With the East Coast flipping out this weekend with the arrival of Irene I thought I’d throw up my thoughts on frugal ways to prepare for emergencies.
First, chill out. Unless you’re in the path of Katrina, the plot of Twister or sitting on a fault line there is likely to be minimal disruption. Be aware, check the news and calm down already. Panic helps no one.
Second, cover the basics. If you’re in the dark for a week without TiVo or angry birds on your iPhone you’ll still survive with food and water. So start there.
Over the next month make it a point to pick up 2 gallons of water each time you go to the grocery store. They run about $1 each and won’t be too difficult to transport if you buy a few at a time. Try to assemble 1 gallon per person and pet each day. So for a 5 day supply I keep 20 gallons of water for me and the dogs.
Actually I only have 10 gallons in the garage for emergencies, but add in volume from the water bottles, juice in the fridge, a case of water outside, a few quarts in the car and the fact that I could fill up the bathtub if I had some advanced notice it all evens out.
You can empty and refill these water containers every 6 months (use the old water to hydrate plants so you’re not wasting) and experts suggest NOT using old milk cartons. It’s really hard to get those clean enough for water so you’re not growing something nasty inside the carton. Just buy them, $1 a gallon is pretty affordable.
Food is a lot easier, I do keep a large shelf stable stock on hand. You don’t need to spend thousands on prepared packages – simply look at what you have on hand and consider if you can survive for a week.
Maybe it won’t be 5 course meals or even hot meals but you can certainly survive on peanut butter, crackers, canned fruit and stale Halloween candy if you needed to.
Some food of course you’ll want to heat up and if you run out of fresh water you’ll want to boil it to cleanse. End of summer is a great time to pick up a camp stove and propane on sale or find one used at the thrift store. Even though you might be nearly done with your grill for the summer, refill the propane tank or pick up some more charcoal to have on hand.
Plan for light. Know where your flashlights are and check the batteries, make sure you have some spare batteries or use a hand cranked flashlight. Personally I prefer candles and can light up the main rooms when the power is out.
Pro tip: put candles in front of a mirror to reflect more light back into the room.
If you have children candles may not be safe but they’re important to keep on hand in case your flash light batteries die. Whether or not you keep them for decoration you can pick up candles really cheap. Every thrift store I’ve visited has a stock of half burned or slightly misshapen candles for pennies, which are easy enough to pick up for your emergency stock.
Don’t forget to throw in matches or a lighter. The after Christmas sales are a good time to pick up nicer lighters pretty cheap.
If power is out and the weather is cool, you’ll want to keep warm inside. Pull out your sleeping bags, add blankets to the beds and bunker down in front of the fireplace. A lot can be accomplished with layers so wear a sweater, hat and warm socks until the heat returns.
Third, lean to be self sufficient. Start with small medical needs and keeping your prescriptions up to date and in stock. I like to store my meds in two water safe containers so if I need to leave they’re portable. Know how to bandage wounds, treat cuts, use OTC medications and know when something is serious enough to call for help.
Remember, if your power is out you won’t be checking google for advice and if your phone is out you can’t call a charge nurse. Learn these things now, especially if you have children, and make a guide you can reference in any circumstance.
Fourth, have some things to do that don’t require electricity. Keep your cell phone off to conserve the battery, don’t drain your computer battery in the first few hours by updating Facebook every 3 minutes.
It may seem like a vacation to have some time at home to catch up and at first glance I would think of getting a lot accomplished.
Shred those old papers. Oh, the shredder needs electricity.
Dust around the house and vacuum all those hidden corners. Oh, I’d need more light and power for the vacuum.
Scan family photos. Oh, the scanner and computer need electricity.
Finally beat MarioKart, clear out the TiVo or accomplish a Harry Potter movie marathon. Oh wait…
So consider things that don’t need power like reading, puzzles, board games, card games, coloring or writing.
Fifth, have a way to communicate. With the growing use of social sites this can be incredibly simple. Find a friend outside of the affected zone and check in with them via text once a day. Try to keep the time consistent and ask that friend to post updates on your Facebook page for all friends. Of course if Grandma isn’t on Facebook and prone to worry you may want to call or have family reassure her you’re okay.
Phone lines may be jammed and should be kept clear for true emergencies so only use your cell phone if you have a true emergency and need help. Until everything gets back to normal just chill out, stay at home and listen to the news updates.
Of course in order to listen to the news you’ll want a battery powered radio and as we move further into digital life with cell phones acting as alarm clocks, music streaming online there’s very little need for a single function battery powered radio anymore. Except if you need to evacuate and don’t know what roads are flooded, where the storm is headed and if the worst is over – you’ll need a radio.
Pick one up pretty cheap at a camping store like REI or outfitter shop like Big 5. Worst case scenario you’ll burn some gas and wear down your car battery listening for updates in your car. But if you want to stay safely inside without being cut off from the world just buy a simple radio.