As soon as the tribe awoke and ate breakfast this morning, I bundled them all into Fran the Van to pick up a few last-minute supplies; we’ve done a few more road trips than usual this summer, so some of my stocks of “easy eats and drinks” were more depleted than I like them to be when the emergency management people are warning people to prepare for power outages lasting over a week. While using my rewards points to score a bunch of freebies at Walgreen’s, a gentleman of roughly my father’s age surveyed our little band and commented that he has four granddaughters he’s raising. I complimented him on his dedication and energy; it takes a special person to raise another generation at an age where many people are contemplating a life of retirement, and shook my head as I commented that I didn’t know how I would do another round of child-raising if I had to raise my grandchildren.
He smiled, and told me I was blessed to have such a well-behaved crew (they really were angels this morning). I thanked him, then told the tiny people that the nice gentleman had just given them a very kind compliment, and it would be appropriate to say, “Thank you, sir.” Beanie and Bugaboo obligingly flashed winning smiles and piped up their thanks, but Mr. Man hung back for a moment. After he had conducted his thorough contemplation of the situation, he very solemnly walked over to the gentleman, stuck out his little hand to be shaken, and with great seriousness, lisped out, “Sankoo, suwr,” in his very best big-guy voice.
Both the gentleman and I managed to keep it to very broad grins. This was tougher for me as I had to stifle giggles while praising Mr. Man for his excellent deportment.
Having finished our transaction at Walgreen’s, we headed over to Giant to restock the dog food supply and pick up a couple of items with excellent sale prices, along with an extra bag of Mr. Man’s beloved “mishmawwows” and some fresh milk. We made it home a little after 11:00, and, given the general chaos in both stores, I’ll be quite happy not to venture within several miles of any retail establishments for the next week or so. Lunch was eaten, tiny people were tucked in for naps, and I broke out my laptop to put up a post on Facebook inquiring whether any friends needed help preparing for the storm.
While no one needed anything specific, several dozen people asked for more information about what I do to get ready for major weather events. I have an insurance background and, I’m told, a fairly healthy dose of common sense, so I may have a few things on my prep list that are a little uncommon. Because of the interest from the Facebook community, I decided to post a quick prep list on this blog tonight. I hope that it’s interesting to many of you, and that none of you ever have a real need to use it. The pantry and cooking parts are actually the last entries.
This should be common sense, but even for me, that’s not necessarily so. As you prepare, remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The stuff at the bottom of the pyramid HAS to take priority. Extend that hierarchy to helping your neighbors — in other words, love your neighbors as yourself, and make sure they have what they need for basic survival.
Be calm, kind, and courteous. If you have tiny people, they will take their cues from you. If you are braving the madding crowds on the roads or in the store, greet people with a smile and a gentle word, and offer to help shoppers who are older, herding kids, or have disabilities reach or carry heavy or hard-to-reach items. Kindness is contagious. So is ugliness. Sow carefully. If you go about your work cheerfully, you’ll find all the annoying little tasks are less onerous. I recommend music while you work!
Get cash. ATMs and credit card machines will not work if there’s no power.
Get IDs, insurance policies, and medical histories for your family together, including your pets. Write important phone numbers in indelible ink on heavy cardstock or cardboard. Important phone numbers should include your insurance companies’ and utilities phone numbers. Don’t count on being able to text or get numbers from your cell phone address book. Go through your house with a digital camera holding a FRESH memory card and photograph everything, including wide shots of every room. If something has a serial number, get a clear, readable picture of it. Do the same for your vehicles and yard equipment. Finally get a good photograph of each member of your household, including your pets. Take all of these documents and seal them in a ziplock freezer bag, then seal that bag in another ziplock freezer bag, then secure it, at eye level, to a wall in a closet or interior, windowless room. If you have an insurance claim, your adjuster will love you for this.
This is the time to fix any leaks in your plumbing. A small leak in your toilet now can mean a big fat headache when you’re having to flush it with pitchers of water. Similarly, if you don’t have a secure drain plug in your bathtub or sink, filling it with water so you’ll have extra on hand will be a waste of time. Also, find and learn how to use your main water valve. If you wait until the middle of a storm to figure this out, the rain may not be needed for an indoor swimming pool to develop. Make sure you have whatever wrench you need to shut it off.
Start unplugging electrical gadgets that you don’t ordinarily use. This is a good, generic energy-saving tip at any time. Check your electrical cords and power strips for fraying and for dirt. Clean and replace them as necessary. Charge your rechargeables and then turn them off.
Find and set a clock that does not require electricity. Don’t depend on your cell phone. You may not be able to charge it.
Figure out how you will pass the time without the Internet or television.
Fill the gas tanks of all your vehicles. Check and top off all your fluid and your tire pressure. Make sure you have usable spare tires.
Find the main breaker for your dwelling, figure out how to turn it off, and clear a path to it. If your power goes out, shut that breaker until you have a chance to unplug everything.
Test your sump pump, if you have one. Make sure it works, and get it serviced if it doesn’t!
A couple of small battery operated fans can be useful, as can a space heater. If you use a kerosene heater, check your kerosene supply and then triple-check your ventilation scheme.
Check (and replace if necessary) the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
What’s in your fridge and freezer now?
Eat it. Especially if you have seafood or shellfish and have no way to smoke it for longer-term preservation. If the storm ends up not materializing, or the power stays on, at least you’ve had a tasty seafood feast. If you have anything frozen that requires a microwave to cook, and you don’t have a generator, eat that, too! Don’t buy any more perishables. In the meantime, fill ziplock freezer bags about 1/2 full with water, seal them tightly, and pack them around the food in your freezer. The more densely packed your freezer is, the longer foods will stay safely preserved.
Get a generator. Once you have the generator, figure out how to connect it to the truly essential things before a storm or other disaster hits. Make sure you have whatever extension cords you’ll need. If, for whatever reason, a generator is not an option for you, make sure you have the following items that can run on battery or hand-crank power:
— Radio. Oh, and get a NOAA weather radio. They’re under $20 and come in quite handy.
— Light sources. Never underestimate the candlepower of a book light!
— Coffee maker or hot pot, for boiling water
— Optional-but-awesome: portable DVD player
A power inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter of your car is a delightful thing to have. Make sure you have a good battery in your car, and plenty of fuel. Save the inverter for dire need, because you don’t want to use all the gas in your tank charging electronics. If conditions are genuinely awful in your area, you’ll need that gas.
If you can afford a solar array, and are able to install one safely, they can be terrific, but bear in mind that one falling tree can trash your power source. A solar charger for things like cell phones might come in handy as well.
Make sure you have a LOT of batteries in the sizes your gadgets take. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a drawer full of C cells when what you actually need are AAAs.
If you have a land line, as we do, make sure you have at least one phone that does not require electrical current to run. If you are cell phone dependent, take two precautions. First, put a pound of rice in a ziplock freezer bag and seal it, then put that bag into a second bag and seal it. If your phone gets wet, you can now dry it. Second, get to know your neighbors! Find out who your closest neighbors that have land lines are. Citizens band radios are not a bad thing to have, and if there’s an amateur radio operator in your area, get to know him or her. In almost every disaster situation, cell phone communication is disrupted. Set up a way to check in with relatives who are out of town.
That said, take the time to make sure all of your phones and other e-pliances like Kindles are fully charged before the storm hits. Keep a charger in a ziplock freezer bag, too.
Speaking of neighbors, remember to check on them, too. On our “to-do” list for tomorrow is checking on the non-English-speaking family next door to make sure they have what they need, and checking on several neighbors who are elderly. Remember Matthew 25:31-46. It’s relevant.
Repeat this sentence frequently: “My smartphone may not work for a week.” Plan accordingly.
Clear out your gutters and storm drains. Pull or cut the dead branches off your trees and get them away from houses. Fold up and bring in patio furniture; stow children’s outdoor toys and bicycles in sheds or in the house. Set up a rain barrel or two — this can be quite helpful if you need to wash some clothes or flush a toilet. Garden wagons and coolers are wonderful for this in a pinch. Look at what you have that can hold water, get it secured, and use it accordingly. Once the rain stops, cover it with plastic sheeting or tarps so you don’t end up with a mosquito habitat. If you can, check your roof for leaks and get in touch with a roofer to handle the small stuff before it becomes big stuff. Check the caulking around your windows and refresh it if you need to. Get some corrugated pipe and attach it to the end of your downspouts; route it so that the water flows out at least ten feet away from your house. If you have a swing set, take the swings off and bring them inside. Rake and bag your leaves so they don’t re-clog your storm drains.
ANYTHING in your yard can become a missile. If you can pick it up, so can the wind. Get it inside or tied down. Pay particular attention to outdoor decorations (we’ll be moving pumpkins today) and trash cans. Patio umbrellas need to be closed and stored. If you have propane tanks for a grill or heater, move them to shelter. Even a well-anchored shed is good.
Find all of your insurance policies. READ THEM. Call your agent if you don’t understand something. Check your coverages and limits and make adjustments if you need to. Once you’ve done all that (this may sound familiar), put the policies in a ziplock freezer bag, seal it, put that bag into another one and seal it. Tack it securely to a wall in a closet or interior, windowless room.
Use Sharpies to write with. They’re waterproof.
Many styrofoam coolers are watertight; the ones Omaha Steaks uses are particularly good. Put foodstuffs, books, several changes of clothing, blankets, and towels into these. If you don’t happen to have any, put those same items into . . . you guessed it, ziplock bags, which you then want to store up off the ground in a closet or interior, windowless room.
Do all of your laundry before the storm hits. Give the inside of the house a thorough cleaning (ah, that’s a hard one for me!), then make sure you have plenty of cleaning supplies on hand. Rubber gloves are very good to have, as are a couple of extra buckets. Bleach is an essential; you can wash dishes in it, and you can use it to purify water if you have to. While away the stormy hours putting everything away and making sure there are no obstacles on your floors.
There are some hardware items that are very helpful to have on hand: a couple of sheets of plywood, a couple of boxes of nails, a hammer, a FULLY CHARGED cordless drill, a hand saw, both kinds of screwdrivers, an adjustable wrench, several tarps or pieces of heavy plastic sheeting (in a pinch, vinyl shower curtain liners will do), electrical tape, duct tape, pliers, and twine.
Keep a supply of paper plates on hand. It’s easier than washing dishes, especially if you have a boil water advisory.
If you have a FoodSaver or other vacuum sealer, you can very quickly put important papers, matches, or medications in a waterproof pouch!
Find your pets’ vaccination records and put them with the insurance policies — same procedure.
Have a month’s supply of food per pet on hand.
Count each pet as a family member when you’re laying in a supply of water. The rule of thumb is one gallon of water, per person, per day. That is a VERY LOW estimate of the actual water you’ll need, but it is a survivable amount. And please, don’t leave your furry kids outside during a storm. That’s cruel.
Health and hygiene
Make sure everyone has a good wash before the storm hits. I highly recommend keeping a bottle of liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s makes my personal favorite) on hand; it rinses quickly and cleanly, and if you are trying to wash your hair and body with a pint of water, it’s a lifesaver.
Get your prescriptions refilled before the storm hits. If you use medications that require refrigeration, make sure you have some plan other than ice to keep them refrigerated. There are small fridges that can be stored and run in a vehicle. If you have to use that option, make sure you have an extra tank of gas stored in a safe but accessible place.
You will want to have a first aid kit that is rated for hikers and other outdoorsy types, with larger bandages and the like. If anyone needs a detailed list, say so in the comments and I’ll add one. In the meantime, make sure you have supplies of hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, cortisone cream, calamine lotion, baby powder, petroleum jelly, Epsom salts, and alcohol-based mouthwash. The mouthwash, because it is alcohol-based, can be used as an all-purpose disinfectant. You’ll also want to have hand sanitizer (oodles of it), aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and Benadryl on hand. A case of baby wipes is a VERY pleasant thing to have around.
Our kids are all weaned. We make it a point to keep a can each of powdered baby and toddler formula here. If you have a tiny person who develops a tummy bug, you can give him or her the formula to keep the wee one hydrated and at least minimally nourished. If you have a neighbor with a baby who is in a predicament, you have the makings of a life-saving blessing. Consider it.
In the meantime, make sure you have adequate diapering supplies and even more adequate means of entertaining children that do not require power. I recommend books, small craft kits, blocks, stickers, cards, dominoes, dolls, cars, and board games.
Oil lamps, camp lamps, candle chandeliers, candles, and flashlights are all in the mix at our house. We also have a LOT of book lights.
Please bear in mind that I’m not giving an exhaustive inventory of the contents of my cupboards; it would bore you to tears. This is what I would recommend for a family of six for a month:
Six boxes of whole grain cereal
Four boxes of instant oatmeal
Six boxes of granola bars
Ten to twenty cans of fruit, depending on the size of the cans
Large tub each of raisins, dried apricots, and banana chips
Four large boxes of dry milk
Eight to twelve gallons of juice, in single-serve containers if your budget permits it. Juice does not mean Kool-Aid, but Tang is okay.
Ten pounds of couscous
Ten pounds of polenta
Twenty pounds of rice
Five pounds of grits
Five pounds of bulgur wheat
At least thirty bouillon cubes
Twenty cans of soup
Twenty large cans of tuna
Ten large cans of salmon
Twenty pounds of dried beans
Ten pounds of nuts
Ten pounds of nut or seed butter
Twelve large cans of crushed tomatoes
Thirty cans of vegetables
Ten cans of potatoes
Three gallons of olive oil
Thirty pounds of flour
Lots of potatoes and long-lasting squashes (butternut, acorn pumpkin, hubbard)
At least fifteen pounds of apples
Multiple cans of shelf stable grated cheese
A couple of cans of “squeeze cheese”
Jerkies and dried meats. Use these sparingly, as they tend to be very high in salt, which will dehyrate you.
At least one full case of EVAPORATED milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk)
Five pounds of coffee
Cocoa mix and tea
One gallon of water per person or pet per day
Chocolate, candy, or individually wrapped snacks. Bags of Halloween candy are great. A little sweet can be a great mood elevator.
These are just things that can be quickly used. You can make a quick and very tasty bread by mixing flour, water, and a little olive oil, rolling it very thinly, and toasting it on a grill. If you have a generator, you can add a lot of variety to that list — those are the basics for a family of six for a month, with extra to share with neighbors who were not able to prepare. It’s critically important to us that we have that extra to share. I imagine most of you have spices and seasonings on hand. Bear in mind that caffeine can relieve a lot of headaches. This is not, for the record, an exact list of what I have in my pantry; I stock up when certain things go on sale, so I have a little more of this, a little less of that, and a whole bunch of stuff that’s not on there at all. Listing it all would take me a full day!
We have a gas grill. Get extra propane. I also highly, highly recommend acquiring a fondue pot that uses either tea lights, Sterno, or denatured alcohol. You can do most minor warming things and light cooking over a Sterno or tealight burner, including boiling water. During the wailing height of a windstorm, it’s probably a bad idea to be outside grilling. If you have a charcoal grill, figure out how much charcoal it takes you to cook one meal, then multiply that quantity by 90. Camp stoves (the kind that use bottled gas) are beautiful things, but be very careful using them indoors.
This is taking longer than I thought. I’ve been writing for two hours. Please tell me what I missed or forgot to cover in the comments, and I promise I will address it tomorrow.
Today’s prayer: Lord, thank You for Your blessings, who brought smiles to many tense faces today. Focus my mind and my heart on that simple joy that loving my neighbors brings, and mold me into the example You would have them follow. Please comfort all those whose hearts are fearful in advance of gathering storms, whether meteorological or spiritual, and grant them peace and the grace of security in Your friendship and infallible love.