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January 2017 is setting rainfall records in California, pulling us out of many years of drought but making trouble in other ways. During one of the storms we experienced 50-60mph wind gusts. As you may imagine, we lost power. It was a great reminder why we need to compile a self-reliance binder. Let me tell you what we did and what we learned when the lights went out.
Since we had been warned by the National Weather Service that high winds were coming, we placed lanterns and headlamps on the kitchen island so we knew where to find them and could save a search in the dark. We had also kept the fire stoked and had the laundry caught up and all our coolers full of water since we have a well that relies on power. I had kept my cell phone on the charger so it was also ready to go.
The lights flickered a few times and sure enough – we were plunged into darkness for the first time in several years. What happened next?
1. We used those great LED headlamps to light the way while keeping our hands free for work.
2. We kept the wood stove going for heat, replenished our wood supply, and then kept the outside door closed to retain heat in the house.
3. We kept the fridge and freezer closed to retain temperature. We hung a “Do Not Open” sign on them, because that’s where folks go when they’re bored. You know it’s true.
4. From the garage we retrieved several gallon jugs of stored water and placed them in the bathroom to use for flushing and hand washing. We wanted to save the water in the coolers for drinking and cooking.
5. Glow sticks were hung one in all the bathrooms and hallways. If you don’t have a supply of these, please purchase some. They provide light all night long without running down batteries, and even 24 hours later they were still glowing.
6. Then – just for curiosity we got out the solar/crank radio and discovered it didn’t work on the crank alone! After inserting batteries, it did work, but it was a good reminder to check these things out often. I will be seeking a new one that will be more reliable.
7. We had installed UPS power supplies for our computers (Uninterruptible Power Supply), and even with power out, these had enough power to operate for quite a while if necessary, but we shut them down to preserve the charge on those battery-power units. We also had a UPS on the Wi-Fi router, which gave us continuous access to the internet throughout the 4-1/2 hour outage.
8. While the power was down, the regularly scheduled weekly amateur radio net for our county’s ARES group (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) was held, and we checked in with others from throughout Stanislaus County, running our station on backup battery power, and also checked the signal from a handheld VHF radio too, which was heard over the repeater 50 miles away loud and clear. Ham radio is a good resource to have in an emergency, just in case the grid goes down and takes the cell phones with it.
9. After that, I found myself wanting the comfort of my heat therapy rice pack. I use these for a sore neck, and sometimes for a migraine or sore back. I suddenly wondered if placing it in front of the fire would warm it up. Yes, it worked.
Hopefully what I experienced will help you better prepare and react.
This week copy the following and place a copy in your auto kit and one in your binder.
During a winter storm ask yourself, “Is this trip really necessary” If you decide the trip cannot be delayed, check on weather conditions along your travel route. Listen to weather forecasts on TV, local radio stations or NOAA Weather Radio.
Before you leave town, fill your gas tank. While traveling, frequently refill the gas tank. The stops will relieve tense muscles. When you stop, don’t flaunt large amounts of cash. Keep valuable items out of sight. Avoid talking with strangers. Stop at well-lit, well-traveled facilities.
Do not travel in low visibility conditions such as fog, heavy rain or heavy snow.
Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads, overpasses, and bridges if at all possible, unless you have chains, snow tires or four-wheel drive.
Always carry tire chains if you live in snow country or when traveling to destinations where snowstorms may occur.
Always travel with a cell phone or HAM radio.
Let someone know your destination(s) and when you expect to arrive. Ask them to notify authorities and family members if you are late.
Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your car before you leave.
Always carry extra warm clothing in case you become stranded and need to stay in your car for an extended period of time or to leave your car and walk.
What to Do if You Get Stranded
Stay in your vehicle when stranded – that is almost always the safest and best solution.
Tie a brightly colored cloth to the door handle or securely hang it out the window. Securing CDs or a mylar blanket to the car will also help you to be seen as they will reflect headlights at night and the sun during the day.
Raise the hood of the car to signal rescuers as long as it is not raining or snowing.
Move anything you may need from the trunk to the car interior to limit the times you need to exit the vehicle. Every time you open the car door you let in cold air making it more difficult to maintain body temperature.
Wrap your entire body including your head and feet in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers to preserve body temperature.
Place newspaper or extra clothing on the floor to help insulate the car from cold wind blowing beneath the car.
Be sure at least one person stays awake at all times. You will be less vulnerable to hypothermia if someone remains awake to run the car, see below.
Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. When you get your things from the trunk check to be sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked. If it continues to snow check the exhaust pipe every two hours.
If it is dark, grab a glow stick from your emergency supplies and light it to make it easier for rescuers to find you. You can also use a flashlight but it will run down the batteries so stock up on glow sticks saving the flashlight for when leaving the car to find a restroom (tree)!
Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts added strain on the heart. Shoveling snow or pushing the car in freezing temperatures could bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse.
As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warm.
Do not eat un-melted snow as it will lower your body temperature.
Cuddle with other people for warmth.
Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold even in your home with the power out. The most common cold-related problems are hypothermia and frostbite. Know how to recognize and treat them.
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature which affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly. This is extremely dangerous because a victim may not realize their body is shutting down and permanent damage is occurring. Those with compromised immune systems, the elderly, the very young and those who have consumed alcohol or illegal drugs will experience hypothermia more quickly.
Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at any cool temperatures if you are wet from rain, snow, swimming or even sweating.
Treatment of Hypothermia
If medical care is not available, begin warming the victim by getting them into a warm room or other warm shelter out of the wind and snow. Remove any wet clothing. Warm the body beginning with the core (chest), then head, groin, legs and, and arms and hands. Warm the body using an electric blanket if available (set on medium or low, not high). If an electric blanket is not available use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, sleeping bags, clothing, towels, or sheets.
Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature – given in small amounts. Never give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
Once body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head, neck, and feet. Follow up with medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be administered. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing of the skin and underlying cells. Frostbite causes numbness and loss of color in affected areas. Most often the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes are affected. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. It is crucial to keep the skin dry and covered to prevent frostbite. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold and warm up. Indicators of frostbite may include: white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and/or numbness. A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out (because the frozen tissues are numb) so it is important for everyone to know the signs and watch for them in your traveling companions.
Treatment of Frostbite
When you first notice signs of frostbite get out of the cold immediately when possible, and rewarm the affected area. Advanced frostbite can result in amputation or even death. Take it seriously.
Do not rub the skin in an effort to get blood flowing back to the area. This causes friction and can destroy already damaged skin and tissue, as well as increase the risk of infection.
To thaw frostbitten skin, immerse the affected part in a bath kept at a constant temperature of 104 to 105 degrees F for an hour or more, about the temperature of a baby bottle. This will cause the blood vessels to dilate and circulation to return to the area.
Rapid rewarming is painful. Take two ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen to dull the pain.
Do not smoke or chew tobacco. Nicotine constricts the blood vessels, reduces blood flow to chilled areas, and delays healing. If you do not have access to warm water, stick the frozen body part under an armpit or between your legs.
When the skin has thawed and rewarming is complete, cover the damaged skin with bandages and warm clothing. As soon as possible contact your doctor or go to an emergency room.
If there is any chance of refreezing a thawed body part, do not rewarm. Freezing, rewarming and freezing the skin again causes much more tissue damage.