Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday's Emergency Tip: Power Plans

Our trusty 5,000 watt gasoline generator that ran 8 days
straight during Massachusetts' 2008 Ice Storm!  

As you read in my earlier posts, my main concerns during storms are power issues.

And as our friends in Buffalo,NY, New Hampshire, and Maine can attest, winter's here!

For those of us still with power and not totally covered in snow, it's time to get planning - ASAP.

Everyone needs a "Power Plan"

A Power Plan is a vital part of your overall emergency plan.

You need to be prepared with a plan on how you deal with heating issues, preventing frozen pipes, food storage, etc. when you lose power.

For this article, I'm going to focus on a Home Power Plan. Business power plans will be covered in a later post.

Your Power Plan Requirements break down into two categories:
  1. Critical Needs
  2. Comfort Needs

Critical Power Needs
  1. Keeping your home from being damaged due to burst water pipes.
  2. Keeping your home warm enough to shelter in place.
  3. Preventing your food from spoiling.

Comfort Power Needs
  1. Lighting your home.
  2. Being able to cook.
  3. Powering entertainment devices. (You'll need to keep the kids from rioting during a long storm.)

If your home or office has a generator, the planning process is a little easier, but still requires some thought.

No generator equals some increased creative planning to minimize the effect of power loss.

Power Plan Template for a Location with a  Generator
Things to consider:
  1. Testing & Maintenance: When was the last time you ran the generator? With gasoline and diesel models, the fuel can go bad fairly quickly. Even propane models should be tested periodically. Also, when did you last change the oil in your generator?
  2. Keeping the generator running: Do you have enough fuel on hand to keep it running for at least 48 hours? Do you have oil and supplies to change the oil (if needed) during that first 48 hours?
  3. Location: Where is the generator stored? Is it ready to run right there or does it need to be moved?
  4. Electrical connection: Do you have a Transfer Switch or will you run extension cords to all your important devices? Have you actually tested the transfer switch or actually run all your externsion cords to the devices you need - do they all reach?    
Power Plan Template for a Location without a Generator
Things to consider:
  1. Does my neighbor have a generator? Are we close enough for me to run a heavy duty extension cord over to my house - just to power my furnace?
  2. Can I borrow a generator?  Do friends or family have a generator that I can borrow? How do I get it from them? When should I get it - before a big storm or after, once the weather clears? What else do I need to connect this generator to my home? (See points above in the " with a Generator" section.)
  3. Where will my family go if we don't have heat for an extended period? Do we stay with neighbors that have power/heat? Do we stay at a shelter? Do we leave the area and stay with friends/family?
  4. How will I prepare my home during the winter if we must evacuate due to power/heat loss? Do I need to drain my heating system or let my faucets run a little to prevent burst pipes?
  5. What will I do with my food that may spoil? Can I cook on my grill? Can I put food in coolers outside in the snow? Can I bring food to my neighbors who have power?

IMPORTANT: If you are relying on neighbors or friends to help you during a power loss, involve them now in your planning process. Having conversations such as: "We have no heat, can we sleep on your living room floor?" or "Can we borrow your extra generator?" are much easier to have when the weather is good vs. during a winter emergency. Also, it will give you the peace of mind that all these details have been sorted out before a winter storm hits. Finally, reach out to those whom you depend on prior to each major event, just to check that your agreements are still valid. You'd hate to rely on a neighbor that is away on vacation or has lent his generator to someone else last week, etc.

I hope you are warm and safe during this Thanksgiving week. And for that matter, for the entire winter season as well.

For more information on how to prepare in advance for a power outage, please visit the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency's site.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Friday's Emergency Tip: Winter Car Kits

What I carry in my Jeep during the winter - I need to add 
another sleeping bag and more water & food...

All the reports of people stuck in their cars in Upstate New York and the Great Lakes area due to this week's freak snow storms got me thinking: 

"Are we ready to be stuck in our car for up to 24 hours?"

Winter Car Kits

You should always carry in your car some basic tools, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and your cell phone charger - but during the winter, it's time to ramp things up.

And I'm not saying you should rush out and go on a shopping spree at your local Army/Navy store. You probably have many of the following items already, just not in your car.

And they don't have to be in a huge duffle bag either - all the items shown above fit easily into my Jeep - by spreading all these things around and utilizing the spaces under seats and the corners of my trunk.

Here's a great list that I borrowed from MEMA that you can use to build your own kit:
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Charged cell phone/automobile charger
  • Basic first-aid kit
  • Necessary medications
  • Pocket knife
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Extra clothes (include rain gear, boots, mittens, socks)
  • High-calorie, non-perishable foods (dried fruits, nuts, canned food)
  • Manual can opener
  • Container of water
  • Windshield scraper & brush
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Shovel
  • Sand/road salt/cat litter for generating traction
  • Tire chains or traction mats
  • Basic tool kit (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
  • Tow rope
  • Battery jumper cables
  • Road flares/reflectors
  • Brightly colored cloth to utilize as a flag
  • Road maps
If you're missing an item or two, make a gift to yourself this month when you're holiday shopping, either at the mall or online!

For more tips on safe winter driving, visit the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) site.

Photo credit: Patrick W. O'Connor

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday's Emergency Prep Tip: Automatic Power Failure Lights

One of our Sylvania LED Power Failure Lights.

Today I'm starting a new series of tech tips focused on inexpensive items that really help during an emergency.

We All Need Light

What's your most immediate need at night when the power goes out?
Light of course! 

Background: I was sick of having to feel my way in the dark to the one flashlight in the house only to find out the batteries were dead.

A few years ago, I found this light at Lowe's.  I was so impressed, I returned the next week and bought 6 more.

Sylvania Power Failure Light with LED Technology 

This unit's main feature is that it's a LED nightlight with a rechargeable battery and flashlight built in.

  • It's nightlight has an automatic on/off sensor and is cool to the touch.
  • It has built-in rechargeable batteries and the flashlight turns on automatically if the power goes out.
  • The flashlight, once charged, will last up to 7 hours unplugged. (And you can turn the flashlight off when not in use to save the batteries.)

Now, whenever we lose power, every nightlight in the house turns into a downward-facing power failure light. Since they are in all our hallways, moving around the house is much easier and safer, plus we can pull any one of these units out of the socket and use as a LED flashlight to deal with our power issues.

I highly recommend this light. Yes, I have other flashlights in my home, but it's very comforting to know these lights are always charged and ready.

You can find the Sylvania Power Failure Light with LED Technology at most home improvement stores and online at Amazon. (Note: several other companies make similar lights, shop around for the best price.)

For more information on how to prepare in advance for a power outage, visit the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency's site.