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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cold and Dark--An Account of an Ice Storm, by Steve S.

In January, 2008, the outlook for people in the United States appeared bleak. I told my wife that we needed to stock-up on food because I felt that the supply lines were thin and vulnerable. I began my preparations by Internet search. I found JWR's SurvivalBlog and I bought a copy of his novel. In the meantime, I started buying cases of canned goods. I bought food that we generally ate. I looked at the expiration dates of every purchase. I tried to buy what would last through 2011. Not much would, so I bought with the idea of buying more later, looking for one year at a time.

The pantry was full. I had read Jim's book, and had found many links on the SurvivalBlog that helped me know how much of what to buy to be balanced. I bought a freezer at Sam’s Club and filled that also. I noticed that food prices were increasing at an alarming rate in August. They were up 18% on same item purchases, on average. Later that figure would reach 35%. I only talked about this to a trusted few. My wife was starting to wonder about me.

Soon thereafter, a Harbor Freight store opened in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my home base. There, I purchased several more items I saw as essential. I got a two burner propane stove with a center grill feature. I bought some LED flashlights, ropes, staple guns, and other miscellaneous items. Being a hunter and former U.S. Army officer, I had a lot of camping (survival equipment) on hand. Sleeping bags were there, polypropylene long johns, butane lighters, three 20 gallon and one 100 gallon propane tanks were filled. I use them for my barbeque grill. I told my wife that we should buy a generator. She said that if I thought we should buy it, that I should. I didn’t.

I found some water barrels at a local food processing plant. I now have eight 55 gallon drums. I found 4 red 35 gallon chemical barrels that were set aside for gasoline. I had about six 5 gallon gas cans to operate my 4 wheeler, fishing boat, and sundry other small engines like lawn equipment and field water pumps.

Day to day, I am an NRA certified training counselor/instructor. Starting in November 2008, my business started to boom. I had a 300% increase in Arkansas concealed carry classes. That hasn’t stopped to this day. I have a 35 acre facility that is a former bean field, surrounded by thousands of farmland acres and two liquor stores. I have a 1,200 square foot building for classroom and office space, a 52 foot trailer for storage. My plan for survival guns was simple. All guns were to be military calibers. Handguns would be .45 and .38 calibers. Rifles would be .22 rimfire, 7.62x39, .308 and .30-06 calibers. Shotguns would be 12 gauge. Stocks of ammunition were increased starting early in 2008.

Shelter, food, security. What is left? Communications. I bought a set of 25 mile range pair of Motorola hand held communicators with recharger on sale for $38. Stores of batteries were laid in. Cell phones. Transportation was what we already had. 2001 Dodge Durango 4x4 and a 2005 Chevrolet 4x4 extended cab pick-up.

The Storm

January 28, 2009. KAIT –TV weather in Jonesboro, Arkansas is forecasting a wet winter storm cold front with frigid weather following out of the Northwest. When it began, the outside temperature was about 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing rain collected on everything in near biblical quantity.

I was awakened in the early morning of January 29th and you could hear branches starting to snap with a sound like gunshots. Outside, you could see flashes of light as one by one, the transformers on the light poles blew out. The power was off. It was time to go to work. First, open the flue and light the gas logs in the fireplace. Inside the house, the temperature had quickly fallen to about 40 degrees. I thought to crack a window for ventilation draft to reduce the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning. Then I set up a propane heater and went about blocking off all rooms except the den and kitchen, which were adjoining. I used 4 mil plastic to cover two entrances to the den. The temperature quickly found about 62 degrees. We placed a carbon monoxide detector in the room to keep us from being statistics. The propane stove was set up over the electric range for cooking and a 20 pound bottle of propane was connected to it. I started thinking about how I should have bought a generator.

By morning, we felt isolated in our home. Very few vehicles were moving. The world outside looked like a war zone with ice-laden limbs and the things they crushed. With no electricity, the phones didn’t work. We ate breakfast normally. The whole world became our refrigerator. No cable TV so we cranked up the radio and began to listen to the results. Reports of some break-ins started coming in as people abandoned all electric homes for the designated shelters in town. Outlying areas quickly ran out of gasoline and propane. Stores emptied out their goods and shelves became bare. Generators and flashlights were nonexistent. Batteries and power supplies followed suit. Many businesses were unable to sell anything as their computers were down and lights and heat were out. Sadly, no one has a backup plan for how to sell anything without electricity. Gas cans were a faint memory. I checked on our neighbors to make sure they were coping, and to exchange cell phone numbers. The telephone system actually works without outside electricity if the type of phone you use doesn’t need 110 volts from the grid. We had one emergency phone for that reason, and it was operational. I wondered how many people knew about that?

The day passed relatively uneventfully. We had everything we needed to exist in a minor disaster. Some people didn’t. A few died for their lack of preparedness.
After the passing of the first day of “survival,” tree limb removal became the priority, while everyone fought what southerners call severe cold. It was the 30th of January. The temperature was unrelenting with nighttime lows of 9 degrees and daytime highs of 20. I was able to venture out for things that would be nice to have, like a generator. You see, with a generator, our gas furnace would work. All you need it for is the electric blower. It was the only hole in the preparations. I went in to the local Lowe’s, after checking a couple of other stores. In the back of the store there was a line of about 13 people. I asked why they were there. There was a truck inbound with 75 generators. I got in line. Twenty minutes later I was in the electric department buying the necessary wire nuts and power cords needed to hook my [newly-purchased] generator to the power panel in my house.

When I got home, the first thing I did was to disconnect the house from the grid by turning off the main breaker, outside the house. You must do this before attempting to connect a generator to your power panel. Failure to do so could kill workmen repairing downed power lines and connecting transformers. To get things operational quickly, I used the cord provided with the generator, which used four grounded plug outlets. To operate the [selected] areas to connect, I bought 10 gauge wire. We turned off all appliances and I pulled out the circuit breaker for the selected rooms. I disconnected the wire from the circuit breaker and wired it directly to each wire with a male plug on the other end to mate with the wire from the generator. I did this for the heater circuit, the den wall circuit, the kitchen wall circuit, and the master bedroom wall circuit. The heater kicked on.

I offer one final note about using a generator. The operation book has a chart in it showing the watts used by each type of appliance. You must calculate the [load] amount used by your appliances. It has to add up to less than your generators running wattage rating.

We were on a main highway in town, and we had our electricity hooked to the grid after spending only a few nights without. Many in town were without electricity for three weeks. In outlying areas, some are still not connected. The line crews working to restore power were fantastic. Limbs still line the highways and yards a month after the event began.

Lessons Learned
It was nice to be confident in the preparations that we had made. It was also easy to see the holes in the plan. I now have the generator that I knew I would need when the grid goes down. After the fact, I also bought the connections necessary to hook up the generator just by turning off the main breaker, plugging the generator to an installed wall socket, and cranking it up. Cell phones go down after only a few days without a charge. I bought a portable power battery for that purpose. If we had been out of power long term, the generator would have had to have been used on a part time basis, at night. That means that daytime operations would have been using only one or two rooms, again. When power goes down, the best fallback is natural gas, if you have it. I am in the process of planning where to install additional natural gas stubs for appliances that can be added. The natural gas hot water heater was a blessing. It was on from the start. The warmest place in the house was the utility room where the water heater is located. Remember to have books and games for those evening hours when you would have been watching television. Make sure all of your gasoline cans stay filled and stabilized. Make sure all of your propane bottles stay charged. Make sure you have plenty of batteries for radios and flashlights. Make sure you have enough essential medicines. Roger’s Rangers rules #1 rule is "Don’t fergit nuthin!"

I may have missed a few issues, but I want to talk about future plans. I am going to install photovoltaic panels to run an emergency LED lighting system. This would be a small solar panel, probably 45-60 watts [and a deep cycle battery], as a precursor to getting a more comprehensive system. LED lights use very little electricity and they are very long lasting. More technology will be added as it becomes available. Reducing reliance on the grid is the ultimate goal.

Final Words
You can war game and "what if" emergency situations as much as you like. It is good to exercise your plan. The problem is that real situations have a way of waking you up to the holes in your plans. Do not wait to begin planning for the next disaster. People in tornado and earthquake zones know about being ready for these things, but Mother Nature will have a surprise for you no matter where you are. Prepare for the worst and pray to God that it doesn’t happen.

Original: http://www.survivalblog.com/2009/03/cold_and_darkan_account_of_an.html