Friday, April 10, 2015

Getting out

With the change of the seasons, most of us in the USA are entering severe weather season. Tornadoes, hurricanes, and severe thunderstorms are common from March to November and can cause damage both local and widespread.

Earthquakes and tornadoes differ in the reaction to their occurrence, but cause similar damage. The standard teaching for an earthquake is to get out of a building or under something sturdy, while for a tornado we're supposed to get underground and find shelter in a corner or well built room. Getting out of a building that may fall down makes sense, as does getting underground to avoid flying debris, but what happens after the storm has passed or the earth stops shaking? If you've managed to survive the collapse of your house or business, you now have the problem of having what's left of your house sitting on top of your shelter. If you're inside when that happens, do you have what you need to get back out? There's a reason farmers built their storm cellars apart from the house or barn: it's easier to dig yourself out if you don't have a house sitting on you.

Every storm shelter should have some basic tools in it to help you get out unless you're happy with having to wait for outside assistance.

Tools you should have
  • Saws- hand saws should be short to allow their use in cramped spaces. Have wood saws for wooden structures, and hack saws if you expect to run into metal reinforcing bars.
  • Levers- crowbars, pry bars, and larger bars give you a mechanical advantage to shift large pieces of debris.
  • Jacks- small hydraulic jacks or even salvaged automobile type screw jacks give a huge boost to mechanical advantage.
  • Axes- hand axes are useful for removing small limbs from trees and can be used to cut timbers and boards into sizes easier to move.
  • Hammers- small hammers will be useful for disassembling wooden structures, and larger ones (sledge hammers) will work to break up concrete.
  • Shovels- like saws, short handles will make them easier to use in tight spaces.

Tools you should avoid
  • Chainsaws or any other gas-powered tool. Chainsaw exhaust contains a lot of Carbon Monoxide, which is dangerous in small spaces.
  • Cutting torches. Unless you are well-versed in the use of metal cutting equipment an open flame can be more of a danger than a help. Setting yourself or your shelter on fire is not going to help your situation, regardless of how bad it already is.
  • Unless your situation is “ITLH” (Immediate threat to life or health), avoid tools that you're unfamiliar with. You're not going to be making the situation any better by adding to the list of injured.
If you are one of the lucky ones that gets through the storm/earthquake without serious damage, are you willing to lend aid to your neighbors? Do you have the tools needed to be of assistance? Unless you have earth moving equipment (back-hoe, skid loader, tractor, etc.) and the skills to use it, you're going to be limited to hands and hand tools. 

Before you think that hand tools are worthless, you should look into some of the things people have been able to do with less than we can buy in any hardware store. Pyramids in Egypt and Central America, the Burma Road, and Stonehenge are all good examples of what people are capable of without the use of power tools. Shifting the remains of a house off of a basement is a small job in comparison, and the more hands put to task makes the work faster.

The other problem that may pop up is if you're away from your shelter when it gets buried. If the supplies inside are what you need to live on for a while, you'll have to dig them out.

  • Since you'll be working from the surface down or from the outside in, tools can be larger and able to move more material, quicker.
  • Power tools will be more useful so long as you have a supply of power or fuel.
  • Chainsaws are very handy to have around after a storm, since they can make quick work of clearing trees from roads and can make an opening in a wall with ease. Be aware of power lines when working around trees.
  • Electric tools powered by generators can be a great help as long as you keep the generator exhaust away from the space you're working on.
  • Cordless tools don't generally have the same power as a corded version, but could be very handy in tight spaces.
  • Having a way to move debris away from the site is very important. A pickup truck, wheelbarrow, trailer, or small tractor will help clear the work area and allows faster work. The corollary to this is finding a place to put all of the debris (at least temporarily).
  • A portable pump and some hose will help if you've got to work below ground level after a storm. The rains that accompany tornadoes can cause localized flooding and since most shelters are underground, they will fill with water fast.
These are just some suggestions on a subject that came up among friends a few days ago. We get tornadoes in my area most years, some years worse than others. I've seen houses and large sections of small towns completely destroyed in a matter of minutes, and the recovery time is measured in months or years. A large part of being prepared is thinking things through, and it is my goal to keep you thinking.

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