October 23, 2014

National Geographic’s American Blackout

I had the opportunity to watch National Geographic’s American Blackout
National Geographic’s American Blackout and thought I would give you my thoughts on the show. If you haven’t watched it, be warned, there are some spoilers in this article.

The premise of the movie is that there was a major cyber-attack that brings the electric grid down from coast to coast. The show is presented as if the content from citizens who took the video on their phones and video cameras was collected after power was restored,

The show mainly follows five groups, though video clips are shown from others. One group is comprised of a family of preppers and the boyfriend of the daughter. The second group is made up of four students trapped in an elevator. The third group is a wealthy couple somewhere in New York who live on the 46th floor. The fourth group is a family with a young daughter and a pregnant wife is who is due any day. The last group is a mother and teen-aged son. The mother is a nurse who leaves the son alone for most of the blackout.

The movie flows from day to day, giving viewers an idea of how quickly thing get bad. I had originally thought about reviewing it day by day but I think a better approach might be to go by categories. Just after the show starts and the power goes out, the groups mentioned above are often filming themselves. There is an occasional newscast report from a television station that is on generator power.
 
 
Water

Water is the most important of the five basic needs (occasionally security trumps it) and the only family that was prepared for this was the family of preppers. In one scene the man from the couple in New York goes into a store and tries to cut in front of everyone else, attempting to buy a gallon of water with his credit card. People were willing to pay $40 for one gallon of water!

I realize that many of us cannot store enough water, but knowing how to filter it and make it safe to drink is something every prepper should know. I cover several methods in the article The Storage, Filtration And Purification Of Water.

Nat Geo also made a comment about the average home in America using 400 gallons of water a day. That seems high to me but I have not researched it. In a survival situation the number that is often given is 2 gallons of water per person per day for drinking and miscellaneous uses.
 
 
Food

In the beginning of the blackout, people were throwing blackout parties, cooking a lot of the food before it went bad. The New York couple was eating caviar and drinking warm champagne. The man got sick later in the movie. Here are some tips on Keeping Food Cold Without Electricity.

The prepper family had quite the setup. They bugged out early to their remote location. It was stocked with some food in a closet inside the home. They called that their “decoy food”. If anyone broke in, they would steal that and quit looking. The preppers had 2+ years of food stored in their bunker. There was a neighbor who came to the fence asking for food. The father told the neighbor they could not help him, but the daughter’s boyfriend piped up and said they had plenty to spare. This raised the tension and the father ended up pulling his firearm and telling the neighbor to leave. The daughter’s boyfriend later snuck out and gave the neighbor some canned goods.

Nat Geo, made a text comment about the quantity of foods that are shipped and transported every day in the USA. Since the power was down, the cranes that offload ships in ports that require electricity weren’t functional and the gas pumps were unable to pump diesel into trucks. Therefore, none of those goods would be transported. I covered the impact this would have in When the Trucks Stops

There were many food related riots and eventually the federal government stepped in, instituting “rationing and fair allocation” of resources such as food, water and gasoline. Priority was given to EMS, police and military.
 
 
Power

Nat Geo stated that a cyber-attack could cause power surges, causing damage to the electric grid. I have read several articles over the years about municipalities and state and federal government finding proof that hackers from other countries have hacked into the grid.

The prepper family had a solar energy system and a bicycle generator. The father stated they had enough energy stored in their battery array to last two months.

One of the people in the elevator has a wind up cell phone charger that he used to keep his phone charged.

Nat Geo said that only 10% of the traffic lights across the countries have any type of backup power. This was leading to a lot of accidents.

I have covered multiple ways we can Prepare for the Grid to go Down. Just follow that link.

They said that cell towers often have backup power but that service would be drastically reduced due to load. This is often the case in any type of emergency. Often times a text message will still go through when a phone call will not.
 
 
Shelter

The couple on the 46th floor, having to go up and down the stairs was hating life by the third day.

The four people trapped in the elevator were all college students who were heading home for spring or summer break. No one knew where they were, let alone that they were trapped in the elevator. They tried to pry the doors open without any luck. Long story short, one student fell to his death from the top of the elevator. The other three made a harness to climb up the elevator shaft and were able to use a knife that one of the students had to cut through a grate of sorts and climb out. They were still trapped on the top of the building. A second student later died on the building roof.

Since there was no light at night, people were using candles, which was leading to fires. In fact, the family with the young daughter and pregnant wife were chased from their home due to fire. They had candles scattered throughout the house. I’m guessing that was the cause of the fire.

Many fires were out of control, as there was no water pressure to put them out. Nat Geo gave the number of 3,500 gallons of water being needed to extinguish the average house fire.

 
 
Security

Security for all of the groups was laughable. Multiple times people went to areas where there were known riots and gang activity. While I do think Nat Geo had the characters venture into these areas so we could see what things were like, I also know that this behavior isn’t limited to a few people in this youtube-driven, “selfie” taking, YOLO world we live in.

The prepper family had firearms but no real security procedures or plans in place. The son was standing the late watch when the neighbors who got food from the daughter’s boyfriend earlier came back to get more. They captured him and forced him inside the home. The son directed them to the decoy food. He then woke everyone. The father brought them all into the bunker at that point.

Later that day, the neighbors, now turned bandits, came back to see what else they could find. The family had a surveillance system and could see them coming. The dad went out alone to confront them, and got his rifle taken away.

The New York couple ended up near a riot and stole a can of peaches that they then brought back to their building. They were followed by a man who demanded the can of peaches. When he was told “no”, he attacked. The husband used the “assault can” to pummel the man. They heard sounds in the hallway of their apartment building and went to explore each time. This never ended well, and in the end, might have cost them everything.

The young man whose mother was a nurse had been on his own for over a week. He found a pistol in his mother’s room but had no idea how to use it safely.

As of the third day, there was a dusk till dawn curfew, which was largely ignored. The National Guard was asked to help patrol the streets in several cities. Martial law was talked about a few times.

 
 
Miscellaneous Items

People had little to no cash and, since ATM’s weren’t working, they had no way to pay for goods. One of the shops shown was willing to take trades. Many people don’t think cash will be valuable in such a disaster. I think it will be extremely valuable for a short time. In the show, the media frequently said the government was close to solving the problem. As long as people think the system will go back to what it was, cash will have value. If weeks and months go by, it will then lose its value.

Hospitals were overrun with people. Hence the nurse being kept from her son for many days. Because there was no power, people were doing things that they had never done before, like opening a can of peaches with a butcher knife. This led to a major laceration, which seemed to get infected and make the man quite ill.

I think it was around the seventh day when the President requested international aid, to deliver goods to the American people.

It was mentioned that there are roughly 700,000 HAM radio operators in the US. In this type of scenario this might be the most reliable form of communication.

It was also said that there is an estimated 3 million preppers in the US. I would love to know how they got to that number.

The lack of ability to have a working water and sewage system was mentioned a few times, but I think they grossly undersold the damage this would cause. I covered Survival Sanitation sometime ago. I linked to three great articles from Tactical Intelligence and I highly recommend all three. If you live in an area that is on city sewer and water, just think for a minute about what might happen if all of the toilets in your neighborhood stopped working for a week or longer. Knowing how to manage that, and all of the garbage is something we should all consider.

If memory serves, the power came back on to all of America after nine days. Things just don’t work like that. If power fluctuation can cause damage to parts of the grid all across the nation, it is going to take a lot longer than a little over a week to get them all repaired or replaced. I listened to a podcast with an electrical engineer named John Kappenman who has testified before Congress on the dangers to the power grid from EMP. He stated that we have some components in our grid that have a 30 year shelf life and are 50 years old. If that wasn’t bad enough, he said we no longer make some of these power plants and would need to have them shipped from other countries. Power might come up for a portion of the country, but there is no way a switch can be flipped and the entire countries’ power restored.

The father of the prepper family came off as a jerk to me. I agreed with most of what he said but he could have used far better arguments to make his points.
 
 
Final Thoughts

American Blackout is worth watching, if for no other reason than to decide what you would do differently. If we see a nationwide blackout, things are very, very bad. It would take a major event to bring down our entire electric grid and I would expect it to take much longer than nine days to repair.

I think this would be a good show to have a non-prepper watch. It could plant the preparedness seed.

If you had a chance to watch it, please let me know what you thought!

 
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Preparedness and Batteries

battery

Have you ever considered how many things you come into contact with every day that use a battery?  How about the items that are in your various preparedness kits?

I remember reading a few news stories that spoke about cities providing generators so people could recharge their cell phones.  Because we have become so dependent on technology and the items that use batteries, both in normal times and when “it’s hitting the fan”, not having the ability to use an item can make a bad situation worse.  Whether it’s a remote control, weather radio, cell phone or flashlight, these devices only work if they have a charged battery.  Below are some things I have discovered over the years.  If you have something to add, please do so in the comments.

 

Disposable Batteries (Alkaline)

We try to keep a good supply of the various sizes of batteries.  Over the years, I have heard various prepping tips about batteries and have looked into them.  Unfortunately in my experience most have turned out to be false.

For example, have you heard that storing your batteries in the fridge or freezer can prolong their life?  According to Energizer, this isn’t the case!  In this FAQ on Non-Rechargeable Batteries:

“No, storage in a refrigerator or freezer is not required or recommended for batteries produced today. Cold temperature storage can in fact harm batteries if condensation results in corroded contacts or label or seal damage due to extreme temperature storage. To maximize performance and shelf life, store batteries at normal room temperatures (68°F to 78°F or 20°C to 25°C) with moderated humidity levels (35 to 65% RH).”

I also read on a Prepper site that someone said they had compared the life of name brand batteries against the cheaper batteries found at dollar stores.  They said the life of the batteries was relatively the same.  I mentioned this to Trudee, who then purchased some batteries from the dollar store.  It was our experience that they only lasted from ½ to 2/3 as long as the better known, name brand, batteries.

How often have you reached for the remote or another electronic only to discover the batteries were dead?  Something you might not be aware of is that batteries don’t necessarily lose their charge at the same rate.  There could be one battery that is dead and another with ½ a charge left.  To remedy this there are several inexpensive battery testers on the market that will show you how much life is left on a battery.  I haven’t purchased on yet, so I won’t make any recommendations, but make sure that the one you buy will test a variety of battery sizes.

 

Rechargeable Batteries

The technology and terminology can quickly get over my head, so here is a novices explanation: There are six types of rechargeable batteries.  Only the following three; Nickel Cadmium, Nickel metal hydride, and reusable alkaline are found as replacements for AAA, AA, C, D, and 9 volt batteries.  Since these are the most commonly stocked battery types, I will give some pluses and minuses of using them.

 

Reusable Alkaline

Reusable Alkaline batteries hold their charge longer than any other type.  However, they have the lowest amount of charge/discharge cycles of any other reusable battery.  (A charge/discharge cycle is one complete depletion and recharge of the battery.)

 

Nickel Cadmium (NiCd)

This is the oldest type of rechargeable battery.  The technology has been improved over the years.  A nickel cadmium battery has a long shelf life and can be stored in a discharged state for long periods of time.  When it is needed, it is recharged quickly.  It also has a high number of charge/discharge cycles, numbering over 1,000.

Nickel Cadmium batteries have a high rate of discharge.  Just while sitting on the shelf, they lose 1% of their charge per day.  Due to this, batteries would need to be recharged after storage.  Nickel Cadmium is also subject to memory effect.  According to Wikipedia, memory effect is an effect observed in nickel cadmium and nickel–metal hydride batteries that causes them to hold less charge. It describes one very specific situation in which certain batteries gradually lose their maximum energy capacity if they are repeatedly recharged after being only partially discharged. The battery appears to “remember” the smaller capacity.  This has been corrected with newer technology.

 

Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)

This is probably the most available and lowest-cost option of the three.  They have 30-40% higher capacity than a NiCd battery and are less prone to memory effect than NiCd batteries.

NiMH batteries have a high rate of discharge losing up to 4% a day, more in warmer climates.  It also has a limited service life, probably around the 500 charge/discharge cycle range.

 

Low Self Discharge Nickel Metal Hydride (LSD NiMH)

This type of reusable battery loses significantly less charge than any other type, roughly only 15% a year.  They also have a high charge/discharge rate.  LSD NiMH batteries can be charged with a NiMH battery charger.

 

Battery Chargers

There are many different ways a battery can be recharged; trickle, simple, timer based, fast and pulse.  There are also battery chargers that are intelligent.  These should not be confused with “smart chargers”.  A Smart charger has a microchip, as does the battery, from its manufacturer and they are designed to work together.

A charger that is intelligent can monitor the temperature, voltage and other characteristics and stop charging when the battery is fully charged.

There are chargers on the market that accept not only the 110 volts from your home, but also 12 volts DC from your car lighter or from a solar charger.

 

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, I think a good set up for Prepper’s might be to keep some disposable alkaline batteries on hand, and a battery tester to go with them.  It’s also a good idea to have a supply of LSD NiMH batteries with an intelligent charger and a small solar panel to go with it.  There are also solar chargers that can charge your cell phone as well.

The power these batteries provide might not cover all of your needs in a blackout, but it could very well provide for a radio, flashlight, cell phone and other small electronics. This would be enough to keep you informed and your loved ones in another part of the country updated. If you store LSD NiMH batteries charged and top them off once a year, they’ll always be ready for use!

 

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Survival Sanitation

Survival sanitation is a subject that doesn’t get much attention. It’s not surprising. This isn’t a subject for polite conversation and, it’s gross. But, not knowing what to do with waste in a grid down situation can lead to a dire survival situation. This is fair warning; this information is important, but will cover some information that is a bit disgusting.

In researching this article, I found a series of three articles at Tactical Intelligence, that cover almost everything I wanted to write on. So instead of writing a similar article, I am going to ask you to take a look at his articles and I will just add my $.02 here.

Survival Sanitation: It all Begins with the Hands
This article covers how many diseases are spread from bodily fluids to hands then to the mouth. He even gives instructions to make your own chlorine bleach, as well as good and bad hand hygiene habits.

Survival Sanitation: Disposing of Garbage Off-Grid
Out of the three, this is the one area I think people should hold out on. Only go this route if garbage pickup is on hold for a long time. That is, unless you live in a densely populated area such as New York. Due to the day after Christmas blizzard in 2010, New Yorkers went without trash collection for a week and limited collection for another. There were mountains of it and soon the rats came out. This is good information to be aware of.

Survival Sanitation: How to Deal with Human Waste
This is a topic that while mildly unpleasant, is very important. If you are on city sewer and water, in a grid down situation there won’t be power to the water pumps to provide water for disposing of the waste. This article explains what to do if you have water available and what to do if you do not.

Backflow Valves
I only have one other thing to touch on and that is the back-flow valve. A back-flow valve will keep sewage from flowing back into your plumbing. Backwater-Valves.com hosts the image below. They explain the need, based on your location, hypothetically; on a hill in a flooding situation.

I also contacted a local plumber via e-mail asking if the power going out would have any impact on sewage back flowing.

“Hi Chris,
The back water valve is only required if the plumbing fixtures are below the manhole in the street. ( most are but some houses are on hills ). The power going out has no effect unless you have a lift station in your home.

You can tell if you have one because they are required by code to be accessible. ( somewhere in floor ).

They are not a huge project but we would need to locate the drain, remove the concrete, install back water valve and patch the floor. There are any variables that would raise the costs but a minimum price would be $450.”

Where I live, back-flow valve installation became code in 2009. It might be code where you live. If you have an older home and think you might be in danger of back-flow, contacting a plumber in your area now might be a prudent idea.
 

Preparedness Tip: Keeping Food Cold Without Electricity

In the event of a power outage, here are a some things you can do to help keep your food cold, if not frozen;

  • During times when there is power, the fuller your fridge or freezer is, the longer the temperature will stay cold and the less the motor will have to run to keep it cold.
  •  If your freezer isn’t full, you can add frozen containers to fill the empty space. Any container will do, but 2-liter bottles are shaped well for stacking. (In writing this, I have a chest freezer in mind, but it should work for a fridge based freezer as well.)
  • When there is a loss of power, a full freezer will keep food frozen for approximately two days, a half full freezer for a day and a fridge for roughly four hours, if they remain closed.
  • If there is a power loss another good idea is to write down the contents of the fridge and freezer and post it on the outside. When someone is hungry, they can browse the list with the door closed, keeping the cold where it belongs.
  • If you have a generator, you can connect the fridge and freezer to it and run the generator once or twice a day, for an hour or so and that should be enough to keep things cold.
  • If the outage is going to be longer in duration, it is important to keep meat, poultry, fish and eggs refrigerated at 40 Fahrenheit and frozen things at 0 Fahrenheit. These would be good things to cook and eat first.
  • If you live in an area with snow, it’s not a good idea to place frozen food directly in the snow. The temperature isn’t controlled and things could thaw and refreeze. One possible solution might be to take a clean 30 gallon garbage can and bury it in snow, then place the food in it. If you bury it with snow nearly to the top and place the lid on it, this should keep things cold but probably not frozen, depending on the temperature outside.

If you have any other tips please add them to the comment section.
 

Off-Grid Laundry

To do laundry in an off-grid situation, we can just look to the past and add a few modern twists. There are three parts to doing laundry, washing, rinsing/wringing and drying. Let’s take a look at how to do those three off-grid.

Washing


 Washing Board
I’m sure many of us have seen pictures of people using washboards to do laundry. While it might get   the clothes clean, it can take a lot of effort.

 

Non-electric Washing Machines
A more modern, yet off-grid means, is with an item like the Pressure Handwasher from Lehman’s, the Wonder Wash from The Laundry Alternative Inc. or Laundry Pod. The designs of the Pressure Handwasher and the Wonder Wash are similar to each other. From simply looking at the designs web pages and the videos that are available, the Laundry Pod design seems superior to me. The process of the three is similar; add a gallon or two of water, a bit of soap and turn/crank for a minute or two, drain, add more water and turn/crank for a minute or two to rinse.


Do It Yourself
If you’re a do-it-yourself-er or just frugal, you can do something similar by using a five gallon bucket and a laundry plunger. Take the lid for the five gallon bucket and cut a hole in the middle large enough for the handle of the laundry plunger. Fill the bucket half full with clothes, add a gallon or two of water add a little soap. Now put the laundry plunger in the bucket and place the lid securely over the plunger. Push the plunger up and down to agitate the clothes for a couple of minutes. Some people use a regular plunger. It is my understanding that laundry plungers force soap and water through the clothes more effectively. Lehman’s has two version of laundry plungers or hand washers, they are the Rapid Laundry Washer and the Breathing Hand Washer.


Rinsing/wringing
The non-electric washing machines have a means to rinse and wring the clothes, but there are other methods for those not using one of these machines. Lehman’s Clothes Wringer has some off-grid options but they’re a bit pricey to me.

Do It Yourself
Here is a three bucket system I found that I think is very clever and would go nicely with the other do it yourself system to wash clothes.

Drying
Many people use clothes lines and pins for drying their clothes, either to save on the energy bill, or just for the fresh smell. As a kid we used some that were made out of clothes line rope, but you can also use wire strands. Another option for drying clothes is a drying rack.

While this isn’t completely off-grid, it might be a nice option for some. The Laundry Alternative Inc. has two products for Drying clothes that would be great for people with limited space.

One last thought: water that was used for laundry can be recycled and used to water the garden or lawn.

Portable Generators

To go with the last article Off grid fuels, here is a look at using portable generators for emergency power. I know I had some misconceptions about generators. Maybe this can clear up some you might have as well.

Price
A portable generator is one of the most economical ways to provide electricity in a power outage. It’s true they can be expensive and the more you spend the more power you’ll have and the quieter it might be. If you’re selective about what you use it for, you can spend as little as a few hundred dollars. This would be great if you just want to run it for an hour in the morning and evening to keep the freezer cold.

Fuel Types
I mentioned in Off grid fuels that I chose propane as one of the fuels I store. There are generators that are available off the shelf that will use propane and there are companies that will make after-market modifications to permit its use as well. I have read that a generator will go through more propane than gasoline in an hour. If this is true, I can store a large propane tank that doesn’t need to be rotated as it doesn’t go bad; the same can’t be said for gas. I have also read that propane runs quieter. I don’t know if this is true. I was able to find a company that will take the new carburetor and modify it to use gasoline, propane or natural gas. There are kits to do this, but that’s a bit out of my depth.

Noise
Noise is a factor that many people don’t take into consideration and is often a later complaint. I have read how some people will take the generator to the edge of their property line and run extension cords back to the house, just to limit the noise. Honda generators boast some of the lowest decibel ratings on the market, but Honda’s can be expensive. Review Portable Generators reviews many different generators and they look at noise as one of the factors.

Security
If your neighbors can hear your generator, you may be asked to help keep their food cold. If Joe Dirtbag can hear that you have a generator, he might try to make off with it. If you have it away from the house, chaining it down might be a good idea, if for no other reason than to slow Mr. Dirtbag down.

Wattage Calculator
Review Portable Generators has a decent Watt Calculatorbut here is a sample one. There are some items such as a refrigerator, freezer or washer that require more power at start up and require less as it runs.

You might not be able to power everything in your home at one time, but a generator of even 2000-3000 watts can simultaneously power multiple smaller electronics such as a TV, DVD player and microwave for popcorn. Or it could power one or two larger items such as a washer or dryer.

If your main goal is to keep food in the fridge or freezer from going bad, you don’t need to run the generator 24/7. A couple of hours in the morning and evening should suffice. Also, the fuller the fridge and freezer are, the longer they’ll take to thaw out. You can take up empty space with 2-liter bottles of water.

Connecting to Your Home
There are two ways to do this, either run extension cords from the generator to your appliances, or with a power transfer switch. To connect a generator directly to your home you’ll need to have an electrician install a power transfer switch (As can be seen below). This will allow you to connect the generator to the power transfer switch and then select which breakers you want powered. This will also prevent you sending power back down the line, which could harm a utility worker.

Final Thoughts
You’ll also want to store oil and filters so that you can do maintenance as needed. I was asked once about whether or not a person should start their generator or just leave it new in the box. My answer was that if you leave it in the box, you won’t know if it works and you won’t know how to use it. If you take it out of the box then you’ll need to run it once or twice a year to exercise it and make sure it runs and you’ll also need to do maintenance on it.

Generator Joe is one resource that you can use to delve deeper into the subject, there is a huge amount of information under the resource and Information tabs at the top.

Off Grid Fuel

One of the five basic human needs is energy. We use energy to cook, to keep us warm and, in the modern world, to keep our food cold and provide entertainment. In a grid down situation some of the dependencies on this need might be scaled back or removed completely. With some forethought you can provide warmth, hot food and a maybe even a running TV and DVD player to help occupy some time.

All of these needs require fuel in one form or another. Here is a breakdown of some (I know I am missing some) types of fuel, broken up by what need they can help meet. As I am writing this I am thinking of an event such as an ice storm that has brought down the overhead power lines and my entire town is without electricity. The power company will be able to fix it, but it could take as long as a week.

Cooking
Wood, Charcoal, Propane and Natural Gas

Heating
Wood, Charcoal, Propane, Natural Gas and Kerosene

Emergency Power
Diesel, Gasoline, Propane and Natural Gas

Wood
Wood can take 6-12 months to “season” or dry out before it is best for burning. You must have a wood burning stove or fireplace to utilize it indoors. If you have an indoor fireplace, please have it inspected and don’t just keep it as the “I’ll use it if I have to” plan. It takes a lot of work to get wood to the usable size sold in local stores. Unless you have the tools and know-how, going out to get wood “if it hits the fan”, isn’t a great fall back plan. You can buy wood now and pile it, let it season until needed, but then you still need to have an indoor method to use it.

Charcoal
In my opinion charcoal is great for grilling. Having a bag or two stored might not be a bad idea. However, in my opinion, it’s not great for a grid down situation. It is for outdoor use only. You can cook with it outside but that’s about it. I don’t have much experience with storing charcoal for long periods but I have had trouble starting some that was left in the bag from the last season.

Kerosene
In truth my knowledge of kerosene is limited. What I know is from the little research I have done. I believe you can buy kerosene at Home Depot or similar stores. Other than that I can only think of one place I could buy it in bulk quantities. I have read that it can store for a very long time in a metal drum but in plastic containers, only for months. I think that has to do with the plastic leeching, but that is only a guess. The heaters that I have looked at are expensive and most say they are rated for outdoor and indoor use, with proper ventilation.

Diesel and Gasoline
Diesel stores better then gas does but neither store indefinitely, even with additives. You could use a rotation system similar to having four, five gallon containers full in the garage. Each week before you go to the gas station to fill up, you pour one of the 5 gallon containers into your vehicle. You would then take that container and put it in the back of the rotation. This way you always have 20 gallons of fuel and it should all last the month it will be in the garage. These two would primarily be used for a generator or extra fuel for the vehicles.

Natural Gas and Propane
Natural gas and propane have a lot in common. Many homes use them as their primary fuel now. Here is an article that explains some of (–link the differences between propane and natural gas–). One important thing to be aware of is that both gases store indefinitely, without any additional additives.

My home uses natural gas; for the furnace, water heater, stove and dryer. If you’re in the same boat, as long as the gas company has power, we’ll have natural gas. In the ice storm scenario with no electricity, I am faced with some of the appliances having an electric start, such as the stove. I would have to carefully use a lighter on the burner to get flame. The blower in the furnace is electric as is the ignitor, so a means of powering the fan, lighting the ignitor or an alternate way of heating would still be required.

From my research on the two, natural gas is most commonly used to fuel households and some vehicles. Because propane is more easily available in smaller tanks, it is used for both of those as well and small heaters, generators, camp stoves and camp lights. It is also much more readily available. I can think of one place to get natural gas and multiple convenience stores as well as two businesses that sell propane, all within a 5 minute drive.

A warning about using the propane quick exchange machines at convenience stores, often they will only fill a 20lb tank to 15 lbs. My guess is they think they could over fill it and explode. Using those machines would be a good idea if you have a beat up tank and you wanted to exchange it.

Because of the storage life, the variety of things it can be used for and the availability of it, propane is the fuel I have decided to store.

Fire Safety, Before and After the Fan

Fire safety is something I think everyone should be practicing now when times are normal and you’re not in a survival situation, so that you can prevent or minimize the danger of a fire. In a survival situation, the danger of a fire starting and the damage it can cause are magnified. The reason for this is that people who do not normally use candles, their fireplace or other alternate heat sources, use a skill set they have minimal experience with. Depending on the situation you may or may not have electricity and if you are connected to city sewer and water, there is a very good chance you will not have running water.

Here is some information to help you develop a fire safety plan now as well as some things to keep in mind should you find yourself in a survival situation.

Have a Plan
Ideally every room should have two exits, a door and at least one window. In multiple story homes have a plan to safely get to the ground. Make sure everyone knows to check the door for heat with the back of their hand and to not open it if it is hot.

School age children have to do fire drills often multiple times a year at school. Doing them in the home is a great idea as well. Explain the primary exit and the backup ones. Make sure they understand how to unlock the window and get it open as well as getting the screens out of the way.

Have a designated meeting place that is near the home; a neighbor, mailbox, anywhere that is a safe distance from the fire. Make sure everyone knows where it is.

Sound the Alarm
The code might be different where you live, but in Minnesota it is code to have a smoke detector in every bedroom. If this isn’t code where you live, it is a good idea.

Here is a report that says that ”Only 58% of kids even woke up to the sound of a fire alarm.“. There are fire alarms that record your voice. This is a great idea, as you can say the child’s name and remind them of what they are to do.

It is a good practice to test the alarms every month and to replace the batteries every six months. You can use the old batteries for other non-life saving things, like the remote. Daylight savings is a great time to replace the batteries. There are some smoke detectors that come with carbon monoxide detectors built in, you should have at least one of these in my opinion.

Fire Extinguishers
Fire Extinguisher : 101 is a site that explains all things fire extinguishers, including types of fire extinguishers, how to use them and care and maintenance of them. I personally have one in each bedroom, one in the kitchen and one in the basement near the furnace, washer and dryer and one in each car.

Fire extinguishers are not meant for fighting a fully engulfed fire. They are a great tool for fighting small fires, shortly after they have started.

Here is a video to give you some idea of how fast a fire can spread.

Here is a video that covers the important information about fire extinguishers.

Important Documents
Be they family photos, wills, insurance papers or anything else of importance, it is a very good idea to have these kept in a fire resistant, waterproof container. Another good idea is to have a record of all serial numbers, model numbers and other pertinent information. Here is a Serial Number Recording Form that I created in PDF format. You can write down the important information for your valuables. I also recommend taking pictures of your valuables. You can store them on a flash drive that you use solely for important information. It should be kept in the fire resistant waterproof container.

Post Smelly Fan Blades (aka. “after it hits the fan”)
In a survival situation, the danger of a non-controlled fire is much higher. The reason for this is that often the electricity will be out and there will be no heat or light. This means that people will use alternative heat and light sources that they might not use often, such as candles, outdoor fires etc. The other reason the danger is higher is that if there is no electricity, there is no water pressure to help fight the fire.

In a short term situation, just practicing extra vigilance should be all that is needed. Make sure that if there are candles going, they are being used in a room that you are in and are not left unattended.

For an outdoor fire, keep burning restrictions in mind; if it’s too dry and windy, it might be best not to burn. If there are no restrictions and the weather is permitting, having an extinguisher nearby is a good idea. If you have a well or the water is running, a close by hose might be a good idea as well. Remember, as Smokey the Bear says “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave”.

If the situation is long term and there is no power, prudence might dictate that the scope of the vigilance be increased. Work with your community to limit burning to a few community areas or have a fire watch posted that can alert the entire community if smoke is seen.

At the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, fire “destroyed six and severely damaged about 25 booths on the grounds” I bring this up because there are no fire hydrants on the festival grounds and if there is no electricity, this means the pumps are not pushing water to the fire hydrants nearby your home, so they are uselss. In the article, it says that at one time there were twelve fire trucks being used to put the fire out. If it has hit the fan, the best your neighborhood might be able to do is get a bucket brigade going and that’s only helpful if you live near a body of water or have a large amount of water available such as a swimming pool or multiple rain barrels.

As in everything we prepare for, in a long term situation, it might be wise to do what you can to mitigate the danger beforehand. I read a fictional story once, the name of which escapes me. In the book, the characters knew they were at high risk for a fire. They took some pretty drastic measures to save their homes. They cut down any trees within 50 or so yards, dug up grass near the homes which left the earth exposed. I don’t think that I thought much about it at the time, but if there was imminent threat of a fire, who knows what might sound like a good idea.