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Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Power Outage Help…Copy Now, Just in Case

The Blizzard of '78

With so many family and friends on the east coast I have decided to post an article I wrote a few years ago for a magazine. I hope the info helps if you are caught without power in the next few days. Take time now to copy the post and have it ready for use.

During a power failure, no matter what the cause, some planning is needed to keep family life somewhat normal

Stay indoors as much as possible. If you need to leave the house, open and close the door quickly, and keep it closed. Close interior doors to rooms you will not use during the outage.

A radio: You should already have one in your 72-hour kit. You will want to keep informed, so a radio is an absolute must. A hand crank/solar powered radio is a good choice, as it requires no batteries (although it will probably operate on batteries, too). These are available with a built in flashlight, which is also handy. After winding the crank for 30 seconds, the radio may play and the flashlight stay lit for a surprisingly long time.

If you choose a battery-powered radio, make sure you have batteries stored long term with the radio, but not in it . Also, be sure your radio has both AM and FM bands, since emergency broadcasts are limited and may be on either band for your area.

Flashlights: You should have several on hand, and again I recommend a solar/crank or battery operated flashlight. I do not recommend the flashlights that you shake. They have a very low beam of light and have to be shaken every 2-3 minutes to maintain power. Having experimented with several brands and having been dissatisfied with all of them, I have not seen one I recommend. Others have told me the same…

A couple last thoughts about flashlights: Except for flashlights in regular service, I suggest storing batteries separate from your flashlight, because I recently had a battery explode in a flashlight — completely destroying it. It literally did a meltdown. Usually, however, battery failure leads to leaked acid that destroys the flashlight or radio, rendering it useless when you need it. For everyday safety, store a flashlight next to every bed in the house in case of a nighttime emergency.

Glow sticks: Raid your 72-hour kit for glow sticks. They are so much safer than candles. You simply snap and shake the stick and it glows for hours. Always purchase the white or yellow varieties for the brightest light. Glow sticks come in several sizes and will glow for 30 minutes to 12 hours. Be sure to check when purchasing that you have the 12-hour variety. These can be hung in restrooms, used as nightlights and even hung around the neck of a child to quickly see them in a crowd.

I have recently discovered a glow stick with a bi-pod that can be used in place of a flare or to make a passageway. The bi-pod supports the glow stick, making it perfect to place on a table during meals or games. They are also great for lighting a child’s room.

Candles: These should be available for use during a power outage but should never be used after a natural disaster. Gas leaks occur frequently after destructive disasters and many, many homes and lives have been lost in fires caused by gas explosions from lighting a candle. Candles sold in glass jars or bottles, such as religious candles, are by far the safest to use in appropriate situations.

Battery clock: During an emergency, time seems to crawl by. Move your clock to a common area where everyone can check the time. Every home should have at least one clock that is battery operated.

Your emergency kitchen: You will want to plan for your cooking needs. This may include a barbecue grill, fire pit, camp stove, solar oven or your gas range. Each method will need additional preparation and caution. You will need charcoal, propane tanks, wood, aluminum foil, and special pots, pans and griddles.

Remember to NEVER use a barbecue in the house either for heat or for cooking. In an extreme emergency such as a blizzard, when there is no other option for heating food and water, place a barbecue in the garage, OPEN the garage door and remove the car before starting the grill, keeping the door open the entire time. You will need to cook in your down coat, but you will keep your family safe from toxic fumes.

You cannot use a household pan on an open fire or grill, but a griddle will act like a frying pan if you are using either of these methods to cook.

Remember to eat the food in the freezer first. My grandchildren still talk about the time an ice storm had them in the dark for four days in the dead of winter. It was a real adventure for them, but one memorable benefit was eating ice cream with breakfast!

Think hot: It is important to eat and drink hot foods. This is also the time to raid your 72-hour kit, and use your air-activated body warmers. If you have purchased “the good ones” they will help keep you warm for up to 20 hours. Remember 50% of body heat is lost through the head, so wear a hat. Warm socks and shoes (or insulated slippers) are also very important, as extremities are the second area of heat loss from the body.

Consider using your body warmers in your footwear only if it is getting extremely cold and frostbite is a possibility. For cold hands, dry mittens that are tight at the wrist are better than gloves for keeping your hands warm.

Generators: If you can afford to purchase a generator, do it now. They will be gone in about 10 minutes after a natural disaster warning or after the earth stops quaking. If you cannot afford a generator, consider purchasing one with a relative or neighbor. The key here is that someone will have to house it, and of course, that is where neighbors, family, and friends will come to in an emergency.

Firewood: To produce heat effectively, wood must be seasoned. This means it has dried for at least a year after being cut. These stockpiles of wood will disappear quickly. Acquire a supply of firewood now. Hardwoods such as madrone, eucalyptus, almond, oak, etc. are the best for heating. Pines, firs, spruce, and redwoods are soft woods and will burn cooler and more quickly, providing fewer coals and less heat.

Batteries: Make sure you have extra batteries of various sizes for flashlights, radios, clocks, and tools. And, make sure you know where you have stored them.

Manual can opener: All the food in the world is no good if you can’t get into it.

Detergent: Liquid laundry and dish detergent and a large tub or bucket for washing. Remember, good hygiene still counts in an emergency.

Matches or lighters: Long wooden matches are the best to store as they are easier to use and burn longer.

Extra blankets and sleeping bags: These will not only be useful at night for sleeping but also to keep warm during the daylight hours. Don’t forget the mylar blanket in your 72-hour kit. Use your resources to their best advantage.

Zip two sleeping bags together and sleep two to a bag, if appropriate. The combined body heat will keep you warmer than sleeping alone. Contain your body heat as much as possible.

Remember when as children you built forts under a kitchen table covered with a large blanket? This is a great way to contain heat. Drape the table with the survival blanket from your 72-hour kit, blankets, canvas tarps, or bedspreads and then place throw rugs or even a mattress under the table, crawl in, and snuggle under a blanket and you will be surprised how warm you will be. Two- and three-man tents set up in the living room can achieve the same result. Both of these “tents” are another great place to use your glow sticks.

Water needs: If you have a well that supplies your water, it is extremely important that you have ample water stored. Even if you are on a water system you should be storing extra water. Water pipes can freeze, and if they do, turn off your water and do not attempt to unfreeze the pipes. Keep jugs of water stored for flushing toilets. You will also need water to prepare meals, have water for pets, and for cleaning.

Most importantly, remember you will want to drink warm drinks so make sure you have water stored that can be used for hot cocoa and other hot drinks. Store wet wipes and liquid hand sanitizer for cleaning hands and conserving water.

Do not drink alcohol. It dehydrates the body.

Dress in loose fitting layers. Trapped air between layers helps to insulate, thus keeping you warm. As it gets dark it will get colder. Layer your clothing to maintain as constant a body temperature as possible. If you don’t over dress early in the day you can avoid overheating and then being chilled as the temperatures fall.

Close off unneeded rooms. Take personal items from bedrooms and close the doors. What little heat you generate from a fireplace you will want to retain in the rooms where you will live during the outage. The family should gather in one or two rooms and use only one restroom until power is restored.

Close off hallways by hanging blankets or other fabrics across them. Remember the draperies between rooms in the 1800s and even into the 1940s? These were closed to seal off rooms. To seal off a hallway, use your shower curtain rod — hanging it as close to the ceiling as possible.

Seal doors and windows. Place rolled up towels and rags under and around doors and windows where weather stripping may not completely seal the area.

Cover windows. As soon as the sun goes down, cover windows in the rooms in which the family is gathered. Once again, the mylar blankets from your 72-hour kits work great for this. You can also use blankets, sheets, tarps, plastic sheeting and drapery for this purpose. Newspaper in layers is a great insulator, too. At night, wind chill will become a real factor in keeping your home warm. Do all you can to keep the wind outside by using weather strip and caulking where necessary.

Games: Make sure games, books, and puzzles are easily accessible, and use them to help pass the time. When the sun goes dow,n place a flashlight, battery-powered lantern, or glow stick in the middle of the floor and huddle around it like a campfire. Drink hot cocoa and tell family stories or appropriate spooky tales (like Ichabod Crane and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow). By appropriate, I mean go easy on the scary stuff with young children if you want a full night’s sleep.

With a little bit of preparation, a power outage can be a memorable adventure for your family, and not a big deal. Without planning — well, you might be on your rooftop trying to flag down a helicopter in your mukluks. Good luck!

copyright© 2009 Carolyn Nicolaysen: all rights reserved

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  1. Excellent suggestions! I believe you covered every necessary aspect.

  2. If you are storing your water and canned goods outside of the heated area you blocked off where the temperature could drop below freezing, you may want to bring some of your water and canned goods into the heated area to prevent freezing.

  3. We use pine as our primary wood fuel (because it's plentiful and free where I live), and we heat our entire house, exclusively, with our woodstove. It's been my experience that seasoned pine actually burns much hotter than the seasoned hardwood.

    The problem is not that soft woods burn "cooler", but rather that the wood burns up faster than hardwood and the fire needs to be very closely tended, whereas a hardwood fire will burn for hours with very little tending.