Winter is Coming

Well for some parts of the United States, winter has already arrived in the way of snow storms. For most of us at lower elevations though, we still have a bit of time. Now is the time to review your preparations for the cold so you don’t get stuck out in, well, the cold.

First order of business would be to swap out your warm weather car kit for your cold weather kit. Don’t have a car kit? Now is a great time to make one and you don’t really NEED two different kits. You can get away with just swapping out or adding some items. Some items that could be part of a cold weather car kit would be blankets, a change of warm clothes, cold weather boots, a jacket, candles, an ice scraper, a shovel, and cat litter. The shovel and cat litter are for self-rescue if you end up off the road in the snow. The candles can be for light or to heat up the car if stuck or broken down. You might already have them in a year-round kit unless it gets hot enough to melt them in the summer. An alternative heat source, like a portable propane heater, might be a good addition also, but would have to be used carefully. Unless you live in an area that gets very cold or could possibly be stuck for an extended time, a few candles would probably keep you from freezing.

Next, I would evaluate your home preparations to ensure nothing needs topped off. If you use propane, ensure the tanks are full and give each a basic safety check. If any look damaged, replace them. Also, check the batteries in flashlights, radios, etc. If you have a generator, it is a good time to test it out and rotate out fuel. If appropriate, work on whatever winter weather proofing you need. Some people seal windows with plastic and/or foam board to reduce lost heat.  Others use caulk to seal up any areas that need it. Also, ensure that any plumbing that could freeze is protected by heat tape, a space heater, or other appropriate means.

Lastly, take a look at your day to day cold weather gear. Many people overlook taking stock of this for you and the family. Is your favorite winter coat on its last leg, do your gloves have more holes than you have fingers, does your 13 year old’s coat fit more like a mid-drift shirt since they added 4 inches over the summer? Making sure your coats, gloves, hats, boots, and such are in good condition will provide a first layer (pun intended) of protection from the cold. I have developed a routine that keeps at least gloves and a hat in my main jacket. That way I do not end up needing them only to find I left them in the other car or on the kitchen table. I also make sure to pack items directly in my kid’s bookbag. They may be covered in goldfish cracker crumbs, but they still keep them warm when needed.

Obviously, this is a very high-level look at some of the things you may need to do to get ready for colder weather. Since everyone has a different situation, it is hard to have a one size fits all checklist. I hope this give you some place to start if you are just getting your plans together for the cold. Stay safe and warm out there.

National Preparedness Month 2020 – Week 3

The theme of week 3 of National Preparedness Month 2020 is “Prepare for Disasters”. This may seem like what you have been doing, but that is not what it means. A better way to phrase it is “Know your Disasters”. This means evaluating disasters that are the most likely to affect you.

One good example is tsunamis. If you live on the coast in relatively close proximity to the ocean, this is something you must take into your planning. If you live somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, it is not going to be necessary to plan for. If a tsunami hits you there, there is not a lot you can do to prepare.

This is a good time to employ the levels that I discuss. Nothing has to be exact, but you can use them to break down the possibilities. For example, you live in Minnesota and get a large amount of snow each year. The amount you get might be a huge disaster some places, but is only a blue level to you. This is because everyone is used to it. Municipalities will have a sufficient amount of equipment and chemical to remove the snow from the roads quickly. Normal home owners will own snow blowers or at least enough shovels to dig out. In addition, everyone will probably have supplies in case the power is interrupted. If it is, it will be off less time because the power providers are prepared for the yearly ritual. Lastly, people who must venture out will have the proper clothing and things like tire chains to protect them from becoming stranded. So basically the planning and preparation are a given.

A short term, say 24 to 48-hour, power outage might be a yellow level to many people. While it is a huge inconvenience, it is not bad enough to cause you to have to evacuate unless there are other factors. If you do not have extreme heat or cold in your area, then sitting tight and riding it out would be just fine if you have a few supplies and planning. These supplies might be as advanced as a generator tied into your home electrical system or as simple as flashlights, a dual fuel camp stove, and an alternate heat source if necessary. It greatly depends on your desired comfort level and budget.

Hurricanes are an example of what could be a orange level event for many. If you are in the direct path of a severe hurricane then evacuating is the safest bet. The flooding and destruction from high winds can cover a large area and be unpredictable. Being prepared to evacuate quickly with necessary supplies is a must for an orange level event. Since it covers a wide area and easily has the potential to totally destroy your home and anything left there, you may be left with only what you take with you. So, while this covers a large area and occurs multiple times a year in some areas, it may only significantly affect a small number of people in that area. It takes a heavy toll on those it does though.

A red level event is something that totally uproots large regions, whole countries, or more probably, the entire world. It is the worst-case scenario. This could be a massive global EMP., natural or otherwise, taking out all electrical devices. Or it could an asteroid strike of a level not seen since the dinosaurs. Alternately, it could be an entire social break down that brings on a time where there is no rule of law. It could even be a pandemic, but not like we have now. It would be one that has a mortality rate so high and spreads so fast that a significant portion of the population is gone in the blink of an eye. Heck, to cover everything it could even be some sort of zombie uprising. Whatever it is, it overshadows any other disaster in human history. This is the least likely, but most grave level of disaster. Preparing for it is to also hope that you or none of you family’s generations to come see it come to pass. While these are ones that would be deadly if not planned for, they also take so large of an investment of time, energy, and money that many simply cannot fully prepare for the full battery of possibilities. Whether you commit to preparing for this is a personal choice.

While thinking about these possible disasters can be stressful, it is necessary. Once you know what disasters could befall you, you can then logically begin steps to prepare. These preparations could be as simple as storing a plastic tote full of food and batteries or as drastic as moving to a different area to limit your chance of certain disasters. Each situation is drastically different and only you can decide how your plan is laid out to address it.

Surviving the Heat

Summer can be a time of great fun. School is out in a lot of places and lots of people take their yearly family vacation.  Unlike when it is cold though and people take precautions to avoid frostbite, people seem to forget about the dangers overexposure to sun and heat cause. These dangers can be multiplied exponentially if you are in the midst of a disaster rendering you without electricity, clean water, or shelter. Some natural disasters that might affect you in this way during the summer are tornadoes, wild fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and tsunamis.

Here are some tips to employ to help out if you end up caught in a disaster with no electricity during the hot season in your area.

If it is safe to remain in your home, keep it cool by doing the following:

Cover windows with drapes or shades. Dark colored sheets or multiple layers of lighter colored ones would work as temporary stand ins.

Weather-strip doors and windows before hand. Duct tape could be used as a temporary option around doors and windows you do not need to use. This works best if you do still have some type of cooling option, but can still be a benefit if you cannot open windows.

Use window reflectors, such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside. Mylar emergency blankets would also work in the place of foil.

Add insulation to keep the heat out. This is hard to do unless you do it before hand, but it can save you heating and cooling costs on a daily basis in addition to helping out in a disaster.

Take precautions when you have to be outside:

When possible, find shade. Wear a hat wide enough to protect your face. A boonie hat is a popular option. A large cloth can also be used to cover your head and neck. A scarf like this shemagh is a helpful option. A dangerous sunburn is the last thing you want to add to your worries.

Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.

Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. If you or someone you care for is on a special diet, ask a doctor now how to deal with it now so that you know. Water is good, but also make sure you have something to replace salt and electrolytes such as a sports drink.

Avoid high-energy activities during the heat of the day. If you must travel on foot a considerable distance to get away from danger, do so at night or in the early morning hours. Rest in a safe cool area during the day.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you make it through the extreme heat even if you do not experience a disaster.


Stay Safe this Winter

If you knew that you would end up stranded hip deep in snow late at night on a lonely back road, you would come dressed for it with supplies and a way to call for help. Sadly emergencies rarely send you a postcard ahead of time.  With winter just around the corner for the Northern hemisphere, it is time to update any kits that you may have in your car, at home, and at work.

At home, your kit may be less of an organized bag as just having certain things on hand. One important one in cold climates is an alternate heat source if you use a heat pump or electrical heating. In the event of a power outage these will no longer work.  For a small space, a portable propane heater that uses the camping style 16 ounce propane bottles is a good option. Here is an example, but there are several styles. Click the pictures for more info.

In addition to the heater, a good stock of warm blankets and clothes should be kept. These will help you conserve fuel and also conserve body heat while you sleep. This also conserves calories. Wool blankets are a much better choice than cotton. Since these are meant to stay at home, the extra weight over something like a space blanket is a better trade off for the extra warmth.. A wool blanket like this is a good fire resistant option.

You will also need light during this time. A few good flashlights and backup sets of batteries are a good choice. Candles can be used, but need to be secured in a safe way so to prevent the chance of fire.  A lantern style light like this one would be a better first option as long as you have batteries.

If you do need to use candles, tealights have a shorter burn time, but cannot be tipped over. They are cheap and easy to buy in quantity. They could also be used an improvised cooking flame if hard pressed. Here is a example of them.

Food will need to be reviewed also. The best is to have food that is ready to eat.  Canned foods are a good long term option since weight is not a factor. This can be soups, fruit, vegetables, or meat.  Saltine crackers are a good option to accompany these. Sealed they stay fresh a long time. The idea is to limit the need to cook because that requires extra equipment and fuel. It is also another potential fire hazard. Though if the power outage is long term more food options will help curb cabin fever. In that case a stove such as this one is compact and uses the same bottles as the heater above. As an added benefit, it can be used to boil water (or snow and ice) if you run out of clean stored water.

Foods such as “camper” meals can be stored long term and easily prepared using the stove above. The trade off is that they cost more than standard canned food. They have a great variety of food options and some come sealed in a container for even better storage.  They do require water, so be sure to keep a good storage of clean water. Mountain House is a popular brand of these meals. This bucket includes 6 different types of meal pouches.

In case things go beyond just sitting and waiting for the weather to clear, you need to have a way to make outside contact. Given the upgrade away from traditional copper line landlines, a cell phone is the most possible option. Those require power too. A compact option for that is a hand crank device. This one is a AM/FM, weather radio, flashlight, and power bank combo. These are nice because they not only help you communicate out, but can help you keep up on things going on around you based on news reports and weather alerts.  Also, unlike a traditional power bank, you do not need to remember to keep them charged. Either sit this out in the sun or hand crank it to fill the battery. Just be sure to have cables compatible with all your electronics that you want to keep charged.

Some of these items such as the blanket, flashlights, batteries,  and radio combo are also a good part of a winter car kit. In addition some candles and a lighter can provide light and enough warmth to make a difference in the small space of a vehicle. Just be sure to crack a window to compensate for the used oxygen. In case you get stuck and can possibly “self rescue’ a shovel and  salt/sand/cat litter can help to restore traction. If you need help and someone comes along, having booster cables and a tow rope or chain can ensure you have what they need to help you. You can also be the good Samaritan if the reverse situation arises.  Road flares and reflective signals will keep you from getting ran over (hopefully). In addition, a sturdy set of winter boots and a change of clothes including gloves and a warm hat need to be kept in the car. This is in case you are caught dressed inappropriately for walking in bad weather. Top the kit off with some ready to eat snacks that can stand temperature fluctuations in case you get stuck for an extended amount of time. Be sure to keep these in a kit so that they stay secure and organized in your car. A plastic tote can work in the trunk, but just be sure to include a backpack in case you need to load up supplies and leave the vehicle.

Since you also more than likely spend a significant amount of time at work, it can pay to store some items in a safe spot there.  If you do not have easy access to your vehicle and your work attire is not appropriate to walk in bad weather, a change of clothes should be stored here. Boots, a sweater or sweatshirt, warm pants, wool socks, and possibly even a  thermal base layer would be good to have. A good flashlight, a radio combo like above, and some snacks would also be a great idea. If you have storage room, a blanket would be very welcome if you get stranded at work overnight.

As you can see, none of the items included above should be terribly surprising. the problem is that on a day to day basis most are not needed, so people overlook them. This is where a clearly defined plan can help you to properly equip your kits to be there for you when they are needed. So, yearly you should review your winter planning, check for equipment that needs to be swapped, replace any supplies that were used, and add any new additions that have come to light. This small amount of planning will go a long way in keeping you safe until you can get to safety, have someone pick you up, or the emergency has ended.