If you do not have water stored up you are in trouble. A couple of cases of bottled water is “NOT” water storage.”

I received a message on Facebook recently with a great deal on dehydrated food for storage. As I examined the directions for use of the products, a user would need at least equal parts of water and food. That is a lot of water! Consider how much water you use each day when you have power and food. Spend one day recording every time you use water. You will be amazed how much water it takes to survive each day. Remember the liquids in canned foods are also a source of “water”.Store canned foods.

“I was surprised how quickly normal social behavior goes out the window.

I am not talking about someone cutting in line at the grocery store. But rather, the 3 people who were killed at gas stations within 50 miles of my home.”

Being able to care for your needs in your home will help to keep you safe from the craziness on the streets. Whenever possible, make shelter where you are unless specifically told to evacuate.

“Cash is king (all the money in your savings means nothing). ATMs were down and the power was out so no credit cards could be used.”

Supplies will be limited so being the one with no cash means merchants can just move on and sell to someone else who is better prepared.

Remember small bills and coins are best for buying during an emergency. If someone can’t make change for your $20 bill are you really going to leave your $15 purchase behind when the family is home hungry? No, so that $15 purchase just cost you $20.

“You eat a lot more food when you are cold. We should have stored more”

Not only do you need more food when you are cold but you will eat more when you are bored because the power is out, the streets are blocked, and you are stuck at home.

“All the food storage in the world means nothing if your kids won’t eat it. You might be prepared to take care of your children and their needs, but what about when the neighborhood children start to show up at your door? Although neighbors can be a great resource, they can also be a huge drain on your emergency storage.”

Store the foods you normally eat and plan for family and friends who may need your help. That can just be long-term items such as rice, beans and oats – but make a plan now and work the plan.

“The electrical grid is way more fragile than I thought.”

One of the biggest risks we have as a nation is failure of the electrical grid. The grid in the United States is in very bad condition. This is not just my opinion – it is shared by many in that industry.

“Small solar charging gadgets will keep you in touch. Most work pretty well it seems.”

These are particularly good for charging cell phones, Ham radios, and other small devices.

“Think of the things that are your comfort, your escape, a cup of hot chocolate, a glass of milk and a Ding Dong before bed. Stock up on those too. You will need that comfort after day 3.”

Children and adults all need reassurance and the feeling that everything will work out. Comfort foods go a long way to meet this need.

“We are all entirely dependent on outside sources of everything. If trucks stop rolling due to road damage, or gas shortages you are going to go without for a long time.”

Grocery stores normally stock only a two day supply in their back rooms. Shelves will empty much faster than you think and there will be no more until delivery trucks can get back in.

“Just because you think you are prepared for a storm doesn’t mean you are. I know I have enough flashlights for every member of my family and that I have a basket full of batteries sitting in my closet. Yet, somehow, almost all the flashlights have disappeared and I am almost completely out of AA and D batteries. Keep a flashlight next to your bed at night and if you are going out and will be coming back after dark, take a flashlight with you.”

Unless you have lived through a blackout it’s hard to imagine just how dark it gets when the sun goes down, night after night. I love the tip to take a flashlight with you so you don’t come home to a dark house, stumbling to find a light.

“Having a battery powered or hand crank radio can be a lifeline when the power goes out.”


Great – but also consider Ham Radio. That will help you get information from a much greater geographic area and also allow two-way communications. Getting a license is easy these days – even my 9 and 11 year-old grandchildren passed the FCC Technician-class license exam after a day of study.

Just a few more insights:

“You are never really prepared to go weeks without power, heat, water etc. Never!”

“Yes it can happen to you! I didn’t believe it either, but I do now.”

“Fill your freezer. Not only does a full freezer stay cold longer, but by freezing as much water as you can in advance, you will have a nice supply of very solid blocks of ice to stash and use for water.”


“Gas appliances totally rock.”


Keep a corded phone somewhere in your house. Our cell phone only worked occasionally.”

“The government can’t do everything. Citizens didn’t prepare as well as they could have. New York City is a place where in normal times, you can get any kind of food you want delivered to your door at any hour of the day or night. But when times aren’t normal, you need to have some food in your pantry.”

For those who have been reading here or receiving the Totally Ready newsletter, you have heard this before from me. Now you have heard it from survivors. Let’s all learn from their experiences so we don’t have to suffer the same as they did.