Saturday, December 03, 2011

Winter Emergency Preparedness

Vintage Kittens and Fireplace Postcard, on eBay

Seattle normally has mild winters, but every now and then we get hit by some sort of really bad storm. Whether it is ice, rain, floods, snow or wind, something happens that shuts down power for a day or more; floods streets so you can't get around well; or causes traffic disruptions.

Duraflame Color Logs, at

I do sort of enjoy the enforced isolation, cozying up to the fireplace and marathons of book reading and movie watching that happen on a snow day!

But I'll never forget the year a windstorm knocked out power to our home for 7 days, and the Christmas we were snowed into our cul-de-sac for eight days.

Because of these things that have happened in the past, I'm careful to stock up in case I can't get out to the store for a few days. I don't go crazy and build a bomb shelter, or overstock so my house is cluttered. I just make sure I have enough pet food and people food to last several days. I try to strike a good balance between having PLENTY of supplies on hand, but not having my home or garage filled with emergency supplies that become clutter. I don't want my provisions to prevent me from enjoying my home.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Emergency Preparedness

  • Are you keeping your car pretty full of gas throughout the week, in case of emergency? During Seattle's 7 day power outage years ago, gas stations were unable to fill tanks and we were stranded at home for days. I'll never let my car stay below at least half a tank in wintertime again.

  • Do you keep some cash on hand? In a power failure, ATMs won't work to dispense cash, and debit cards are useless if the store isn't powered. I remember shopping at a Rite-Aid by flashlight and paying for supplies with cash.

  • When your local news says a bad winter storm is on the way, do you immediately charge up your cell phones and laptops, and run loads of laundry in case you can't for several days?

  • Do you have a landline you can use to call people in an emergency? Remember that even if your cell phone is charged, it won't necessarily work. In a city-wide power outage, the cell towers that move the phone calls around are probably out of power too, so your cell phone will be useless.

  • How would you heat food if the power was out? How would you open cans?

  • How would you light and heat your home if the power and/or gas were out?

  • If you have a wood fireplace, do you have real wood, not just pretty Duraflames? They put out lots of nice light, but not enough heat to keep people warm overnight.

  • Where would you go if your home was too cold to live in?

  • Do you have plenty of extra warm bedding? One or two comforters per person isn't enough in a power outage in a cold snowy area.

  • You probably have enough batteries for your flashlight for a day long emergency. But do you have any idea how fast you go through flashlight batteries when your power is out for a week and you need a flashlight to find your clothes in your closet, your pets under beds, to take a shower by, to find your food in the pantry? And you can't buy more batteries because the stores are closed or sold out of batteries because 1 million people in your city suddenly bought and hoarded them, or because you don't have any cash to buy batteries and the store's cash register is electronic?

  • Do you know how to light the pilot light on your gas appliances if they normally have an electric switch? Do you know how to light your gas stove using matches, not just the switch?


What would you do if your power was out for an extended time? We used to think we'd just go to a hotel, but we never anticipated an entire city of over a million people being out of power at the same time. The hotels were all sold out. Plus we didn't really have enough gas to drive to a hotel without stressing out about running out of fuel on the way there.

Do you know how to get home to your house more than three or four different ways (if applicable)? Do you know more than one route to your favorite two grocery stores? Do you know which local websites you can check for street closures or emergency info (assuming you have power?) Do you have flashlights, candles, matches, and firewood?

Which is the best radio station in your area to keep you informed about current traffic and weather conditions, especially when a disaster strikes?

Have you talked recently with local friends and family members about your plans if someone's household loses power or has another winter emergency? Do you know who you'd stay with if you couldn't stay comfortably in your home? Do you know who you might need to lend a helping hand to if your home was ok but a family member's wasn't?

Emergency Candle, on Amazon

Like me, you probably have a LOT of candles in your house. But when you're keeping a candle lit in the bathroom, kitchen, hallway and living room all at the same time, for over 12 hours a day, you burn through candles a lot faster than you could ever anticipate. (I liked having a few "lights on" in rooms we used frequently, so we didn't have to wander back and forth with dangerous drippy tapers). It was great to get rid of all the weird odds and ends of candles I'd hoarded over the years, but I ended up wishing I'd had some nice new plain white unscented candles in various sizes.

And while you can sort of read by the light of one candle, it gets tiring after a while. I was really surprised, and it made me think a lot about people and their early bedtimes in olden days! You'd really need three or four candles to read comfortably or play board games with your houseguests. Experiment with it sometime and see - be sure to close your curtains to shut out any streetlights that might cheat the experiment by sending light into your house. We were so surprised we were unable to play Monopoly just by the light of a roaring fire - it was too hard to see the pieces!

I found out a few helpful things: such as using colorful glow sticks in the bathtub to help small children bathe in the dark without being afraid. (Fortunately our hot water heater is gas). I learned you can easily cook scrambled eggs and pancakes over an open fire outdoors, but they cool off very quickly in the cold air so they should be eaten immediately.

Spend some time tonight looking through your supplies. Talk with your family about what you would do in case of flooding, fire, earthquake, snow, a tree hitting the house, and loss of power. You can do it gently and make it a fun adventurous topic so your kids don't get scared or depressed at all the "What if's."

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