Survival Diary from 3 Hurricanes & Lessons Learned, Part 3 of 3
The tips and experiences shared in this lengthy 3-part article are valuable for many different types of emergencies, from tornadoes to blackouts. Take notes!
(This section written by my friend, Jim Winburn)
Pools come in very handy when the power is out. Besides the obvious advantage of being able to cool off and wash up, I discovered you can take your sweaty grimy shirt and socks into the pool with you and let them sink to the bottom while you cool off. Hang them out to dry and you have a clean smelling shirt and pair of socks ready to go again without having to fire up the washer.
Our pool became kind of a community meeting and cooling off place during the power outage. I was told that without the filter running that to keep it from going green to add half of a jug of chlorine every other day. I never had a problem. The water from the pool can be used to flush toilets and if worst comes to worst as a source of drinking water, but only after running the water through a filter, such as a Berkey.
One more tip – I lived in my bathing suit the whole time. Then cleaning my shirt and socks as described above meant that I used zero laundry during the entire five days.
Be sure to remove the backup batteries from things like your alarm clock, weather alert radio, answering machine, etc. They are meant for very brief power outages of a minute or so. They may hold up for many hours, but not for the length of something like this. Remove the batteries and set them aside until the utility power is restored – then remember to put the batteries back in. You’ll need to reprogram the electronics later.
If you have one or more large ice chests to use during something like this, don’t think of them as wasted space the rest of the time. Aside from coming in handy for traveling, camping, etc., they make excellent storage containers for all sorts of preparedness items.
Follow up as Hurricane Jeanne approaches…
Radio – I bought a Super Sangean 909 from RadioLabs. I’m still learning how to use it, but so far it looks like it’s every bit as good as the reviews I read of it. The only downside is that it’s not very intuitive to use. You have to study the manual a bit. (Yes, I know – “When all else fails, read the instructions…”)
Ice chests and coolers – I settled on Igloo “MaxCold” ice chests and a 5-gallon water cooler. From what I could learn, they are the most heavily insulated coolers commonly available. At least they were commonly available. Right after Frances, Walmart had plenty of them and I got what I wanted. With Jeanne due to come through here in less than 48 hours, they are again no longer available around here. Lesson: buy what you need NOW. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Ice – I bought four 20-pound bags of ice and put them in the chest freezer. In addition, I bought a bunch of those cheap semi-disposable food containers at Walmart and used them to make blocks of ice. They hold 4 cups, and I filled them all with exactly 3 cups of water to allow for expansion. Be sure to get the square containers – they pack better than the round ones. When the power goes out, the ice will go into the ice chests along with anything in the refrigerator. Food in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator will go into the chest freezer. I will monitor the thermometer in the chest freezer and keep the temperature below 30 degrees. I will probably try to insulate the freezer when it’s not running by using old blankets or other insulation.
Fuel storage tanks – It’s been two weeks since Frances came through, and there are still no fuel tanks available anywhere around here.
Generators – I have decided to get a Honda EU-2000i 2KW generator to run the chest freezer and fans. That will use about 1/3 to 1/4 the fuel that my 5KW generator uses. The 5KW is needed to run the water pump, but I can get by with just running that a few minutes a day. The Honda EU-2000i is not available anywhere in the Southeast that I can find. Maybe in another month or two.
… and more follow up after Hurricane Jeanne.
Power was only out for 2 1/2 days this time. Long enough to test out ideas but short enough to not be too much of a pain.
Freezer – This time I tried to just keep the freezer cold, and didn’t worry about the refrigerator. I got a freezer thermometer and tied it to a cord that was attached to a wire basket that sets at the top of the chest freezer. That lets me open the lid just a few inches, grab the cord with the thermometer on it, then close the lid with the thermometer outside the freezer. I can then read the temperature without the lid being open.
I monitored the temperature of the freezer, and only ran the generator when it got above 20 degrees. I could run it for a couple hours in the evening, and it was still below 20 in the morning. Careful temperature monitoring allowed me to get by with only minimal generator usage. When I get the 2KW generator, the fuel usage will be between 1/3 to 1/4 of what it is with the larger generator. I decided against trying to use blankets to insulate the freezer. It’s probably more trouble than it’s worth.
Ice – I bought too much ice. Next time, I’ll get two 20-pound bags and that will be plenty. One bag will go in the water cooler, and the other will go in one ice chest. The other ice chest won’t be used. I didn’t use it this time, and I didn’t miss it.
One key was to cut back on what was in the refrigerator to a bare minimum. The ice chest held two cartons of orange juice and a bunch of Gatorade. Granted, that was just a luxury, but it sure was nice to have, and if there had been a lot of damage, the cold Gatorade would probably have shifted from luxury to necessity.
Food – I need to prepare some kind of menu ahead of time based on several criteria:
- Meals that can be prepared inside
- Meals that must be prepared outside (gas grill)
- Meals that include something from the refrigerator (use immediately)
- Meals that include something from the freezer (use up ASAP)
- Meals that use storage food (use at any time)
I guess these ideas might come naturally to some folks, but I just didn’t want to have to think about it, so I kept putting it off until I was forced to throw something together to eat. Next time, I’ll have that part organized.
Shower – I finished and used the outdoor shower that I started on after Hurricane Frances. It worked very well, and a shower sure felt good. It has its own built-in water conservation – cold showers tend to be quick showers. I have probably secured my title as the neighborhood’s version of the Beverly Hillbillies, but that’s OK – at least I got a shower.
Fuel storage containers – There are still no fuel containers available in any of the stores, although gasoline was not as tight as it was after Frances. For the first day or two, there was simply no gasoline available, but they managed to re-supply very quickly this time. I’ve ordered four surplus military fuel containers to replace some of the plastic ones that are starting to have problems (after 6 years). If they work out well, I’ll order more.
Generator strategy – There are two different approaches to running a generator: economic and logistical.
The economic approach looks at the cost per gallon of fuel and the cost of the generator compared to the cost of food in the refrigerator and freezer plus the availability of water, fans, lights, etc.
The logistical approach looks at the availability of food, water, and fuel, with cost being only a secondary consideration.
Almost everyone will use some combination of these. I now tend heavily toward the logistical approach by asking the question “Will fuel be available?” rather than assuming that it will and asking, “How much will it cost?” For that reason, I have modified my approach to generator usage.
I currently have one 5KW generator that will run the water pump, freezer, refrigerator, fans, lights, microwave oven, etc., but not all at the same time.
The water pump is the heaviest power consumer, and that’s what determines the size of the generator. The problem is that the water pump is only actually needed for a few minutes each day (maybe 30 minutes if you include a shower), yet that same large generator is being run when only a small load such as freezer or lights may be needed.
Even if gasoline was free and price was not a consideration, in many situations where a generator is needed, fuel may well be unavailable at any price. That means that the system must be set up to squeeze the greatest use out of each gallon of fuel.
My answer to this is to purchase a second, smaller generator more suited to smaller loads, and one that uses far less fuel when supplying those smaller loads. I will be buying a 2KW generator for use with everything except the water pump. This smaller generator will still require careful load management in order to get the most efficient use from it.
Only switching on one major appliance at a time (the chest freezer or amateur radio station, for example), plus possibly some other small loads such as a light and fan, will meet the needs and be an efficient use of the available fuel. There is simply no way that buying the second smaller generator can be justified by the cost. It can only be justified by the choice of having electricity or having no electricity. Choose wisely.
Fuel Storage – Another part of this strategy will be to store a large amount of fuel in a safe storage area. An alternative is to store empty fuel containers with the idea of getting them filled just prior to the need. Unfortunately, the need isn’t always predictable, so this is really a poor second choice but one that may be unavoidable for some people. Any stored fuel should always be treated with a good fuel stabilizer.
I have been using the 6-gallon fuel containers from Rubbermaid. These have held up well for the past 6 years, but some of the vent caps have been breaking, and Rubbermaid does not sell replacement parts.
I am now switching over to the Israeli NATO fuel cans. These are 5-gallon steel tanks with a cam-type clamp-down lid. They appear to be very rugged, and there are no plastic parts to break. They can be found at surplus places such as Cheaper Than Dirt. Price is about $15 each. The nozzle is interchangeable, so one nozzle (plus a spare) is all you need no matter how many fuel containers you have.
OK, here’s an update on the NATO fuel containers. The containers are excellent, but the nozzles are junk, a complete waste of money. I have, instead, gotten a heavy-duty funnel (heavy black plastic, called “Super Funnel”, about $2 each) from an auto parts store and will use that for pouring into either the vehicle fuel tank or the generator fuel tank.
Simple is better, and it doesn’t get much simpler than a funnel. Make sure that it is made to fit into the little hole that fuel tanks have so that only the narrow unleaded gas pump nozzles fit. Also, a little bit of wheel bearing grease on the cam-locking part of the fuel containers will make them work a lot more smoothly. That will also probably help keep raw metal from being exposed to potential rust problems.
Food strategy – The ideal would be to not have anything that required refrigeration or freezing, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Still more work to do in that area.
Although my experiences center around hurricanes, this information can apply to many, many other scenarios. It all boils down to the basics: water, food, sanitation, survival, and sanity. If you have those bases covered, you’re a lot farther ahead than most other people.
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