Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The First 72 Hours: Shelter & Energy

Part 2 of a continuing series on prepping for a disaster, with an emphasis on how and where to start while on a Blue Collar budget.


Since the disaster I am most likely to face is an earthquake, this is what I am planning around. Your prepping plans need to consider your local conditions and change them accordingly.

Buildings will be damaged depending upon how close to the epicenter or fault line they are located, how they are constructed, and how solid the soil is under their foundations. Most of the major damage that the 1989 San Francisco earthquake caused was to structures built on fill land (swampy) and not solid bedrock.

You should be prepared to turn off your gas and water if there is obvious damage to gas or water lines. If there is no obvious gas smell and the structure is stable, your best option is to shelter in place. I do not recommend using any utilities if there has been structural damage, like partial collapse of walls or roof, foundation damage, or house movement off the foundation, until the local emergency services or fire department inspects the structure.

Staying where you are requires some pre-planning and possibly busting our BCP budget. Items that you should already have in your house for disaster preparedness are:

  • smoke detectors (one in each room)
  • carbon monoxide detector
  • fire extinguisher (ABC rating)
  • flashlights (at least one per person)
  • batteries (enough for 2 complete changes for each person)
  • First Aid supplies:
    • Band-Aids
    • antiseptic wipes
    • eye wash
    • anti-biotic cream
    • sun screen
    • dust masks
    • nitrile gloves
    • any medicines that your family needs. 
  • blankets and/or sleeping bags
  • jackets and rain gear
  • 2 complete changes of clothes for each person
  • and, of course,  your prepping supplies! 

If you don’t have all of these items now, get them. Right now.

Items you should be looking to purchase are:

  • 2 mil plastic sheeting and duct tape (to cover the possibly broken windows and cover the doors to prevent dust from entering and heat escaping)
  • utility turn off wrench
  • small pry bar
  • hammer
  • screw driver set (flat head and Phillips)
  • nails & screws 
  • LED or CREE flashlights
  • 2x the number of batteries you have on hand (brand name only) 
  • blue plastic tarps
  • several rolls of duct tape (it fixes almost anything)
If your budget allows, look into buying a tent big enough for the number of people in your group to sleep in. Look on Craig’s List, want ads,  and if you have a college close by, see if there is an Outdoor/Hiking club to purchase surplus gear from cash-strapped students. In Northen California we rarely freeze or get much rain or snow (<200’ altitude here), so the tent only needs to be waterproof. There is no way I can tell you how to improvise a shelter here, and if it comes to that you should look into evacuating and sheltering with friends or family outside the disaster zone. More on this in the upcoming Security post.


Here is another potential BCP budget buster: cooking after a disaster. Ideally, your house is okay, your water seems to be okay, and the power company says the electricity will only be out overnight. Worst case, the power won’t be back for 2-5 days, minimum. How do you cook or stay warm in the winter?

In the short term, you can eat your stash of supplies that don’t need cooking - crackers, peanut butter, canned tuna or chicken and the like. In the long term, however, you could have a few very interesting meals! Unless you own a generator (I don’t), your freezer or refrigerator is going to warm up in as little as one or as many as three days. Generators large enough to run a refrigerator can cost $800 and up. For me, this means everything will start to go bad and be unusable very quickly, so I plan on having a cookout. Invite your neighbors and share the bounty. If you have met them before, great. If you haven't, why not? You don't know who has needed skills until you make the effort.

Apartment dwellers, I’m not leaving you out. You will have to be a bit more creative with disposing of your fridge full of food by having a small charcoal grill to use OUTSIDE, well away from windows and doors. The rest of us will have to do the same on whatever we have on hand for grilling.

If you do not have cooking equipment other than your stove in the kitchen, I have made very good buys from garage sales and Craig’s List on camping supplies. I am the owner of a 3 burner Coleman liquid fuel (adaptable to propane) stove purchased at a garage sale for $40. It looks like new and works perfectly. Other options would be to use your existing grill or purchase new, smaller propane camping stoves ($80-$100 and up). My personal preference is for liquid fuel, since those stoves will run on unleaded gasoline as well as stove fuel. Another option is the BioLite stove which has a thermocouple to generate power from the heat of the fire! However you choose to cook, make sure that your fuel is stored away from your food, any heat source, or anything that could fall and bury it.


If everything is the same as previously stated, you can shelter in place in your storage room by blocking the door and window with double layers of plastic and duct tape. If the weather is not too bad, huddling together with each other under the blankets or in the sleeping bags will keep everyone warm. If it is too cold, like the month of January here (it actually was as low as 28* F), extra steps are needed to stay warm.

At no time should you use a charcoal grill, propane heater or similar item to heat your shelter-in-place room! People die every year doing that. If necessary, and with proper care, candles can be used as an emergency heat source to raise the temperature of your room several degrees. Search for ‘tea lights/ emergency heat,’ or see this article. Be careful! Candles are an open flame and could catch surrounding items on fire.

Power for cell phones, laptops, GPS devices and radios is another potential BCP budget buster. In the short term, you should have car charger adapters for cell phones & GPS devices and rechargeable battery packs with a USB outlet for quickie recharges. If you can afford it, solar charging panels with rechargeable batteries are recommended. A two battery charger can cost as little as $24.95 plus batteries, to as much as $250 (or more) for a charger that recharges 2 items directly. A radio of some kind is a requirement, whether battery or hand crank. The C Crane company makes bullet-proof versions of both.

This is enough food for thought for now, so check your funds, spend them wisely and remember, Some Is Always Better Than None.

Next Week: Security & Hygiene

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