With the rare closing of both Vail Pass and Eisenhower Tunnel, passing through the high country and crossing the Divide (here in Colorado) could be considered virtually not possible at the moment. This uncommon scenario made me think of another unlikely one from a few years ago, when a series of weather systems collided on the East Coast and resulted in an event dubbed a “Frankenstorm” by forecasters. For entertainment sake (and a few stay-safe-storm tips), I decided to repost this piece from our October 2012 newsletter. Enjoy — and stay safe.
Special Edition: Frankenstorm
Hey gang, hope this finds you all well. At the prompting from my sisters, we’re sending along this impromptu Special Edition of The Feral Times for the sake of our readers on the East Coast.
If you’re in the East, you’ve likely found the news hard to miss. But for the Western folks: Forecasts call for a storm of considerable significance (a merging of Hurricane Sandy and a cold front from the west) striking my native New Jersey within the next 24 to 48 hours. The “authorities” are expecting $1 Billion in damage and a few days to a week without power. In lieu of all that, Gone Feral put together this quick guide for functioning in the world without electric lights or cold groceries, and with suspect water.
1. Breathe. Just breathe.
If you’re reading this then you’re alive and, likely, have what you need to avoid imminent crisis. Smoke if ya got ’em. Have a beer. Meditate. Whatever. Just stop and relax. The far bigger danger in most any situation will be less-than-balanced people, possibly toting guns, and angry that the grocery store is out of corn flakes. Be cool.
Every person’s and every situation’s needs will be dictated by the circumstances. No guru, self-proclaimed ‘expert’, or legal authority can tell you exactly what you’ll need in every situation. That’s, ultimately, up to you. And for the lawyers: Gone Feral, LLC and Doug Hill make no guarantees or claims that what is said below will save your butt in a pinch. There are no guarantees in life. Do your research. Take responsibility for yourself.
There. That being said, below are some quick tips that will hopefully benefit you and yours in an urban/suburban emergency scenario, such as the potential one headed down Eastern Seaboard Alley. This topic fills entire books (and careers) so what’s here is but a last-minute offering. One book, in particular, that comes to mind is Cody Lundin’s “When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes“.
I’ve met Cody several times and am continually impressed with his intelligence, research-backed knowledge, and no-nonsense attitude — despite being a TV-star. He takes the approach that it only takes a Katrina or tornado or….Hurricane Sandy (not zombies or nukes) to keep grocery store shelves empty and put you on alert. Once you get through this “Frankenstorm” as they’re calling it, go get yourself a copy of his book. (And read it before the next disaster, darn it!) You’ll be glad you did.
As mentioned above, your priorities in any situation will be based on the circumstances you find yourself in. Death Valley is different from Antarctica is different from Manhattan. The scenario we’re discussing here looks like this: You get walloped by a storm that leaves you stranded in your home without power for at least a week. So…
You may be interested in our post ‘Choosing The Right Survival Knife That Will Last‘:
You’ve got your home. That’s a huge advantage. You know it better than anyone. You know where the warm parts and the cool parts are. We’ll come back to this. Just stay away from parts of the house where large trees and limbs may come down.
They say a typical human can go 3 to 4 days without water. But, to paraphrase Lundin: most people are useless after a day without water. It doesn’t matter how many MREs, guns, and gasoline you’ve stockpiled. If you don’t have water… Well, you know.
If you’re planning ahead, get some large containers that will hold a LOT of water. For the rest of us: Fill every possible thing you can think of with water. Get creative. Pots, pans, bathtubs, buckets, bowls, glasses, sinks, washing machines, toilet tanks (yes, toilet tanks), anything. Often you’ll hear a gallon of water per person per day. But that’s just for drinking. There’s cooking and cleaning (you and your dishes) to be thought of. So plan for three gallons per day per person. (It’s actually a fun exercise to see how conservative you can be with your water; taking sponge baths, catching the drip from that leaky faucet, and recycling dirty dish water.) In a country where we have so much clean drinking water that we poop in it, we can stand to do with a little hardship for a few days.
If the power goes out, there’s no telling what the future water quality will be or how long it will be before “they” come and save you. Water you save now (though stagnant) can be filtered, boiled, or otherwise treated to make it potable – or used for non-potable tasks.
So, water treatment: Hands-down, the best thing you can do for water is boil it. (See Warmth, below.) A good backup is Iodine, if you can get out and get it. In a pinch, you can use household bleach. Use two to four drops of chlorine per quart (8 to 16 drops per gallon) of clear, room-temperature water. Shake the water and let it sit for thirty minutes. (If the water’s cold, let it sit longer.)
(FYI: The sources always seem to talk in terms of “drops”. I might be wrong, but most of us probably don’t have an eyedropper at our fingertips. So: In my experiment, 16 drops just about fills a 1/8 teaspoon measuring spoon.)
If you’ve got your house, you’re in good shape. It may be cold, but at least you have a roof over your head and are otherwise likely out of the elements. If you have no heat, pull out sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, cushions, and that hideous comforter your grandmother left you. Living bodies put out heat (measured in BTUs or British Thermal Units), so get together with your dogs, cats, kids, main squeeze, and anyone else who will let you share their BTUs, get off a cold floor and under some blankets. You’ll all be glad you did.
If you need to create a heat source, for either cooking or heating – be smart. Remember that flames and car exhaust create carbon monoxide. Be sure to appropriately vent any fire and/or vehicles you’re using. (You’d have to have a lot of candles burning at once for it to be a problem, though.)
In a pinch, here’s ‘How to Build the Ultimate Campfire in Seconds‘:
Until just a few generations ago, it was considered plain-ol’ common sense to have plenty of food on-hand. Now it seems that it’s relegated to only “crazies” and post-Apocalyptic fools. If you can, plan ahead. (I like to say: If you plan, can ahead.) But there’s no need to buy expensive MREs, freeze-dried foods, and the like. Buy what you and the kiddies will be happy eating anyway. Buy extras of the non-perishables you normally eat: pasta, beans, and so on. Frozen food is awesome, but without power you’d better eat that stuff first. Save the canned and boxed goods for later. (This is one reason I like to pressure-can meat instead of freeze it.) In a pinch, dig deep in your pantry. There’s probably plenty of stuff in there you’ve been passing up in favor of the potato chips and such that you buy every week. Look at this as an opportunity to clean out your cabinets.
Think about the additional things that are specific to your situation: prescription medications (for people and animals), animal food, diapers, and so on. A fun exercise is to chronicle everything you use in your daily/weekly experience. Then ask: How do I go without? Or improvise?
So the power’s out. OK. Look on the bright side. You’re simply experiencing the 99.99% of time that the human species lived before Edison’s nifty inventions. Think of it as an adventure. A challenge. A vacation. Substitute puzzles, games, and conversation for DVDs, TV, and the Internet. Tell stories. Make them up. Write that book you’ve always wanted to but keep finding excuses for. Bear in mind that young children may need additional attention, reassurance, and entertainment during a time of emergency. Your calmness will be contagious, so stay that way. And make it as fun as possible.
Civilizations have crumbled because of poor sanitation. So wash your hands religiously, boil your drinking/cooking water, and if the plumbing goes out, then dedicate a feces-facility that’s far from where you (and your pesky neighbor) eat, sleep, drink, and relax.
I urge you to just take some time to yourself. Cell phone batteries are best kept for emergencies. Keep them plugged in (to the wall or a laptop) as often as possible and choose text-messaging over phone calls, as they should use less power. If you have a backup laptop, charge it up ahead of time to use to power a device like your cell phone. If you charge your cell in your car, don’t drain your battery! Turn the engine on (with your garage door open, of course!). Get yourself a battery-operated or hand-crank radio.
That’s about all I can think of off the top of my cranium.
I have every confidence that all will be just fine and life will continue at its regular pace, following a possible power hiccup. Stay calm, be cool, and good luck. If you have any questions: gimme a buzz. 609-304-7508(Try to get away from the screaming first.)
All for now. See you on down the road.
To learn more about primitive skills, bushcraft & survival, try out a free two-week trial of our online, place-based, independent study program THE PACK.