Monday, October 14, 2013

Prepping for Disaster...

...Without Becoming a Prepper

Pitiful descriptions have made their way into news articles about the 15-state EBT system crash. Women stood in the supermarket, weeping because they couldn't buy food for their children. Many large grocery stores reported near-riot conditions as people found out that they couldn't use their cards right then, right there. 

This time, it happened to be EBT cards, but I suspect the same thing would happen in many cases if any sort of disaster interrupted the normal flow of food to our stores. Or even just interrupted the store's continuous satellite access to the Visa/Mastercard systems. What would you do if you were suddenly unable to buy groceries for a few days, or even a few weeks? Hopefully after you read this post, the answer will no longer be, "Stand in the store and cry."

If you're a very organized person, you'll probably benefit more from this Red Cross emergency kit list. Personally, I'm a black hole of organization. It's never been my specialty. So anything I prepare for has as little preparation or maintenance as possible. I heard the saying, "If you want to know how to do something efficiently, ask a lazy person. They'll be able to figure out how to do the job with the least effort possible." The same thing applies for a disorganized person. Something this important can't be ignored, but I sure don't want to spend one more minute - or one more dollar - than I have to worrying about it.

One last note before we get down to business. Each part of the country has its own personal type of most likely disasters. My list may not exactly apply to your situation, but I know you have enough common sense to adapt it to whatever you may face.

1. Buckets of bulk food. We use what's readily available, which around here is stuff like wheat and lentils. Most years, we can get several gallons just given to us by kind local farmers. Sure, we have to carefully pick the grasshopper bits out ourselves, but it's free! Wal Mart has some other key items in bulk, such as flour and beans. 

I was fortunate. Dad bought me my set of buckets when we first moved up here. But even if you have to shell out some money for buckets right at the beginning, it's well worth it. They'll last for many years, and you won't have to worry about them again. They can stack neatly in your pantry or basement, available whenever you need them.

Because I don't want to have to keep a big, formal list to try and rotate stuff, I put a bunch of beans, or whatever, in its bucket, then use that to fill a smaller canister, which is what I use on a daily basis to cook with. Don't spend a bunch of money on canisters if you don't already have them. It's almost Christmas time, and you can get cans of popcorn for about $5 each. Instead of throwing away the cans, put them to use storing food for easy access. 

Once the 5 gallon bucket gets low, I add that item to my regular shopping list, and replenish the bucket. No fuss, and no extra work, since I just add it to my regular shopping list.

2. Canned foods. If you're anything like me, you're on a limited budget. In fact, on the few years that we've earned enough money to reach the poverty line, we've felt quite wealthy. We feel wealthy even during the poorest years, because we all love each other sooooooooo much!!!! But since you can't actually eat love, it's important to have a well-stocked pantry, no matter what the state of your checking account is.

Most of you will not be able to plunk down the many thousands of dollars per person for a towering year's supply of MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) advertised by so many disaster preparedness companies. (If you are, then Emergency Essentials is a great place to start.) What you CAN afford to do, (get it - "can"?) is get a few extra cans of food each time you go shopping. Each time you go, get a few more, until your supply of non-perishables is comfortable.

Your definition of comfortable may be different than mine. Around here, just to survive an average winter, it's a good idea to keep AT LEAST one month's supply of the bare basics. Two months is better. Up here, winter qualifies as its own disaster, and arrives regularly every single year. 

If the power goes out for a month, as happened just before we moved up here, we can't count on outside supplies. We may get tired of beans, rice, and oatmeal, but we don't have to worry about starving.

3. Water. This is a bit easier for us. The water up here tastes so awful that we have to drink bottled water anyway. We get the big 5 gallon jugs, and refill them as needed. During the winter, especially, we keep our stock of water high, since we never know when a blizzard will strike and leave us stranded. If you don't already keep water at home, you can get 1 gallon jugs at Wal Mart for less than $1 each. Stick them in a cool, dark place and forget about them. If you're efficient, you can trade them out as recommended, and if you're more like me, still no worries. It may not taste the greatest, but it won't actually spoil if left to sit too long. If you're desperate enough to drink it, you'll just be thankful that it's wet.

4, Matches and batteries. Around this place, easier said than done. The menehunes come out at night and steal every single battery they can find. These pilfered sources of energy are then quietly inserted into children's toys and wasted. Far better to have one of those neato shakable flashlights, so you never have to worry about it. And matches are nearly as popular as batteries. Do your best to keep some on hand, anyway. That way you can light any candles that the menehunes don't filch. Or, if you want to be really fancy, you can get some of those cute little kerosine lamps for about $10/ea.

5. Emergency heater. For us, this is a must. It may not be quite as important for you. The coldest weather I personally have been in was Christmas Day of our first winter here, where it was -62 and Devon got frostbite on his ear. Our emergency heater runs on propane, and can be started with a match. (Which is another reason it's important to keep at least a few matches out of the reaches of menehunes.) A small heater has only a small risk of producing enough carbon monoxide to be harmful, but a detector is still a great idea. As we found out a few years back, even with a perfectly respectable propane furnace, a CO2 detector can still be a lifesaver.

During the month-long power outage that I mentioned, there were many elderly people out on farms, and who did not have a backup, non-electric source of heat. Good Samaritans in 4WD vehicles were going 24 hours a day at first, driving from farm to farm with a generator, running the heaters a bit for these folks, and then going on to the next place. They succeeded in keeping anyone from freezing to death, but some were extremely uncomfortable for quite a while.

6. A generator. This lovely piece of equipment is worth mentioning, but if you have the above categories taken care of, this is a strictly luxury item. We went through a number of years without one, and did just fine. A generator makes things more fun, but if you're depending fully on it, you have a host of new things to think about. Maintenance, fuel, fuel, more fuel... it's much easier and requires less thought if you have your basics in place, and save the generator to watch the news while all the other houses in town are dark. But then again, if you live in an area where a disaster might require speedy evacuation, you might NEED to have a couple cans of spare gas on hand. Along the same line, cash on hand might be useful in many cases, and vital in case of evacuation. Not our main problem, but it might be yours.

It's important, when there's a disaster, to make sure you're a part of the solution, and not the problem. If you aren't having to scramble around just to survive, you're then freed up to take care of the needs of others, and perhaps even save lives. 

Here is what has happened on numerous occasions, in the dead of winter, and often with no warning:

A raging wind howls around the house, driving the wind chill down to -40F. We're going about our evening, lights blazing, Jack watching Duck Dynasty in the bedroom. kids doing homework, with me washing dishes and starting to think thoughts of supper. Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, the lights flicker once, come back on, then go off for keeps. "Noooooo," comes a doleful voice from the bedroom. It was a new episode. "Hooray!!!!" comes from most other parts of the house as the homework is set aside.

I sigh. I was going to bake something for supper, and the oven will only work with electricity. "Oh, well." I reach in the drawer for the matches, and find the candles easily by touch in the top of my closet, which is conveniently located just off the kitchen. The light of one candle guides me to get out the kerosine lamps, which I place on the table and out in the living room. I light a burner on the gas stove, and begin to think what I can boil for supper. Macaroni sounds good.

"Here, Damon, light the emergency heater." I hand him the matches and calmly go on with supper. All this has taken 2-3 minutes, and then our evening goes on without a hitch. If the power stays off, the kids bring down their blankets and sleep in the living room, where it's warm. Life changes a little, but the only actual weeping comes from the interruption of Duck Dynasty, just as Willy was about to find out who put honey in his hunting boots. 

Before the evening is over, we fill the tub with water to flush the toilet with, just in case the power is off long enough for the town water tower to run out of water. If the power company doesn't know how many weeks it will be till the power is back on, we look through our stash of bulk non-perishables, and get out our "500 Ways to Cook Beans Cookbook". (Just kidding about that last part.) 

Then there was the time the tornado siren went off without warning, right in the middle of summertime. Just as we were hastily grabbing whatever animals we could find and heading to the basement, there was a knock on the door. A grandmother and her grandbaby were there, seeking shelter. They didn't have a basement. We all headed down together, where we played with the baby on blankets and a little toy until we found out all was clear. It was a relief to be safe - even though it's not nearly as bad as Tornado Alley, several people have been killed in recent years by tornados and microbursts, very close to us. Blizzards aren't the only things we have to be ready for.

If I had been one of the EBT people waiting in line last week, I like to think my story would have gone more like this:

Clerk: I'm sorry, but you won't be able to use that card to buy groceries. The system is down. Do you have an alternate method of payment?
Me: Nope, this is it.
Clerk: I'm sorry, but no one has been able to use the EBT system at all. You'll have to purchase your groceries when it's working again.
Me: No problem, I'll come back whenever it gets fixed. 

And then I go home and make spaghetti, or stir fry, or bread-from-scratch, or any of a host of things I have the ingredients for already in stock. I certainly do NOT stand around weeping that now my children will have to go hungry. Not because I'm rich - I'm not. Far from it! Most anyone but Tina would laugh at my food budget. But by doing a little at a time, ANYONE can be prepared, no matter how poor. 

Anyone, including YOU!

Note: In the Bible, Daniel 12 speaks of a terrible time of trouble. The best preparation to make for that is to become really wonderful friends with Jesus. No amount of earthly prepping is enough to live through the worst time ever! But in the meantime, bad things happen on an alarmingly regular basis - bad things for which we can, and should, make a sensible preparation. Happy non-prepping prepping!!!