Friday, July 20, 2012

Emergency Preparedness 101

Nothing like a real emergency to check how prepared you really are!

Friday, June 29, an unexpected lightning and wind storm pounded the DC area pretty hard.  A large tree branch from our neighbor's tree hit our house, toppling the top of our chimney, tearing off a good deal of the rain gutters on the west side of our house, some of the fascia, eventually crushing our fence and spreading across our patio, yard, and my humble vegetable garden.  The storm left us with no power and very little cell phone service for about a week of 100 degree weather.  Yes, it was a great chance to see how prepared we were!  The little boys and I were out of town, so Andrew had to literally "weather the storm" solo, and thankfully he came out to see us mid-week.

Here's the breakdown of our experience:

Useful tools that we had
  • A community of people who depended on each other
  • A lantern
  • Food that won't go bad in 100 degree weather
  • Cash.  Some gas stations (and grocery stores) in our area didn't have power, but they would give gas and services for cash
  • Insurance
  • A three-month emergency fund
Our downed fence
Useful tools that we did not have
  • A generator for our fridge
  • A (battery-powered) drill
  • A chainsaw
  • A more powerful lantern
  • More tarps (to plug up the holes in the fascia and chimney)
Our chimney meets our patio
Questions I still have
  • How much do generators cost, and how long would they be able to power a refrigerator?
  • If we had all been in the area and had been separated before the storm hit, what would be the best emergency plan for meeting up?  
  • With no cell or internet service, how would we contact our families to let them know we were okay?
What we will keep in mind
  • Andrew had to go into the attic to get our lantern.  It's staying in our closet now.
  • It's been on our to-do list to route a gasline to our range so we can trade in our electric for a gas range.  With how common large storms and power outages are in this area, it would be good to be able to cook without power.
  • We're in the habit of running on fumes. We'll be keeping a little more gas in our car now. 
  • If this storm happened in the winter, we would need to use our wood-burning stove and have lots and lots of firewood on hand (which we do, thanks to this storm!).
  • Get to know the neighbors! It's better for everyone if you know everyone up and down your street, what resources they may have, and what service they may need (particularly in the case of elderly people or immigrants/refugees who may not know the area, people, or language).
A car navigating a tree stuck on a powerline in front of our house
Over the course of the days Andrew felt a great outpouring of love and service from neighbors and friends. Despite the needs many faced, those who had resources were eager to serve. He met new neighbors who lent chainsaws and other tools and helped him saw the branch. He was able to help other neighbors who needed their car unburied from branches. He was invited to stay with friends in Virginia who had power. He was invited (along with many other people in our LDS congregation who didn't have power) to some friends' home for dinner on Sunday and they sent him on his way with leftovers for lunch the next day. He was able to salvage much of our food in a friend's running freezer, and he had many other offers of help along the way. The power of nature is a manifestation of God's power, but the greater manifestation is seen in the way His children serve one another in times of trouble.

I know Nonie has done a lot of studying, preparing and practicing for disasters, and hopefully she does her own post with more ideas and resources. What other suggestions do you have for disaster preparedness?


  1. We got hit by the storm too in Blacksburg, VA. Even though our power was only out for 48 hours it still tested our preparedness. One of the best parts was that it actually helped us to get to know our neighbors better. We share our back porch with those in the apartment across the hall and the first night we all sat together on the porch, in the dark and just talked and told stories. It sounds like you guys got hit way worse though.

  2. I enjoyed this post, Ariel. And fortunately, I know some of the answers to your questions! Walker works for Goal Zero, and designs/creates their products. Check it out: We are prepared with small solar powered battery packs that will charge laptops and cell phones. And we have larger (heavy!) generators that will run our fridge, and other large appliances and tools, like chainsaws. We are also more extreme (and experimental) and have a huge solar panel in our backyard that is connected to the garage so we can set up a fridge there, or just charge the generators through that. So glad that everything worked out for you guys, and that no one was hurt. We've been working on building up food storage. Any advice/suggestions with that? :)

    1. Several of our prepper friends have Goal Zero gear and love it. What is the most economical way to buy it and where does one start? Also, how effective is the solar equipment with no direct sunlight?

      As far as food storage goes, budget it in every month, as generously as possible. The LDS cannery is a great resource, but not much variety. Honeyville is another great resource: reasonably priced and lots of variety. My favorite source for quality (and economical) bulk buying is Azure Standard, which has drop points in UT. I order from them nearly every month. Search for the post I did on it on this blog.

    2. Liz, since we're so close we could order from Azure together. The drop point is right around the corner from where we are. Email me if you want to!

  3. I need to get on our emergency prep! Thanks for the reminder Ariel. I'm glad that no greater damage was done to your beautiful home. Good cue about the lantern... I think we have lost all our portable lights and need to get some new ones.

  4. I'm grateful you shared all this, Ariel! Learning from others' experiences is an easy way to prepare oneself. Great summary of your harrowing experience! I really hope some of your veggies survived. The pictures look vividly like what happened in Temple City last November in that crazy wind storm. Trees down all over the place, and some people in my ward were without power for 2 weeks (majority had it back within a week).

    If you have a generator, you won't need a battery-powered drill, or you could at least use it to charge (our old battery-powered drill would not have lasted through the needed work). I have read that in case of emergency, the first thing to disappear from stores will be the generators. I'd probably check craigslist for something like this, though I'm sure there's a large price range online if you decide to buy one new. Do remember not to leave gas stored in your generator, and to cycle through any stored gas. Shelf life can vary from months to years, depending on what kind and how it is stored.

    We've decided that should there be a disaster in our area, we will find a way to meet at home as soon as possible. If that were impossible for some reason, we would meet at the church.

    Regarding contacting each other and family, I recently learned something neat from an engineer who knows: most of the time, when phones are out, texting still works. When our cell phones are on, even when unused, they send out little signals to the cell phone tower letting them know where they are and that they're available (which is why your battery goes down even when you're not using it). Companies piggyback texts onto these signals (not the same space as calls). I also learned that in terms of data, 10,000 texts = ONE second of voice time, so texting rather than calling leaves much more room for emergency officials to use the airways. Also, in emergencies, cell phone companies share towers, so if your T-Mobile goes down, you could make contact through Verizon. Towers often overlap, so if you lose the ones nearest to you, try moving around to see if you can pick up another signal. All that being said, make sure you have a car charger, in case there's no electricity and your phone goes dead.

    But let's say that you really don't have any internet, phone, and texting isn't working. I highly recommend that someone in your family is a licensed ham radio operator. If you and your family members are licensed, you could agree on what frequency to meet in an emergency. Keenan just got his license in the spring, and I should have one for myself too so we can reach each other. If enough family members get them, we can form a net and check in with each other say, monthly or something. That would be great.

    I was very interested to know that gas stations could still pump gas without power. I had assumed that wouldn't be the case. Thanks! Way to go having emergency cash and food, you guys!

  5. I love this family! It's so nice being able to ride on the back of all your hard work!! :) Just kidding, though, I really am a mooch. Joe and I have been most concerned with making sure we have enough water storage these days. We have good filters, and there are little streams all around us, but it would be much easier if we had some good storage tanks in our basement or the like. What is recommended? Something like 7 gallons per adult, per day? Anyone know?

    1. Hah! That's funny. I was way off. Emergency guru's are saying 1 gallon per adult, per day. That seems like too little to me considering cooking, cleaning dishes, and the fact the adults are supposed to drink 1/2 gallon of water per day.