Practical Plans for Emergencies


After this winter’s ice storm, my community decided to meet to form a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). This a team of community members trained by FEMA to respond to emergencies until state and federal teams arrive. After reviewing the procedures and demands required to become certified, we decided to forgo the acronym and design our own team with our own strengths and needs in mind.

Decisions like this give me hope for the future. We are so used to giving up our power for the mantle of protection offered by some governmental agency or other. Fearful people can  behave like children, looking for the direction and aproval of an adult before making a move. The problem with behaving like a child is that one is then invariably treated like a child. I know of too many cases of hearing those infamous words, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”, and all of the sudden someone is telling you where to go and when to go there. There is some help I would rather do without.

Our little commitee designed a short survey so we will know who lives where and is likely to need help in a crisis. We will know who is elderly or alone or disabled. We have a couple of people in town who rely on grid powered equipment for medical reasons and we have put a plan in place to deliver generators to those folks. We also set up a community shelter plan along with a plan to check on people who might need transportation. We made a water plan and a food and cooking plan, a sanitation plan and a communication plan. No one who doesn’t want to participate would be required to. You’d be surprised how quickly this plan was put together when we didn’t have imposed standards and rule to abide by.

The past decade has brought many folks to the realization that the government may not always have our best interests at heart. It may not always know what’s best for any one group of people and it certainly does not have all the answers. Heck-it doesn’t even have the right questions. Every time you have the chance to look out for yourself and the people you love, grab it. Every time you can learn something, grow something, rise to a challenge, face a fear, do-it-yourself or take a stand, it behooves you to see it as a gift and an opportunity. Read some history. Remember our roots.

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We have a lovely day planned. We are going out to breakfast with some of Bruce’s family. Karen is waiting tables for the first time and we want to give her some moral support. Then we are heading off to church. My son is singing a solo and we can’t wait to hear him. He sings a lot locally but we don’t often get to go. Then Nate, his wife and little boy, another son and his two kids are all coming by for lunch. I want to talk to them about a couple of preparedness things.

One thing we will discuss is who gets what kid from where in a crisis. We babysit for my grandson 2 days a week while my daughter goes to school next door to the place my son works. In a disaster, I want to make sure that my daughter gets picked up and that the kids come here first and worry about feeling silly later.

Families need to have plans for this kind of thing. Most of us don’t want to spoil a beautiful day with talk about emergencies but if not now, when?

I have been thinking a lot about the importance of communications during any crisis. When our power was out in our small town for 10 days this past winter, checking in on neighbors was made more difficult because so many people only had portable, plug in phones that do not work without electricity. Our cell service is spotty at best and, of course, once the batteries died, the phones quit working anyway. I have a cheap wall phone next to my bed that works as long as the phone wires are up. A lot of people also lost their list of phone numbers as that is stored in their phone memory. They couldn’t call family members who had only cell  phones because there was no way to access the number. It’s crazy just how dependent we are on that pesky electrical grid.

Take an evening and update your address book with essential phone numbers and addresses. Get yourself a phone that will work without electricity. If you have a cell phone, make sure you have a hand crank charger. I have one attached to my emergency radio.

I was think about getting a set of walkie talkies that would allow conversation between us and a few neighbors but we live in a very hilly area and I guess they only work  in line of sight. My next thought is CB radios. It may seem like overkill but I really don’t think so. Our power grid is so fragile that I can see sporadic blackouts becoming more common. The ability to reach neighbors could be lifesaving.

I am the editor of a small (small as in 80, 4 page papers a month) newspaper. The phones may stop working, but The Messenger will go on. The Messenger will tell you who was born, who died, and who got married. We run a couple of adds for local businesses, a town calendar and news from the school, library, town boards and sustainability group. You can sell home made quilts or look to buy some laying hens. You can advertise your tag sale. We also let folks know the wildlife news like when the bluebirds show up and who got an early frost. The cost is ten dollars a year if you can afford it but lots of people send in more so anybody who wants a Messenger can get one.

I can see these small town papers making a comeback. As the world gets more complicated and we become increasingly disconnected, there is a place for celebrating the Harper’s new baby and mourning the death of old Mr.Willis. There are a lot of days when the fate of the Creamery, our local grocery store, matters a while lot more to me than the fate of CitiBank.

This past winter, the power was out in my town for 10 days. That is very long time if you aren’t ready for it. If you have a gas stove that work without electricity, you can cook very acceptable meals on your range top, as long as the propane holds out. I have several alternative cooking methods at my fingertips. The are pros and cons to each.

Solar oven

I have a very good solar oven. In the summer, I use it a lot. The temperature gets up to 350 degrees on a sunny day. Keeping the oven oriented to the sun and out of the wind helps a lot in keeping the temp up. Mine has an electric back up in case the sun goes in. I can’t cook anything too tall this way as the oven body is not high. It is best for things like stews and casseroles that need long cooking. Plan on 50% more time than in a conventional oven.

sterno stoves

I have 3 of these little one burner, fold flat stoves.  I keep one in each vehicle. They are cheap, and actually put out quite abit of heat. It works quite well for boiling water and heating soup. I wouldn’t try use it for anything else. The biggest benefit is for the apartment dweller with very little space or someone with very little money.

propane camp stove

These are the 2  burner stoves that a lot of keep with our camping supplies. We cooked on this while our power was out. I was surprised at how efficient it was. Again, one can be had for very little money and the propane canisters are also inexpensive. I store about 25 fuel cylinders.

gas grill

I guess if you have no other option you can cook on your grill but you have to heat the whole thing, even if you only want a kettle of hot water for tea. Not very effiicient. You also have to cook outside which isn’t much fun in a blizzard.

hibachi

Same as above but uses charcoal instead of propane. I have one, just in case, and I store a couple of bags of charcoal, along with lighter fluid and matches.

Obviously, if you have a wood stove, you will cook on that. Bruce got me a stove top oven for Christmas. You set it on a range top or on top of the wood stave and You have and instant oven. It is not large but you can cook up muffins or meat loaf. i tried out a couple of home made stoves from cans. They use paraffin for fuel. They were smelly and smokey and not at all efficient but you might want to make one with your kids. I like to know how to do things which explains why we spent a couple of hours making a pizza box solar oven with the kids, then another larger solar oven out of some big boxes. I worked pretty well considering it was made from junk we had lying around the house.

The point here is that you never know when you might be without power. Sharon Astyk did a very good post today about all of the scenarios that might leave us in the dark. All are possible and some, quite likely.

Nothing is quite as important in a crisis as good information. Books are not a substitute for experience, I would not want to butcher my first chicken with nothing but a book for guidance, but a good library is invaluable for every prepared home.

You should set up a home library in as organized a fashion as possible. You need dedicated space and an easy system so you can lay your hands on what you need without hesitation. Most homes have space for a 4 shelf bookcase which should be plenty for preparedness resources. I keep my books organized by topic.

1. You need at least one good general preparedness book. Naturally, I want you to buy mine but I have to admit that there are other good ones out there with different focuses from short term preparedness as in a weather emergency to books to prepare you for TEOTWAWKI. When I got interested in preparedness, I bought every book I could find on the subject. In retrospect, I should have borrowed them from my library and not mad a purchase until I better knew my needs.

2. You need gardening books that are appropriate for your situation. There is no point in buying books to guide you through greenhouse gardening when you don’t have a greenhouse or one that assumes you have three acres of land in Tennessee when you actually live in a NYC apartment. I would suggest you borrow books like these for inspiration. Maybe you will decide to give up the NYC apartment and head for a smallholding in the country but until then, if your resources are limited,  put them into tangibles that work for you. Having said that, I spend money on books all the time.

3. You need a book or two on wild edibles. Again, a book is no substitute for a good mentor who knows foraging but you will want to own these.

4. Food preservation books are really important. At the very least, you want The Ball Blue Book but I would also suggest a book on dehydrating and one on fermentation.

6. General self-sufficient living books are a must-have. I love John Seymour’s books. They are so beautiful and give a lot of information on most subjects. My first book on self-sufficiency was Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living. My ratty copy is held together with duct tape. When I read that she had died, I wept. In my mind she was still a young mother with a pile of kids, selling books at county fairs. I could not believe she was in her seventies.

7. Storey’s Country Bulletins are dandy little 36 page booklets dedicated to one subject like growing raspberries or home-made cold remedies. They are inexpensive and perfect for beginners. There are so many to chose from. I have dozens and use them all the time.

8. I have lots of cookbooks.  Make sure you have some that guide you through cooking with stored food and cooking from scratch. Cookin’ With Home Storage by Peggy Layton is a good book for this.

9. Everybody needs a couple of good references for first aid. Where There Is No Doctor and Where There Is No Dentist are inexpensive and could save your life.

I would also suggest some books that will work as teaching tools if your kids are out of school for a while.

I have a lot of books. I forage wild mushrooms so I have several good guides. I also save seeds and have books on that. I have dozens of gardening books and books dedicated to subjects like beekeeping and raising poultry. I do buy new books but I get a lot a library and church sales.  Tag sales are terrific places to find books. If you tell your librarian what you are interested in, he or she will get them through interlibrary loan. I am part of a sustainability group and we started a lending library that allows us to trade and share books.

I have been doing my morning internet news read and I don’t feel good about it. I keep reading about another year, another two years, maybe another ten years of pain and recession. What I don’t hear, except from a few like Sharon Astyk,Dmitry Orlov and James Kunstler is that this is not about a time line. This is about a shift in the way we will live forever. The bills will come due and we have no money to pay them with. We will need oil to fund massive infrastructure repair and that will take peak oil off the back burner and set it right on the kitchen table. The auto industry isn’t coming back, not looking anything like the old Detroit at any rate. We can’t spend our way out of this any more than a bankrupt family can spend their way out of homelessness. It is time to face this new paradigm and get to work making a life in it. Start today.

If you haven’t ever grown food, start today. Go to the library and take out a few good gardening books. If you don’t have land, check out your faith based community, your local government, your homeowner’s association and find some empty space to reclaim for food. Pull out the ornamentals and plant perennial food plants. Join a Church, even if you are not a believer. The church model holds the most hope for a working system of support. Get involved in your local government, volunteer fire department or school system. Buddy buy when you shop. Get two of something and put one away. Get an energy audit on your home. Consider doubling  up with another family to save on expenses if things get very tough. Get healthy.

A few years ago I took a serious fall. I broke my hip and shattered my elbow. I spent several days in the hospital and during that stretch, I had a constant stream of visitors. Family, friends, neighbors, church members came in droves. They phone rang constantly. Flowers and books arrived. The woman who shared my room was so unwell and had only one visitor. She got a few phone calls and it was clear from her end of the conversation that her life was like something out of a Jerry Springer show. I apologized after everyone left for the chaos. She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I never knew anyone could be so loved”, she said.

Find love. I don’t mean this in a touchy, feely kind of way. I mean it in a concrete way. Lend a hand. Reconnect with your extended family. Learn to enjoy this different life. We are going to need each other in the coming dark days. Don’t let fear win.

If you are lucky enough to be getting a tax rebate this year, you may be thinking about what to do with it. I was speaking with two woman down at my daughter’s school today and both are planning trips to Florida over the April vacation even though money is clearly tight for both families. The rational is that they are already in so much trouble that it doesn’t really matter. They also feel that the value of their dollars is slipping so quickly that they might as well have some fun while they can.

I understand how they feel but I certainly hope you will make better choices. But what is a better choice? Alternative energy or a reliable car? A freezer or a new furnace? Pay down debt or stock up the pantry? I sure hope you aren’t expecting me to have some magic answer. I have just come into a small amount of money and Bruce and I are struggling with our many options for spending it. We are lucky in that we have no debt so we have more choices. If I owed money to anyone, I would in fact, pay that off, especially if the debt was a high-interest credit card debt. We know we will invest in our home infrastructure. We will probably put in a new double-flue chimney. This will make it possible to install a wood stove in the basement which will significantly decrease our heating bill. We have a wood lot and with proper management, we will be energy sustainable.  I just ordered a new dehydrator. Drying food  is much less energy intensive than canning and the food takes up a lot less speace in storage. We are going to build a small barn too. We need space for pigs, a couple of goats and a flock of chickens. If we build it ourselves and use a lot of salvage for materials, the cost won’t be too high. Our final spend will be  for a better cold cellar. We need a spot for the crops that like it just above freezing like the carrots, apples beets,  and cabbage. Bruce came up with a terrific plan. We have a hatchway with steps leading from the yard to the cellar. It stays really cold in that space. Bruce is going to rebuild the steps and hinge them. He will then drop insulated boxes under each step. The stuff we store there will not freeze but will be protected from the warmer temperatures of the the cellar. It was wasted space and the steps were falling apart anyway.

That’s pretty much going to eat up the money. I am writing this while I listen to the Obama press conference . I sure wish I felt better about this bailout. I am afraid that the government is doing the equivilant of taking a trip to Florida with our money. It will feel good for a bit but then the bill comes due and somebody is going to expect to get paid. With what? I know that in my house, if we got into money trouble, we would do without and suffer until we got out of trouble. I don’t know if the American people would be willing to suffer through bank and auto companies failing. He sitting there talking about credit so folks can buy RV’s. I just don’t see RV sales ramping up anytime in the near future. I’m pretty sure that the life we used to have is not coming back. I hope you spend your dwindling resources on things that will ensure your family’s ability to stay warm and fed. We have all been dancing and the fiddler is standing there with his hand out.

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