Emergency Preparedness: High-Heels, Farm Animals, and Generators

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By Larry Miles

Emergency kit

I promised several friends in light of our recent storm and prolonged power-outage that I would not use this space to say, “I told you so.” So, I will not. Nor will I review how life was different for those who had some food, water, and shelter plans already made, versus those who ignored the advice I’ve offered here in the Gazette over the past few months.

Instead, let’s talk about the benefits of having properly prepared for a power-outage and what it meant in real terms. Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is with a few real-life stories from Crozetians.

In June, one issue I discussed was the concept of a “bug-out bag,” the bag you should pack and have ready in case you need to make an emergency evacuation. I was a little surprised at how one friend wove that article into her own experience. She described her June 29th night to me in this way. When she went to bed the power was on and everything was normal. Suddenly she was awakened by the wind, and the calls of her husband and children to rush to the basement.  Naturally, she was barefoot when she got out of bed and everything was completely dark except for the eerie flashes of lightening coming through the windows. She stumbled around in her closet in an attempt to find shoes, not wishing to find what was in store for her in bare feet. The only ones she could find were a pair of black sandals with four-inch heels. Putting them on just before reaching the basement, she related how she was aghast at the scene before her. The strobe light-like effect of multiple flashlights, the howling wind from the open basement door, the excited bleating of three goats who had just entered the basement, (the goats had fled their pen after a tree fell on the fence), and the overwrought commands of her husband, who was trying to make order out of the chaotic situation.  Apparently, the black high-heels complemented what she’d worn to bed and ended up adding enough of a flair to the scene that her husband nearly forgot to close the door!

“Gosh, if only I’d prepared my bug-out bag,” she told me, “Then I’d have had the proper shoes and clothes for the emergency situation.” I’m glad it got her thinking.

Next I’ll tell you about my friend who had prepared…almost. In fact he had his water, his food, and even a generator. The only problem was he didn’t have any gas. As early as Saturday morning, rumors were already swirling that Augusta County was rationing water, and that there were only two gas stations in the whole region open, one at Barracks Road, and one in Ruckersville. Hearing these rumors, he decided to head south and went all the way to Madison Heights before he found gas. Buying about 15 gallons, he returned home about 2 p.m. and was just about to crank up his generator when his power was restored.

Then there were several friends who expressed to me that they wished they had heeded my words of warning (from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management), “Get a kit, Make a plan, Stay informed.”

The part they wished they’d heeded though was “Make a plan.” They greatly bemoaned the fact that they’d been “way too slow” to call hotels in Charlottesville or Waynesboro and book a room. By the time they thought to do it, every room in a 50-mile radius was already gone. “I’ll tell you one thing,” one friend related, “next time the power goes out, I’m booking a hotel room immediately and I’ll just cancel it if the power comes back on.” We all have our own priorities, but there is certainly a lot of wisdom in “Making a Plan.”

Some other great rumors that began to fly around during the depths of our outage. I first heard on Sunday (July 1st) that Crozet was under a “boil your water” advisory. What great advice I thought, given that no one has any power. With visions of the Colorado wildfires in my head, I was sure that makeshift campfires and bubbling cauldrons of water were sure to pop up all over our community.

Turns out that advisory never happened. I was personally thankful, however, that I had enough water for drinking and personal hygiene stored so that I didn’t have to tear down my back deck to build a campfire to boil water.

Now let’s review a few lessons-learned that will hopefully help everyone for next time, especially if next time comes this summer. Remember the basics: water, shelter, food.

You need water to survive, end of story. It might seem plentiful now, but with no electricity to power your well pump, or if the water coming from the county suddenly becomes “non-potable,” it will get scarce in a hurry.  So, again, you need water to survive. Make some plans, and take some action now, so that you’re not faced with a crisis related to a lack of water.

Shelter is important, but it’s more important to some than others. If you are elderly, or care for either the elderly, or the very young, the ability to stay cool in 100-degree weather can also be a matter of life or death.  Make a plan now for how you will stay cool if we experience another power outage in conjunction with a record-breaking heat wave. The same principle applies to cold weather.

And finally, food.  We didn’t have a major disruption in our food preparation since I had enough generator power to keep the food in my fridges from spoiling, and we cooked on our gas grill and the burner that’s attached to it. But things could have been very different if power hadn’t been restored to our local stores so quickly. So storing some non-perishable food, and having the means to prepare it certainly seems wise in light of our recent experience.

Finally, a few miscellaneous thoughts. Consider how much gas you keep in the tank of your car. How many people do you think woke up on Saturday morning with less than a quarter of a tank? If you were one of them, I bet it was an unnerving feeling to see all of our local stations closed, and not really know what was open in Charlottesville or on the other side of the mountain.  Some experts recommend never letting your tank get below half full, and at a minimum, be sure and fill up before a predicted storm.

Next is hygiene. In a no-power environment (especially if that also means a no-running-water environment) good hygiene is crucially important. Bad hygiene can prove deadly very fast in a “grid-down” environment. Consider storing several packs of hand wipes and using them liberally if you have no access to soap and clean water.

I took this whole experience as a great test of the preparatory activities I’d done so far. I give myself a “B” overall. I really hadn’t properly considered some of the comfort factors we’d be missing, and how they’d impact my wife, who was 39 weeks pregnant when the storm struck. Whoops!

On the other hand, the experience confirmed something that I’ve thought all along, and now know for a fact. The most important people in a crisis, or emergency situation are our friends and neighbors. Those people we see each day as we drive to and from work, school or the store. I can’t begin to tell of the countless acts of selflessness and caring that I witnessed during the week after the storm. It really gave me an even stronger feeling of gratitude to be a part of this community.

If you made some planning or preparation errors this time, don’t wait until next time to correct them. Do it now.