By Tim Bair, WD8PMD
Emergency Coordinator, Jackson County Michigan
Prepare they say …..
This begs the question, have you?
As amateur radio operators, some of us tend to think along the lines of preparedness and public service in whatever form that may take. Here in Michigan, we are very lucky in that most natural disasters that might strike are but a bad story line for an even worse disaster movie. When was the last time you were worried about a tsunami on Lake Michigan, a volcano in Mt. Pleasant or a Hurricane striking Detroit? Don’t get me started on a Sharknado in Lake Superior. Does this mean that we are immune to both natural and manmade disasters? No, just because it rarely occurs doesn’t mean that it won’t, and it will always happen when you’re least prepared …. for when the SHTF.
Some of the following items or suggestions are dependent on the length of the outage, the situation, or the season.
Every scenario is different, be sure that you follow the news, NOAA alerts and local guidelines as the situation evolves.
Make sure the you check your Carbon Monoxide, Natural Gas and Smoke detectors and that they are in good working order.
And so, it begins …
Now’s the time to plan and prepare … for when the lights go out!
Grid down / Power outages are the most common issues that we may face today. These are not seasonally dependent but can happen anytime of the year and are the result of both natural and man-caused actions, but the results are the same. They’re always an inconvenience and can quickly turn into a very dangerous situation. While we are not able to predict when something will strike, you can most definitely prepare for when it happens, because it will.
We find our hero sitting in his or her easy chair, it’s the early evening and you’re watching the game on TV with a cold one in hand. POP! You’re in the dark! This could be one of two things. First is that you have just past into the great Ham shack in the sky, ignore the light but follow the sounds of CW. Or, you’re in a power down situation. We will assume that we have a power down situation. First thing you would want to do is check to see if this is a local problem, such as you have popped a breaker or some such thing. Look out the window, do you see lights on at the neighbors, or are the streetlights on? If the streetlights are on then check the breaker box but if there aren’t any streetlights grab your blackout box, you do have a blackout box? Yes?
Well, you find yourself stuck in the dark. What do you need to do until the lights come back on?
The local utility does have an app for your smart device that allows you to report a power out situation or to monitor the estimated restoration time, you can down load it from the web. Today with the advent of smart meters the utility will know when and where there is an outage within seconds, but it never hurts to call and report an outage.
This is very important, NEVER EVER go near any downed wires of any type, assume everything is alive with 1000’s of volts, do not touch
anything that the wires may be draped across as you could die a nasty death!
Report any downed wires to the local utility ASAP but stay away from them.
Black out box
Here are some of the items that you may wish to keep handy in your blackout box. This is by no means a complete listing.
- Flashlight with extra batteries. Do not store flashlight with the batteries installed.
- Lantern – LED or other battery powered device.
- Extra batteries.
- Hand crank radio (AM, FM, SW. Weather), also allows charging of personal electronics.
- HT with extra batteries (you know it had to be there … right?)
- Candles – Use with EXTREME caution, only as a last resort.
- Storage box, I use a clear plastic storage box with lid from the local big box home store.
Dealing with a power down situation and your home:
- Power down and unplug all electronics that you can unless they are on a good quality surge protector. Beware of “Bounce” or spikes / power surge when power is restored.
- Turn off all the lights but leave one on so that you know when the power is restored.
- Switch off the breakers for your Frig, Furnace, AC, Water heater, microwave, etc. This will reduce the surge to your house and protect this equipment.
- Generator (see Generator safety below)
Some other items that would good to have at hand:
- Fire extinguisher or two
- Duct tape
- Tarp, plastic sheeting or large contractor grade trash bags.
- Para cord
- Bic lighter or three, matches, maybe some type of fire starter / tinder if you have a fireplace
- Proper PPE such as protective masks and hand sanitizer.
- Backup food and water supplies.
You do have a stash of non-perishable food items on hand, I hope? The American Red Cross and FEMA suggest that you keep 72 hours’ worth of supplies on hand. Might I suggest that you double that if not more. Don’t expect to be “rescued” by the government or other NGO’s, be prepared to fend for yourself. Many preparedness food items are available from your local grocery, you’d be surprised on what you can find and just how long some items will last if stored correctly. You may want to include a few “comfort food” items in the mix as well. I always have a pack of Oreo’s on hand in case of emergency.
Water is another storage problem, but can be easily solved with a little brain power. For example, do you have a water heater in your home? This is an easy source of 20 to as many as 50 gallons of potable water. Keep a few small bottles in the freezer, store some in a dark cool location, just remember to cycle it out on a regular basis.
- Don’t forget the pooch and the cat.
- Manual CAN OPENER – Manual CAN OPENER – Manual CAN OPENER, I can’t say this enough.
- Refrigerated food items – when and when not to open the door.
Ready.gov, The FDA and the American Red Cross have lots of information on this subject, check them out.
The Fridge will hold its temp for about 4 hours if you don’t open the door. The freezer will hold its temp from 24 to 48 hours depending on how full it is. I try to keep a few bottles of frozen water in the freezer just in case. You may wish to move several items to a cooler so that you don’t have to open the fridge so often. Maybe its time for that BBQ you have always been talking about!
- Paper goods and other miscellaneous supplies.
This just depends on your personal needs and storage space available.
- Cash … In a power down situation, I will bet that all of the ATM’s will be down as well. In addition, I would think that this will include the credit / debit card terminals. So, cash will be king once again. Keep a small amount of ready cash in small denominations at hand. I will also be stocking a few bottles of Jack or Jim, just in case. They would most likely make for a good trade item and if not, they just might help you make it through this mess.
- Personal protective items. Do as you see fit, just be safe about it. Make sure that you have proper training, these items are in good working order and stored safely.
Our world today is so immersed in electronics that I fear many people today would not be able to handle a true power down situation, What no Faceplant, no instagripe ?!?!?. What I’m speaking of here is one in which all of your “Smart” devises fail to operate and may not do so for a very long time. A case study is the aftermath of the 911 attack in New York. The cell networks overloaded almost instantly, crashed and were down for a week or more. This was not a power failure but it shows just how fragile the voice and data networks can be today. The ubiquitous cell phone that so many people are welded to 24 hours a day, depends on network connectivity and that depends on the power grid being able to supply that needed power.
Keeping things charged – Being able to keep your electronics charged is extremely important. Keeping a small portable power bank charged and ready might be a good idea. In addition, most of us have a large portable power supply very handy, your vehicle. Just make sure that you have the required adapters and cables to keep your electronics charged and ready.
I will not try to cover all of the possible solutions to this question. There are just too many options available today. I think that the best thing to keep in mind is to
keep it simple stupid. But don’t rely on just one solution, have a backup plan.
Some of the possible solutions:
- Batteries (AA, AAA, C, D) both alkaline and rechargeable. Don’t forget to have a good recharger on hand.
- Large capacity storage batteries (lead acid, deep cycle, rechargeable, etc.)
- Generator’s (portable and stationary)
- Power banks
- Portable wind generation
Do you own research.
In the event of a blackout, a backup generator can keep vital appliances (Heat, AC, Fridge) up and running. However, they must be used properly or can result in more harm than good.
- Do not back feed the mains if you are attempting to power the whole house. Disconnect the main breaker before connecting the generator.
- Generators produce carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas that can result in sickness or death and can also pose other dangers like electrocution or fire if not used safely.
- The first rule of thumb is to never, ever use them indoors. Keep them at least 15 feet away from the home or open windows to avoid exhaust fumes from entering the home.
- You should try not to use it in rainy or wet conditions. A good idea is to place it under some type of canopy type structure to keep it safe and dry.
Location, Location, Location
You’ve decided to hunker down and ride it out.
I would suggest that depending on the situation you may wish to centralize within the house. This would help you to concentrate and extend the life of your supplies. It also will help you to keep track of family members, plan for changing conditions and adapt quickly.
BUT, don’t let this desire to stay it out cloud your judgment, there may be a point to bug out for higher ground.
I will go into this category a little bit later and in greater detail. For now, this is just a brief take on what you may whish to have a close hand.
Every day carry:
Here is a small listing of the items that I might carry with me at all times, just in case.
- Pocket knife
- Multi tool
- Pen and paper
- Medical kit – close at hand
There are many items that could be included in your auto kit so I will just list a few of the high points that I keep at hand.
- Storage bag for all of the supplies
- Duct tape
- Small assortment of tools and repair supplies
- Flash light with spare batteries
- Head lamp with spare batteries
- Gloves / knit hat / dry socks
- Reflective vest
- Hazzard markers
- Jumper cables / Jump battery pack
- Fire extinguisher
- Contractor grade trash bags
- Medical kit / hand sanitizer / Wet wipes
- Water bottle / water filter
Go Bag for Ham Radio purposes:
This is just a few ideas. Add as you see fit, just remember you will need to carry this so keep it to a minimum.
- HT, programming notes, spare batteries, AA battery pack, charging cable(s).
- External antenna (J-pole roll up), EFHW for HF
- Length of coax or 2, with assortment of adapters
- Tools / multi tool
- Headset or ear buds
- Pen and paper, highlighter
- Cyalume Chemlight sticks / flashlight with extra batteries / headlight with batteries
- Ear plugs
- Copy of license and other paperwork and IDs
- Small med kit / water bottle / wet wipes
Bug out bag / survival kit:
The sky’s the limit here but once again, you will need to lug this around so watch the weight. ARRL and FEMA have many ideas and suggestions. Check the ARRL and Ready.gov
- Extra clothing
- Snacks / water or water filter
- Personal care items and medications
- Weather or seasonal dependent outer clothing and boots
On a final note. It’s always best to make a plan, rehearse that plan and then work the plan. You can find free templates and checklists
for all of these items and more at ARRL, FEMA (Homeland Defense), American Red Cross and Ready.gov