Last week my city was taken by surprise by a terrible windstorm. There were some weather warnings but nothing prepared residents for what would come. Winds reached 110 km per hour and the damage to property was extensive. Several people lost their lives due to flying debris and downed power lines. While some were without power for only a couple of hours, others were without for up to a week. Although we got our power back after 48 hours, we still suffered sporadic outages for two more days.
It was with a completely different attitude that I met this storm. Before I began prepping, I would have been woefully unprepared and getting through the ordeal would have meant getting in my car and driving somewhere to stay with someone who was unaffected. Of course, how I would have found that elusive place would have meant driving until I saw lights on, since our phones and internet didn’t work either. This time I looked at it as a “dry run” for something bigger.
It was really interesting to “test” our preps and see where improvements were needed. We only started preparing a few months ago but have thrown ourselves into it wholeheartedly. Here is what we did and what we learned:
Candles: We had a great supply of candles laid in. Unfortunately, they were all over the house in various places. If you can’t find them in the dark, they aren’t very useful. Now I’ve placed candles in every decorative holder in the house and stored the extras all in one easily accessible place. I’ve stashed a box of matches in every room as well, protected from dampness in Ziploc bags.
Food: We have tons of it and most of it does not need electricity for safe storage. Unfortunately, most of it does require cooking and we had not yet purchased a method for doing so. Now I’ve purchased a little hibachi that can use charcoal or a mix of wood and charcoal. I’ve also begun to purchase more stuff that can be eaten immediately: peanut butter, crackers, pudding cups, canned fruit, etc. Also, we learned baked beans from a can aren’t horrible at room temperature but soup is disgusting at room temperature. I ended up purchasing two meals out in the one small area of town that was not affected. We would have remained far safer if we had stayed at home, because the streets were perilous with falling trees and downed power lines. Those who died all passed away when they were away from home.
Refrigerated items: We did not open our deep freeze the entire time the power was out so things in there fared perfectly. Most of the things in the refrigerator had to be thrown out, though. Luckily there wasn’t a lot: a little bit of milk, some leftovers, half a head of cabbage and some sautéed mushrooms. Next time, we will concentrate on the items in the fridge first. Things from the fridge could have been moved to a cooler and stored with the ice from the freezer to have lasted longer.
Water: We had water, even though we ran out of hot water pretty quickly. I was pleased that we had stored a lot of water in the attic, as some places in town had no water. I still plan to continue increasing our stored water on a weekly basis.
The Unexpected: Something I was totally unprepared for was a quick emergency repair. Our kitchen window imploded in the high wind and my makeshift cardboard repair was not the sturdiest. I’m going to get some good duct tape and some plywood in various sizes for that type of repair. If it had been a winter blizzard, the broken window would have been disastrous.
Neighbours: We checked on our elderly neighbours several times and were able to bring them something to eat and make sure they had everything they needed. We also gave them some candles, holders and matches. Next time it would be nice to be able to offer them a hot meal.
Entertainment: Our enormous piles of books certainly came in handy, as did our supply of board games and card games. My youngest child (10) is not as much of a reader as my oldest daughter (15) and I, so we had to listen to “I’m bored” about 10,041 more times than I would have preferred. I found some interesting picture books and some craft books at a yard sale that I’ve hidden away to be brought out at a later time for the novelty value. I’ve also organized her things in a way that it will be easier to find something to do when there is minimal light.
Communication: A true family disaster was narrowly averted. My youngest was home from school with a sore throat and a fever. The high winds howling around the house and the tree that fell outside terrified her. Suddenly the power went out and I was at work. My power at work did not go out at the same time, so I was unaware of what had happened. The phone lines at the house went down also. My daughter panicked and decided to walk to my workplace. It is very close to home, but the weather was far too treacherous for a child to be out walking around. She stopped at a convenience store and the kind woman there would not allow her to continue her trek. She was able to get her a ride to my workplace and all was well. My oldest daughter gets bussed to school in a different city. I had no communication with her all day. This situation definitely brought to the forefront the need to prepare my children and make a plan to reunite in the event of some type of catastrophe. I stressed to them both the importance of staying put if they are at home, and the importance of getting home if they are away. We’ve now planned routes home for them so I would know where to begin looking for them if something happened. I also bought a rotary phone that does not require electricity at the Goodwill store. We’ve planned “safe places” in case they cannot get home. I realized the importance of knowing where to look for the girls.
Security: Fortunately, there was no need for increased security during this storm and subsequent power outage. We were careful to keep the door locked and the blinds pulled in the evening. I explained to the girls that there was no point in advertising that we were better prepared with lighting than most. I did begin to give more thought to a world in which the police are not a phone call away, however. Because of strict gun-control laws here in Canada, we have no firearms. It makes me feel very vulnerable, as I grew up in a household were guns were part of the interior decor. It’s not a situation I can change so in the interest of making the best of my situation, I have attempted to do my best to provide us with security and protection. We do have bear spray, which is basically mace for bears (sold at hunting and camping stores). I’ve invested in a few more cans of this to stash around the house. As well, the girls and I discussed regular household items that could make useful weapons in a crunch. I’ve applied to take the required class to be able to own guns here and my oldest daughter plans to attend with me. I’ve also done some research to discover that small air guns like BB guns are readily available and inexpensive. Although they are not at all powerful, they are better than nothing and might even serve as a deterrent, here in a place where most people are very unfamiliar with firearms. Finally, I’m going to install a new frame around my front door to allow it to withstand an attempt to burst in. While it isn’t foolproof, a much more concentrated effort would be required to break through the door.
My kids think I am slightly less crazy now, after seeing the value of the preparations that we had in place. We had talked a lot about preparing after the horrible situation in Japan and after hearing recently from our family members back in Arkansas, who were flooded into their homes for over a week. After our brief experience, the girls are applying the lessons we learned. When shopping, they excitedly point out things that would not require cooking. They also look at second-hand shopping in a whole different way, thinking of the usefulness of an item in a world without power. The episode has increased their critical thinking and problem solving skills, while also heightening their awareness of how things can change in an instant.
Our little disaster was nothing in comparison to the issues going on in the Southeastern US, or Japan, but it was eye-opening. I think we will be far better prepared the next time around. We will be able to stay safely at home and off the perilous streets. We have been able to identify many of our weak points on this trial run. The difference between us and the other people going through this? We will use this experience to fill in all of the gaps that we discovered in our preparations. I have a list of things that we must acquire as quickly as possible and a list of things that would just be nice to have. This experience has deepened my determination to care for my children no matter what life throws at us.