This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by Michele
In December 2008, I got 2 feet of snow. OK, so some of you are laughing – 2’ – so what? But this area usually only gets 6-8 inches a couple of times a year, which is mostly gone the next day, and some of the trees here are not designed to handle that much snow. The result was trees and branches down everywhere and major power outages all over the area. My house was plunged into darkness for five days because my particular electric line only has 97 customers on it, so we were not a money-making priority for PG&E.
I live alone and for me, this would only have been an inconvenience, however, at that time, I had living with me; my 34-year-old daughter, her 14-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, my 32-year-old son, and 2 grandsons, one 4 years old and one 18 months old for whom I was ‘foster mom’ for about 5 months.
There was even 12 inches of snow at my mom’s who is only at about 1100 feet elevation (I’m at 2500 ft). She almost never gets snow at all, so she lost 15 big oak trees, but the power outages were not a problem for mom because she lives off grid. Fortunately, I too have lived off grid on several occasions, so was probably a little more prepared to handle the situation than many of you might be.
My home is 100% electric. No electricity means no refrigerator, no freezer, no lights and no TV to help keep the 3 kids, 5 and under occupied.
My car, at the time, (I now have an older 4×4 truck that is relatively EMP proof) had only 6 inches of ground clearance, and did not consider itself a snow plow, so I did not have the option of running off to the store.
I have a good wood stove, but even that doesn’t work if there is nothing to burn in it. Fortunately, my son was staying with me to help me with the little boys when this happened. I do own a chainsaw, but I have never been taught to safely use it. I had only about one day’s worth of wood outside, so my son cut and I brought the wood in with the sled and stacked it on the deck to use each day for the wood stove. We used a lot more than I would have expected because we had to keep the fire going 24 hours a day to keep us warm, cook our food and melt snow for washing the dishes (and us). Fortunately, I had gas and 2-stroke oil, but would not have had enough for more than a week or two.
My water comes from a well on my property (as it does for all my neighbors). Another fun fact of no electricity is no power to the well pump, so no water when you turn on the faucet, no showers and no flushing toilets. I gotta tell you, the house smells pretty ripe after a day and a half of 7 people using toilets that don’t flush. I was fortunate there too in that I own a Jacuzzi, which I remembered only after the house became amazingly aromatic. I went out to the breaker box, flipped off the switch to the Jacuzzi (in case the power came back on), grabbed 5 gallon buckets and used Jacuzzi water to flush the toilets.
No matter how many times you tell people not to open the refrigerator door, old habits die-hard. And, someone, please, please, tell me why people just stand there staring into the refrigerator for several minutes? Do they think if they stare into it for long enough, Butterfinger bars (or whatever it is they are hoping for) will magically appear? As a result, the food in the refrigerator and freezer quickly needed to be cooked and eaten. Even with eating some strange combination meals, and placing some of the food out into the snow on the deck, we didn’t get everything cooked/consumed in time, and a bunch of the food had to be thrown out.
Lessons I learned or thought about as a result of this experience:
- Store water. Water to drink, water to prepare food, water to wash with and water to flush toilets. My well is too deep for a hand pump to work, even if I had the money to have one installed.
- Always keep enough wood on hand to keep me going for at least a few weeks.
- More cast iron cookware.
- Hand tools, saws (and extra blades) and the like. I have garden tools but could use back ups.
- Learn to use the chain saw safely.
- Keep more gas (and gas preservative), 2-stroke oil and chain oil around the house.
- Cards, dice (and Yatzee score pads), board games, paper, crayons, pens and pencils, etc.
- Keep empty 5 gallon buckets around, they come in handy for so many things.
- Lots of extra blankets, sweats (and warm jammies for the kids).
- Buy another ice chest (for the frozen food).
- Print out all my survival information and place in binders.
Some of the things I had to deal with could have been anticipated. Others, I learned only by this experience.
My suggestion to all is to simulate an experience like the one I had to live through, to see if you find gaps in your own preps.
Pick a long weekend. Turn off all power to your house (except to the refrigerator – no reason to lose all your food since this is a simulation, however duct tape the door shut – no cheating!) Figure out what you will do for water, even in the city in a serious grid down situation like an EMP or a major pandemic where people don’t want to leave their houses to go to work, basic services could be lost. Consider it camping in place.
If your plan is to go to someone else’s house, or a retreat location, what if the situation is nation wide? What if there is rioting or other dangers that prevent you from leaving right away?
What will you do to keep warm or cool? How will you handle sanitation if the toilets don’t flush and the faucets don’t work?
Use only your preps. Grind your own wheat, make your own bread and pasta by hand. No blenders, no food processors, no mixers (unless they are hand powered). All meals need to be made from your long-term preps only and no fair using your computer to search for recipes. This might be a good reminder to print out recipes or go to used bookstores or the used books section of Amazon or the like and find books with recipes for your storage. Find out if the recipes are something you could live on day after day – if not, find lots of new recipes. Do you have the spices you need to make your food palatable?
No TV to relieve the boredom or keep the kids out of your hair. No radio (even emergency radio might not be available). Spend time playing games with your kids, and reconnect with your spouse. Make lists of the things you hadn’t considered before.
Even if you have a generator and stored gas, propane, diesel or whatever, assume these will somehow not be available to make electricity (an EMP blew it out or some part broke) and do it all without power. This might be a real eye-opener for you, and may help you to survive if something happens to your back up plan.
I doubt many of you will actually simulate a grid down situation, which is too bad, it may save your life. My five days with no power taught me a lot (the silver lining to my clouds) and gave me even more food for thought.
It made me decide to prepare for more than 1 year. What if TSHTF in early autumn (you can plant in the spring, but don’t normally harvest until mid to late summer)? What if there was a drought that summer and my garden died or failed to produce much? Would me and my family (you and your family) be OK (even thrive) if a grid down situation lasted more than a week, month, year, or, God forbid, permanent?