Personal Disaster Management

I live in a suburb of Cleveland, OH and we used to joke all the time that besides snow storms there really wasn’t much from an natural disaster standpoint that would hit us.  Nobody really thought a hurricane would effect us.  Yeah we would get a lot of rain, but it would be like any other bad storm…right?  Wrong.  Sandy uprooted or split trees causing them to fall on power lines, houses, across streets, etc.  Leaving large areas of the Cleveland area without power for 6-7 days. Areas without power that relied on pumps to either pump water out of locations (as in sump pumps in basements) or pump up to locations (water pumped to upper levels of apartments) had lots of problems. 

I am not trying to minimize the East Coast’s damages from Sandy.  Many people there have huge problems, you probably don’t think much about losing power for 6 days when your house has been swept away.  I wouldn’t even know where to begin if that happened.  But I thought I would take a bit of my blogging time to share some things I learned while out of power for 6 days, hopefully this can help you. 

Note: This is primarily about personal prep for disasters, if you want information for your library check out NLM’s Disaster Information Management Research Center and the latest #medlibs chat transcripts on disaster management.

Things I Learned:

IF you have a sump pump it is totally worth it to get at least one of these two things: generator or water powered sump pump. If you think your battery backup will be fine, it will, but for only 6-12 hours.  So if the power is out for longer and you don’t have generator or a water powered backup sump pump you are either bailing, or your basement is wet.  We had a battery backup. It stopped after 6 hours. Everybody mentions generators or the water power sump pumps as being too costly for those once in a while events. “Consumer Reports’  generator tests show that you can start powering a houseful of lights and appliances for less than $700.”  Our plumber gave us a quote for a water powered back up sump pump for $600-$800, installed.  So if we get both (which we will) $1500 in prevention is worth it compared to the several thousand dollars a flooded basement costs.  Go to to get an idea of how much even 2 inches of water can cost.

Look at your insurance now.  I think most know that regular home owners insurance doesn’t cover flooding from a river, ocean, lake, etc. coming into your house.  That type of coverage if you want it must be purchased in additional to regular home owners insurance.  However there are many who don’t realize regular home owners insurance does NOT cover flooding due to sump pump back ups or sewer back up.  You need to get a special rider for those to be covered.  The costs per month are based on your selected monetary coverage and are usually a minimal increased monthly fee. 

Generators shouldn’t be exposed to the elements.  There is lots of information out there about not having your generator in your garage (its carbon monoxide will kill you), but there is little information about not leaving your generator out in the rain or snow.  Since a bad storm is usually what kills the power, that storm might continue a few days when you need to operate your generator.  The USFA and FEMA recommend operating it on a dry surface under an open canopy like structure.  They also warn NEVER to plug the generator into your home (aka backfeeding) that kills people. Plug your appliances into the generator with extension cords. Only a transfer switch (installed by an electrician) is the appropriate and safe way to have your generator power your house without using extension cords.

Best flipping flashlight I have ever used is the Coleman Quad LED Lantern. It is very bright and each quad of can be detached and used as a personal flashlight, leaving the rest of the lantern lit for others.  Very handy. It takes D cell batteries, we used it a lot over 6 days and the batteries did not die on us. (Don’t know how much life they have left so I did pick up another pack of Ds at Costco).  You can buy it for cheaper than Coleman’s site.

If you decide you have to leave or your just tired of not having power and want to stay in a nearby hotel, make that decision quickly.  The nearby hotels were full after the second day.  We did not stay at a hotel (had to keep the camping generator power the sump pump) but others who did told me that some offer storm rates and other help for people affected by the storm.

If your cell towers are down and voice and data are slower than a snail, then you might want to try texting to get your information.  Check out How to use the Internet when the Internet is gone for tips on how to get email, Google, and news tweets by using text. 

Food in the fridge. Ugh. When in doubt pitch it out.  But here is a general guideline for you to use. 

Heat…I can live without air conditioning but no heat is such a problem.  If you have a generator that can handle your furnace and you have it hooked up properly to prevent backfeeding you are golden.  For the rest of us, remember to get your chimney cleaned (don’t want a chimney fire to add on top of your power outage) so you can have a little warmth from the fireplace.  Getting the chimney cleaned was on our “todo” list which hadn’t been done before Sandy.  Previously we were warned it was very dirty and would be dangerous if we had a fire, so we learned our lesson. Regularly clean your chimney.  If it is below freezing and you are worried about pipes freezing let a small trickle of water flow through the taps.  Thankfully it wasn’t that cold in Ohio following Sandy, but those out East got socked with a snow storm following Sandy. 

Gas up your cars and portable gas tanks before the storm.  The long lines in New Jersey and New York are a reminder of that.  Consider getting a generator that runs on propane instead of gasoline. 

Kids…. School will most likely be cancelled for some time.  If the weather is nasty or if there are still downed power lines in the area, they will stuck indoors with you without power.  Get creative.  I am not creative and the boys were nearly trying to kill each other every 5 minutes while the 2 yr old girl hit them both with her sippy cup.  You can only do so many board games.  We ended up going to friends houses with power for long play dates.  We went to the rec center to play baskeball and swim.  We went to a movie.  It wasn’t just the fact that we had no power, it was the fact that we had no power and we couldn’t always go somewhere to do something due to weather or trees or power lines being down. 

I realize this is long, I hope some of it was helpful.  If you have any ideas you want to share please comment.  I know I didn’t cover everything you should consider in times of a disaster, these are just some of the things I learned from this event.

5 thoughts on “Personal Disaster Management”

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this. After the last medlibs chat, I bought a Red Cross emergency kit and stocked a pantry with food. Up next: buying a water-powered sump pump!

  2. Yeah take it from me, getting up every few hours to keep the sump pump going was for the birds.

  3. Well said. I live in the DC area, and for some odd reason we didn’t lose power. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I have a few things to add, since I’ve been through several multi-day power outages and I’ve done a lot of camping:

    Propane lamps put out a lot of light, and will last a long time on one canister of propane. They do get hot, and if the mantle breaks, you need to replace it. I’ve rarely had one break, though.

    A kerosene heater will heat a room nicely, and a whole house marginally. They stink when you light them and put them out, but burn cleanly. I used one for years to supplement my furnace. If you’re running anything that burns fuel, keep a carbon monoxide detector (battery powered, of course). They apparently wear out after seven years or so (see, so make sure they’re working. I’ve never had one detect CO when I’ve been using my kerosene heater.

    Finally, Honda makes a series of portable and very quiet generators (EU2000 and the like). They produce conditioned power, so you can run a computer from them, and they’re quiet enough that I could run mine on my back deck and barely hear it from the front of the house. They’re not inexpensive, but I like my neighbors, and didn’t want to keep them awake. (I also let them store stuff in my refrigerator, which made them very happy.) Note: no conflict of interest here; I’m just a customer, and not benefiting in any way from my recommendation.

  4. Thanks Phred helpful info. We have a Honda 1000 inverter generator which is very quiet and inverter generators are meant for electronics more than regular generators. But our little generator was really meant for small things for camping, nothing like a fridge cycling on. It was just barely strong enough for our sump. Even small inverters are expensive, almost twice the cost of a regular gen at same power.
    Battery powered CO2 monitor is just a good safety thing for any house regardless of whether you have power or not. Keeping it close when running gens and heaters is a great reminder.
    I’m a little nervous to have kerosene heaters or lamps with small kids around.

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