Our town uses email, text and phone for emergency notifications. I received recorded updates prior to the storm arriving, during the storm and afterwards. Each day I received a recorded message from our school's superintendent (my kids missed an entire week of school). Sign up well before any storms threaten your region.
Items that you really want :
3000-4000 watt generator
2 100-foot heavy duty outdoor extension cords
10-15 gallons of gasoline (use Stab-l if the gas will sit for any length of time)
4 gallon water containers -- I have 2 Reliance AquaClear with spigots
4-5 gallon water carriers (I have 2 collapsible types)
Camp stove - Propane
Propane canisters for propane stove
2-3 Fluorescent lanterns
D-cell batteries for lanterns
Storage tubs to hold water for flushing toilets (I used a 13-gallon per bathroom)
Pitcher to transfer water to toilet tanks
Flashlights -- 1 for each family member and a couple of extras
Batteries for flashlights
Weather radio - battery-powered
2 Solar Camp Showers (one for a shower and one for washing dishes)
Plastic forks, spoons and knives
Aluminum food storage containers
Disinfecting wipes (for cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms)
Baby wipes (for personal cleansing and hands)
Charcoal or propane
What food to buy before a storm? Typically people stock up on canned entrees, easy or no-preparation foods. Because my family is on an organic, non-GMO diet for health reasons I had to rethink this whole idea. Here is what I brought home pre-storm:
Organic tortilla chips
Uncured cold cuts
Ground beef, divided and frozen
Italian sausage, divided and frozen
Sirloin steak, frozen
Wheat berries, milled and refrigerated
Veggies that are good eaten raw or lightly steamed
Canned black beans (or another bean of choice)
Peanut butter or other nut butter
In other words, ensure that my pantry is well-stocked and I have plenty of meat to precook or freeze to cook later. Don't forget to stockpile plenty of charcoal or propane if you plan to use your grill.
Cooking and baking:
On Saturday I roasted two chickens which we had for dinner. The chicken breasts were put in the fridge for chicken salad or to add to another meal later on. I baked cookies, muffins, and lots of buns and bread. I froze at least two loaves of bread and would have the muffins but my boys ate them almost as fast as I baked them. I don't usually bake cookies because of the amount of butter needed but the food co-op manager gave me a free bag of carob chips that begged to be made into cookies.
Sunday morning I cooked 1.5 pounds of bacon and put half in the fridge for later. The night before the storm was supposed to hit I put a pork roast in the slow cooker. The next morning I added ketchup, spices and onions and garlic and turned it to warm. We ate this right before the storm started as pulled pork sandwiches (I baked the buns that morning). Before bed on Sunday I put a batch of yogurt on and I jarred and refrigerated it the next day.
We ate homemade sauerkraut, uncured hotdogs, homemade buns, leftovers, and lots of fruit, muffins and cookies for the first day or two. The boys nibbled on raw carrots, broccoli, apples, oranges, bananas. I wanted a lot of cultured and fermented foods to help our bodies deal with the upset from the storm; lots of probiotics ensure a healthy immune system.
My Well-Stocked Pantry:
Organic tomato paste
Fermented veggies such as sauerkraut, pickles, carrots, beets, etc.
Organic brown rice
Organic noodles and pasta
Flour, variety (I actually keep most of my flours in the fridge)
Provolone, cheddar and Romano cheeses
Bread already sliced in small zip bags (typically 4 slices per bag)
Ice and freezer bags
The most helpful additions after Hurricane Irene were the water containers, camp stove, and precooked foods. I was able to make filling, healthy meals each day after the loss of power. I had enough food to last at least a week. If we ran out of bread I could have made flatbread from handmade dough, pancakes, and even English muffins (which are cooked on a griddle or cast iron skillet). And it was all natural and/or organic. No canned ravioli or beef stew.
If you do not have a generator then your emergency preparations must look very different than mine. I can't imagine not having the generator, though.
Your main considerations are a safe, healthy food supply, fresh drinking water, and sanitary conditions. Those disinfecting wipes are invaluable. You can definitely make your own from paper towels, tea tree oil and a drop or two of dish liquid, but I had some already from last year and loved them.
Precook, bake, or buy plenty of comfort foods. Storms can be frightening for children and the treats can certainly help them cope. My kids think fruit is a treat so I made sure we had organic apples, oranges and bananas on hand. We did have a couple of jars of pear sauce and pear jam in the pantry but they didn't need it with the fresh fruit on hand.
Generators need to be treated well. Change the oil after running for 12-24 hours. I use synthetic oil in mine and change it often. My son put Stab-L in the gas tank last year after it was tuned up and it started right up a year later. It did start stalling a lot on Day 3. We discovered that it will stop running if it gets low on oil, so we kept a much closer eye on the oil levels and it ran wonderfully. I would run it for 4-6 hours and let it rest for 2 hours. We ran it overnight without stopping though many people turn it off overnight. I didn't want to chance losing any food so we used it a lot more this time.
Make sure your generator is outside away from any open doors or windows. We run ours at the edge of our garage with the door open. We then ensure that none of the windows on that end of the house are open and all doors are kept closed.
Our house is wired for a generator. We start the generator, turn OFF the main circuit breaker, turn ON the generator switch and plug the generator in using a heavy duty extension cord.
We ran the refrigerator, a set of kitchen outlets with only an LED light plugged in continuously, the camper refrigerator, and either the computer OR the home theater system along with one lamp in the living room. You do not want to overload your generator. It can damage your appliances and electronics.
Safely operating a portable generator.
I cooked inside on my kitchen table with the deck door wide open (2 feet away). It has a warning not to use indoors and if I had a table on my deck I would have cooked outdoors. Indoor camp stove use -- safety precautions.
As long as there is ventilation and the stove is supervised at all times it is safe to use indoors. It is best, however, to use it outdoors, and keep the stove outdoors when not in use.
Solar Camp Shower
I purchased two camp showers. They hold approximately 2 gallons of water and are made from black plastic with a hose and sprayer. They are designed to be filled, put in the sun so the water is heated naturally. One neat trick is to fill and place on the roof of a dark car.
I discovered that camp showers are great for washing dishes. I filled it with warm water (heated a pan of water and mixed with cold water in the shower bag) and hung it above the sink. I washed the pans and serving dishes, then rinsed with the warm water. It uses a lot of water so disposable everything is preferable. But in a pinch it is wonderful to have running water in the kitchen even if it is a small amount.
Helpful hint: I keep the sprayer up and inside the opening to the bag when not in use. The clamp does not completely cut off the flow of water.
Heating the Home
This is where we hit a snag this year. Last year Hurricane Irene hit in August. It was warm. This year Hurricane Sandy hit at the end of October. Although our weather was very mild for this time of year it turned cold on Day 3. We are fortunate to have a wood boiler but had difficulty getting it to work properly with no electricity. We know what we are doing now and won't have problems in the future. Although the furnace turns on and seems to heat the water when the circuit breaker is turned on it wasn't heating the house. So heating the home is a real consideration if you live in colder areas.
Make sure you have plenty of firewood and that your flue has been maintained properly. Do not skimp on getting your chimney cleaned regularly. You will need kindling, matches and a variety of wood sizes to get the fire going. It takes a lot of wood to heat a house.
If you own a pellet stove make sure it will run on your generator. Pellet stoves require electricity to operate.
If you don't have a wood stove, fireplace or wood boiler you need to have a back-up plan or location. Our town opened a shelter on Day 3 when temps got down to freezing. Know where you can go should you need to leave home, and be sure to follow directions on what you need to bring with you.
I hope none of you experience extended power outages but they seem to be more and more common. A little preparation can go a long way to having a positive experience with few hardships. May you not need any of the information in this post, ever!