Note: This is day 20 of National Preparedness Month . Follow this year’s campaign on Twitter by searching for the #NatlPrep hash tag.
This month, as part of NPM17, I’ll be rerunning some edited and updated older preparedness essays, along with some new ones.
Short term power outages affect most of us each year, usually lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. Longer outages, while less common, are far from rare - as anyone who found themselves in the path of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Marie over the past month will attest.
While my power was restored late last week, there are still a few thousand without power in Florida, and with Marie's landfall a few hours ago, likely millions more are without electricity now in Puerto Rico.As so many have recently discovered (or rediscovered), after about 12 hours without electricity, the quality of life begins to sharply decline. After 48 hours life just sucks.
While having no TV, or Internet, or electric lights might seem more of an inconvenience than anything else, sometimes not having power can be deadly (see Ninth person dead in Florida nursing home where Irma knocked out power).During the summer of 2012, a powerful Derecho swept across the Mid-Atlantic states (see Picking Up The Pieces), killing 15 and leaving nearly 4 million people without power, some for more than 2 weeks. While 15 people died during the storm, at least 32 died of heat-related illnesses in the two weeks that followed. This from a 2013 MMWR:
Heat-Related Deaths After an Extreme Heat Event — Four States, 2012, and United States, 1999–2009
WeeklyJune 7, 2013 / 62(22);433-436 On June 29, 2012, a rapidly moving line of intense thunderstorms with high winds swept across the midwestern and eastern United States, causing widespread damage and power outages.
Afterward, the area experienced extreme heat, with maximum temperatures exceeding 100°F (37.8°C) (1). This report describes 32 heat-related deaths in Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia that occurred during the 2 weeks following the storms and power outages.
(SNIP)(Continue . . . )
Most decedents (75%) were unmarried or living alone. Common underlying or contributing conditions included cardiovascular disease (14) and chronic respiratory disease (four). In at least seven (22%) of the deaths, loss of power from the storms was known to be a contributing factor. Overall, 22 (69%) decedents died at home, with lack of air conditioning reported in 20 (91%) of these deaths.
As I've written often (see #NatlPrep: Disaster Buddies) people who live alone - nearly 1 person in 10 in the United States - are particularly vulnerable during a disaster.
For some of them, having a place to go when staying put would endanger their safety, and a way to get there, can literally mean the difference between life and death.Hurricanes, ice storms, Nor’easters, tornadoes, floods, tornadoes . . . and even solar storms (see Solar Storms, CMEs & FEMA) are capable of crippling power production and delivery.
Add in our aging infrastructure, and the potential of cyber (or physical) attacks on the system, and the odds of seeing more major power outages only increases.Without electrical power, water and gasoline doesn’t pump, elevators and air conditioners don’t run, ATM machines and banks close, grocery stores can’t take debit or credit cards, produce, meat and frozen foods spoil, and and everything from cooking, to flushing toilets, becomes a major challenge.
Particularly in urban settings.If a disaster struck your region today, and the power went out, stores closed their doors, and water stopped flowing from your kitchen tap for the next 7 to 10 days . . . do you have:
- A battery operated NWS Emergency Radio to find out what was going on, and to get vital instructions from emergency officials?
- A decent first-aid kit, so that you can treat injuries?
- Enough non-perishable food and water on hand to feed and hydrate your family (including pets) for the duration?
- A way to provide light (and in cold climates, heat) for your family without electricity? And a way to cook? And to do this safely?
- A small supply of cash to use in case credit/debit machines are not working?
- An emergency plan, including meeting places, emergency out-of-state contact numbers, a disaster buddy, and in case you must evacuate, a bug-out bag?
- Spare supply of essential prescription medicines that you or your family may need?
Unfortunately, a lot of people make the wrong choices when they do prepare. They buy candles instead of battery operated lights, they use generators inside their house or garage, or resort to dangerous methods to cook or to heat their homes.As a result, when the power goes out, house fires and carbon monoxide poisonings go up. Each year hundreds of Americans are killed, and thousands affected, by CO poisoning (see In Carbon Monoxide: A Stealthy Killer).
While preparedness may seem like a lot of work, it really isn’t. You don’t need an underground bunker, an armory, or 2 years worth of dehydrated food. But you do need the basics to carry on for a week or two, and a workable family (or business) emergency/disaster plan.But you need to make these preparations now, before the next threat appears on the horizon. In central Florida, there wasn't a case of water, a flashlight, or a battery to be had a full 5 days before Irma struck. Those who procrastinated were out of luck.
For more information on how to prepare, I would invite you to visit:
AMERICAN RED CROSS http://www.redcross.org/
A final note: Living in Florida, and having endured some mighty uncomfortable power outages, I've come to really appreciate having a battery operated fan in my emergency kit.