On this day several years ago, my town was hit hard by a winter storm. We lost power for 4 days, which meant we had no heat source and could not cook food. Over a foot of snow on unplowed roads prevented us from leaving to find warm shelter. The temperature in my house hovered right around freezing, and we wore many layers while shivering together under a huge pile of blankets. By the third day I woke up feeling extremely sick, with pain in my ears, a migraine, and a growing sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. It was the one time in my life that I was truly afraid for my family’s survival. Since then, we have worked hard to be more prepared for emergencies, storms, and natural disasters. Survival planning is an ongoing process, but exploring the options alleviates the fear that can accompany a severe weather alert, man-made emergency, or natural disaster.
So what, exactly, do you need to be prepared for an emergency? This depends quite a bit on the local climate, features of your home, proximity to emergency shelters, and other factors. In severe weather, you’ll need immediate shelter, so this should be your top priority should you need to evacuate. Here are a few of the basics you will need, whether you remain in your home or are forced to stay with friends, in your vehicle, or in more primitive shelters.
Clean Drinking Water
Clean water is arguably the most important necessity for surviving any disaster. While it’s possible to survive for several weeks without food, most people can only live 3-5 days without water. Drinking contaminated water out of desperation can lead to serious, even deadly, bacterial illnesses. If your home relies on a pump for well water or water filtration, you won’t have clean water during a power outage. Even those on municipal water supplies can face contamination during hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters.
Fortunately, a lack of clean drinking water is also one of the easiest possibilities to prepare for. You can stock up on gallons of bottled water, although it would be impossible to transport all that water if you have to leave home during the emergency. Even better, a lightweight, portable Barrier Grand Water Filter Pitcher with an Ultra Bacteria Removal Cartridge will remove 99.99% of bacteria and cysts from your drinking water. Just one cartridge can filter up to 80 gallons of water — enough to last a family of four for 40 days. Keep several of these bacteria removal water filters in your bug out bag, and filter rain water, melted snow, or water from nearby lakes and streams as needed.
Emergency Heat Sources
Losing power in the summer is generally a mere inconvenience. I once spent a week in August without power due to a hurricane. While I missed hot showers, cooked food, and air conditioning, I wasn’t in substantial danger. That same length of time without power during the winter, however, can be quite dangerous, particularly if you don’t have an alternate source of heat such as a fireplace. One option is to install a wood stove, which allows you to not only heat your home but also cook food. But if this isn’t an option due to lack of space, budget, or your landlord’s rules, you’ll have to go another route. You can get a space heater and hook it up to a generator. You can also warm up in your car for short periods of time (but make sure to check that the tailpipe isn’t blocked and don’t run the car in your garage, or you could die of carbon monoxide poisoning!)
Looking for a safe, affordable way to stay warm in an emergency, I came across a homemade emergency heater utilizing only a clay pot and some tealight candles. This seems like the most cost-effective emergency heating system, so we keep pots and a bag of candles ready. It won’t heat your whole house, but can add a bit of warmth to a small room. Instructables has an easy tutorial to create this cheap emergency tealight heater — learn how to set it up in advance, since you may not have Internet access during a storm! We also have a bunch of emergency hand warmers and body warmers like the kind you’d slip into ski gloves. These single-use heat packs can provide up to 12 hours of heat. We can stay warm for quite a while with these supplies and some extra blankets on hand!
Natural Foods to Fuel You in a Disaster
When a storm is predicted in New England, everyone heads to the grocery store for bread and milk, and the shelves are soon bare. I’ll admit, this image makes me giggle a bit — I’m imagining families sitting down to 3 meals a day of bread cubes doused in room-temperature milk — but there is definitely something to this storm prep ritual. Yes, you can probably survive quite a while without food… but why would you want to? Without the nutrients and calories your body needs to function, survival will become more challenging each day. Plus, you’ll probably feel angry, edgy, and mentally foggy without food, so making survival decisions becomes difficult, too. However, those of us inclined to eat healthily and naturally may not rely on bread and milk as dietary staples, and we certainly aren’t stocking our cabinets with cookies, processed cheese product, and canned spaghetti. Eventually you’ll have to eat or donate all that processed food before it expires. It bothers me to waste food, spend money on things we won’t eat, and support pro-GMO companies.
I do keep a few canned items on hand for emergencies — foods that generally fit into our healthy diet, such as organic pumpkin puree, sustainably-caught tuna, canned beans, cartons of coconut milk or almond milk, organic nut butter, and dry seaweed. Dried fruits and nuts make perfect, energy-dense, shelf-stable snacks. I also try to always keep the fruit bowl filled with fresh fruit and veggies that don’t require cooking, which could tide us over for days.
In addition, whole food supplements like spirulina add essential vitamins and nutrients that we’d need in a long-term survival situation. Spirulina is sometimes called “astronaut food” because NASA has proposed it as an ideal food for space travel. Spirulina requires no refrigeration, is lightweight, and provides complete protein and balanced nutrition with vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and antioxidants. Although you can eat it simply mixed with water, I don’t love the taste, so I’d prefer to mix it into pureed pumpkin, applesauce, juice, almond or coconut milk, or a smoothie. Check out this post for how to make smoothies on the go — these are perfect for emergency situations where you may not have access to a blender and fresh ingredients. Whole food supplement powders can fit easily into your bug out bag or on a pantry shelf, taking the place of fresh food and fueling you long-term until the danger has subsided.
Basic Emergency Preparedness
Well, we’ve covered the big three — food, water, and heat — but there is quite a bit more you can do to prepare for any emergency. It’s a bit overwhelming at times to gather everything you’d need to face any natural disaster, so I started small and with the most important things. Another item I like to have on hand is an emergency cell phone charger (or a backup battery). Having spent several power outages completely cut off from the world, I can now recognize the value in being able to assure friends and family that you’re safe, as well as reach out for emergency help and resources such as emergency shelters and supply distribution centers.
What else have you done to prepare for an emergency? What are you doing this winter to keep your family safe and warm?