August 15, 2005

Disaster Planning


It was around 4:00 yesterday afternoon. The kids were napping, I was updating security software on the laptop, the Yankees game was on mute on the television, the a/c was humming away quietly, and classical music was playing on the radio. Then the storm hit and it hit with a fury. Lightening flashing, thunder booming, and the rain coming down fast and heavy, driven against the house by the wind.

*POP* Out go the lights, out goes everything powered by electricity. Everything. Including the sump pumps in the basement, it just occurred to me. Gotta check that tonight. Oh, well. Hopefully that will be ok.

The kids were still napping but when they woke up, just like that, they were knocked out of our century. We lit the house with candles in whatever rooms we were in -- none of the candles were left unattended. Too scary a thought. My wife ordered pizza in for dinner and after dinner we all played on the floor of the den and then all over the house. The kids were tumbling over each other like puppies. It was adorable. And the house looked pretty nice in the candle light. It was an interesting exercise, a throwback to times past.

Connecticut was hit pretty hard by this storm. The mayor of Stamford compared it to some horrible ice storm in the 1930's.

And we were totally unprepared. Well, not totally. We did have flashlights and candles, canned food and cell phones, bottled water and other things. But, we were fortunate in that we just happened to have this stuff from prior storms and prior incidents. We've done very little in the way of major storm planning.

So, I'm going to do that here and invite comments. I am fortunate in having somehow attracted some terribly smart people to my blog (why, I have no idea) and I'm going to take advantage of it now and ask for your thoughts on disaster planning.

The Plan

*Enough flashlights for every person in the house
*Extra supply of fresh batteries
*Good battery powered radio
*First aid kit
*Figure out how to open garage door when power fails
*Make sure cars are gassed up in advance of major storm predicted
*Buy a couple of battery powered camping table lights
*Establish emergency supply of bottled water
*Get shelf stable milk in small packages for Boy Child
*Make sure to have several rolls of duct tape (hey, you never know)
*In advance of storm arrival, unplug all sensitive electronics
*In advance of storm arrival, turn fridge and freezer to coldest setting and move some of the ice packs from freezer into fridge.
*In advance of storm, make sure cell phones are charged.
*Keep emergency cash in the house.
*Post list of not commonly used phone numbers on door of fridge -- power company, water company, telephone company, etc.
*Make sure that there is a princess phone for use when power outage takes out wireless phone system.
*Make sure that you have enough shelf stable (i.e., canned or dried) food for at least three meals. More than that you ought to probably get out of the house, it seems to me.
*In advance of storm, run dishwasher to make sure you have clean dishes and place for dirty ones.

*For winter, make sure that you have some wood to burn in the fireplace since the furnace will go out, according to the nice oil company lady I just spoke to. Are there viable battery operated heaters?

So, what do you all think? Missing anything important? Including anything silly?

Thanks, in advance, for your thoughts on this.


Happily, after placing a call to the people who put in the sump pumps for the prior owners, I have learned that the sump pumps are on a back up battery system good for around 6700 gallons of water. I think that I will not have to worry about the basement. Which is nice.

Posted by Random Penseur at August 15, 2005 10:59 AM | TrackBack

Maybe throw in a few extra mecessities like flashlights and batteries for any nearby neighbors. That way, if you have forgotten anything that they might have, you could trade...or, of course, just accumulate some good karma.

Posted by: Jessica at August 15, 2005 11:12 AM

Take it from me, I learned the hard way. You need a generator for the sump pumps and when you run them they need to be outside not inside the house.

Posted by: Wicked H at August 15, 2005 11:24 AM

I've been through several earthquakes, plus a riot. I'd say overall that your list may be a little too complicated. I would move emergency cash to the top, along with the battery radio; some of the other stuff, like the camping light, can probably go. The suggestion about the generators is very good. It's possible to buy disaster kits; you can check at the store for what they include.

I would also look at your appliances -- do you have any older ones on natural gas that need to have pilots re-lit? If so, you may want to get some very long matches to relight same, and possibly bone up on the procedures. You won't get utility response soon after a disaster.

Posted by: John Bruce at August 15, 2005 11:35 AM

Goodness, it's like one of those disaster movies from the 70's.

Just relax, it'll be ok.

If you do need to plan, all you need is a cell phone, some beer and Oreos (fruit juice and sandwich materials for the kids). It's good to have flashlights, etc around, and I always keep some bottled water available.

Think about it this way-if you had been prepared with the flashlights and the Coleman camping stove, etc...wouldn't you have missed as wonderful an evening as it sounded like you had?

I'm just saying. I do keep flashlights on hand, but I also know when electricity has handed me a blessing by cutting off and offering me a book and some candlelight :)

Posted by: Helen at August 15, 2005 11:46 AM

PS-it's worth noting that I have been in every kind of disaster known to man, with the exception of a house fire (knock on wood). Earthquake, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, wind storms, a riot, electrical storms, and yes-one volcano eruption. "Roll with the punches" is something I understand.

Posted by: Helen at August 15, 2005 11:48 AM

Walkie talkies. Camping stove. Anything that can keep you dry and warm. Matches. Extra newspaper to start the fire. Pencil/pen and paper in a reliable place.

That's all I got for now...will keep thinking.

Posted by: CJ at August 15, 2005 02:09 PM

Ummm, a couple of days worth of bottled drinking water.

I lived through the 500 year flood twelve years ago in Iowa. The water works for the entire city was flooded and there was no potable water for weeks for a quarter million people. And I mean weeks. In case something similar happens, you'll want bottled water on hand because a. all the stores will sell out very quickly and b. it generally takes days for the stores to be reloaded and the National Guard can help only so many people, eh?

I would also highly recommend duct tape and a pair of wellies, just in case you have to go through sludge.

Posted by: Kathy at August 15, 2005 03:54 PM

Fill the tub--sometimes the water system will go down & you'll be glad you have it to help flush the toilets (learned the hard way through Hurricane Andrew). If you have enough warning, fill up a cooler or two with ice.

Posted by: Phyllis at August 15, 2005 04:48 PM

Carry a cigarette lighter in your pocket. It's great to have flashlights and candles; it's not so great to bump into half of the walls and furnituyre while you feel your way around for them. You can't keep a lighter burning, though, so you **click**, take a few steps, let it go out and wait a few seconds (maybe blow on it to cool it), repeat until you've got your hands on a flashlight. Learned that the hard way. I've got candles in my room, but definately need the lighter to find them.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at August 15, 2005 07:11 PM


my sister got stuck in the south bronx with almost no gas...and no cash on 9/11.

this day and age i never really carry any...well - i do now.

Posted by: sn at August 15, 2005 08:50 PM

You didn't mention any sort of first aid kit. At the very least, you should have several days worth of any prescription meds your family might need.

Posted by: owlish at August 15, 2005 10:25 PM

When we were iced into our house in Nashville without electricity for a solid week, we used our cast iron dutch oven stove from my great great grandmother (probablu from the early 1900s or so) to make stews using the coals in our fireplace. Nothing high tech, and we used alot of the dry goods we had on hand for it.

When we got tired of that, though, we ate cold pop tarts.

Posted by: Mandalei at August 16, 2005 10:12 AM


Posted by: GrammarQueen at August 16, 2005 01:24 PM

Champagne ........... always always have champagne.

Posted by: Mia at August 16, 2005 02:18 PM

ohhhhh and maple syrup.

Actually a few tins of condensed (sweet) milk would be a good idea.

Posted by: Mia at August 16, 2005 02:20 PM

I agree with the above- Cash, flashlights, candles, water... And T.P.
A stock of paper cups and plates wouldn't hurt either.

Thanks for the link!!

Posted by: Rob at August 16, 2005 02:23 PM

Comic books.

Posted by: Amy at August 16, 2005 03:22 PM

One year at the beginning of hurricane season in Florida my husband came home from a trip and said, "Why did you buy C batteries?"

I said, "Because batteries were on the Hurricane Preparedness List published in the newspaper."

He said, "We don't have anything that takes C batteries."

Posted by: Amy at August 16, 2005 03:23 PM

Slightly off subject, but this is the second time today someone has mentioned this storm. We happened to be in Westport on Sunday (stopping off at the in-laws). The storm was certainly intense for a little bit where we were, but nothing really out of the ordinary. The power never even flickered. Interesting.

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at August 16, 2005 05:24 PM

The only thing I can add to the impeccable advice above? A sense of humor. Always, always keep it on hand, and don't leave - or go - home without it.

Posted by: Jennifer at August 16, 2005 07:37 PM

If you're going to plan, plan for a bad one. More food, more water, more candles, more batteries. A week's worth of stable food at least, same for water, along with purification tabs to make extra water safe.

Don't forget supplies for any pets you have.

Axe or hatchet, and a good bow saw.

Tarps. Rope, cord, twine, string, etc. It would be hard to keep too much rope.

Chemical glow sticks for the kids instead of candles, for night lights and on stairs and such. Easier, safer, and conserves batteries.

Someone gave an excellent idea above about filling the tub. Also fill any sinks. And if it looks really bad, any buckets, rinsed out milk jugs and pretty much anything else that'll hold water. Water is going to be the one thing that's absolutely necessary to survive. And if the municipal supply gets contaminated, it takes time to become safe again.

Posted by: Ted at August 17, 2005 12:30 PM

I love the part about running the dishwasher before a storm. Made me laugh.

Paper, my man, paper plates, plastic utensils, paper cups. Industrial-sized trashbags for many reasons. Be sure wallets, purses, etc are where you can get them in a hurry in case you're running out the door.

Posted by: Howard at August 17, 2005 05:14 PM

Brookstones sells the Ready Lite flashlight that requires no batteries. Although I couldn't find a link for you, I bought the all in one radio, cell phone charger, flashlight that is self-generating by winding a handle for a minute. I'll save a fortune in batteries.
In my disaster kit is water purifying tablets, clorox and some medical supplies. Don't forget a manual can opener!

Posted by: Marie at August 18, 2005 09:50 AM
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