Lessons learnt from Sandy – Are you prepped for the next one?

What did we learn from our hurricane Sandy experience? Since my emergency preparation and Every Day Carry posts, I’ve added many additions to the Go bag:

  • 3 days worth of dry rations
  • LED Headlamp
  • Butane lighters
  • Duct tapes
  • Work gloves
  • Water-proof notebook
  • Thermal blankets
  • Water-proof map holder
  • Water-proof NJ road map
  • Water purification tablets
  • N95 face masks
  • Binoculars
  • Extra pair of eye glasses

But the more useful addition is the mental preparation. Both Leah and I were on the same page with regards to what needed to be prepared. We spun into action after dinner on Sunday (about 2 hours before power went out) when I started seeing water coming into our street. The binoculars proved to crucial as without it I won’t be able to see the water level at the street outside and realized how deep and rapid it was raising. Having the Go bag already packed meant we only need to finish a few remaining tasks such as:

  • Take all of our legal documents from the fire-proof box into the water-proof map case, which then went into the Go bag
  • Fill the bath tug with water
  • Fill all water bottles, jugs, etc. with filtered water
  • Pack clothing (enough for 3 days and appropriate for the weather) for the adults and the girls in case we need to evacuate (like in Irene)
  • Pack toiletries for the adults
  • Pack simple medicines for the adults and the girls
  • Sort out the order of food to be consumed. The ones expire soonest to be consumed first, etc. And make plan on what our next meal will consist of.
  • Turn the refrigerator to coldest settings to maximize the length food remain edible.
  • Move car from first floor garage to third floor
  • Check batteries in all the flashlights, lamps, and lay them out ready to be used
  • Check emergency radio is picking up weather channel
  • Recharge all iPhones and iPads
  • Powering down all electronics

As I was lying in bed, fully clothed, I went through the following checklist before I felt prepared (noted: not “safe”) enough to fall asleep:

  • Evacuation route out of the building on foot, out of the city by car, and out of the state by car
  • Which friends we can evacuate to. For example, the friend we evacuated to during Irene got even worse weather than us during Sandy. Won’t be much of an improvement if we drove there.
  • Nearby shelter addresses and how to get there

And during the seven days of no power and water, the 5.11 Tactical pants proved to be one of most valuable item I own. It has so many pockets of various sizes that I was able to carry my house keys, car key, wallet, flashlight, multitool, and knife whenever I wore my pants, which was always except sleeping. Actually we slept in our clothes in the first night just in case we needed to evacuate in a hurry. I have 3 pairs and was able to be wear them throughout the week.

Despite the above, our preparations still fell short on three major areas during hurricane Sandy:

  1. Power management
  2. Cooking arrangement
  3. Lighting

Power Management

I had plenty of spare batteries to power flashlights, LED lantern, and the headlamp. But there was no provision to charge our cell phones. Even turning off 3G/LTE data connection when we were not using it, our iPhones won’t last longer than 2-2.5 days. Thankfully we got to charge our phones in our building lobby but it should not be something we rely upon. My original plan was to use the Etón radio which has a hand crank and a USB outlet. But it were inadequate in charging a modern smartphone, which requires fair amount of amperage from the charger. And as a last resort, I can always run the car engine to charge the phones but I would much prefer not to waste fuel for that.

Actions

  • Purchase solar panel charger that can store and charge smartphone and tablet. Current candidate is the Solar Joos Orange.
  • When we move to a house eventually, a generator will be an essential part of emergency gear. Need to research the manufacturers, types, power rating, etc.
  • Invest in a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) for the NAS box. I had to time to shutdown most electronics before power went out but I may not have the luxury the next emergency comes. UPS like this should be able to support the NAS and internet router long enough for them to power down properly.

Cooking Arrangement

We had enough clean drinking water in plastic gallon jugs for the first couple of days as well as bottled waters from supermarket. We also had a bath tub full of cleaning water. Likewise with food, Leah used up as much ingredient and food before the storm hit. What we didn’t have is a mean to heat water or food. We had a fridge full of food but we could not eat them without cooking them first. So we ate cold food and juice/water for 3 days before local restaurants that were not affected by the power outage opened up for business.

Actions

  • Research camping stoves. Which type of fuel they use, how long they’d last, how much fuel supply we need to stock up for 3 days. Can it be used indoor safely.
  • Portable gas stove (like this one) seems to be a reasonable alternative if only for indoor use.

Lighting

The LED Lantern was amazing. It lit up the whole room so we didn’t have to live in darkness. But we only have one so only one room at a time could be lit. Not a major problem but it certainly can be improved. The headlamp was also incredibly useful. It proved to be essential when the only lantern was used in the living room, and one of us needed to do something in the kitchen or the bathroom.

I only realized we had 10 chemical light sticks the day after the power outage. More are needed so we can have enough to last 72 hours on light sticks alone.

Actions

  • Purchase more LED lantern. Possibly one for each large room.
  • Purchase additional headlamp so both of us can wear one simultaneously.
  • Purchase additional chemical lightsticks.

Spoiled Living

After spending two weeks in India, I've came to realize how spoiled we live our lives in the western countries. Most people won't think they are spoiled but they really are. We take many things for granted, sometimes we think it is our 'rights' to have access to basic necessities such as clean water and electricity. Any of us would be, and should be, shocked to find that neither clean running water nor reliable electricity are something Indians take for granted, even in big, well developed urban city such as Bangalore.

We bitch and moan when the gas prices raises by a few cents or even dollars, when most people in India can't afford a motorcycle, let alone a big gas-guzzling SUV.

We drink water out of plastic bottle because it is trendy and convenient, not because the tap water is unclean and will make you sick for a few weeks.

We surround ourselves with electronic gadgets and electrical appliances because we crave our creature comfort and think electricity is abundant as the air we breath, not because we need to light our dwellings and preserve our food.

We live in large houses not because we need the space but because we can.

The way we live our lives in the western world is not sustainable in any shape or form. We as a nation are such a hypocrite when we ask developing nations such as India or China to curb their carbon emission and domestic consumption level when we live such spoiled lives.

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