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A Guide To Disaster Preparedness — Part One

We are still not at a mitigation level to avoid 1.5ºC or even 2ºC temperature rise, but of course we hope to get there before runaway climate change destroys us. Part of what we can do is to be prepared for extreme climate events. They can happen to anyone, and there is no way to know who that will be and when.

Due to climate change, 100-year, 500-year, and even 1000-year weather events are happening with alarming regularity. Unfortunately we are still not at a mitigation level to avoid 1.5ºC or even 2ºC temperature rise, but of course we hope to get there before runaway climate change destroys us. Part of what we can do is to be prepared for extreme climate events. They can happen to anyone, and there is no way to know who that will be and when.

Image courtesy of Renogy

Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. Nothing posted here is gospel, it is only a basis for further research. Take everything posted with a grain of salt, feel free to personalize any advice to your own unique circumstances, and neither the author nor CleanTechnica takes any responsibility for any omissions, oversights or errors.

It is often recommended to have a 72-hour emergency kit in case of natural disaster, and you can buy premade kits or build your own. The advantage of the premade kits is that they save a lot of guesswork and are convenient since they require no effort to gather the needed items (and often come with a convenient storage/carrying case). However, building your own can be cheaper, far more customized, and it allows you to understand your needs before the emergency comes along. Storage can be a small waterproof suitcase on wheels, which also allows you to transport it easily you have to evacuate.

72 hours will help in most emergencies, as if power was cut off it is often restored by this time, if you need to evacuate then it’s likely you will be in this timeframe by your government (assuming you elected a rational one who did the proper planning). However, there are situations where you will need more than 72 hours of supplies, such as disasters where large areas are affected. In many cases it does not hurt to assume you need 2 weeks of supplies. This is incrementally more expensive and requires more planning, but in many cases is entirely doable. Items such as sleeping bags or the number of lanterns needed require no additional preparation, while water, food, and so forth will require scaling. Whether you decide to be prepared for 72 hours or two weeks or even longer is something to think about.

Surviving a natural disaster is about more than just having the physical supplies, it is about understanding how things work and and having the best strategies to get through the disaster, and having ties with your neighbors. In an emergency, it is vital not to panic. Being prepared can be emotionally helpful because it buys you time to think through the situation and will often help you to survive until help arrives.

What you need for a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit

Food: 3 meals/day/person

This can consist of rations, canned food, freezer/fridge contents. Rations are often lightweight and calorie dense, and instead of 3 meals they are often one meal but provide a day’s worth of calories. If you have to evacuate this is ideal, if you’re at home it’s unnecessary and not as satiating. Having a supply of canned/dry food per person or pet is often not expensive and can be built up by adding a few extra groceries to your regular grocery shopping until your reserves are built. Keep them separate from your regular food and rotate at least annually to prevent expiry.

In a crisis, prioritize finishing your fridge and freezer contents if they are going to spoil quickly from lack of power. Often they will stay cold for a day or two if you don’t open the fridge or freezer doors. Take quick photos of the contents with your phone/tablet so that you can plan their use with the doors closed. Foods that can be eaten cold should be to preserve your fuel supplies. If you have cooking abilities such as propane or charcoal or wood, decide if its worth using them or not depending on your situation and expected duration. Do not use charcoal or propane indoors and use gas stoves sparingly. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and deadly.

Often 72 hours worth of meals can be met without having additional supplies at all, but if at the end of a typical week you don’t have much available at home, then it’s worth having some dedicated emergency food stores. A supply of disposable plates and cutlery is also a good idea.

Water

Bottled water is typically inexpensive, though for regular use very wasteful. Assume 2 liters per person, and many bottles are preferable to large jugs because you often won’t have power to store opened containers in the fridge. Depending on family size, gallon jugs may be fine, although avoid using your fridge if you have no electricity. A supply of disposable cups is useful to have.

You will also want water for other uses, such as flushing toilets if sewers are not backed up, hand washing (try to minimize this), re-hydrating desiccated foods if that is what you have stocked, and so forth. This is hard to assign a number to but do remember that your hot water tank will have water that can be drained and used, though don’t use this for drinking/food and bear in mind its capacity. Also turn off its power and fuel supply if siphoning any water from it so that when power is restored it does not start up dry and destroy itself or your home.

In some outages, water still works and if it does you can use it normally, but it may be wise to store as much as practical in case things get worse and the water service is turned off.

Clothing

Your location will determine what you need. For warm weather most will already have what they need, but in cold weather climates what you already have may be insufficient for unheated homes. Extra layers in cold weather is helpful. Outdoor clothing rated to your 99% design temperature (the temperature your location exceeds 99% of the time or 362 days a year) or a bit lower is a good idea to have on hand, though this can get expensive quickly.

Shelter

Typically, the best advice is to stay at home unless you’re ordered to evacuate. It can work well to coordinate with neighbors, especially if someone has wood or other stored energy heating or cooling. If you’re in a sub-zero situation, turn off the water to your home if pressure goes to zero to prevent the pipes from freezing and causing leaks inside your walls. This also prevents contaminated water from entering your pipes once service is restored. Drain the pipes using the lowest faucet in the house and keep all faucets open. Keep the drained water for use but don’t use it for drinking or food.

Heating and cooling will be covered in more detail in part two.

During natural disasters there are often reports of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning by people attempting to heat their homes with BBQs, natural gas, gas stoves run continuously, or other types of combustion. Do not become a statistic. Do not burn combustibles outside their intended uses and even kerosene lamps used indoors with windows closed can lead to deadly carbon monoxide. Avoid them.

Also its typically wise to avoid “unvented” heaters. They have oxygen sensors but no monoxide sensors and vent their pollution indoors. Breathing untreated and concentrated pollution is extremely hazardous to your health.

First aid kit

You can make you own first aid kit or buy premade ones. Typically, premade kits are sufficient if you select one that is adequate for the circumstances. Be sure to have a sufficient supply of painkillers in case of injury. An unopened bottle of OTC painkillers is inexpensive to add to a first aid kit and typically has an expiry date of several years. Longer lasting painkillers means fewer tablets needed. Assume you will need them regularly for 72 hours per person in your household when deciding on bottle size. If there are medication allergies involved, take them into account.

Medications

Ensure you have a 72-hour supply of all critical medications. Any life threatening conditions that are being treated makes it vital to have them on hand. Refill prescriptions before the day they run out if possible. Any medications that are not vital are typically still necessary, but it is worth considering what would happen if they were not available. Some can be skipped for a few days without permanent harm, consider your unique situations.

If you require electricity for oxygen or dialysis or other medical needs this is a serious consideration and you may need to ensure you have a source of power to keep them running.

Lighting

With modern LED flashlights, you can light your home using very little energy. You can often assume 4 hours a day of light per room is necessary, but tailor to your location. Lanterns that are bright are no longer expensive and are available in many stores or online. Ideally you want to be able to use AA batteries in them, as they are cheap, they store triple the energy of AAA batteries, they are available everywhere, and NiMH batteries are rechargeable. Your 72-hour kit should include enough batteries to last 3 days of use for all lights (2-3 lights is typically sufficient for an average family) and rechargeable batteries and a charger are often not expensive. Avoid alkaline batteries as a primary battery source as they have a tendency to leak over time when not used, despite the guarantees often listed on the package.

You can often manage with 50 lumens per room and one or two rooms lit depending on your layout. Many lights are much brighter than this and this is not an issue as long as they have lower light modes for extra battery life. Lanterns often have a better light distribution than flashlights for room lighting, though having at least one flashlight in addition to lanterns is prudent.

Batteries

As mentioned, keep enough batteries on hand and charged for your lights, phones, and other devices to manage for 72 hours. Lithium batteries are energy dense but lose capacity if stored at high temperatures and/or stored at over 80% charge. Bear this in mind and capacity test or rotate them on a regular basis. Alkaline batteries work best for slow draws such as remotes and fire alarms but will only provide a fraction of their capacity in high draw devices such as flashlights and power banks. This is a well documented phenomenon, and an undesirable feature of their technology. NiMH rechargeables have decent capacity, can be stored charged for years (assuming you purchase low self-discharge cells), and experience very little capacity loss. The chargers can be bought cheaply (but buy a smart charger) and they will survive hundreds of cycles without much capacity fade. However, buy brand name cells. Eneloop by Panasonic are the gold standard in NiMH, while some brands are so poor they should not be stocked, and many are in between. IKEA NiMH batteries get an honorable mention. Also, many people believe that many brands are rebadged Eneloops (motivated reasoning/wishful thinking), but take these claims with a huge grain of salt. Also be wary of counterfeit batteries.

Whistles are useful for letting rescuers know where you are at a distance, and dust masks can be useful in case of particulates/fires.

Other considerations

Your location will inform what other necessities you should consider having on hand. From earthquakes to tornadoes, wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, volcanoes, crippling summer heat and more, you should consider what dangers you could potentially face where you live and research the best ways to prepare for them.

Not essential but very useful

Entertainment

You have to pass the time, and unless you have a generator, solar power, or battery backup, you will need ways to keep everyone occupied without electricity. We often fail to appreciate how much more convenient life is with power until its absent. Decks of cards, board games, books and so forth are great ways to keep everyone occupied without electricity. Be creative in potential ways to pass the time and what you would need on hand. And consider that children will need more distractions than adults.

You should not use electronic devices such as phones, tablets, or laptops for entertainment because they have more important uses. During emergencies, cell networks may be down or overloaded by everyone trying to contact family or emergency services. Put your phones into airplane mode because its battery will drain many times faster while idle by attempting to get a signal, as its RF output goes to maximum trying to find a cell tower. Also turn on the ‘battery saver’ setting and adjust all settings to maximum. Reduce screen brightness to zero. Close all open apps. Do the same for tablets and laptops and all battery powered devices. WiFi uses more power than cellular on many devices.

Turn off airplane mode for a few minutes a couple times a day in case family is trying to contact you or when your trying to contact family or emergency services. If the lines are tied up or you get no signal or you have successfully contacted the recipient, go back to airplane mode afterwards.

It is often not a good idea to turn the device completely off unless you’re not going to use it for a day or more. The idle usage on airplane mode for most devices will be very low and the power to reboot them frequently can exceed the idle usage. That said, if a weather event is on the way, charge your devices and any unused devices you might have available to 100%. Keep in mind this will accelerate lithium capacity loss, so try to get them to 80% within a day.

Radio

Many phones have radios, but they are typically FM only. Dedicated radios will have AM/FM and some will have weather and other bands. The radio on your phone will use the battery, but with screen off you should get hours of life. This is worth testing well before an emergency, so charge the phone, turn to airplane mode, put into power saver mode and brightness to zero, turn on the radio, turn off the screen and run for a couple hours to a loudness you can use and see what percentage of the battery capacity is used up. Do bear in mind that as your phone gets older its battery capacity will have decreased, and if you replace the phone the new one will use a different amount of battery power for this same exercise. If you have a non-phone radio, test it on batteries to determine its consumption rate.

Power bank for your phone/tablet

If you do not have a large battery such as a Tesla Powerwall, you might consider a power bank for your phones/tablets. These are now very cheap and can give you a full charge or several charges for well under $20. Store them at 60-80% charge to reduce the rate of capacity loss and charge to full if an expected weather event is on the way. Use them for dedicated emergency use and not for daily use in case it’s empty when you need it or the capacity has dropped from many cycles.

Battery types pros & cons

Lithium
The enemies of lithium battery longevity are storage temperature, storage above 80% charge, age, how hard they were used since purchase, and number of discharge cycles. You also need specialized hardware to use more than one battery at a time.

NiMH
Very durable, very tolerant of abuse, but they hold less energy than lithium and can take often thousands of cycles. But they also self-discharge quickly when not in use unless you buy low self-discharge models. Also chargers that run on timers (dumb chargers) are not good for battery longevity. Opt for smart chargers that terminate when the battery is full.

Alkaline
Available almost everywhere, but they can only deliver a fraction of their energy in high drain applications. They also have a tendency to leak and destroy the products they are installed in.

Further considerations

In the prepper world, a Bug Out Bag (BOB) is often referenced as a backpack or suitcase or package you can easily transport that has the above essentials for survival plus a few extra items not mentioned. This can be useful if you have to evacuate. If you go this route and have your supplies packaged for quick evacuation, you might also want to add blankets and a couple changes of clothing.

During many emergencies, people often attempt to maintain regular habits which can deplete your supplies, such as taking showers or making coffee and many other daily routines. Doing your laundry or using a clothes dryer on a generator is very bad for your prospects in an emergency situation. This is a psychological barrier that most fail to appreciate until they are actually in a disaster situation.

It is always prudent to test your emergency preparedness in advance of an actual emergency. It is not difficult to forego regular lighting for a day or more and see if your lanterns and batteries are up to the job. Once acclimated to less light, it is surprising how little light one needs. And many flashlights have bogus lumen/battery life ratings. Food can similarly be tested, as can water. Going without heat in winter can cause damage to your home or its contents, so bear this in mind.

At least once a year go through all your emergency supplies. Rotate food with expiry dates, replace batteries that have leaked, test your lights and chargers, recharge batteries if necessary, and so forth. Make any improvements you can think of to your supplies.

When a weather event is approaching, everyone crowds stores to stock up on supplies. Feel free to do this if you wish, but if you’re already prepared then you do not need to do so.

Try to fill up your vehicle’s gas tank or fully charge your EV. The advantage of an EV is that chargers don’t run out of electricity, unlike gas stations. If you can’t charge your EV at home, you might find public chargers are busy just like gas stations. Level one charging is better than nothing if you have no other choice. Many EVs can be used for power for necessities, and for those that do not have dedicated power out such as V2G or non-EV use ability or 120V ports, you can often still charge USB devices from them, and if they have a 12V cigarette lighter port you can plug an inverter into it. They are not expensive to buy, but purchase them well in advance of any emergency. They typically max out at 100-150W so you won’t be able to power a fridge from them, but could power a few LED bulbs (if your lanterns/flashlights ran out), chargers for rechargeable batteries for your lights, a laptop (try to avoid this), and so forth. Also Teslas and likely other EVs and more in the future will have a camping mode equivalent so you can take shelter in the vehicle. However, this will probably only give you a day or two, which is not terrible but is not enough to survive most disasters. Bear in mind that you may need the vehicle charged in order to evacuate, so try to minimize use of your EV’s battery to essentials.

When stocking your emergency supplies, make sure you are using durable products. It is becoming more and more common for consumer products to be low quality junk. Many of the flashlights, radios, batteries, and other products are made very cheaply and will fail you in an emergency. Paying extra for quality means your likelihood of survival is vastly improved. This is an area to not pinch pennies. Having backups where feasible is also a good plan.

Make sure you have comprehensive insurance that covers the gambit from tornadoes to fire to earthquakes to water damage and everything else. Many have insurance policies that have major omissions, such as no coverage for flood damage. This is also not an area to pinch pennies.

In winter you can keep frozen food cold using the great outdoors. Animals become an issue, but a vehicle’s trunk should be sufficient to keep your food protected.

Reflective blankets are basically useless on their own. They are small and look space age and do reflect radiant energy, but will not in themselves keep you warm in cold weather. You need something with good insulating value to keep conductive heat contained. Combined with a thick blanket underneath, they can be used as a windbreak, but by themselves will not do as much as many claim.

You can be even further prepared with water purifiers, stockpiles of fuel, and so on if you wish to keep going up the cost and possible necessities train. There are many websites to be found online that will take you far beyond the basics presented here, which are worth looking into if you’re interested, and of course you should doublecheck all information presented in this article and adapt all best practices to your unique situation.

If you are ordered to evacuate, you should do so. You should also have important documents ready and in one place to take with you. You might also consider what other items you want to keep, such as a portable hard drive with a backup of all your files and photos (perhaps an SSD that is impervious to vibration if the budget allows), jewelry, and other irreplaceable items. Ideally plan this beforehand so you’re not wasting precious time in an emergency, and consider making a master list or having them together in an accessible place, and if possible make sure they are small enough in size to be easily transported. That said, the financial consequences for those who cannot afford to evacuate are not to be ignored.

Other interesting information

What Exactly Are “Preppers” Prepping For?

How to Pack a “Go Bag” for Emergency Evacuations

Intentional power outages indirectly caused by climate change

Business Is Booming for America’s Survival Food King

Government of Canada disaster preparation guides

What Not To Do In A Disaster

How Will People Behave in Deep Space Disasters?

In Disaster Recovery, Social Networks Matter More Than Bottled Water and Batteries

What Really Happens After Societal Collapse

Stay tuned for part two, which will be about heating and cooling, electricity, and renewable energy.

 
 
 
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I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). How things have changed. Also I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), digging into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism. And in order to put my money where my mouth is I own one (3x split) Tesla share.   A link to all my articles

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