The good thing about cold weather disasters is that the natural ones that occur are usually predicted sometime in advance. Blizzards and ice storms rarely sneak up on a community and you will typically have 72 hours (or more) warning time. Man made disasters (such as a terrorist attack on a power system during the winter) are far more unlikely and obviously wouldn't be accompanied by a warning. So, once you hear that the mother of all snowstorms is about to bury your town, you will probably have plenty of time to dust off the old survival kit and make sure you have everything you need.
My disaster kit is broken down into categories. Some of the items are packed in Rubbermaid tubs and simply stored in my workshop. Other items are in the house and are used for other activities (such as sleeping bags.) I keep a notebook which lists all of the items in each category and the number of the items. This helps in planning without having to dig everything out.
Illumination- Living in the dark sucks, living in the cold dark really sucks. Items for illumination not only help you navigate your now dark house and property, they also provide necessary comfort and reassurance, especially for children. I have in my kit-
- Maglite flashlight with spare batteries for each occupant.
- 2 dozen chemlights (glowsticks.)
- 2 disaster candles.
- 500 waterproof matches.
- 1 battery powered camping lantern with spare batteries.
Food and Water- High protein food including some with plenty of fat are best for riding out a winter storm. Remember, we are assuming that the primary source of heat in your house or apartment is not operating and that temperatures inside may easily fall below freezing after 18 to 24 hours. When temperatures fall, your body starts working harder to stay warm and your caloric needs increase dramatically. Also, it is not uncommon for public water to become unsafe to drink because electric pumps may fail at the utility company. It is very easy to become dehydrated in a cold weather situation especially if you are exerting yourself in terms of clearing snow, cutting wood etc. I have in my kit-
- Cases or bottles of drinking water. Assume about a gallon per person per day to be safe. Be sure to rotate and use your stock during the year. In addition, it is a good idea to keep old 1 liter soda bottles and fill them with water as the storm approaches.
- MRE (Meals ready to eat) military surplus entrees, peanut butter crackers and cookies. If you don't want to buy and pack food long-term, have a ready supply of granola bars, trail mix, jerkeys and other foods that won't spoil in a separate box from your primary food supply. Simply use and replenish throughout the year like your spare water.
- A coleman type camping stove which runs on gas along with spare gas bottles. (NEVER use a fuel stove in any confined space due to the deadly effect of CO poisoning. Put it outside and cook in the snow.) Instead of pots and pans, I keep simple tinfoil pans you can buy at the store to cook with, eat out of and dispose of. Hot chow not only tastes great when you are freezing, it also does a lot to boost the spirits of everyone else around you.
Clothing and Warmth- Once the power fails, everyone should immediately put on a warm hat, long underwear etc. The loss of body heat is insidious and gradual so the best prevention is to dress quickly to keep what heat you have. Also, everyone should sleep with hats, mittens and socks on even inside their sleeping bags. Layer multiple comforters or blankets beneath the sleeping area to reduce the loss of heat through the floor if you don't have camping mattresses or pads. Ideally, in cold climates everyone in the house should have their own sleeping bag rated to at least 20 degrees.
First Aid- Being cut off and without power can magnify an injury. Our first aid kit includes the following and is ready for action year round. Be sure to check the dates on all supplies and replace as necessary.-
- 2 bottles of hydrogen peroxide.
- 2 bottles of alcohol.
- Medical tape, gauze pads, band aids and bandages.
- Antibacterial ointment.
- Splints and bandages.
- Medical scissors.
- Scalpel and suture kit.
- Large bottle of ibuprofen
- Syrup of Ipecac.
- 1 gallon household bleach. Great for disinfecting as well as treating water if things get really bad.
- Special Forces medical handbook or other first aid guide.
House Protection- If the power has been off for awhile and things are not looking very rosy, it is always prudent to shut off your water, open the faucets and any drains to empty your pipes. Broken pipes can be enormously expensive in terms of repair and the water damage it can cause. I keep another tub full of general items that would be helpful in any situation.
- Work gloves.
- Hatchet and bow saw with spare blade.
- Spare chainsaw oil.
- Gas wrench for shutting off gas supply.
- 550 Parachute Cord (100') for use with tarps.
- Large Tarps (for patching any broken windows or other storm damage)
- Duct tape. Lots and lots of duct tape.
- Anti-Freeze for filling toilets if you drain your water system. (NOTE- be extremely careful with this because it is appealing and highly poisonous to both children and pets.)
Communications- Having a source of news and information or just plain old music can be a great benefit when you are bored out of your skull and sitting in a cold, dark house. I keep the following in my kit and keep them separate from the household so nobody plays with them or breaks them before we need them-
- A cheap little AM radio with spare batteries.
- A Grundig crank radio (AM, FM and shortwave.) I love my Grundig and it has performed flawlessly for 8 years. The crank obviously eliminates the need for power or batteries and it even has a small emergency light on it. No brainer for only $ 50.00.
- Make sure you can always find your cell phone car charger. We used our snow bound cars as basically giant cell phone chargers during the storm. You can also buy battery based chargers as well.
Heat Sources- We are fortunate to have a fireplace and if you have one too, half the battle has been won. Be sure to have at least a cord of dried, split wood on hand at all times. I have never trusted kerosene type space heaters and can't recommend them. Regardless of your heat source, a battery powered carbon monoxide detector is mandatory ! Even a seemingly well drafted fireplace can kill you and your family. I have begun to look at generators and it seems like money well spent. Although expensive (around $ 2,000 for a portable model) many of these systems push enough power to run the electrical components of a gas furnace and a light or two. Just be sure to run it outside- a man and his daughter tragically died here in Pittsburgh because he ran the generator in his partially closed garage.
Special Items- Everyone has different needs and issues so take a moment to think about what is critical to your safety if you can't get out of your house for a few days. This means-
- Baby food, diapers etc. Also, be a humanitarian and store plenty to help out somebody else's baby too.
- Feminine hygiene items.
- Special dietary requirements.
Having the Survival Attitude- Attitude is everything and panic can kill. First off, when the power fails, the snow is blowing sideways and the wind is howling like a jet engine, you need to just take a second and focus. The good news is that most modern homes are insulated well enough that it isn't going to get really cold inside for quite awhile so don't make any rash decisions. During our recent storm, the fire department made the rounds picking up people that wanted to go to public shelters and others attempted to hoof it out on their own. Sheltering in place is usually the best decision if you are prepared. Your family is in familiar surroundings, you can take care of your pets and keep an eye on your property.
Never discount the fact that some creeps will use a disaster situation to their own advantage in terms of theft and violence. Which brings us to the final component of my disaster planning- personal protection. I maintain a rather healthy stock of ammunition as well as two assault rifles. As a Buddhist I would never want to shoot anyone and hopefully the mere threat of use would be enough to keep the wolves away from my door. Owning a firearm is a personal decision and I respect those that do not want weapons in their homes. For those that do, I highly recommend training and certification classes as well as child locks.
- Make a simple plan with your family and buy your items over time. No need to rush out one weekend and spend thousands of dollars.
- Keep certain items separate from your household items so that when disaster strikes, they are serviceable and ready to go.
- Keep a list of everything in your kit so that you can inventory your gear once or twice a year, replace broken or outdated items.
- Make sure everyone in your family knows the location of the kit and inventory list and the use and operation of all items in it.
- Relax. With a little simple planning you can ride out the most extreme situations imaginable. Your ancestors did just fine over the past couple of thousand years and you can too.