By Paul Stevens
Many times our imaginations and perceptions become larger than life, allowing our thought processes to exceed far beyond all reality and our own physical limitations. This could leave many who think they are well prepared really under-prepared.
Pipe Dream- an unrealistic hope or fantasy, although this term originated from the pipe dream allusions experienced by smokers of opium pipes. The phrase for prepping is very appropriate, as we listen to people’s plans of preparedness we often walk away thinking that guy is just pipe dreaming, or wondering what he has been smoking?
A good example of our imagination and perceptions; the solar power lights advertised on line and sold in stores. Many of us got suckered with them when they first come out and why not? They looked good in the marketing material; you could even visualize the amount of light that would pour out on your driveway or sidewalk. It’s not until you get home and start using them that you quickly realize they are nothing but a joke. They hardly throw enough light to even see your hand a foot away. What’s really scary is people are continuing to buy them even after they see how bad they work on other people’s homes.
A good example of our physical limitations; we have all dreamed about doing a project. We visualize ourselves, doing it, even having fun and completing it quickly, just another walk in the park in our minds, right? But when the time comes what we thought would be just a weekend project becomes a month or longer project. Truth be told, some of us still have yet to put the finishing touches on projects started months ago.
When watching people in a true life disaster preparedness along the Gulf Coast, I’m amazed, amused and then feel so sorry for people as I watch the lines at our home improvement stores when a Hurricane is reported to be headed in our direction. I don’t know how many times I have seen guys wheeling out a brand new generation while carrying a 2 gal gas can in the other hand. You get the picture, two gallons of gas won’t even fill the generator, plus it will only last about four hours and that is if the generator runs only at half the rated capacity.
Then follows the wife with kids in tow, she will have a 50’ light duty extension cord, a flashlight and some masking tape for the windows and a case of bottled drinking water. The husband and wife walk out feeling prepared to take on a full force hurricane.
And why is it during any pending weather disaster, people will panic and run to the grocery stores just to clear out all the bread, milk, and eggs? For some reason they are programmed to focus only on the short term commodities which will only last them 24-36 hours. They walk on past the basic necessities and staples they really need to last for weeks without power. Do they not know how to cook beans and rice from scratch, bake bread in a cast iron pot?
We don’t always take the time to think and read the fine print to understand the capabilities and requirements of a piece of survival equipment we are looking to purchase. For example; we glance down and read the advertisement on the generator, it says it will run up to 12 hours on one tank of gas, but then on down in the fine print it says based on half load capacity. As we look closer the advertised 6,500 Watts is actually for only a short peak period of time, the actual rated running watts is only 5000 watts.
How many items do we have sitting still boxed up on the shelf, with no clue if it works or if we even have everything to make it work? Heck, do we even know where it is at? I know I often will impulse purchase something and bring it home and throw it on the shelf thinking that just might come in handy if we get caught in a disaster. When I do need it I can’t find it or it is missing something else that wasn’t explained on the box, or it is just a piece of junk that falls apart. A camping stove is not going to do much good if you don’t have the LP hose to hook it up. A generator cord is going to be worthless when you thought it took a crow foot plug, but the generator actually requires a twist lock plug.
Just how realistic can we expect to have our spouse or kids run by and pick up the right product with all the needed accessories after seeing in a sales flyer, especially when they often forget to do it or come back with something totally different. I can hear the heated conversation of desperation now,”I though you wanted me to get a rubber glass squeegee, you didn’t tell me you needed a floor squeegee in case the basement floor started to flood”.
Realize there is just a lot of junk on the market that people are depending on to keep them going in disasters. It may look like the original but the copy cat cheaply made products just can’t be depended on. If it is cheap and you may really need to depend on it, consider passing and paying for a quality made name brand product. It’s like hearing your neighbor brag about an air compressor his wife bought him for Christmas. He goes on and on about how good it is and in your mind you think wow she really did well. Then one day you have a rather urgent trip only to find that you have a flat tire. Realizing you really could use his help with the compressor, you give him a call and in short time he shows up with a black vinyl bag and pulls out a plastic tire pump that plugs into the cigarette lighter. In your dismay he continues to proudly display it and plugs it into your cigarette lighter. It runs for about 10 minutes and then freezes. He is then in total disbelief, that his compressor didn’t live up to the marketing image on the box. You are still stuck with a flat tire and he is stuck with junk, thinking he was prepared. It has nothing to do with smarts either, in fact I have witness Master level and PHD level people get taken even more with product deception. Companies spend a fortune on product packaging and product description just to trick our minds.
People don’t always understand the connections they will need to make their survival gear work for them when a disaster hits and the power goes out. They are feeling they are prepared, and why not, like the couple above, they have the generator, a gas can and an electric cord to hook it up. The check list is done and completed, right?
Many people wait until the last minute having no clue on how to use a piece of equipment, and what they will need to hook it up. Like a generator, where they will use it, how will it hook up, and what else is needed to hook it up? Maybe they are only planning to run a refrigerator or freezer, but the reality is they are probably thinking they will just fire it up and somehow run the whole house. After the hurricanes passed, many families were found dead in their homes; they had survived the hurricane but were overcome by carbon monoxide because they ran a generator in an enclosed garage. Probably because they had no place outside to run it, with the high winds and pounding rains, where will you safely run yours in bad weather?
The reality is a 5000 Watt Generator will require at least a 45 Amp service for 110 volt operation and 22.7 Amp service for 220 volt service. People should prepare ahead and have an electrician hook into the service panel with a transfer switch. The generator will be limited to only providing a few circuits. 5000 Watts will not be enough to run an electric stove, oven or central A/C as they will require a dedicated 50 Amp service. So what other alternative sources will you have to take the place of these appliances? Might be a good time to convert to a gas stove, economically gas is going to save money in the long run. A gas stove still will require electricity to run the igniter, yes a match for the top burners but how do you light the oven? It might require a long fireplace igniter that you may just not have.
To hook a portable 5000W generator to a 220 volt interface a short run of #10- 30 Amp rated extension cord will be needed. A size #14 wire is rated to only handle up to 15 Amps, and the sizes #16 and #18 wires commonly used in most extension cords are only capable of carrying less than 10 Amps. The length of the cord also plays a big factor, even on one that is as short as 25’ long. You can research more about amperage and voltage, as well as voltage drop on the Internet.
All extension cord wire sizes will be stamped on the side of the cords, always look as some of the large bulky imported cords may lead you to think they are heavy duty, when in actuality they may only be #14 or #16 wires surrounded with just a lot of cheap plastic.
It is a good idea to look at all the power consumption labels on equipment and add up the items that you will be dependent on during a power outage. Labels will either display the power needs in Amps or Watts. The quick and dirty conversion from Watts to Amps is to divide the volts into the listed wattage.
A 1550 Watt appliance based on 110 volts will require 13.6 Amps. A 60 Watt bulb requires only .54 Amps and so forth. You may not know the exact voltage coming in unless you have an electrician or the power company tests it. Using the lower 110 volts for conversion will be on the conservative side. This is not meant to be an exact calculation to take things to the max, consult a qualified electrician if you need to figure amperage to the edge of a wires capacity, especially when distance is a factor. A generator transfer switch should be installed in order to hook a generator up properly and in some locations even legally to a grid served home.
You will likely come to realize that groups of electrical items will need to be rotated to run on the generator for periods of time. By planning now charting and labeling which items can be ran will make the transition to off-grid more organized. You may actually discover some internal wiring or changing circuits also will need to be completed in order to accommodate everything that needs to be powered.
In calculating gas needs, you will pretty quickly discover a 5000 Watt generator is not going to last long on even a couple of 5 gallon gas cans, less than 24 hours if ran continuous. Then how many gallons will you need over three days, a week, a month? Where can you store this much gas safely. The reality is that you may only be able to afford to stockpile enough gas to run a generator for just a couple hours a day in order to keep the freezer stuff frozen, run the well pump, do some laundry, and other chores and then rely on other battery operated or manually operated items.
One flashlight is not going to be enough, to even last a week, without new batteries, and what about the bulb? Yes, better have a replacement bulb as well. Personally I like to have several options such as generators, a 12 volt deep cycle marine battery set up with a solar charger, an inverter and plugs to charge 12 volt items, some oil lamps, candles and lots of flash lights and batteries. An inverter will quickly run down the battery, but it is good to have for back up to charge cell phones, battery power tools, and run a table lamp.
You need someone very methodical and detailed in prepping in the family. Who is the preparedness nut in your family? If it is you and you’re the one who always forgets the wallet, or where you put the car keys, you just might want to reconsider that strategy. It’s not that you are not a good prepper you are just better at doing other things and need to leave the details to someone good at it.
Prepping together with other like minded friends can bring many resources together and provide a good cross check of everyone’s preparedness. This also allows people to purchase in bulk, then split and process food in larger production modes. Many people survived the Great Depression by pulling together neighbors and large families to share in the growing of food and processing it.
Do we know the shelf life on the items we are stockpiling? Unless it is wine or fine bourbon most items don’t have a very long shelf life. Did you know gasoline will only stay fresh for only a few months? Maybe six months with stabilizer, diesel does better up to two years, natural gas would be the best, but will there be natural gas? Maybe a Tri-fuel generator is the best option, these run on gas, natural gas/propane or diesel, available at [url]http://www.northerntool.com.
The same goes for food, dry milk and other items being stockpiled. These items will need to be labeled and rotated as you use and purchase replacement stock. We took Y-2K pretty serious; regardless if the world fell then or not we always wanted to be prepared for a major storm. We did end up throwing a lot of food away, weevils got into most of the flour mixes, and much of the other stuff expired. Lesson learned how you store and stockpile is just as important.
Will the equipment work when you need it the most? Generators and other small gas engines just don’t do well sitting unused for long periods of time. The newer gas formulas, many containing alcohol and other additives, tend to gum up the carburetor quicker to the point they just won’t start. Fuel and winterize additives just don’t seem to work as a well as they use to with these new gasoline blends. Small engine repair people say it is just best is to let the motor run out of gas, even then it needs to be run periodically to keep the gaskets and parts from drying out. Some small engine repair shops suggest we should only use premium grade gas in these small engines, and that can get expensive quick.
Do we have spare parts? Even stationary generators, solar, or wind power units and wood furnaces have parts that can break and make the equipment useless. Spare hoses, belts, spark plugs, are all now required on the generators serving coastal healthcare facilities subject to hurricanes after lessons learned from lost lives during hurricane disasters. When we lived up North we had an outdoor wood furnace, I always stocked another circulating pump and draft blower fan for periods when ice and snow storms wouldn’t allow me to get out and find a replacement, should one of them failed. This would have shut our entire heating system down, leaving us vulnerable. Yes, over 10 years I did have to replace the circulating pump a couple times, once in the middle of a snowy cold night, I was very glad I was prepared as one winter temperatures fell 20 below.
Did you know things made of rubber such as tires; belts and hoses have shelf life? Not as much an issue as food, but they will dry rot over time, while even hanging in a shed. If your rubber replacement parts are over 10 years old, it may be best to purchase some new ones. Some even say 5 years.
Do we have the right supplies to do the job? Are we depending on what just might be a wise tale? One roll of masking tape is not going to go very far, but the real issue is taping the windows is not even recommended to provide protection during a hurricane; it is just an old wise tale. To be prepared we need plywood cut and ready to apply to windows and doors, with heavy screws or anchors.
Do we have enough water for the entire family? Homeland security recommends one gallon of water per person per day. That provides 2 Quarts for consumption and 2 Quarts for food prep and hygiene. They go on and say bottled water should be rotated yearly; even water has a shelf life. Rain water can be gathered in 55 gal barrels, and used for flushing the toilets and boiling. But just one case of bottled water wouldn’t even last a husband and wife one day. For a family of four we will need to store or be able to produce 240 gallons of water per month. Perhaps a 320 gal plastic tank like the ones sold at farm stores is the way to prepare for this one. Having a well with the generator to run it helps solve the replenishing issue.
Do we have the families’ commitment and understanding about living without power? Long hot showers and standing in front of open freezer and refrigerator doors for long periods will not be an option. Safe handling of open burning candles and oil burning options need safety training to prevent them from being knocked over and catching the house on fire.
What will the family do to keep them active? Obviously living off grid will be more work, but the things taking for granted such as computers, TV’s and video games will not be an option. Have you stocked up on board games, books and puzzles?
What about medications and other healthcare needs? With most insurance companies only allowing a 30 day supply, this could be a tough one that maybe someone else can help answer on how they are prepping. And what about those at home on oxygen, insulin, and even dialysis? I see these as real issues for those prepping for major disasters or unrest.