Four Letters Re: Hurricane Sandy After Action Reports

Good day, Mr Rawles…

Here in West Virginia, we have experienced a wide variety of weather from Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.  Last Friday, it began raining well ahead of storm making landfall. Rains continued off and on thru the weekend, gradually increasing in steady rains all day Sunday and well into Monday. Around 7 pm our local time, that rain turned to snow and that’s when things began to get interesting. 

I tend to be a light sleeper so it was the ‘sound’ of power going off at 2:34 am on Saturday morning that awakened me for the day.  I got coffee started with the percolator then sat by a window watching and listening as trees and branches snapped due to winds and the weight of a foot of heavy, wet snow that fell since dark the night before.  Once your eyes have a few minutes to adjust to the sudden darkness, it is quite uncanny how aware of things you become.  Sounds are amplified, movements are detected more quickly, response time to your surroundings are automatic, perhaps mechanical in a way. I think I like this!

As of this writing (Friday), we do not have power nor do we expect it to be restored anytime soon.  On top of the more than 2 feet of heavy, wet snow that Sandy delivered, there are literally hundreds of trees and power lines down throughout the state.  Our county suffered structural damage to some main power stations (including transformers). Yesterday, I was told by the Dept. of Highways that the county road about a mile from our house would not be plowed due to downed power lines. At the same time, the power company stated they could not begin to work on electric lines when the roads had not been cleared. Go figure!

For us, our preps and food on hand prior to the storm will keep us sustained for a very long time. Heat is not an issue. We have free natural gas on our property, plus more than one heat system that does not require electricity to function.  Water is also not an issue. We have a gravity fed spring, not a well, that does not require electricity to get our water. Cisterns collect thousands of gallons of this pure water and gravity flow delivers it to our home. Water pressure isn’t optimal (like having city water) but it’s a reliable clean water source (one of many). I can live without being pressure washed in the shower. We have not yet finished our secondary power source installation for maintain electricity but it is still in the works. Currently, we run our generator 2-3 times a day for a couple of hours at a time to keep the freezers and inside refrigerator cold. We keep fuel topped off at all times as well as have plenty of other fuel sources on hand for lights, cooking or whatever else might arise. After the first 2 days following the storm, we were able to clear paths to the main roads and can still get to town for things if needed. 

About five months ago, our area endured an unexpected, black-swan weather event (a derecho) over the summer. Five counties in this area were completely black and without electricity.  It left thousands without power for days, some even weeks. Our electric was out for more than 10 days in a 100 degree heat wave.  I would much rather endure loss of power during winter than summer. That event left many without food and water simply because they failed to heed even the basic guideline of having a minimum of 72 hours worth of food and water on hand in the event of a crisis. Folks did not connect (in their brains) that a lack of power to the city water systems would result in their water supply to suddenly stop flowing. They questioned why didn’t the city just have generators in place to take up the slack (they did). These same people also didn’t realize lack of power meant no way to pump fuel to power the generators. Panic ensued from many who finally realized their ATM, debit/card cards weren’t going to work. The shock of businesses not accepting checks, only cash for payment of goods or services was enough to bring out the ‘zombiesque’ in many people. I was prepared to begin canning hundreds of pounds of meat, etc. even with the summer heat, rather than throw it away. Many people I talked to hadn’t even thought about canning and these are people who grow gardens and routinely do some food preservation each season. Duh-mazing! Fortunately, we were able to keep enough fuel on hand for the generators in order to prevent such loss.

Superstorm Sandy was not a sudden surprise. There were many advanced warnings. Local, state and federal officials spent hours on television, radio and Internet pleading with those in harms way to evacuate or be fully prepared to hunker down with sufficient supplies for possibly a long while. In our area, we are used to snow storms…bad ones are not uncommon here. Yet, people still fail to plan or prepare, fully expecting someone to come rescue them when the going gets tough. The term ‘normalcy bias’ immediately comes to mind.

Now, we are in the middle of another natural disaster and there are still plenty of people who are clamoring about officials not having some kind of plan in place for everyone. These are the same folks who were demanding they get their food replaced from the summer storm losses.  There are people in our area (and others) who do not even have enough common sense to make a natural, outdoor cooler from all this snow to their cold/frozen goods in for preservation. I have been continually shocked at the complete absence of critical thinking, especially from folks who I really thought ‘knew better’.

I read recently that a first responder in the New York/New Jersey area said, “We simply cannot save people from themselves.” I don’t believe I fully realized just how critical mindset is in a SHTF situation until now.  Sure, I talked about it, saw things first hand with how mindless and crippled society has become but I never really grasped the brevity of that until this storm.  Granted, this is not a TEOTWAWKI situation or even a long term SHTF event (thus far). We are fine in our supplies and, thank the Lord, have not endured loss other than some structural issues with our farm fencing due to falling trees. Our current setup is better than most but yet it is very painful to see other human beings suffer, often times simply due to their failure to do anything to protect themselves or their family.

For those of you out there who are still reading and planning but not yet doing anything, please, please, please get off that carousel of inaction and begin putting that gray matter to use! Don’t be one of those people who freeze up during a catastrophe or one of those who crawl back into bed, hoping they will wake up and everything will be okay. You have been awakened for a time and a purpose. Don’t waste the opportunity to do better for yourself and your loves ones. Just remember, “indecision is still a decision”. Are you ready? – C.A.T., the Transparent Shepherdess


Good Morning,
We faired very well, thanks to our preparations, which were enhanced by the knowledge gained from your fantastic web site these last several years.  Being “old Yankees” farm raised, we always knew that we needed to be as self-sufficient as possible.  We have thirteen older house cats, one feral outside, and one of our cats is insulin dependent.  Hence keeping his insulin at proper temperature is very important.  We have standard size refrigerator/freezer, a smaller one, and a small upright freezer.  We always have frozen freezer packs and containers of ice and many thick foam coolers, so we are set for many days.  Sterno stove is great for warming and even cooking, as well as backup with twig camp stove, small pellet camp stove and charcoal grill.  We ate very well:  grass fed beef, organic vegetables from local farm, and have months worth of No. 10 cans or all kinds of food and MREs.  Hundreds of gallons of drinking and flushing water as we are on a well.  Filled up both cars before the storm hit, and being retired no need to go anywhere, nor plans to do so.   

The living room has propane gas stove and three 100 gallon propane tanks.  We just completed installation of 15,000 watt Wenco generator and 500 gallon propane tank.  The “maiden voyage” of Wally Wenco and Polly Propane was 100% effective, plus we were able to provide basic services to the tenants in the 1200 sq. ft. guest house.  Neighbors notified they could come for hot shower, etc. if need be after the storm.  We ran the Wenco only a few hours AM & PM, to conserve propane.  Had plenty of flashlights, batteries, two crank radios, hundreds of books, hundreds pounds of dry and canned cat food, and the “means” to defend ourselves.  So, these two old ladies were just fine, and the year before had 22 trees removed from near the house on this almost four acre lot in a small town, so the house was safe!  Power went out Monday afternoon and came back Wednesday night.

Because we have always been financially frugal, maintain our older vehicles, and do not spend our money on fancy electronics, clothes, etc., we were able to upgrade our survival comfort with the propane generator.  We know that a long term survival in a true TEOTWAWKI for us is not possible, but we have that covered also, especially as just a few miles from us is a nuclear plant.  Were we a few decades younger, we would be living in the American Redoubt, because we have “knowledge” that would be useful, and physically be able to survive.  We are still trying to convince our younger relatives to be more prepared, because someday we will not be around, though they know that our long term food and other supplies are a legacy we can leave them for America’s uncertain future! – L.H. in Lyme, CT

Good morning. If still of use to your readers, here’s Storm Update #3 for Princeton and Margate City, NJ, that I just sent to our friends.
Friday morning. No power still.
Yesterday, after my early run for gasoline, we did the first laundry since Sunday. I cranked open the window and rigged up the extension cords to the genny. Our daughters hardly issued a complaint with helping to fold – a chore they dislike – but under the circumstances, I’m guessing there’s something extra nice about fresh, warm, clean clothes. I continued cleaning-up the property and then helped my wife (Steph) make lunch. We heard back from our eldest daughter’s piano and singing teachers… they were willing to accommodate lessons cancelled by the storm if we could get there. Both are within a few miles of the house and a minute away from each other. The piano teacher gives lessons from her home and the singing teacher uses a local Church. Both had power restored. Needing a break of normalcy, my wife and I agreed. I would stay at the house with our youngest, while she ventured with the other. My wife was also going to see if the local farmer’s market was open.
Steph went to the farmer’s market and did her first ever shopping by flashlight. There was a line, and the store was allowing five people in at a time with an employee escort for each with flashlight to assist with shopping. Cash payment only. They only had non-perishables and the shelves were sparse. Several items she wanted – mostly soups – were gone. She did find a wonderful organic butternut squash soup among other groceries, and a bag of carrots. These were part of our dinner mix last night. On the way there, she sadly observed the destruction around Princeton. Trees down everywhere, debris, cars and houses hit, but lots of lucky falls as well – a few feet in either direction and the tree damage would have been far worse for many people.
In the afternoon, mail was delivered. I spoke at length with our delivery person. The workers that had reported for duty were sorting mail by lantern/flashlight, first class was backed-up for this week, and if they didn’t find more gasoline, mail would not be delivered for a few days even if the power was restored.
About an hour later, our next door neighbor knocked… they were leaving to find a hotel. This is a neurologist who works at a major medical center. Not wealthy, but he could have afforded a house generator system if like minded. I offered our home (these are also good folks), but they didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. They simply asked that I text them when power returns. Coincidentally, I checked in via mobile text with my best friend from Maplewood, NJ, telling him my concern that all of our neighbors were vanishing to hotels or extended family, and the reply text stated that he was in a hotel in Philadelphia with his family.
So, at this point, we have three categories of people. Those without generators who left days ago, those who have generators but not hooked up to the critical systems (leaving for lack of water, food, sanitation, heat, etc.) and those with hard-wired generators staying put as long as the natural gas flows or gasoline is available. Remember, these aren’t hardy country folk or preppers. They aren’t used to grid down or even making do with less. My friend in Maplewood – I’ve known him since 5th grade – he can afford anything he wants and still no house power system or supplies. I wonder how many people have now received the wake-up call? Perhaps Sandy is a blessing in that regard. Still, as much as I’m grateful not to be overwhelmed by cold and hungry neighbors, the evening walk with Aslan our dog was eerie. Empty houses greatly outnumbered the occupied. What would these people do if there was no external refuge in which to retreat? Would my family be a target even among friendly neighbors? Last night, I began thinking more seriously about the Mossberg secured under our bed… I train/shoot at Range 14 at Fort Dix in NJ.  I’d also like to put in a half-way plug here for solar lighting. My experience is that even the top of the line flood/spot lights will have a failure rate approaching 50% after a year. However, beyond a sizable alert dog, there are few better crime deterrents here than good exterior lighting. Our house is bathed in a blue glow of solar lighting for most of the night. I understand this cuts both ways in terms of standing out… but there are other homes with accent solar lighting on walkways/driveways, so perhaps it does not make us that much of an oddball, especially with the interior of the house dark.
We received a message that there would be no school on Friday – today. The roads and lack of operating stoplights are still a safety hazard, and it turns out the school’s fire safety system shorted out during the storm. They estimate that it will be fixed by Monday, November 5th, and that classes will resume then. Things in Princeton are improving each day, and we hope to have power back soon. Other parts of NJ are still chaotic as you get more urban (Jersey City, Hoboken) and closer to the Shore.
Turning to Margate City, under immense pressure, the barrier island access restriction was partially lifted by the Governor late yesterday. Several of my Shore friends – the locals – were finally getting into town to survey the damage. The ones that stayed had been giving us a reasonable heads-up on conditions. No food or water available on island (but the local bar was serving drinks) and the word is that wherever the water surge line stopped at your house is the measure of damage. Margate has modestly varying heights of property, bulkheads and dunes for protection. But when ocean meets bay, pretty much everyone is in a jam. Mom is stubbornly making her way back to our family home on the beach block. Bull dozers are clearing walking paths through the sand on a street by street basis. We should have a full report later today on the interior water damage. Ventnor City remains voluntarily closed due to the infrastructure issues, and the access restriction for Atlantic City still holds – at least that’s what I last heard.
I’m going to start the day’s work. Best to all. – Bill H.

Hi Jim,
Where I live in southern Pennsylvania, it rained solid, although very lightly most of the time, for 6 days straight. Today it’s finally letting off. We did have some high winds on Monday and Tuesday, but we haven’t had any flooding (despite living in a valley beside a stream) and no wind damage. The power did go out for a few hours Tuesday morning while we were sleeping, but otherwise it was a non event here.

Having lived through a high wind storm a number of years ago that took out our power for a week, we’re a little more prepared than we were then. We now have a 500 gallon propane tank and a gas range (cooking stove), a wood burner with plenty of seasoned wood, and a hand pump for water if needed.

A few notes about that might interest readers:
Regarding the gas range, we can light [the cooktop burners] with matches, which means we need to have a large supply of matches on hand for extended power outages. Also, we didn’t realize the oven [portion of the range] won’t light without electricity because it has a fancy-dancy electronic control mechanism. Fortunately we don’t use the oven much, but we now know better and next
time we’ll make sure the oven is usable without electricity.

Also, our
house and well are situated in such a manner that we have a Bison hand pump in our basement. In the event of a power outage, all I have to turn is turn a few valves and we can pump as much water as we need. We also can hook up a hose from the pump directly into our water system. It won’t be enough to shower, but it’ll be enough to flush toilets, which certainly beats using buckets to flush!

Lastly, where I work, we have a lot of customers that were hit hard by Sandy. I’ve been astounded by how unprepared they were. It’s very clear many did not make any effort to have disaster recovery tests. They need RSA security tokens to access our system, and we’ve had numerous calls from customers stating “when we evacuated, we left our tokens at the office”. I’ve also heard “our server is under water”. I hope they had an offsite backup! If nothing else, this [relatively] “minor” Category 1 storm should help them be prepared for the next one.

Regards, – C.G.