Monday, January 31, 2011

Tips for a power outage

Here are some tips for preparing for and dealing with a power outage:

Food & Water
Stocking up on canned goods is preferable, since they keep for a long time if not needed (see my post on keeping a rolling pantry). Buy enough bottled water for a gallon of water per person per day. Get one of those "indoor/outdoor" thermometers, and if the power goes out put the outdoor sensor in the fridge. Once the temperature in the fridge is higher than the temperature outside it's time to move the refrigerator food into a secured box outside (watch for predators!), and put the thermometer in the freezer (which will soon become your fridge). For information on keeping food safe in an emergency, see the USDA factsheet. Whether or not water is available or safe during a power outage is very dependent on your circumstances. Find out as much as you can beforehand, but if in doubt boil water before using.

The three most important things are to not set fire to your house, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, and to stay warm. Most gas fireplaces will still work in a power outage, but make sure that you have a window open a crack to replenish the oxygen, and make sure you have a Carbon Monoxide detector in the room with the fireplace. Decide which rooms you are not going to use and close the doors. Put blankets up against any place that might cause a draft. You can use a camping stove for a short time to warm drinks and cook food, but they are VERY dangerous so make sure you keep them in a secure place and only use them for short times. Keep dressed in warm clothes at all times: the most important bits of your body to keep warm are the head, feet and hands. Dress in multiple layers to keep warm air trapped. Watch for signs of hypothermia. You probably have a tank of warm water - use it wisely to keep warm!

Other preparation steps
Fill up your car with gas - it can help you escape to a nice warm hotel, can keep you warm (but don't run in the garage), and can be a source of power (especially with an inverter). Get some money out of the bank, since ATMs could be down and cash could be valuable. Check out the frequencies of not just your local radio stations, but more distant ones that may stay up longer. Also, if you have a scanner, find your local ARES/RACES, fire and EMS frequencies at Radio Reference. Charge up everything you might want to use, and keep a supply of AA, C and D batteries on hand.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Latest on Winter Ice Storm, Blizzard and Tornados

A Major winter storm is forecast for the Midwest and East Coast of the US, January 31-Feb 3 2011. This is a page I plan on developing with a variety of resources for keeping track of the storm, especially social media resources. Please email me or leave a comment if you know of other resources and I'll add them as soon as I can.

Weather Information - official NWS page with links to regional and city pages
Storm Prediction Center with nice map showing national radar, watches and warnings
NWS Experimental snow/ice probabilities
Weather Underground

General Social Media Resources

Twitter search for storm OR blizzard OR icestorm OR tornado OR power outage
Submit storm reports to the NWS via twitter
Google News search for ice storm/blizzard/tornado/power outage
Google Latest search for ice storm/blizzard/tornada/power outage
CrisisWiki - submit reports for this event
Google Map for crowdsourced reports of ice storms, snow, and tornados (see also below)

State-specific Resources

IN: Indiana road conditions map, Duke Energy Power Outages
NM: NM Road Conditions Map, Follow #NMstorm and #NMwx, dial 511 for info
OK: Oklahoma Ice Map, Follow #OKice #OKwx


Haby's Ice Storm Preparation Advice
MyGreatHome Preparing for a Winter Storm preparing for a winter storm
Tips for a power outage - preparation and during the event.

GOVLIVE stream of storm-related reports

Google map of reports

View Feb 2011 Storm Power outage and damage reports in a larger map

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Homeland Security Advisory System

The much-ridiculed homeland security color-coded threat level system, which has been stuck at "orange" for years, will finally be dropped by the end of April. In a press conference today, Janet Napolitano announced that a new system will be introduced that will be based on individual threats and recommended responses to these threats. Details are still scarce, but it will have to "levels" - elevated and imminent threat. She said it "will provide a concise summary of the potential threat, information about actions being taken to ensure public safety, and recommended steps that individuals and communities can take."

I suppose we'll have to wait to see what emerges, but this does sound more useful and promising. Also of interest is how the alerts will be delivered - social media? text messages? Watch this space!

For more on this story, check out this Google News Search.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Preparing for infrastructure failure - Tip #1, a rolling food store

If you follow this blog, you'll know that I think one of the most under-considered risks to families and communities is an extended power outage (see preparing for the big power outage). For most of us, more than a few days without power would be catastrophic. This is the first of a series of blog posts with some tips and practical steps for preparing for such an event, in particular ways of surviving without our modern day basics such as a food supply, water supply, heating and cooling, medicine, and so on. This first one is about food, not necessarily because it is the most critical (at least in the short term - that would be water) but because it is something you can fairly easily do something about.

Most preparedness guides focus on getting by for a few days (72 hour survival kit, etc) or at most a week or two. But for an infrastructure failure that lasted months, this isn't going to do you much good. How can you ensure a food supply for your family that lasts months, or even better is sustainable indefinitely?  I suggest two strategies: first, a substantial rolling food store, and second a long-term self-sufficiency plan for food.

A rolling food store means that you have a section of your house or apartment set aside for emergency food supplies, apart from your regular pantry. However, in order to avoid simply storing food which goes bad and which you then throw out, this food store acts as a feed to your regular pantry, and is then replenished. It is thus kind of like a buffer between the store and your pantry.

Determining what needs to be in your food store depends on a number of factors, including the nutrition needs of your family, how many weeks' supply you want (I suggest at least six weeks), what you like to eat regularly, the storage life of the food, and the amount of storage space you have available. I recommend placing the rolling food store in a garage or other area which is accessible but out of your regular living area. Canned foods and sealed goods with a shelf life of a year or more are perfect for your store. You can also keep goods with a shorter shelf life but must remember to use and check them regularly. Good initial recommendations are cans of beans, peanut butter, canned fruit, long-life pasta - things that keep well, give a balanced diet, and which you use everyday. A wonderfully useful tool I have found to help you build your store is the Food Storage Analyzer. This website allows you to create an account, and keep track of what you have in your store. The best bit is you can type the ages of the members of your family, and nutritional details from the labels of items in your store, and it will not only tell you how long the food supply will last, but also how well it meets nutritional requirements (and thus you can tweak what things you store in your supply for better balance). I recommend going straight to the "add your own items" tab and specifically type in the details for your own items, rather than the ones you have in store.

Keeping a rolling food store has some fringe benefits too - you get to go shopping in your own garage and it also encourages you to stock up when items are on sale, and thus save some money.

Now of course this will only keep you going as long as your rolling food supply lasts (plus probably a week or two depending on what you have in your regular pantry, fridge, freezer and so on, when the failure hits). The key to long term preparedness is a strategy for growing and making your own food - but that will have to wait for a future post!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cyber War

Dick Clarke's latest book is a must-read for anyone involved in emergency management. Clarke has come in for some criticism for his views and claims that the picture he paints is exaggerated. The book certainly has its weak areas and a few holes in its logic, but overall it paints a believable and frightening picture of the potential results of an attack our our internet and computing infrastructure. Even if it is only half true the issues it raises need our urgent attention.  It's not just about the internet going down, but potentially whole infrastructures (particularly the power grid). Many of the issues can only really be dealt with at a federal level, but we should all consider two questions: what would the impact be on emergency communications in our communities if the internet became unusable, and what would be the impact if the power went out for an extended period? In another post, I will look at the interesting issue of preparing for an internet and infrastructure outage at the same time as we are pushing for more use of the internet in Emergency Management.