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Hurricane Sandy and Reflections On Preparedness

meg's picture

Hurricane Sandy has us all thinking about natural disasters and how to prepare for them. Since we live in a very rural area, we always have emergency supplies on hand, as a snowstorm or even a large tree that falls across the road could mean days without electricity or the ability to get out for provisions. However, we understand that most people don't feel they need to take these sorts of precautions. After all, the grocery store is only a few minutes away, right?

No matter where you live, there is always the possibility that you may need emergency supplies. Snowstorms, flooding, high winds, and earthquakes can happen almost anywhere, and while we may not feel the need to stock up on supplies until danger is imminent, it's always best to have some things on hand just in case.

The Joy of Cooking is not only a fantastic resource for recipes and reference information, but it also contains a fair amount of "desert island" reference material. We may chuckle at the old JOY illustrations on how to skin a squirrel, but there are times and places where squirrel meat could mean the difference between going to bed full or hungry.

Emergency water purification is one JOY preparedness gem to learn by heart, or at least know where to find it. Ideally, you should have on hand a supply of potable (drinking) water. Each person in your household will need one gallon for every two days--that's 3 1/2 gallons per week per person. However, if you do not have drinking water on hand in an emergency, there are several ways of purifying it.

If you have a camp stove, fireplace, or camp fire that you can use to heat things, you may boil water vigorously for 5 minutes to sterilize it. Alternatively, you may wish to have water purification tablets on hand. These tablets contain iodine or chlorine, and they should be used as instructed on the label. Finally, you may add household bleach (bleach that does not contain any fragrances, soaps, or other additives) to purify water. Use 8 drops bleach per gallon of clear water, or 16 drops for cloudy water. Stir the water and allow it to sit for 30 minutes before drinking. The water will have a distinct chlorine taste and odor. If it does not, add another dose of bleach and wait 15 minutes. If the water still does not smell chlorinated, the chlorine in your bleach may have weakened through age, and the water is not safe to drink.

For cooking, a small, propane camp stove is an excellent back-up cooking implement. While surviving on prepared and packaged foods is certainly possible, having at least one hot meal a day (or a way to make hot tea or coffee) will boost morale considerably, especially in chilly weather.

Also be sure to have a supply of lighters and matches in a waterproof container, candles or kerosene lamps, a utility knife, and a first-aid kit. If you burn yourself while cooking on a camp stove or over a fire (or on any occasion, really), submerge the burned area in cold water for 10 minutes. This hastens the release of heat trapped deep inside the skin. Once the burn has cooled, dry it off and apply petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to the area. For the record, Vaseline does not heal the burn--it is simply a barrier between the burn and the environment. It keeps bacteria from coming into contact with your skin, and it keeps the burn moist, which will encourage healing and prevent blisters. Do not apply Vaseline to a burn until you have cooled it in cold water for at least 10 minutes or it can trap heat inside the burn. As the burn heals, keep it constantly moist with petroleum jelly. Our favorite burn treatment, however, is colloidal silver. We like to keep a bottle of this on hand, as it is especially suited to healing burns, and it has antibacterial properties to boot. Of course, you can use aloe as well.

When cooking on a camp stove, choose foods that cook quickly. Instant rice, rolled oats, orzo, elbow macaroni, couscous, instant potatoes, and quick-cooking ramen or rice noodles are excellent meal components that are easily enhanced by freeze-dried spice and soup mixes, vegetable flakes, and canned meat or fish. Remember to never use a propane stove in an enclosed area.

Finally, have some energy-rich basics on hand. Peanut butter (not the "natural" kind, as its shelf life isn't as long; you may also consider purchasing some of the dehydrated peanut butter that is now on the market), granola and granola bars, dried fruit and nuts, chocolate, and jerky are some good items to have in an emergency stash. You may also wish to have some dry mixes on hand for pancakes, biscuits, or scones that can be made by simply adding water. Dried beans and grains can be good pantry staples, but be sure to keep them in airtight glass jars to keep out moths, weevils, and other insects. Be sure to also have a supply of iodized salt or electrolyte powder on hand--salt is necessary for your diet, and it can help with potentially bland emergency food. Also remember to rotate these foods out by periodically cooking and replacing them to keep your stores fresh.

On a somewhat lighter note, the adults among you may see fit to keep a healthy store of alcohol on hand--vodka, rum, tequila, gin, and brandy are all very shelf-stable, are safe to drink, and can lift the spirits in times of duress.

Other articles you might enjoy: File Powder, Brine-Fermented Sauerkraut, Rose Hip Tea With Hibiscus and Ginger


Les Littell's picture

A little bit of forethought makes a big difference when the lights go out.

It is also a good idea to keep some extra charcoal or propane on hand. That grill will be your best friend when a snow laden tree limb takes out the power for a few days.

Of all the things the Boy Scouts could have used as a motto, "Be Prepared" is always good advice.

Jamey's picture

The advice about treating a burn with petroleum jelly- or anything oil-based is bogus. Mustard, aloe, burn-aids, or even mud (in a real pinch), are your best friends for a burn.

meg's picture

Thanks, Jamey. I revised the blog to specify how and why petroleum jelly can be useful for a burn. You don't want to apply it until after soaking the burned area in cold (not ice) water for at least 10 minutes, allowing the heat trapped inside the skin to dissipate. Vaseline does not heal burns--it simply keeps out bacteria and keeps the burn from drying out, which will in turn hasten the healing process. We infinitely prefer to use colloidal silver on burns--it's almost magic the way it speeds up healing and prevents scarring or blisters. It's expensive stuff, though.

Michele's picture

One thing we learned the hard way after Sandy: Even if you are able to drive to the grocery store, that won't help if the store lost electricity. When people argue, "I live in the city. The grocery store is a block away," they don't realize stores are required to throw out food when they lose power. It's a powerful wake up call when you walk into the store and see every last shelf in the refrigerated and frozen sections empty. Completely empty. Until that day, my husband thought I was being Chicken Little with all of my preparedness talk. When we got home, he was thankful for my stash of powdered milk so he could have a simple bowl of cereal. Since then, my husband learned I was also right about another lesson: Once the storm warning comes out, it's already too late to stock up. Everyone else will be raiding the shelves for nonperishable foods and other supplies. That especially holds true if you're in an area that took a major hit from any kind of storm in recent years. People remember their failure to prepare the last time, and panic sets in with a vengeance.

meg's picture

Thanks so much for commenting, Michele! We could all use some Chicken Little advice. It's always a good idea to be prepared for emergency situations, whether it's getting snowed in, losing power, or experiencing a natural disaster. Having options is so important, and it's not hard to prepare gradually over time.

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