Wild Winds and Disaster Preparedness

Monday, January 30, 2012

California wind

The weatherman is calling for high winds, like 60 – 80 mile an hour gusts, and lower temperatures over the next few days. That can only mean one thing… damage… and lots of it. Anytime we hear news like this we immediately go into batten down mode. We’ve been through enough windstorms to know the damage they can cause and the discomfort we will feel if not properly prepared.

Several years ago, on a cold January night, a storm blew through our area with the force that can be described as a gale. Brianne and I were living on the ranch at the time and the fierce winds uprooted over 500 trees, which knocked down power lines, broke the well pump, smashed windows, tore the roof partially off the barn and damaged a corner of our house. One tree even fell, front to rear, over my truck crushing it 6-inches. Needless to say, it was totaled.

We were pretty well stocked and prepared though. Living in an earthquake zone is a constant reminder that Mother Nature can strike unexpectedly. But, it was this particular storm with its power outage that lasted for more than a week that convinced me even more that we should never be without stores, water, light and a source of heat.

With the weatherman’s prediction we set about preparing.

I started yesterday by securing all the outside furniture and placing my potted plants under the eves of the house for protection. Anything else that had the potential to blow around or becoming some kind of projectile was stored away or put on the north side of the house where the winds wouldn’t affect them.

The nesting boxes were packed with extra shavings and the feed barrel lids were tied down so they wouldn’t blow off, becoming Frisbees. Feed scoops, extra water bottles, rakes, shovels, and anything else that could blow over causing harm or damage were also set out of the way of the wind. Even the barn doors were rigged so they wouldn’t bang back-and-forth.

Garden tarps were secured and my younger fruit trees were tied so that they wouldn’t sway, potentially breaking the main trunk.

When I finished outside I moved into the house. In windstorms such as these we always have to worry about losing power, which means no lights, no heat, and no cooking, since I have a gas furnace and gas appliances. The firewood racks closest to the backdoor were stacked high so we could easily keep the fire going. I set out candles in strategic places around the house to provide light if the power does go out. A flashlight, with new batteries, were placed next to each door and battery operated lanterns were placed next to each bed. My last task was to roll the generator to the south side of the house and string extension cords across the garage to the kitchen door. If the power does go out I can quickly fire up the generator, plug in the freezer and the fridge, keeping us in food and saving a years worth of homegrown chicken and lamb, not to mention other frozen foodstuffs.

By the time I went to bed we were as prepared as could be. The wind had picked up slightly, but nothing like what was forecast. Now we just sit back and wait; prepared for the worst; praying for the best; crossing our fingers. It will be a long night, folks.

No matter what part of the country you live in we all have nature to content with. Whether it is snow, rain, tornado, hurricane, earthquake, fire, you get the picture. Even manmade disasters can plunge our communities into darkness, make water undrinkable, or strand us in some way without the ability to acquire basic needs. It’s in our own best interest to be prepared so we can fend for ourselves and care for our families, home and animals.

There are 4 basic areas that are most important when planning for a disaster—Food, Water, Power, and Heat. The size of your family and your farm will dictate how much has to be done and how much has to be stockpiled. This a basic guide.

Food — FEMA and other disaster prep groups recommend storing at least one week’s worth of non-perishable foodstuffs. Dried goods like pasta, beans, rice and grains can be cooked on a camp stove or over a BBQ if necessary. Canned goods should include soups, chili, meats, stews and the like. Anything that is ready-to-eat, just heat up. Also include peanut butter, granola bars or protein bars that can give instant energy and nutrition. I know this may not be the way you normally eat (it certainly isn’t for us), but in an emergency you want foods that are easy to cook and filling.

Water — The rule of thumb here is one gallon per person per day. You can buy 1-gallon jugs of water or invest in food grade 55-gallon barrels with a hand pump. Check out water supply companies in your area. I can get used juice drums from a local dealer for $35 each. Don’t forget the animals. The number of pets or animals you have will dictate the best water storage container. Dogs and cats will drink a gallon or more per day, but larger animals like sheep, goats, pigs, can drink over 5-gallons of water per animal in a 24-hour period. Even a flock of chickens, turkeys, ducks or geese can drink a substantial amount. Larger, more commercial water tanks would be an investment, but worth the money to protect your food producing animals.

Power — There’s nothing scarier than being plunged into darkness during a disaster. A home without light will make even a minor power outage feel like a full blown nightmare. Every bedroom should be stocked with a flashlight or battery operated lantern with extra batteries. Larger flashlights, placed near exit doors are easy to grab when going out to feed animals or check on your property. Candles in living areas make a nice alternative to flashlights, but make sure they are in a container (mason jars work great) and protected from falling over, which could cause a fire. The most important investment, in my mind, for keeping the power on is a gas generator. My 3500 watt generator can keep the fridge and freezer running along with a few lamps for as long as I keep gas in it. It’s saved my bacon (literally) more times than I care to count.

Heat — When the power goes out so does the furnace, radiator and electricity blankets. Staying warm, especially in a winter outage is of primary importance. Fireplaces and wood stoves are great as long as you keep a good stock of firewood. Another alternative is a kerosene heater with extra fuel, but these should be used with the utmost caution. You don’t want to suffocate yourself or burn your house down while trying to stay warm. A stash of wool blankets will also help keep the family warm, and in prolonged outages double up the sleeping arrangements. There’s nothing better for giving comfort and warmth than another warm body in bed with you. BUT—regardless of how you chose to stay warm under no circumstances should you ever use your cooking stove as a heat source. More homes have been burned and more lives been lost using this heat method than any other. Being prepared is your best solution to staying warm.

Other Basic Emergency Supplies

This is by no means an exhaustive list of supplies you should have to safeguard your family from a variety of emergencies, but rather a hint to get you started in prepping so the next time nature turns nasty you can clip along without skipping a beat. Other items to consider are matches (long and short), cash (in small bills), hand operated can opener, hand cranked emergency radio to keep up with the news (preferably one that can crank power your cell phone as well), a first aid kit, a wrench or screw driver for turning off utilities.

If you haven’t taken steps to prepare your family or farm to withstand a disaster I strongly encourage you to do so. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself in the middle of a crisis, frantically running to the store to buy basic supplies only to find the shelves empty. A well stocked home will make your next crisis seem like a summer campout rather than a stressful uncertain mess. I promise.

I’m not trying to scare anyone either. I’ve been through my fair share of disasters and genuinely want to encourage you all to be prepared…get prepared…so you can work through a disaster rather than react to it. I want us all to be self-sufficient and self-reliant while the rest of our community wanders aimlessly in the dark. I want us to be so well situated that we have time to help the elderly couple next door or the single mom with frightened children and little resources. I want us to be stable and helpful, not victims.

If you want to learn more about disaster preparedness check out a CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) program in your area. I took one a few years ago. It was held at the Command Center of our local police department and taught by three veteran fire department Captains. The information, along with the training manual and resources, have been valuable tools in preparing my farm even more for whatever the world throws our way. FEMA is also an excellent resource to help determine what items (and how much) you should have on hand. The checklists are great for taking to the store when you buy your supplies.

As the Boy Scout motto goes…”BE PREPARED.”

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chuckcars

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