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Basic Readiness

Basic readiness is a problem for most people. We assume that we’ll always have power, water, and food. We ignore the fact that this stuff goes away regularly, because it usually happens to someone else.

There was a snow storm here in Vermont (USA) last week. This was not a blizzard. As far as weather goes, this wasn’t particularly dramatic. There was just a lot of heavy snow and some high winds. Monday night the news came that towns were starting to loose power. As the weight of the snow took down more and more trees and branches, it became clear that this was going to be major.

“[Green Mountain Power] tripled its field force with external crews from Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Ontario and Quebec in Canada. GMP also doubled its tree crews with teams from Pennsylvania, New York and New Hampshire.” - Green Mountain Power

They let folks know early on that some people wouldn’t have power restored until Saturday (five days later). On Friday this was reported:

“Winter is here in full force and is prepared to hit us again with another storm forecasted for Saturday. Green Mountain Power crews have been out all week and so far, restored power to more than 100,000 customers. Crews are on track to finish restorations tomorrow, just as forecasters say a new storm system will hit Vermont. GMP is preparing for the possibility of new outages starting Saturday night. The storm is expected to bring wet snow, freezing rain and ice to already hard-hit areas of central and southern Vermont.” - Vermont Biz

100,000 people were without power. Some of them for almost a week. Cell phone towers usually have a few hours of emergency power. Outside of the city, when a tree takes out power lines it frequently takes out your phone, cable, and internet too.

Emergencies like this happen. They’re not rare. They just tend to get spread out, and we assume that because we haven’t had an emergency like that we’ll be fine. But even 24 hours without power can be a big deal in the winter or on summer days when the temperature is around the 100°F (38°C) mark.

So, here’s my question to you. If your neighborhood lost power for 3 days in the dead of winter, what would you do? What if you were snowed in? What if the storm was still going?

  • Can you keep your family and pets from freezing?
  • Can you keep your pipes from freezing?
  • Do you have enough food?
  • Do your pets have enough food?
  • If you live in a rural area, how will you know when the roads are safe?
  • If someone gets hurt, how will you contact emergency personnel? (remember: no phone, cell, or internet)
  • What if someone becomes hypothermic?
  • Does your town have a warming shelter? If they don’t, where’s the nearest one? Do they allow pets?
  • What if the roads aren’t drivable?
  • What about medical devices (even CPAPs) or things like insulin that need to be kept at a certain temperature?
  • How will you get water if the water pumps have no power?
  • What about food? Supermarkets get cleared out before a storm, and don’t like taking deliveries or doing business when they have no lights, or refrigeration, and can’t process anyone’s credit / debit cards.
  • If your car breaks down on the side of the road when people were told not to drive, how will you call for help? How will you keep from freezing?

And that’s just questions for winter. What about something like the California wildfires?

I wish it wasn’t so hard to get people to think about these things. I wish people wouldn’t keep disregarding these types of simple emergencies that happen to people in first world countries every year. Climate change creates more extreme weather, and is even being linked to earthquakes. These events will happen with increasing frequency, but even if it didn’t, it already happens with enough frequency that we should all take it seriously.

Ready.gov has basic guidelines to get you started with planning for events like these. They’ve also got a guide to putting together a simplistic emergency kit.