On September 6, Hurricane Hermine, pardon me, the weather people called it a “tropical storm,” tore through my neighborhood. I live in the Northeast Bexar County area. The strongest super cell area was over my house for most of the day. Not more than 20 miles away from my home, wind gusts of over 70 mph were recorded. My TV antennae is bent, something that takes 50+ mph wind to accomplish.
During the storm, I was outside trying to protect young container trees, re-tying stakes to my newly planted cherry tree and wiring the garden trellises to their rebar stakes. The horizontal driven wind seemed like a wet version of a sandstorm. (I lived in Nevada while I was in high school; those were nightmares.) Trying to stand, holding things while the wind was gusting and crouching every time a big gust hit left me exhausted. I would find myself outside three separate times in that mess, totaling over two hours. I had no energy left.
My next-door neighbor on the other side lost electrical power around 1:30pm. At 5:00am the next day, I lost power too. So did nearly a thousand other homes in my area. By 4:00pm yesterday, folks on the other side of the street regained power. At 1:30am this morning, the lights coming on startled me awake.
Today, my neighbor’s fence is partly in my yard, more than one house has a tree sitting on or through the roof, and the local apartment complex is missing shingles. Even some of their metal roofs have extensive repairs in progress as I write this.
I spent yesterday thinking about disaster preparedness. I have a hand-crank flashlight, candles, a hand-crank/battery operated radio, which kept on for information, and did chores that did not require electricity.
Although Hermine’s aftermath still creates life-threatening flooding, (people were killed), tornadoes and power outages along with other damage, people are coming out okay.
My neighborhood has had numerous “feeder bands” – the outer bands of a hurricane, blow through before, creating damage, but we have never had the storm itself hit us directly since Hurricane Alan in the early 1980’s. He wasn’t that bad.
Regardless of the lack of power, I still ate, had my coffee, and went about my day without electrical power. Growing up in the country, having the electrical power go out for days wasn’t uncommon.
Yet my current disaster kit really didn’t prepare me for neighbors losing communication with friends and family, cooking and some household chores.
I’ll be expanding my disaster kit. My list is provided not to replace the items that FEMA, the Red Cross, or the NSA (National Security Administration) has recommended, but to give a regional look at a disaster kit. Several of my neighbors have children used to the “technology age” we live in, and for many, the only source of information was cell phone calls until batteries died. Even though my battery-operated radio wasn’t the only one in the neighborhood, more than one household depended on it.
Customize this kit for your needs, your family’s needs and your region. Different regions have different disasters.
The disaster kit:
• 2 weeks of food for each person living in my home.
• 2 weeks food and litter for each pet.
• Hand crank radio and flashlights- if charging batteries isn’t feasible
• Rechargeable batteries for each item used in the disaster kit.
• Solar charger for cell phones
• Solar charger for all battery sizes
• Ice chest and ice or 12 volt refrigerator and solar power pack
• First Aid Kit for people and pets
• 12 Volt appliances for cooking, if desired
• Battery-operated or 12-volt television for local broadcasts, with or without DVD player.
• Camp toilet or cassette toilet if water pressure falls too low- usually this causes evacuations, so be prepared.
• Clothing, blankets and/or sleeping bags for cold weather- store in sealed bags or containers
• Enough water for two weeks for each person and pet. If the sewers are working, but a “water-advisory” has been issued, meaning residents need to boil drinking water, clean water is available. If the power is out, resources to boil water may be limited.
• Portable camp stove and fuel. I prefer the type of stove that uses recyclable propane bottles. These store for long periods without problems. If using your current cookware on a camp stove isn’t desirable, purchase basic camp cookware.
• LP (propane) generator, one large enough for my refrigerator and freezer, perhaps one window air conditioner as well. Propane bottles store in the garage safely, and the fuel does not go stale as with other forms of fuel. I will run the generator in the garage with the exhaust hose attached to the dryer vent to the outside. Check with local ordinances before doing this to make sure it’s ok. If not, choose a spot to set the generator up outside and build a portable or permanent cover to protect it from the elements.
• I also like to have my solar cookers. If the sun is out, why waste electricity? Let the sun do the cooking. If the storm is still ongoing, other options are at hand.
• A hand crank clothes washer if essentials are needed and a laundromat isn’t available.
• Long burning candles and/or lanterns (battery operated or oil) for nighttime light.
The disaster pantry:
• Powdered milk- mix what you need when you need it- no refrigeration necessary.
• Canned meals- soups, stews, chili, etc.
• Freeze dried food- meat, vegetables, fruits, full meals
• Instant coffee and a 12-volt hot pot to heat water
• Bottled or powdered juice- not “drink mix.”
• Money for take-out if only the neighborhood is down and other places are open- saves on cooking, and helps to make the situation less stressful.
Notes to consider:
• 12- Volt coolers are manufactured to keep your food 30-40 degrees below the ambient temperature. The temperature reached 88 degrees inside the house with the power off, so my food would have been kept at 58 degrees F. – too warm. For food to stay safe, refrigeration needs to be at 40 degrees F. or below. Therefore, even though coolers are far less expensive, a 12-volt refrigerator is far safer. For short road trips, though, they are a bargain.
• If no “use-by” date is stamped on canned food, use a permanent marker to inscribe a date six months after purchase. Use the food before that date, and replace to keep your pantry current.
• Even though federal and state agencies state the household disaster kit should include three days of food and water, I list two weeks. Not out of paranoia, family and friends may need shelter in any size disaster. Not all of them will think to bring food or water with them.
• Instead of, or in addition to the power pack and 12-volt appliances, I can purchase the appropriate inverter and use electric appliances I already have: a set of single and double patio burners, 12-inch electric skillet, two different sized crock-pots, and an electric grill.
• Board games, books, comics, magazines and other reading materials if no television is available. Musical instruments will also help to pass the time.
A disaster kitchen should be versatile, and the more research and planning ahead of time, the more options are available. I’ll be able to have a hot meal regardless of the power or weather situation. Of course, I can still eat cold soup from a can. No problem there.
I will be storing these items in large red plastic containers, easy to spot when needed. If red containers aren’t available when I’m shopping, red tape or paint works too.
I know my list is long, and I’ll be stocking every item for any contingency. “Plan for the worst” is part of all military training. As an AF Veteran that phrase still holds true for me. The U.S. Boy Scouts motto of “Always be prepared,” is something everyone should take to heart. No matter what part of the country I travel to, having these items will help me get through whatever disaster I encounter.
Check out the Red Cross, NSA’s and FEMA’s websites for more information and to further tailor a disaster kit for you and your family.
Hurray for the local power company
Over 100,000 homes in the Bexar County area lost power, with San Antonio City Public Service crews working in the storm and non-stop afterwards to restore it. Kudos and thanks to the men and women of CPS. Who else would climb a power pole in a hurricane? They did.