In February of 2021, Texas was swept by a historical winter storm that left thousands without power. Areas that were challenged the most suffered power grid failures. These failures and a lack of access to materials or information needed to survive this kind of weather event lead to catastrophic losses, human casualties, and a host of controversies around political leadership and emergency planning. The nation watched on the news and social media as Texans endured the most challenging weather they've seen in decades. Let's work together to be prepared in our own homes this winter season.
Preparation Is Key
Making sure that you have the resources to last during any storm and power outage or even events that limit supply chains should be something you do throughout the year. Spring can bring storms, just as winter can, flooding and hurricanes are not uncommon in the United States. Tornadoes touch base, even in unexpected areas. We recall events like superstorms and know the challenges these weather events can bring. These preparation steps can help in several ways that are not limited to a specific kind of weather. Some basic steps follow:
1. Food stockpiling can be done, even if you are on a budget. Dollar stores, discount stores, food banks, and religious institutions can give you access to cheap or free non-perishable food items to keep in your home for years. Consider nutrition, make sure that you stockpile foods that will keep you nourished, even if it might not seem like something you want to eat all the time. It'd be a bummer to ride out a storm and end up with scurvy because all you ate was ramen and didn't get any vitamin c, for example. Think about food items you might consider condiments as well. Keeping dry pasta, rice, quinoa, hemp hearts, barley, oats, and wheat can go a long way, but the flavor gets challenging. Look for jarred pasta sauces that will keep for years. Eating oats in hot water every day for a month probably doesn't sound appealing, so consider a way to flavor them with shelf-stable plant milk, or powdered cow's milk. Think about sugar sources that can keep for a while to give you something to look forward to if you ever need to use your stockpile. Food can sometimes help you win the mental game if there is something you look forward to. Dried fruits can help. Finally, if you have the finances for it, there are several companies that make nutritionally balanced meal replacements that can keep for years. Look into using products by Huel, Jimmy Joy, and Soylent. The cost to acquire these meal products is a bit heavy upfront, but there are multiple meals per container and they end up being more cost-effective than your average trip to your fast food restaurant.
2. Along the lines of food sourcing, learn skills like canning or hunting. Pay attention to federal and state laws around hunting or fishing, but canvas your area and consider learning these skills before you need them to survive. Read well-informed books about gathering nuts and berries, mushrooms, and other naturally occurring resources that you can use to survive. Yes, insects and flowers count here as well. However, do not let this be your only plan. Stockpiling food, as I stated above is critical, during adverse weather, some natural resources might be destroyed or inaccessible. If you hunt or fish in other seasons, consider drying that into jerky or other less perishable forms to keep in your food bank at home.
3. Water is something we all need to survive. Access to clean water can be a challenge if piping is frozen, it bursts, the utilities are knocked out by outage or storm path destruction, and other uncontrollable factors. Stock water, or, know how to boil it to clean it. You can also fashion a filter from cheap, easy-to-access materials you might have lying around your home. There are several filters you can purchase on the market if you have the budget for them. You can also use products like Life Straw. Consider stocking water flavorings as well, to help you endure lengthy periods without other drinks. But do not rely on sodas and other
4. Consider escape plans in your home. Some Americans live in areas with wildfires and flash floods that can interfere with normal egress. Purchase a roll-up rope ladder rated for your family weight, you can also contact your local fire department and find some of these escape and fire extinguishing materials for free, along with training and home visits. These plans can save your life during a house fire that is not the result of a weather event as well.
5. Stock batteries. Items that you will need to keep in your home such as flashlights, a radio, walkie-talkies, or other items you might need to communicate need batteries to work. Keep these batteries in dry areas, out of extreme temperatures. You can wrap them in a non-flammable insulator if you need to store their boxes during power outages that affect your home's temperatures. You can also purchase battery banks that can charge your cellular device. Solar batteries are available as well and can help you in times of lengthy power loss.
6. Keep extra blankets and clothing that can help you stay warm. If you buy sheet sets and throw the flat sheet away, stop. The flat sheet can be used to cover windows and doors during winter storms to insulate your home and stop heat loss. You can also create a tent in one area of your home to localize where you heat in extreme circumstances. Along that same line of thinking, you can also purchase a tent or find tents in second-hand and thrift stores. Tents are not just for camping outside, they can save your life in a winter storm inside your own home. You can heat smaller areas much more efficiently than you can an entire home. Designate a room in your home and set up your tent a few times to make sure you have all the pieces you need and are comfortable setting it up.
7. Heating sources during winter storms in particular can be limited, especially if you have a power outage. There are ways to safely heat your home without setting it on fire. Gather a few common items such as 4 bricks and a candle. Sit the "heater" on a surface that is flame resistant such as a stone countertop, concrete, or metal surface in your home, light the candle and place the bricks around it, the bricks or rocks will heat up and give off ambient heat to a small area. You can also use a generator to run electric heaters if you have the cash. Some solar battery banks have plug-ins that you can use as well. Make sure you create your makeshift heater in a safe area and don't have anything draped over or around it that will catch fire. This can also work using candles and a clay flower pot. Make sure the pot is unpainted, plain terracotta and sit it on a riser like tiles or bricks, place the candles underneath the pot and this will also create a heater. Some tutorials will demonstrate placing small tea light candles in a muffin tin and sitting the pot over top of them but be cautious about heating metal and where you sit this version of a makeshift heater because heated metal can burn materials or catch things around it on fire. Remember to read safety guidelines for using gas heaters inside certain areas and do not be a victim to gas exposure during storms.
8. Remember to unplug appliances and other electrical equipment if your power goes out. Utility companies working through outages can phase through powered and unpowered work, creating surges in your appliances. Don't fry your equipment while they restore your power.
9. Keep large sheets of plastic or tarps handy to cover windows and doors as well, especially if you don't have extra sheets or towels. Block drafts around doors and windows by hanging these sheets. You can also purchase inexpensive window covers that use plastic cling, but most of those kits require a hairdryer or heat gun to shrink to your windows. Be ready with other supplies. You can purchase cheap tarps or sheeting from farming supply stores, dollar stores, and hardware stores. Using the window covering kits can also be a way to save on your electricity bill in the winter, though, so you could prepare by just hanging those ahead of time to benefit your finances. You can do the same by using old towels to block drafts in your doors and windows even if you have power to save money. Check your door and window weather stripping throughout the year to make sure it stays intact. You can repair this easily on your own with a few items from the hardware store if you need to.
10. Your vehicle can help as well if you are desperate. Do not sit in a running vehicle inside of a garage or indoor area. But if you need to, sit in your vehicle for an hour to warm yourself and your clothing, or linens to use in the home. This means you need to make sure you have fuel before a storm happens. Your car is your last-ditch effort, don't rely on a running vehicle to survive unless needs are dire.
12. Have a communication plan with family or close friends that details how you will contact them to let them know you are ok. Know your local emergency numbers and don't waste your phone battery by using apps and other unnecessary forms of entertainment. Have a designated contact time as well so you can power your phone off most of the time. Sometimes storms can knock out communication towers and limit these devices. Plan for that.
13. During some events you may have to show you are a survivor to emergency services. Keep paint or brightly colored linens that you can place on or around your home to spell "Help" or some other simple phrase to let responders know you need rescue.
14. Place your survival items in a safe area that can be accessed if exterior parts of your home are damaged. Sometimes this can be a simple footlocker or container, sometimes it can be a closet or pantry. Make sure your housemates know where this supply cache is and how to use it.