Preparing for an emergency isn’t just about protecting your home and family from THE BIG ONE. Every year, severe winter weather leaves people stranded on roads and in airports, entire neighborhoods without power, and emergency personnel scrambling to repair the damage.
From heavy rainfalls to severe blizzards, winter weather can shut down entire cities, leaving homeowners to fend for themselves. Following the 72-Hour rule may not be enough. It can take much longer for service to be restored depending on the severity of the damage.
A recent windstorm in the Greater Vancouver Region left homeowners without power for as long as 3 days (FROM NOTHING MORE THAN HIGH WINDS). The sheer number of outages meant emergency crews were overwhelmed with hundreds and hundreds of individual outages that needed attention, leaving many homeowners sitting in the dark, wondering and waiting.
And that was just the first of many power outages this season (living in the land of tall trees has its disadvantages). Losing power to a downed power line during high winds has become so common that we now have a regular power outage routine.
How to Prepare for a Winter Storm
Prepare BEFORE the Storm Alerts — Don’t wait until you see the severe weather warning flashing on your screen as that’s when retailers tend to run out of the critical emergency supplies, like candles, batteries, and road salt. If you are reading this because you just saw a severe weather warning, GO NOW (and learn your lesson for next time by stocking up when things get back to normal).
Stock Up on Pantry Essentials — Always keep a supply of easily prepared food in your pantry. If you don’t have a gas stove that you can operate without the power being on, include ready-to-go snacks, like granola bars and dried fruits and nuts and bottled water. If you do have a gas stove (and are comfortable lighting it with a match), include ready-made soups, pasta and sauce, and canned goods. Safety note: NEVER EVER use a camp stove or portable barbecue indoors.
Make DIY Freezer Packs — Fill large plastic containers with water and freeze it (4 litre milk jugs work well). You probably want one for the freezer and another for the fridge. It’s also a good idea to try to keep your freezer full as the critical mass of frozen food will keep your freezer colder for longer, but as a general rule, your fridge is more vulnerable than your freezer so keep it closed.
Ready the Emergency Gadgets — Get those handy-dandy doodads ready to go! Must-have’s include a plug-in rechargeable flashlight that switches on when the power goes out (so you can find your other supplies), a standard LED headlamp (for hands-free use when repairing damage or simply preparing dinner in the dark), portable power sticks (for powering up your cell phone or other devices), and a tarp and duct tape (for any impromptu repairs). AND of course, don’t forget about the good old-fashioned candles (used well away from children and potential hazards).
Check Your Home for Vulnerability — Always keep up with your regular exterior maintenance, remembering to trim dead branches off of trees, checking your roof and building envelope for leaks, sealing windows and doors, and clearing paths and walkways of loose rocks and debris. If you are expecting a lot of snow and ice, be ready with rock salt and gravel to keep walkways safe.
What to Do When the Storm Hits
Prepare the Fridge — Pop your DIY freezer pack in and then never plan on opening either your fridge or freeze again until the power is back on. If you do have things in there that you know you will need, take them out and place them in a cooler stored on your deck (if it’s cold enough outside) or with another DIY freezer pack so you won’t compromise the other contents.
Turn On Alternate Heating System (If Available) — If you have a wood burning stove or fireplace (that can be used safely) or a back-up generator, use it to heat the main areas of the house, closing off seldom-used bedrooms and storage spaces to conserve heat. NEVER EVER use a camp stove or outdoor heating system to heat your home as you risk carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Snuggle Up and Stay Off the Roads — As much as possible, avoid venturing out on hazardous roads. If you do need to venture out, check local road reports for the safest routes, especially if the idea of driving on snowy, icy roads makes you nervous. It’s time to pull out the sleeping bags and play winter camping in your living room! Tip: use a plastic milk jug to diffuse the light from your flashlight or headlamp and give the room a nice glow!
Shut Off Water and Open Taps — If you don’t have an alternate heating system, shut off the water and open the taps to prevent frozen pipes from bursting and causing additional damage. This step is especially important if you plan on leaving your home for an emergency shelter to wait out the storm. Don’t forget to pack the car with emergency supplies in case you end up stranded on the road.
Check Updates With Cautious Optimism — Keep an eye on the restoration progress via the web or social media, but don’t count on their estimates being accurate or even available. Depending on how many outages your power company has to respond to, they may or may not be regularly updating their status reports (or in our case, their site was completely overwhelmed so they shutdown the reporting function).