Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Building an Emergency Kit for the Home -- Part II
No lights! No heat! Now what?

The obvious place to start in building a home emergency kit is with sources of alternate lighting. Don't think that because you live in an area where the weather is generally mild that you don't need to prepare for power outages; we've had them at our house even on beautiful sunny days! Moreover, our Southern state has a temperate clime and is not known for receiving a lot of ice and snow. But, on those rare occasions when we do experience wintery precipitation, conditions are are messy enough to shut down the whole town. Once, after an ice storm, we experienced a power outage that lasted for weeks!
Most of us know that we need flashlights and batteries on hand. I try to keep them stashed around the house, because you never know where you will be when the power goes out. This article is causing me to think that I need to make sure that our flashlights are in their proper places and that we have fresh batteries. In our home, flashlights and batteries, like pens and one sock out of a pair, seem to "go wandering".
In addition to flashlights, you will need longer-burning sources of light. Most experts suggest that you use battery powered lanterns, rather than candles or kerosene lamps. Our family has used candles, oil-burning lamps, and the light from fireplaces. If you also use these, please remember to be extra careful. Light sources that do produce a flame carry the risk of burns and fire. If you are already in some kind of power crisis, the last thing that you want to do is to to deal with a burn injury or set your home ablaze.
Once you've settled the question of light, you should then think ahead about prpearing for etreme heat heat or cold. Power outages often occur during times when the weather is very cold or very hot. Familiarize yourself now with directions for recognizing and treating heat-related and/or cold-related health problems. Be especially careful to watch for signs of temperature-related health issues in young children, the elderly, or in anyone whose body is already strained by an illness.
Check out the CDC's (U.S. Center for Disease Control) website for more information about treating hyper- and hypo-thermia. Make sure that your emergency stash contains any items suggested in the patient care directions.
In cold weather, you will need a way to heat your rooms. If you absolutely have no other way to provide warmth, do this: At the beginning of an emergency, while there is still hot water in your tank, run hot water into your tubs. (Keep kids away from steaming water). The water will give off some heat and will buy you several hours until you can get your family to safer conditions. Don't count on this method making the house comfortable; you will still need to bundle up.
Obviously, if you have wood-burning fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, you can continue to use these as you would in normal conditions. (Some wood-burning stoves rely on electricty to start them and to filter out toxic fumes, so know ahead of time if yours can be used in an emergency). The pros and cons of using portable heaters, fire places, and wood burning stoves are too extensive to mention in this post. There are benefits and hazards associated with each. Do some research and select what works for your family. If you do count on using a wood-burning fireplace, make sure you have plenty of dry wood on hand.
Remember, battery operated sources are safer than fire- or kerosene powered ones. They do require that you have enough batteries to last out a crisis, though.
When using alternate heating sources, consider safety issues such as the buildup of toxic fumes and potential fires. Make sure you have a working fire extinguisher on hand. Also, make sure that you understand the principles of adequate ventilation.
Portable generators are nice to have in a long-term power outage. Our family has not yet seen the need to purchase one. But, depending on your family's circumstances, you may deem that it is essential for you to have one. Generators generally run on deisel, natural gas, gasoline, or propane. Some are portable and provide just enough power to get you through an emergency (or even to add convience to a camping trip). Or, you can install a permanent residential standby generator. With both kinds of generators, make sure that you are aware of all safety considerations and that they are properly used and/or installed. When it comes to purchasing a generator and operating it properly, there's a lot of information to help you make wise choices.
You will also need a way to feed your family. Keep peanut butter and crackers or other food items that are nourishing, non-perishable, and require no cooking. You can heat up some foods in chafing dishes that are warmed by sterno cans. If you are a camper, you probably have a portable cook-stove in your gear. Remember, you may need to take such a stove outside to operate it safely.
If you have a fireplace, don't forget that some foods can be skewered and cooked over the glames. Be sure that you know what you are doing before you attempt this. Children may find it great fun to watch parnets cook in a fireplace. They may also delight in roasting hot dogs or tofu dogs or marshmallows, themselves, with adult supervision.
Perhaps, you might be lucky enough to find an old-fashioned corn popper or kettle and hook that were designed to used in a fireplace. Some modern fireplaces are too small to use the latter. But, if you have large one, you might be able to set it up ahead of time or some emergency cooking. Again, be sure that you know what you are doing!
Familiarize yourself with food safety guidlines for power outages. Train yourself and your children not to open freezers or refrigerators more than is necessary when the power is down. Keep the cold air inside. Keep an appliance thermometer in the fridge and freezer at all times.
If your power outage lasts less than two hours, the food inside your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. After that, you will need to start evaluating which items are still edible, and which must be disposed of. Keep a list with emergency food safety guidlines close to your refrigerator or freezer. You can find such a list through many health department or food-service publications. There are several charts with emergency food safety guidelines aviable on the web, as well.
You can buy some extra time by using dry ice. This is providing that you can obtain it during an emergency and that you are aware of all safety considerations. Or, you can try placing some refrigerated items in coolers with regular ice. If you are in a warm weather outage that will last after the ice melts, you are not likely to have a way of replacing the ice.
If your power outage occurs during wintry temperatues, you can take advantage of "nature's freezer". Store some well-packed items on a screened in porch or in some other outdoor location that is safe from foraging animals.
Or, fill and re-fill coolers with snow. Remember, today's snow is contaminated with chemicals. Pack your food tightly so that that food surfaces don't come in direct contact with the snow.
In a power outage, it's possible that water safety could become an issue. I, personally, have been through several power outages in my life time. The only case I have seen where water became unfit to drink was during the aftermath of a hurricane. But, according to public health organizations, water contamination occurs often enough that we should all be prepared to deal with it.
For this reason, you should keep drinking water on hand for each of your family members. The usual rule of thumb is to have enough for each family member to use for three days. Check the bottles frequently. One of my storage containers of water and leaked on a wooden floor.
If you have an alternate source of heat that will allow you to boil water for up to one minute, you can purify tap water through that method. The CDC web site offers directions for using chlorine tablets or unscented household bleach to purify your water, as well. Again, don't wait until an emergency strikes before familiarzing yourself with water safety precautions.
Emergency prepardness is more than just accumulating "the right stuff". It's also about knowing how and what to do in a crisis. When it comes to power outages, write down plans for food, water, and temperature safety before an emergency strikes. Jot these down in a notebook, along with other first aid and emergency prepardness information. Having pre-determined guidelines can give your family a structure to follow in a crisis. This will keep you and your family calm.
Also, keep a battery-operated radio on hand. During a prolonged emergency, officials will broadcast reports about the severity of a crisis, how much longer the crisis is predicted to last, any improvement or worsening of local weather conditions, and specific instructions for how to deal with your locale's current difficulty.
Generally, there are two stages of a power outage: the first crisis and the aftermath. Once the first crisis had passed, I suggest that you don't stay glued to media coverage. Instead, check in from time to time as needed. Keep yourself and your family focused on the positives. Use a power outage as a time to build family memories. This is at least one time when you will be all together without any distractions from the outside world. Play games. Tell stories. Read books.
Even if the children whine during a power outage, don't fret. Later on, they probably won't remember that they found things to complain about. Instead, they will remember the fun things you did.
***Finally, be sure you read your homeowner's policy carefully. Some insurance policies will pay for your family to move to a hotel during a prolonged power outage. We found this out after an ice storm had downed power lines in our neighborhood and had severed a connection to our home. Our family spent days shivering in the cold and the dark and huddling around one little wood-burning stove. After the crisis had passed, I talked with some friends who lived about a mile away from us. Their family had spent those same days living it up in a warm hotel Their chldren even made use of the hotel's pool. We checked our policy, and, sure enough, we could have fled to the warmth and luxury of a hotel, too. Had we only known!

1 comment:

aidin said...