Weathering The Storm

Winter Power Outage = Good Chance To Test Preps

Western Washington had a pretty good storm last week. I realize, in the larger category of “winter storms”, this wasn’t anywhere among the worst. That being said, it was a big deal around here – we don’t have storms like that very often. What started off as a good amount of snow coming down, transitioned into an ice storm. The tree branches were weighed down and many broke, taking down power lines and causing a power outage that affected close to 300,000 homes.

We were one of those homes, our power was out for about 36 hours. So when life gives you lemons… I figured this was the perfect opportunity to test our preps! At 7:30 am, as Sarah and I were in the Jeep driving back from the train station (the trains were cancelled because of frozen switches), I got the call the power was out. As I drove up to the house, even though I knew the power was off, I still tried to use the garage door opener (habits). First lesson of the power outage: make sure everyone knows how to manually open the garage door.

Since we have had a couple of “lights-out” drills we knew where to start. We:

  1. ‘Fired-up’ the battery bank and, using a volt meter, checked and recorded the starting voltage (12.6 volts).
  2. Ran a 50 foot, 14-gauge extension cord into the house and plugged it into a surge protector for inside use.
  3. Connected another extension cord to the natural gas furnace to run the blower*.
  4. Put a temperature probe inside the deep freezer (in the garage), with one end out so that it could be easily read, and recorded the starting temperature (10 degrees).
  5. Brought lamps, with low energy bulbs, into the main room and plugged them into the surge protector.

The battery bank operated well that day. My parents, visiting from Colorado, were able to appreciated all our preps. My mom was especially grateful to be able to blow dry and curl her hair (before leaving to see more family) – she felt this alone justified all our preparations. We had heat (though we kept it lower than normal, 62 degrees), light, Ryan was able to play Xbox, and we watched a movie after dinner. Every couple of hours we’d check and record the battery voltage and the deep freezer temperature.

However, when we woke up the next morning I realized the heat wasn’t on. I checked the battery bank and it had powered off. Even though it registered plenty of voltage (11.3 volts) the indicator light showed the batteries had gotten too low – this shouldn’t have happened until it reached 10.0 volts. It’s possible this occurred because I had left the inverter plugged into the wall and the line may have surged, but I don’t know for sure. We got out the generator, fired it up, and connected it to the:

  • inverter, to recharge the battery bank. As soon as it was plugged in the inverter began to charge and work again.
  • freezer, even though the temperature was still below 20 degrees.
  • furnace blower, and turned the heat up to 70 degrees.
  • laptop computer and all other rechargeable devices.

Once the generator was running we used our Volcano Grill and percolator to make coffee, then boiled water for oatmeal.

Sarah and I then left for work. The generator ran for about three hours, then Ryan called and told me it had stopped. I assumed it had run out of gas. I had him plug things back into the inverter and continue to power the house from the battery bank (Repetitive & Redundant). That evening the power came back on. We put everything neatly away, ready for the next time.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep including Storm After Action Review)

*Last summer my good friend, fellow prepper, and HVAC/R technician, Rick helped me rewire the line that powers the blower on my natural gas furnace. This allows me to plug the blower into an alternate power supply if needed. Rick has agreed to guest blog for me next Monday (1/30/12), when he’ll write about how you can do this same project yourself, complete with a detailed how-to video.

As The Water Slosheth

We Prepare For The Aftermath

The other day there was a casserole dish, full of water, soaking in the kitchen sink. I was ready to wash it, so I lifted it and began to pour the water out. Immediately I realized I had misjudged and the majority of the water would miss the sink and land on the adjacent counter. I tried to jerk the dish back, but the water was already in motion and flooded over the counter causing a wet mess.

As I was cleaning up the spilled dishwater, I reflected on what had happened. I hadn’t meant to spill the water. The moment it started moving the wrong way I realized it and tried to correct it, but it was too late. The water was in motion and the consequences were unstoppable. There was going to be dirty dishwater all over the counter – all I could do is clean it up.

Though the spilled water, once in motion, was unavoidable, the consequences were mitigated by established habit and routine. There weren’t any dishes drying in the rack next to the sink, so nothing had to be re-washed. We don’t prepare food in that area, so no food was ruined. A towel is kept under the sink, so clean up was started immediately. Because of our kitchen ‘preparedness’ a potential disaster became just a minor inconvenience.

This happened in less time than it takes to tell about it. That is frequently how life’s disasters–big or small–occur. It could be a tornado, a fall, a car crash, a fire, an earthquake, a bicycle accident, or an explosion. Even if there are indicators (seen or unseen) the actual incident typically happens incredibly quickly.

As a prepper you’re not preparing to stop, or even survive, the disaster; you’re preparing to survive the aftermath. The disaster itself–once in motion–is unstoppable; you either die in the immediate “burst” (or very soon after), or live to face the aftermath.

In that aftermath, while those around us are panicking and searching for direction; we know what we need: food, water, shelter, security, and energy. Our goal is to have preparations in place with a plan to use them, and the knowledge that we many have to improvise that plan as needed.

We have very little control over most things in our life, but we will still be forced to deal with the consequences. Once things are set into motion all we can do is respond. Plan and prepare to survive the aftermath.

(Wednesday: Weathering The Storm)

The Family You Choose

What Is Meant When We Say Family

Our immediate family

I talk a lot about the importance of family. How we are doing this (prepping) for our families and how we have these responsibilities because of our families. But what does family mean?

Ryan my biological son & Chanse our 'chosen' son

There’s a quote I like that says, “There are the families that we are born into, and there are the families that we choose – our circle of friends.” Another says, “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” When I use the term ‘family’ I don’t just mean the family I was born with and the family I brought into this world, I also include the friends I choose to call family. I believe family is how you define it.

As preppers it is important–and I believe may become much more important–to develop significant family support. Hopefully our families will be there to assist, defend, educate, and care for us. If possible, now while things are ‘normal’, coordinate with your family. Discuss with family members what your evacuation plan is, let them know when and where you will go. Encourage and assist them in developing their own – possibly one that mimics or overlaps with yours. Talk about possible BOLs*. Do you want to find a place together? Is it better to simply be close enough for mutual support? If a family member lives in an urban area and you live in a rural area, encourage them to bug out to your home. And, if that is the plan you decide on, coordinate with them in the interim to store extra food and supplies at your home (or vice versa).

We all have family members who aren’t interested in prepping at all and see the whole concept as somewhat idiosyncratic if not downright crazy. If pushed, their entire prepping plan is to “worry about it later”. If you love them, and know that if they come knocking on your door you will let them in, then plan for them. Plan to welcome them and, to the degree you are able, prepare for them now. In a world where human labor may be required to provide food, water, shelter, security and energy; additional people–who you know and trust–will be an asset.

Booth family reunion

Adams family reunion

Just as the last couple of generations have mostly forgotten about the importance of being prepared and of “laying up stores for the winter”, many have also forgotten about the strength, support, and love that their chosen family can provide.

(Wednesday: Walk A Mile In Your Shoes)

*For my list of abbreviations and other information, open the above ‘Check Here…’ page tab.

(added 12/29/11) Great family quote: “Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life. No matter what.”

But I’m Working Now

Creating Your Work Evacuation Plan

As much as we’d like to, we don’t get to choose our disaster or where we will be when it strikes. Best case: entire family home together with all our ‘stuff’ available; worst case: stuck in an airport, alone, with none of your preps. How about something in between, what if you’re at work?

Remember school fire drills? We’d all neatly file from our classrooms with the teacher leading us, like a mommy duck, to our designated spot in the playground. They’d take roll to account for everyone; that’d be reported to the principal, then we’d all file back inside.

Fast forward to today where you’re sitting at work. Something is wrong and you have to evacuate. It’s not a drill, there’s no teacher to lead you, or principal to account for you. Hopefully you know how to safely evacuate your own building, but what next? We’re all grown up now; we must have our own plan of what to do if an emergency occurs when we’re at work.

This is another one of those things where I can’t tell you what to do; you’ll have to develop your own plan. But I can tell you what Sarah and I have planned, and our contingencies.

Sarah and I both work in Seattle (about 45 miles from our home). Ironically we only work about a mile apart. Sarah commutes on the train working traditional hours. I drive to work and have a ‘non-traditional’ schedule. Each week there are three days we both work there (but only in the afternoons), two days she’s in Seattle alone, and one day only I’m there. We’ve had to come up with multiple plans that vary based on the day of the week.

So if we’re both there, she would come up the hill to where I work. My workplace is more secure, further from the water, and away from the downtown congested high-rise area. In case I have to leave work also, we’ve discussed what street she would walk up and what side of the street she would be on. We have contingency plans of where to meet if we both had to leave and we didn’t (or couldn’t) meet up on that street. If it’s only me, since I drive I have my car and BOB; I also have friends I could stay with in the area if necessary. If only she is there, she’ll make the decision if it’s okay to take the train home, or if it’d be better to stay at a predetermined friend’s home in the area. She also has a family member who works near her (and who drives to work) and has made plans of where to meet and try to get somewhere safer together.

Also since Sarah rides to work on public transportation, everything she has for the day is in her backpack. In addition to her normal work stuff, she has a miniature version of her BOB; she also wears good walking shoes back and forth to work. At work she keeps extra water, food, and a change of clothes.

We’ve also discussed communication:

  • if cell phones aren’t getting through, we’ll try a landline
  • if “all circuits are busy”, we’ll try a predetermined long-distance relative
  • if landlines don’t work, we’ll try texting (texts frequently go through even when voice calls don’t)
  • if texting doesn’t work, we’ll try email (if necessary, moving to a wireless area to email on the phone)
  • if none of those options are available, we have a predetermined place to leave a written note

Of course all the “what ifs” can’t be covered. The important thing is to take the time to think about what you’d do if an emergency happened when you were at work. Then develop and discuss your plan with family members. It costs nothing and, in this crazy world we live in today, it’s one less thing to worry about.

(Wednesday: Never Buy A Replacement Blade)

Buying Stuff Is Easy

“Mental and physical preparation. People die with all of the things they need to survive because they don’t maintain the will to survive. . . . the most important thing is the person using the technology.” This was recently emailed to me by one of my oldest and closest friends. In the military they taught us: improvise, adapt, and overcome. Knowledge and ability, once gained, are yours forever; stuff can be lost, broken, or taken away.

Though few of us can buy everything we’d like, the actual concept of saving up the money, going to the store, selecting, paying, and bringing it home is easy. It’s easy and we feel good because we now have this item; we believed we needed it for our preps, we saved for it, and now own it. But this is only a start, now we have to mentally and physically develop the skill set to use it. New items typically fall into one of two categories: it is something we are already familiar with and just need to figure out the new one, or it’s something we’ve never used before and need to learn a brand new skill (which take time and effort).

Mental preparation: developing a survival/can-do attitude and learning useful skill sets. Physical preparation: keeping yourself physically capable of surviving and accomplishing those skill sets.

We all have stuff sitting around our homes that we’ve bought but really don’t know how to use. We understand the basic concept and we’re fairly confident that if we needed to we could “figure it out”, but we haven’t taken the time to – yet. This can be a precarious position. Now that we’ve bought said item we feel we have checked off that box; there are other new and interesting things, to buy. Figuring it out “one of these days” frequently never quite happens.

It is imperative that we do “figure it out”. Take the time to learn the skill, then get your hands dirty and practice it – watching a video isn’t good enough. For example, It’s easy to buy a few 2x4s, some dirt, and a few seed packets; that is most everything needed to build and plant a raised bed garden. But how many more steps are there between buying and harvesting healthy vegetables?

What about the generator we’ve been told we need? Home generators are relatively simple to operate: add fuel, open fuel lines, choke, turn on, pull starter, and it should fire up. But, doing this for the first time in the dark is not simple nor stress-free. (That is not the time to realize you never stored any fuel.) What are you going to power with it, why, and for how long? Take the time to figure it out before the power fails. Consider developing your skill set further–and here I need to take my own advice–and learn some basic maintenance.

Or, one of the common prepper flaws: owning lots of guns, lots of ammo, and never having taking a defensive firearms course. “I know how to shoot” many will say, but how about shooting effectively in a high stress, low light, fatigue filled situation, where people might be hurt? Sure you can shoot the center out of the paper targets every time. Sure you assume that if the SHTF you’ll be just fine. But have you ever practiced for failure? What have you really done to mentally and physically prepare the skill set that could protect your family?

The list continues. You have the great BOB; can you carry it? Sure it’s in a quality backpack, but have you put it on, cinched it up and walked any distance? What about good footwear? You bought good boots; but finding out they needed breaking in when you are a mile into your ten-mile trek, is too late.

It was easy to buy it, but investing the time to learn new things, with our busy schedules and hectic lives, is tough – really tough. Especially when it all has to be self-motivated, there’s no ‘financial’ return, and you’re learning it for something that might happen, someday, maybe. So how do we self motivate? ‘Because we should’ isn’t (usually) good enough. Everyone knows they should exercise, eat right, etc. but you need to be able to articulate your own reason and goal.

I don’t have any brilliant insights to give you. You have to find that motivation; start with your plan. Set short-term achievable goals, working toward a reachable long-term goal; continue to eat that elephant “one bite at a time.” Begin with the Five Basic Needs and build from there. Yes, there are certain things you have to ‘get’, but, more importantly, you have to develop the skills to utilize those things and prepare yourself mentally and physically for the tasks that may be ahead.

(Wednesday: A List)