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Time to prepare for the next disaster

Published November 05. 2012 05:03PM

In the past, I've written several articles on disaster preparedness. Some readers contacted me to answer their questions after reading the articles. I hope that they were able to complete their preparations and were ready when Hurricane Sandy hit. Over the weekend, I watched as many people scurried from store to store to purchase water, food, and other emergency supplies. Our local supermarket did their best to keep items in stock, however they could not keep up with the initial demand. The secret to disaster preparedness, as many now know, is to prepare well in advance of a disaster. We cannot predict the type of disaster or when and where it will strike. What we do know is that we need a supply of food, water, flashlights and candles, and the backup generator.

I am proud to say that our personal preparations were highly successful. When the power grid shutdown, our backup system took over immediately. The lights didn't even flicker. The only problem was a switch for one part of the house that needed to be reset. During the summer, when we were experiencing voltage fluctuations caused by the power company, I put one of our inverters into manual mode. Fortunately, the other inverters worked and I was able to quickly reset the switch and restore complete power to our house. This was our only glitch, and it was my fault! I meant to reset that switch when the Met-Ed power stabilized. I've learned my lesson. In future I will create a calendar reminder to reset the switches when I place the equipment into manual mode.

As I write this, our area has been without power for three days. This created many hardships because the residents depend on well water and have septic tanks for sewage. Backup generators can keep critical appliances working such as refrigerators, freezers and water pumps. We were able to keep our entire household running thanks to our solar power, batteries and generator system designed by Allan Lawver and Craig Edwards at Apex Geothermal. When the power failed, the batteries took over immediately. Due to the cloud cover, the solar panels could not recharge the batteries. When the batteries ran low, the propane generator automatically started to supply power to the house and to recharge the batteries. The system worked well and no changes are required. Once the batteries were recharged, the generator shut off to save fuel.

It has been three days since the power grid failed and here I sit at my computer writing an article thanks to a little forward planning. Our refrigerator and freezers continue to operate, keeping our food fresh. We have not had to delve into our emergency supplies as our local stores are open and providing groceries to our community. Our phone and Internet service worked fine for the first two days of the outage. Unfortunately, we lost our telephone landline and Internet service today, the third day of the outage. Verizon can't tell me when service will be restored, however thanks to cell phone service I can stay in touch with the world.

Hurricane Sandy provided us with an opportunity to test our preparedness plan and to make changes to better prepare us for future disasters. Besides the switch that was not set properly, the only other failure was that one of my emergency gas cans was empty. I should have refilled it last month when I used it. In future I will try not to be so lazy and will fill it up right away so that all of my gas cans are full when disaster strikes. Fortunately for us, this time we had enough gas and did not have to rely on our backup supply.

This would be a good time for all of us to review our disaster preparedness. It is easy to forget to refill gas cans or order additional medications. Over time, critical items may not be available when you need them. In the next few days and weeks, inventory your medications to ensure that you have a six to nine month supply on hand. It would also be a good idea to put a one month supply in your "to go" bag so it will be ready should you have to evacuate. When you reset your clocks in the spring and fall, remember to rotate the medications in the "to go" bag to ensure that they do not expire. This would also be a good time to replace your emergency water supply. Also, take inventory of your food storage so you can restock your pantry..

This would also be a good time to update your phone list and emergency numbers. I just reviewed the preset numbers on our landline and my cell phone to ensure that all numbers are current and operational. When the update is complete, print out a few copies of the phone list and your medications. Place the list in your car, your "to go" bag and beside your phone. Keep a list at work in case the disaster occurs during work hours. It would also be a good idea to give one of your neighbors your contact numbers in case of an emergency.

For those who were prepared, Hurricane Sandy provided an opportunity to test their plan under real conditions. Some people had to go to shelters; others were able to remain in their homes. The hurricane disrupted our lives and caused a lot of damage. Unfortunately about 50 people died. But Sandy also gave us a chance to work together to help those in need. Property damage was extensive and will be costly to repair. This will create some badly needed jobs in the construction industry. It will also be a boon for home repair stores such as Lowes, Home Depot and your local hardware store.

Hurricane Sandy also served to educate our children about the awesome power of Mother Nature. They will remember this hurricane for the rest of their lives. They will also learn that they need to prepare for whatever Mother Nature throws at us. Personally, I remember Hurricane Hazel, a Category 4 hurricane that blasted North America in 1954. I was living in Toronto when the Hurricane hit, about a thousand miles inland from the ocean. Yet the storm caused significant damage and flooding. It also made me aware of the need to be ready should disaster strike. One of the good things to come out of Hurricane Sandy is that our children will grow up understanding the need to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at us.

Now would be a good time to revisit your family's disaster plan. You can start by visiting While I am not a Mormon, I found that they have the best tools to determine and supply your preparedness needs. Make a list, and check it twice. Then, over the next few weeks and months, buy what you need to ensure your family is prepared for the next disaster.

© 2012 Gordon Smith - All Rights Reserved

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