My wife and I have been interested in emergency preparedness for quite some time. She is a volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps (although currently inactive) and I’m an Amateur Radio Operator (though I haven’t had a great deal of time to put toward emergency communications lately). We have always felt strongly that the Lord put us in this neighborhood to help our neighbors in times of need, and we have been able to do that in various ways over the years.
I wanted to paint that background in order to help others understand where we were coming from with this project. There are all sorts of folks interested in “prepping”, and they are interested in it for various reasons. It would be quick and easy for someone to misunderstand and think we’re some kind of “doomsday whackos”. We’re not. We have, however, had friends and co-workers go without water and/or electricity for up to two weeks because of storm winds. We’re also aware of the many other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, which have caused severe, sustained, disruption to basic services and utilities.
Having been involved in some of the Red Cross and City of Cincinnati disaster planning, we know that the worst case plausible scenario for this area is an earthquake large enough to break the main gas pipeline and damage multiple electric grids during the winter time. This would leave folks across the Midwest with no power, no gas, and conceivably no water when the temperature outside is below freezing.
We are still beginners and learning so we certainly aren’t up to being prepared for that kind of disaster. However, for this scenario we presumed a few things. First, that we have already been “off-grid” for about a week and have therefore exhausted all of our fridge and freezer food and emptied the water out of our house pipes. We also presumed that all gas, water, and electric service was disabled. We also assumed that we would be attempting to continue on with life as normal as possible and that we would be needing to help feed others in our neighborhood, as we live in a densely populated neighborhood with a high poverty rate.
Let’s talk about some of the supplies we had in advance that helped us complete this test. First, we have a 55 gallon rain barrel full of water with a spigot near the bottom. We don’t have a water filtration system yet so this water could not be used for drinking but could be used for washing (hands, bodies, laundry, etc) as well as for flushing toilets.
Second, we had 30 gallons of drinking water in 5 gallon containers. This was used for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and in some cases washing hands or anything that interacted with our food.
Third, we had a wide variety of canned and dried foods. We own a dehydrator, so my wife has dehydrated a wide variety of food products for long term storage at room temperature. She has also canned a good amount of our meat so that it too can be stored at room temperature for extended periods of time (years). Remember, we are running on the assumption that everything in the freezer will have thawed and gone bad.
Fourth, we built a Zeer pot. This is a refrigeration method which works best in drier climates than ours but did the job adequately in mild temperatures with a higher humidity. This allowed us to keep some of our fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, and powdered milk cool and preserved.
Fifth, we built a cardboard oven which uses charcoal as it’s heat source. This allowed us to bake brownies, although it’s clear I need more practice with the use of such a device. Keeping the temperature controlled and the heat evenly distributed proved to be far more difficult than I had anticipated.
Finally, we have a variety of oil lamps, flashlights, and batteries for light at night. It’s a little less important during the summer time when the days are longer but during winter, spring, and fall you can lose light pretty quickly and you want to be able to continue your work even in the early evenings.
Some obvious “practical” problems arise very quickly. Let me start with body waste. We are all accustomed to pressing the magic button that takes our excrement away. Thankfully, it’s actually a very simple physical mechanism that, barring significant backups, will continue to work even with everything shut down. It does need a little help though. A gallon ice cream bucket, half to three quarters filled will, when dumped directly into the toilet, flush the toilet for you. For obvious conservation reasons, we only did this when necessary.
Health and hygiene is something that many people think need to go to the wayside in an emergency. We would argue that keeping up your health and hygiene in an emergency situation is even more important because there is less room for error. We kept fresh drinking water in the bathroom in a pail to be used with soap to wash after using the facilities. We felt that 2-3 uses was good before replacing the water, but this is really up to individual preference. Sponge baths were accomplished effectively the same way with a larger pail.
Some folks tend to go into emergency eating mode and try to live off granola bars and fruit roll-ups. We took a different attitude toward this utilizing my wife’s varied pantry. We had spaghetti with meat sauce, bannock, oatmeal, fried Palenta, eggs, and fruit. In fact, we even had brownies for desert thanks to the oven we built. Emergency situations are stressful enough. It’s a bad idea to suddenly and drastically change your diet at the same time. Keeping as many things as “normal” as possible can help with the emotional and physical stability of everyone while getting through the emergency.
I think one of the most stunning things to me was the lack of distraction with no electronics. I sometimes forget just how large a part of our lives is devoted to the use of electronics whether it’s looking up information online or calling/texting a friend. Even entertainment tends to come from a TV or streaming video online. It was really nice to sit on my front porch and read a paper book and listen to my wife sing. It’s these simple pleasures that I think we forget about and lose with all our electronic distractions.
So, the end result? We did fine for 48 hours and, if needed, could have easily finished up the week. We would like to improve the use of our space though. Our basement and back patio could be put to better uses. Our basement for food storage and our back patio as a secondary outside kitchen. We would also like to get a shed to store fuel and other items. Having a couple more rain barrels and all of them connected to our downspouts would also be ideal. But for now, we have a good start and we’ve learned that we have the basic supplies and tools we need. Now we can improve on that and be more confident in our ability to provide for ourselves and our neighbors in an emergency.
You can watch the video my wife made as part of the contest that got this going in the first place here.