At the time of this article (7/2/2012, four days after the storm), 162K of the 2.4 million people serviced by my electricity provider still did not have electricity, and the high temperature for the day was 94 degrees (88% humidity).
While this situation is isolated, what if the event was on a greater scale? Two days after the storm, I traveled to Maryland where several of the gas stations were out of fuel, and the ones that had fuel only had premium fuels. I even talked to one guy that was overjoyed to find fuel, stating that he had traveled for nearly 20 miles and did not mind paying for premium. Parts of the DC metro area are still out of power, and it is rumored that the power should be restored by 7/6/2012, nearly a week after the storm. If a thunderstorm can cripple DC, then we must acknowledge that the infrastructures of our large cities are at significant risk. Some grocery stores are even rumored to be out of food, and even if they had food, there would not be any power for refrigeration, at the grocery store or a person’s home.
On the afternoon of 6/29/2012, I was sitting in commuter hell on I-95 in Northern Virginia. It was 102 degrees, with a heat index of 108 degrees, setting Virginia’s highest temperature on record for the month of June. The drive was uneventful, averaging 10 MPH, which is common for a Friday afternoon. I have always been concerned if an event would occur while I was at work, it would take literally hours to get home to my family.
As I continued my drive, there were several vehicles on the side of the road with fluids pouring out of their radiators. Their vehicles overheated which left their drivers stranded, but also caused rubbernecking, the Beltways worst contributor to traffic. Stuck in traffic, I looked down at my thermostat and noticed my vehicle was 12 degrees warmer than normal, but still within operating temperatures.
That night after dinner, we decided to watch a family movie. Out of nowhere, the trees behind my house started to sway, followed by rain and small hail. It sounded as if a tornado had dropped in the woods behind my house. As the trees violently rocked, the power went out. Moments later, it flickered for a second as it normally does, but this time it shut off for good. Lightning began to strike, and during the flashes I could see small branches and leaves fall from the trees. I immediately started looking for one of the dozen flashlights I have stored for my long term preps, and then realized that I do not keep an alternate form of lighting on the main level of my home (LL #1). Luckily, my Maxpedition Proteus Butt Pack was close to the living room, and using my cell phone for illumination, I navigated to my pack and pulled out my headlamp.
Since my house is surrounded by tall mature Oak trees, I evacuated the family to the basement. I returned upstairs, and went outside to protect my garden from the hail (LL #2). I had positioned a set of wet weather gear in my hall closet for times like these, so I remained mostly dry while covering my vegetables (LL #3).
After covering my crops, I returned to the basement and started to brainstorm what to do next. I decided to act as if this was the beginning of the collapse, and started going through my mental list of what to do. Now before I begin, I take pride in my preparations, and feel I have planned to the best of my abilities. I have generator, solar, lights, tools, food, batteries, water filtration devices, guns and ammunition; let’s just say the necessities for preparedness, and then some.
I have planned my bug out, I ensure my vehicle is ready at a moment’s notice, and I have totes that I can throw in the bed of my truck packed with food and other supplies. While this was not a bug out situation, I quickly found out that I did not have a plan for a lousy thunderstorm. How could this be? As I sat in my basement, surrounded by a year’s worth of food, thousands of rounds of ammunition, a solar system that was not hooked up, multiple water filtration devices packed and ready to go, I simply laughed. I thought to myself, “How ironic, I have all this stuff, but I do not have a Bug-In plan (LL #4).”
The storm lasted for nearly 30 minutes. After the winds died down, I gave the all clear and my family returned to the main level. I asked them not to go upstairs, in case the winds came back. We discussed the situation, and decided we would make the main level our base of operation. Since it was humid outside, I retrieved a few battery operated fans and a two 12 volt fans. I also let everyone know not to open the refrigerator or freezer until I switched them over to generator power. My wife laughed at me, and said, “It is going to be funny when the power comes back on a few minutes after you get everything set up.” It turns out the joke was on her, since the power was not restored until 12 hours later.
Next I went to the garage to start the generator so that I could power my refrigerator and freezer, and my entertainment center (I know I am roughing it). Now, I have a normal garage and generator, just like the average person with both. I do not have an integrated home generator system, because I decided that I need to be able to move my generator if needed. Up until that night, my plan was to run the generator in the garage, and crack the garage door for ventilation. So, I went to open the electric garage door, and quickly realized there was no power. I could have used the emergency release, but then my garage would not be able to be secured. Instead I rolled the heavy beast through my house, and onto my porch. If this were a grid down situation, I would not place the invaluable generator on my exposed porch (LL #5).
Starting the generator was easy, since it already had a full tank of stabilized fuel. I ran the pig tail through my front door, which did not allow me to completely shut my front door (LL #6). I hooked up the extension cords, and ran them to my appliances and television.
I returned to the living room, and turned on the battery operated fans. The 12 volt fans required a battery, so I went to the garage and moved the deep cycle battery to the living room. I had previously made 12 volt cigarette lighter extension cords, so hooking up the 12 volt fans was easy (LL #7).
Next, I conducted an inventory of available fuel. My generator was full, but I did not know how long the power outage would last. I had two gas cans in the garage that contained gas, but remembered it had been a while since I replaced/cycled the gas. So instead of putting old gas into my working generator, I told my wife that I needed to make a gas run and she asked if I could just use the gas from one of the vehicles. Great idea, I thought, but then realized that I never purchased a siphoning hose (LL #8). So I jumped in the truck and proceeded to find a gas station that had power.
My drive wasn’t long. Not knowing which areas of my town did not have power, I made a mental note of the places that did. In my immediate neighborhood, and for approximately a mile, all lights were off with the exception of the CVS (LL #9a). After traveling about a mile, it appeared the electrical system was not impacted. I pulled into a gas station, filled up my truck, and three 5 gallon gas cans. For my return drive, I took a different route. All the lights were on in the neighborhood directly behind my house. I thought the power must have come back on, and that my wife is going to make fun of me and my preparedness mentality. However, it turned out that the electricity in that neighborhood was not affected by the storm, even though it was only a block away (LL #9b).
I dropped the gas cans on the opposite end of my porch, and returned inside. I started to make my way to the couch, and then remembered that I did not have any water stored for immediate consumption. I have always been a fan of water filtration capability, and have not invested time nor space to ensure I have available water on hand. Actually, before that night I had scoffed at people that store large amounts of water in their house. I have always been of the mindset that I would not stay in my home in times of disaster; therefore I did not need to have large amounts of water stored at my house. But, this was not a time of disaster, and I was going to stay in my home. Now I needed to figure out if I could collect water (LL #10).
Keeping with the collapse scenario, I went to my garage and gathered eight 1 Gallon water containers. I have an infant so I have been able to store dozens of distilled water containers (LL #11). I went to the kitchen sink, and turned on the faucet. Luckily the power outage did not affect my city water supply. But, what if the power outage, or another factor, disrupted the local water system? I would have been without water, or I would have had to get back in my vehicle and drive to the closest place that had water. Not something I would want to do during a survival situation. Needless to say, now I am going to add a water storage plan to my other preps.
The remainder of the night was uneventful. I decided to get some rest since I had to be up early in the morning. During my training scenario, I accomplished setting up my generator and running supply lines to my refrigerator and freezer. I had set up a few fans to lower our body temperature. I purchased gas for my vehicle and generator. I also filled up water containers. In all, it took me about 1.5 hours to develop a plan and put it into action. Not bad, but most of the time was spent on things that I should have already had accomplished.
Lesson Learned 1: Ensure emergency items are located throughout your house, or in a centralized location. You can even conduct drills that require you to find and use different types of items.
Lesson Learned 2: If you have a garden, also have a means to protect your plants from the elements. While, this may not be practical for row gardens or if you have a large garden, but if using planters or raised beds having a cover can protect them from the weather, insects, or direct sunlight.
Lesson Learned 3: Having items easily accessible can decrease your response time. Place items that are most commonly used or needed on the main level of your home. Rain gear and first aid can be placed in a closet, and take up little room.
Lesson Learned 4: Have a plan for each scenario. Most of us are focused on one particular scenario, but as I have demonstrated the real life situation may not compliment your plan. Be flexible, and learn from each exercise.
Lesson Learned 5: Evaluate where you plan to set up equipment during times of disaster. If you have valuable equipment which may be targeted for theft, or bring unwanted attention, develop a plan that provides protection and concealment.
Lesson Learned 6: Do not let equipment or other items compromise security.
Lesson Learned 7: Pre-determine how you would use equipment during a survival situation, and take the steps necessary before hand to ensure you can use a particular item. Train for real world scenarios. If you are unfamiliar with a particular item, practice with it. I know this requires removing it from the manufacturer’s box, but having the experience before hand is sometimes better than keeping an item new and unused.
Lesson Learned 8: Determine the priority of items on your future purchases list. You may need them before you think.
Lesson Learned 9: Always monitor your surroundings. If things impact you, they are likely to impact others. Specifically with power outages, note which areas are not affected. If you need to make last minute trips to purchase items, you can focus on areas you suspect should have power.
Lesson Learned 10: Water is a key resource needed for survival. I recommend having water filtration capability, but also have a minimum of 20 gallons of water on hand. This water can be stored in a variety of places, and can last for an extended period of time. Treat water before storage.
Lesson Learned 11: Reuse items that you would normally throw away. Ask yourself if there is another use for a piece of garbage before you toss it in the trash can.