Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Winter Storms

Winter storms bring civilization to a standstill. Ice, snow and wind can completely stop transportation, tear down utility lines, cut off communications, and trap people in their homes, cars, and places of business. When conditions are bad, firefighters can’t reach burning buildings, police and emergency medical teams can’t get where they need to go. Delivery of food or other essentials gets cut off. People are left to take care of themselves.

More than a hundred thousand people were trapped for two weeks by an ice storm in Spokane, Washington the winter of 1996. Up to an inch of ice was deposited on trees, power lines, roads, houses, vehicles, everything. Frozen trees shattered and fell under the icy load, collapsing on homes and garages, smashing cars, falling across driveways and roads. Power lines were torn down as if they were delicate threads. The devastation was widespread, and it was a miracle that only four people died as a result of the storm. Damages exceeded twenty million dollars, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of the cost in human suffering among those who survived. With utilities cut off for up to two weeks, household heat sources such as furnaces or electric heaters failed to operate. Conventional cooking methods were disabled. When the sun went down, it was like living in the isolation of a cold, dark, silent tomb. The world outside was broken, and there was no TV, telephone or radio to let people know what was being done to fix the situation.

The season is upon us — what can you do to prepare?
  • Stock up on everyday supplies such as food, drinking water, toilet paper, prescription medications
  • Have a backup cooking system such as a camp stove (and a supply of propane canisters) to prepare hot meals and warm drinks 
  • Have a backup toilet arrangement (porta potty, composting toilet, etc.)
  • Have a backup system for heating your home (a generator-fed electric heater is safer than a propane space heater. Do not use a BBQ or hibachi to heat enclosed spaces)
  • Keep flashlights or camp lanterns handy for use after dark. Don't use candles or oil lamps unless you have nothing else, as they pose additional fire danger.
  • Keep warm clothing at hand
  • Have a warm sleeping bag for each person
  • Make sure your vehicle is full of fuel, and pre-install chains on the tires, but don't go out on the streets unless absolutely necessary
  • Keep a snow shovel in your house or garage so you can dig out after the storm passes

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