What I Did This Week To Prep

and Storm After Action Review

Anytime you use your preps–after you neatly put them away for the next time–it’s important to review how things went. What went well? What needs to be changed or improved? And what did you learn? We were pleased with how our preps worked during the storm, and because of them the power outage was only a minor inconvenience.

However, there were a couple of things I needed to follow-up on. I checked the generator to see why it had stopped running. As stated, I assumed it had stopped because it ran out of gasoline. I looked in the tank, it still had plenty of fuel left, and it started just fine. I let it run for about 20 minutes and there were no issues. I don’t know why it had stopped. My only concern was the age of the gasoline in it. When we bought it a year ago the tank was full and we still had that same fuel. The previous owner had added Sta-Bil, but I don’t know when. I decided to drain the tank and fill it with fresh gasoline. I siphoned as much as I could into the Jeep, then let the generator run until it was empty (it ran for over an hour before it stopped – an inadvertent but useful test). Then I added new gasoline and Sta-Bil, started it up to double-check, and put it away.

While working with the generator, Sarah, Ryan and I all practiced starting it.  It’s important that all adults (and as many of the kids as possible) in the home know how to run the critical prepper equipment. We had been concerned that Sarah wouldn’t have the ‘bulk’ to pull-start the generator, but she was able to do it without much trouble.

Next, when the battery bank was in use it had shut off earlier than I expected; I thought it was because of some kind of a surge. But my understanding may have been flawed. Fellow prepping blogger Homestead Fritz send me a link to The 12volt Side of Life; a 12-volt battery information site. I’m going to do some additional research on that topic. I’ve said before, I have a decent amount of knowledge about a variety of topics – but electricity is not one of them (though I’m learning).

Finally, I went by the hardware store and bought an 8-foot, 14-gauge extension cord that will be dedicated to use with the furnace. During the power outage I realized I was one cord short, so we had to shuffle cords around. The battery bank and the furnace are only about six feet apart so it seemed like a waste to use a 25-foot cord, but the smaller ones I own were only 2-prong household types and I needed a heavier duty 3-prong one.

Also this week, I found out my favorite collapse medicine experts, Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy of the Doom & Bloom Hour, had written a book. The Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook was published last week. I immediately ordered one and just received it in the mail. I’m very excited to have what I believe will be a fantastic medical reference. I’ll post a review on it soon.

I’ve started posting more to the TraceMyPreps Facebook page. I’d encourage you to “like” it and join our budding community; use that forum to comment, ask questions, and give advice. To make it easier I’ve added a ‘TraceMyPreps on Facebook’ like button on the top of the right side of my blog page. Also, right below that is a ‘Follow Blog Via Email’ box, if you sign up there each post I write will be automatically sent to you as soon as I publish it – this is an easy way to keep up on the posts as they come out.

What did you do?

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.

There’s Not An App For That

Living Without Electric Entertainment

Spoiler Alert: We are getting a pool table for Christmas.

Sarah and I both like pool, we have room for a table, and found a great deal on a good used one. And a pool table, despite what Harold Hill says, is good family entertainment. It’s an enjoyable game, that can be played with up to four people either casually or competitively. Also, once purchased–if you take good care of it–there is very little additional cost, it doesn’t require any electricity or internet connection, and it will last for years. You could say it’s a sustainable game.

This led me to thinking about sustainable entertainment in general. We discuss our five basic needs a lot, but how much do we discuss the topic of ‘boredom avoidance’? In an emergency once you know that you’ll have food to eat, clean water, comfortable shelter,  light and warmth, and feel safe; at that point what will you do with your family for fun? This could be a short-term power outage or a long-term collapse. What kind of entertainment do you have that doesn’t have to be plugged in or recharged? This means no computers, smart phones, internet, video games, iPods, television, movies, or even radio – at least not for entertainment purposes.

I don’t see TEOTWAWKI as being a Hollywood-esque struggle full of fear and desperation to survive against the elements and mutant zombie bikers* (MZBs). In reality there will be a lot of boredom periodically interrupted by unforeseen challenges and scary moments. During those times, I believe that having activities which provide fun and laughter will be even more important.

Early on I taught my kids to play a variety of board and card games. When you have four kids during the long, wet northwest winters playing an organized game is a good way to keep everyone entertained and involved together.

Our family tends to play less traditional games. For example, our favorites include: Killer Bunnies, Munchkins, Carcassonne, pirates dice, Apples to Apples, Qwirkle, and cribbage. These types of games encourage thinking outside the box; they are also able to entertain a number of people of varying ages. A pool table, though different, will complement our stock of games nicely.

The games themselves don’t matter. What matters–after you’re fed, warm, and secure–when you’re stuck inside for days at a time without power, is having something to do. Something to keep the kids interested and involved; something to take your mind off the serious (and yes, scary) world outside your door; something to pull you together as a family. Remember, family is the reason we’re doing this.

*Mutant Zombie Bikers (MZBs) is a term used in David Crawford’s’ book, Lights Out. It’s describes the bad guys, who prey on the good guys, in a collapse world.

Only Seconds to React

Having Your Fire Extinguisher Ready

Fire is neither good nor bad, it just is. When the right combination of fuel, oxygen, and an ignition source combine there will be fire. It can be a lifesaving asset providing light, cooking, and heat – or can be property and life destroying.

Though fire safety has many aspects* today we’re going to discuss fire extinguishers. As preppers, we build in redundancies. If the power goes out, we start up the generator and cook over propane; if those fail, we light lanterns and cook over a small fire. Most of us aren’t use to having an open flame around on a regular basis and accidents can happen. To mitigate those times, get out the fire extinguisher and place it within arms reach of the fire. No one means to knock over the kerosene lantern, but suddenly the counter is engulfed with flame and you have seconds to make decision.

In that situation, if the fire is small and not spreading, grab the extinguisher. Start with your back to the exit, making sure the fire does not block your escape route. Stand about six feet away from the fire. Then, as fire departments teach, use the PASS word:

  • Pull the pin to unlock the fire extinguisher
  • Aim at the base (bottom) of the fire
  • Squeeze the lever to discharge the agent
  • Sweep the spray from left to right until the flames are totally extinguished

A typical fire extinguisher contains ten seconds of extinguishing power. You cannot use fire extinguishers more than once, they must be replaced or refilled if used.

For home use there are typically two categories: a less expensive, plastic top, disposable type and a metal top, rechargeable type. Professionals recommend the rechargeable ones; they initially cost more, but are far more reliable, can be serviced, and have a longer shelf-life.

There are no laws regarding home fire extinguisher inspections, however it is recommended that twice a year you inspect your extinguisher. You should check:

  • the pressure gauge arrow to be sure it’s full (it should be in the green area straight up on the gauge).
  • the hose and nozzle for cracks, tears or blockage.
  • the pin and tamper seal to ensure they are intact.
  • that the handle-locking device is in place.
  • for dents, leaks, rust, chemical deposits and/or other signs of abuse or wear.

At the end of your inspection turn the extinguisher upside down and hit the bottom sharply with your hand, then shake it well. This will prevent the dry chemical powder from settling or packing down in the cylinder, making it ineffective.

Most rechargeable dry chemical fire extinguishers, if properly handled and maintained, have a lifespan of 5 – 15 years. If your extinguisher is 5 years old bring it in to a local service center and have it inspected (costs about $20). If your extinguisher is over 12 years old, it needs to be hydrostatically tested and recharged by a qualified service technician (they’ll probably just swap you for one that’s been recently tested).

Remember fire doesn’t care, so you need to.

(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)

*Dr. Bones, of the Doom & Bloom Show, recently wrote posts on Smoke Inhalation and Natural Burn Treatments. Both of these topics are huge fire safety aspects; these posts  contain good information and are definitely worth reading.

‘Course It’ll Always Be There

When people ask me why I prep, I tell them–assuming they are actually willing to listen to the answer–that we have five basic needs: food, water, shelter, security and energy. These needs are delivered via a series of integrated systems. In an emergency, big or small, when one or more of those systems fail, the delivery of these basic needs may be in jeopardy. We, as individuals, are powerless to control these systems or fix them when they fail. At that time, all you can depend on is the preparations you have previously made.

What kind of systems are we discussing and where might they be vulnerable? We’ll use food as an example:

  • Agricultural system – food production. Affected by: inclement weather, including droughts and floods, also blights, equipment costs, fuel prices, shortened growing seasons
  • Local laborer system – harvesting and packing food for shipment. Affected by: local regulations, regional (civil or economic) instability, employee shortages
  • Transportation system – getting the food from there to here. Affected by: ‘vehicle’ system – trucks, ships, airplanes, trains; fuel prices, inclement weather (snow, ice and wind storms, rough seas), transportation worker strikes
  • Processing and warehouse system – where food is received, repackaged, and temporarily stored (refrigerated as required). Affected by: power failures, worker strikes, inclement weather
  • Grocery store system – where food is stocked, refrigerated, rotated, and sold. Affected by: power failures, local inclement weather (real or anticipated), civil unrest, hoarding

We eat every day and we depend on these systems to function almost flawlessly. Most people give little thought to how these multiple systems interact to get food to us; they just assume the food will always be there when they want it. But if one of those systems fail and that food item doesn’t arrive, you may have to do without.

Now, say, this food item is your favorite type of apple from New Zealand. If it’s not in your grocery store today, you may wish it was but, you can make do with another type. What happens when it wasn’t just that apple shipment, but none of the local shipments arrived that day, or the next? Grocery stores don’t keep a large inventory on hand; their business model is based on inventory arriving on a regular basis for consumer purchase. Very quickly shelves would be emptied. Ever been to a grocery store when a large storm is predicted?

And similar events affect our other needs as well (with shelter being somewhat of an exception):

  • water: lines break, contamination, droughts, flooding, sewage leaks or backups
  • security: inclement weather delays police or medical response, civil unrest ties up resources, power failures cause security systems to be down
  • energy: power failure from storms, broken lines; fuel systems affects almost every level of every other system, i.e. fuel costs go up, food prices go up

Jack Spirko, on TSP, talks about how we buy all of our needs a la carte. But we know what those needs are, and we know we’re going to need them everyday. Most, if not all, can be planned for ahead of time and we can have extras stored and redundancies built-in. Ready your preps so you can be self-reliant when those systems temporarily fail, and build the knowledge and skills to be self-sufficient so that you will not be bound to those systems you can’t control or fix.

(Wednesday: Something To Lean On)

The Hassles of Storing Gasoline

To become more self-reliant we try to determine what ‘needed’ items to store; one to think about is fuel. Though there are several types of fuel preppers store: gasoline, propane, diesel, and kerosene; gasoline is the hardest to store long-term and, yet, is the most commonly used.

My main reason for storing gasoline is for use in our (gasoline) generator during a power failure. When people believe that disaster is looming–recently during Hurricane Irene, for example–they rush out and buy generators. But how many of them think to store fuel to run those generators? Our Generac 5000 generator has a five gallon fuel tank, it will run approximately five to seven hours on a tank of gasoline. My plan is to use our battery bank (four AGM deep cycle batteries) until depleted, then use the generator to recharge the batteries while still maintaining power to needed appliances. To ensure enough energy to last most power outages we need to store a reasonable amount of gasoline. But couldn’t we just drive to the gas station and get more gasoline? Maybe, but does the gas station have power?

We also want to store gasoline for our vehicles if we had to evacuate; gasoline may either be unavailable (gas station closed because of a power outage) or there may be excessively long lines to get it. We’d also like to have enough gasoline to take with us: to ensure we can reach our BOL, and to use there if power and/or gasoline aren’t available at our destination.

As we’re discussing storage it has to be stressed that gasoline is very flammable and must be stored in an appropriate container in a safe place. It is also relatively heavy–approximately 6.1 pounds per gallon–but at about 30 pounds for five gallons it can still be conveniently handled.

It’s hard to find definitive information about how long gasoline can be stored before it goes bad. But what does ‘bad’ even mean? Gasoline is a refined petroleum-derived chemical which–over time, and compounded by improper storing and temperatures–can break down by:

  • evaporation causing it to lose it’s volatile components (necessary for igniting)
  • drawing in water vapor that can cause separation – where water, since it’s heavier, settles to the bottom of the tank
  • oxidation causing it to become sludgy which can build up inside of small parts *

There are other unknowns, beginning with how old was the gasoline when you bought it (was it fresh from the refinery or already a month old?). What temperatures has it been exposed to and for how long? Was it properly stored by keeping it tightly covered, clean, dry, and cool? So, as a rule of thumb, if you plan to store your gasoline for more than a couple of months you should add a gasoline stabilizer.

The most common brand of stabilizer is Sta-Bil Gas Stabilizer. According to Sta-Bil’s website, using their product will keep fuel fresh for 12 months; you can double the dosage and fuel will remain fresh for 24 months. It’s added at a ratio of one ounce of Stabilizer to 2 1/2 gallons of gasoline. A 32-ounces bottle costs about $12, so it’s roughly $0.40 an ounce, which is only $0.80 for each 5-gallon gasoline can you store. If you store 30 gallons (check with local ordinances on amount you can legally store) it’d cost you less than $5.00 per year.

I add three ounces of Stabilizer (I want an extra buffer) to each 5-gallon container of gasoline (including the generator); we rotate the gasoline every 12 months (staggered so we rotate 1/2 every six months). When it’s time to rotate, we just add five gallons into each vehicles half-full tank. We’ve found that pouring gas through the pour spout can get heavy and messy. So instead of pouring we use a Super Syphon; it self-primes, it’s easy to use, and it’s affordable. It takes about three minutes to syphon a 5-gallon can.

Plan ahead. If you invest in a generator, you need to have fuel for it. Remember that generator is for an emergency situation; don’t depend on a one that has old, or not enough, gasoline.

(Wednesday: Self-Reliant vs Self-Sufficient)

* Minnesota’s Dept. of Agriculture article Storing Gasoline, has good information on the specific storage problems of weathering, moisture, and oxidation

When Others Are In The Dark

five basic needs: 1) food, 2) water, 3) shelter, 4) security, and 5) ENERGY

Nothing sends us back a century or two like an electric power outage. So much of what we call civilization lives or dies on the “juice” that we get with the flip of a switch.” (Discovery.com)

Modern energy and technology* is completely taken for granted in our society — until they no longer work. Of course, the world existed for millennia without our modern energy and there’s no doubt that human beings, as a species, can survive. But can we, today’s ultra-specialized, technology-dependent individuals?

What would we do without our cell phones and computers, microwaves and refrigerators, television and internet, central heat and air-conditioning, or simple “flip of a switch” to turn on the light as we walk into a dark room?

The power goes out. For how long? You don’t know. It could be a fallen tree, damaged power pole, lightning strike, ice/snow storm, high winds, or short-circuit from changing a routine part at a minor electrical substation; the list of inevitable ‘disasters’ continues. Since we prepare for the most likely emergencies first–not the Hollywood style mega disasters–let’s talk about what happens when we get sent “back a century or two” with a power failure. Most of us can fake it pretty well if the lights go out for a few hours to a couple of days. But what about after that?

What if it lasts longer? I’m not saying forever in the apocalyptic sense, just a huge storm that knocks out power for a few weeks? Suddenly we’d have to deal with all the disadvantages of not having power, and none of the advantages from “a century or two” ago of knowing how to heat, cook, and just exist on a daily basis without it (hell, the boredom alone would kill many of us).

We understand that to make fire it requires 1) fuel, 2) oxygen, and 3) an ignition source; and have all created it before. These days when most homes don’t even have a wood fireplace; frequently the only time we strike a match or a flick lighter is to light candle (or cigarette). Ironically if we do ‘make’ a fire in our gas fireplace or propane grill, it is literally “the flip of a switch”. But, making a successful wood fire–the key component in basic heat, light, and cooking–is getting to be a lost skill.

As preppers we should strive for far more than to be huddled around a fire to keep warm, turning our latest kill on a spit, and casting furtive glances into the darkness. We know there are systems that fail. We know that we are helpless to prevent them. So when the power fails, what is your plan to keep warm (or cool – though that’s not a big problem up here in Western Washington), cook, stay connected, and provide light?

This will be the last in the series of the ‘five basic needs’ posts. We’ve now established a baseline of those ideas and concepts which we will build on and refer back to.

(Wednesday: Product Review – Emberlit Stove)

*I won’t keep mentioning technology, but assume it’s implied knowing that it can’t exist without modern energy.