Sunday, September 9, 2018

National Preparedness Month Day 9--Alternate Utilities

Today I want you to think about alternate ways to accomplish your everyday activities.  In the event that everything you have always taken for granted is wiped out--things like heating and air conditioning and electricity and running water and a working sewer system--consider how you would do things like staying warm, washing the dishes, and even using the bathroom.  As always when planning, make a triple-redundant plan.  Here are some examples:

  • Heating.  When the heat goes out, what do you do?  In my part of the country you throw on an extra layer or grab a blanket and you are good but in places like the northeast, having heat is pretty important.  There are a number of alternate heat sources including having a generator with extra fuel, having a kerosene heater with extra fuel, bundling up with extra clothes/blankets/sleeping bags, as well as using several old fashioned tricks to conserve heat.
  • Air conditioning.  For many people, having the air conditioning go out is an inconvenience but if you live in sweltering parts of the country, not having air conditioning can be deadly.  Believe it or not, though, we haven't always have air conditioning yet people still survived by using a number of "old fashioned" methods to keep cool.  Note that in some kinds of disasters, communities set up "cooling shelters" for people to seek relief from the heat.
  • Electricity.  I remember one time the electricity went out and the kids had literally no idea what to do.  They kind of sat staring into their no longer functioning electronic devices for a while until they realized board games had been invented for some non-electric fun and entertainment.  Since having instant electricity is so ubiquitous it is pretty shocking when there suddenly isn't any.  Alternatives for when the power goes out may include solar power, a generator and extra fuel, hand powered items like radios and flashlights, using your car battery to charge small items like cell phones, or doing without.  The doing without part is best learned by taking weekend or longer trips into the wilderness and living sans electricity for a while.
  • Gas.  Natural gas may power your clothes dryer, your hot water heater, your heating system, and/or your kitchen stove.  How would you do these tasks if there was suddenly no gas service?  For cooking we have a patio grill as well as backpacking stoves and extra fuel.  We could also whip up a bonfire in the backyard although a long term fuel source for this would be a problem.  For drying clothes we have sun and would need to only rig up a clothes line in the back yard.  For hot water heating the old-fashioned stove top/wood stove top method works (but requires a lot of fuel).  For heating, having a wood stove/fire place may be an option as well as having a kerosene heater with extra fuel on standby.
  • Water.  When the water stops flowing, what do you do?  We have already covered stockpiling water for drinking and cooking in an emergency but for long-term situations with no water, you will need to use alternate water sources (and purification).  You will need buckets and containers to carry water from the source (lake, stream, public water distribution area), you will need a way to purify the water if needed, as well as a way to sterilize your water containers to prevent contamination (bleach works for this).  Depending on where you live you may also be able to hand-dig a well or catch rainwater for alternative water sources.
  • Sewer.  If sewer service suddenly fails, you will have problems.  Depending on the type of sewer system you have, your problems may vary.  Septic systems have their own issues and if you own one, you probably know how to baby it along (fixing them often requires a backhoe and a lot of work and materials).  Municipal sewer failures can run the gamut from back flow to outflow into undesirable areas.  If your sewer system still works, it is only a matter of flushing the toilet which can be accomplished by pouring water down the toilet (reusing grey water for this is a good idea).  If the sewer system is literally broken and can't be used, your options are digging a privy in the backyard or using 5 gallon buckets full of cat litter.
  • Garbage removal.  We are pretty spoiled these days with nearly instant garbage removal from our homes.  We can create mountains of trash then once or twice a week it disappears to who knows where.  If garbage removal completely stops, however, it won't take long for people to realize they have a big problem on their hands.  Some alternate options for trash removal include: composting, burning, and burying trash.  Reducing the amount of garbage your create is a good option, as is saving things that may be used later (folks who survived the Depression were experts at this.  I didn't know what it was like to drink from anything but jelly jars and Mason jars until I was an adult!).
  • Phone.  I don't know anyone who still has wired phone service in their home, as most people rely on cell service.  In the event that cell service is wiped out, how would you communicate with others?  Possibilities include using a neighbor/neighboring business's landline phone, using a satellite phone (expensive), or using HAM radio.  Note that before phones, people's options were to walk/run/ride to bring a message, writing letters, or, in the not so distant past, we would tack written messages on trees (especially in the mountains when hunting) for people we knew would be passing through the area.
  • Internet.  While most people get their internet through their cable provider, if this system is down, what are your alternatives?  You may consider: using the internet on your phone if it is still available, getting satellite internet (an expensive proposition), finding a public wifi hotspot, using DSL, or even using dial-up internet.  For most people in a disaster though, going without internet may be your only option.  Be prepared for this possibility.

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