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Emergency Preparedness in Place

A few weeks ago I was chatting with DadsDollarsDebts via Twitter when he laid quite a surprise on me , his house had burned down in the Tubb fire. Even worse he was nearly in it when it happened. I can only imagine the distress has caused him and his family, and like many others living in that area I send me thoughts and prayers. Out of that post, an interesting thing happened. Personal finance bloggers banded together to write about the importance of Emergency Preparedness. This post is my contribution to that chain.

At first I was a bit hesitant to add to the chain. I’ve never had my house threatened by fire or volcanos and flying mud . What could I write about preparedness that my compatriots had not already added. Then it hit me.

Emergency Preparedness with Unique Challenges

I have spent much of my life growing up semi rurally. What do I mean by semi rurally? Well I do not live on a farm, and I am typically 10-20 minutes from a smaller city. But, to get to my house you have to go down a long and windy road. Then you have to turn down a private lane and go back a good 1/2 a mile to my house. Beyond our current house are woods that go for miles. The house I grew up in was setup similarly. This means a few things are different then what happens in the city.

  1. I am one of the last people they get to in an emergency. If the powers out we could be waiting quite a while.
  2. Downed trees and power happen more often than elsewhere just based on the sheer number of them.
  3. It’s difficult to get out of where I live in an emergency as there is really only one way out by car. The other involves a hike through the woods.
  4. My home services are more self contained, which is both good and bad. I have a well and a septic system, which means I don’t need water from the water company to survive. But… I need electricity of some type to run my well pump, or I can’t even flush my toilets.

Not Uncommon to be Stuck In Our House For Days On End

So while I have never had a, my house is in danger type of emergency, long periods of potentially dire power outages where you are stuck in your home are not uncommon. In the dead of winter these can quickly become an emergency if you are not prepared. One of the worst such situations I remember happened when I was 14. A 100 year walnut tree in my neighbor’s yard decided to come down. It laid out across the road, took out the telephone poles in front of my parents house, and laid in our yard. For five days we were stuck in our house, cutoff for the outside world. Least you think this was some sort of outlier, regular outages of a day or 2 happened a few times a year.

Emergency Preparedness In Place

The thing is, these type of situations lead to a different type of emergency preparedness than others have written about. I am generally not in need of a bug out bag, transportation, or communication. There are scenarios where such things which may be needed, but infinitely more likely I need to be prepared to hunker down in my home for days on end without contact to the outside world.

While writing this I have noted while I am semi prepared, I have let my guard down in some areas.

How I have Prepared, and a Question

So how have I prepared for an emergency in place:

  • Well in my particular case the number one emergency preparedness tool is probably a generator. I will readily admit I have cut corners here recently. We have been playing chicken by not having bought one since we moved into our current home. I am trying to decide how to rectify this issue. An automatic home system is expensive. A portable version requires consistent maintenance and a place outdoors to run during a storm. It is a tough decision really, and one for which I am considering a third option as you will see later.
  • We also keep water on hand in jugs in the basement. If power goes out to the home we lose water as well since we are on a well. This means no flushing of toilets, washing ourselves, and ultimately nothing to drink. The jugs are rotated regularly and are primarily for toilets and washing. To this we fill up a tub with water any time a big storm is scheduled to hit, so we can utilize that water if needed as well. For drinking water we tend to fill up pitchers before an expected event. We also keep some bottled water on hand just in case. We are generally prepared for water issues at least.
  • Heat is my least mitigated concern. Many of my neighbors are on propane. The house I grew up in was on oil. None of these work without power. We are on natural gas, but no power means no blower which means using the heater is a no go. We could use the oven to some extent in an emergency but that is a poor method of heating a house in an emergency. At the moment we are debating a purchase of a wood burning stove. We could use it to both reduce heating bills and as a backup during power outages. I am somewhat considering this as an alternative to a generator as I view heat in winter as the one thing on this list for which I do not at least have a viable mitigation plan. I have nearly an endless supply of wood behind my house. We’ve cut down a 20-30 foot tree every year since we moved in 4 years ago. Currently my preparedness is limited to knowing how to drain my water pipes.  We also, of course, have plenty of blankets.
  • I am less concerned about air conditioning. It certainly gets hot in Delaware in the summer, being practically surrounded by water. But we have a basement in our house. I have noted over the years we have lived here that even after coming back from a week of vacation where air conditioning was off and summer did it’s worst, it is bearable in the basement. If I do not feel like I am going to melt like a popsicle in my basement on a 100 degree day after a week with the air conditioning off I suspect we could theoretically survive without air conditioning indefinitely if needed.
  • We also have a giant freezer and fridge of food. In a true emergency the big benefit of that generator over a wood burning stove is keeping our food from spoiling. However, most issues here happen in winter when snow and ice snaps power lines. We have a sun porch where we can and have placed food to keep in a winter outrage. As such unless the power were to go out for an extended period of time in the summer this is less of a concern. Even if it did the cost of the food in the freezer once every few years is probably less than a generator. In my experience the fridge and freezer will keep the food for at least 2 days.

Generator or Wood Stove?

So I guess after writing this you can see my struggle as a homeowner living in an area susceptible to being cut off from the outside world. You also see some of the basic steps I have already put in place to mitigate some of the issues.

So I’ll leave you with the question. Which would you buy, the wood stove or the generator? Anyone else have a higher probability of needing emergency preparedness in place?

The Chain Gang

The Chain in question is below, starting with the post from DadsDollars and Debts on his recently frightening experience.
Anchor: DadsDollarsDebt – Tubb’s Fire – A Sudden Evacuation
Anchor Two: Chief Mom Officer – A Harrowing Escape Inspires The Personal Finance Community – Beyond The Emergency Fund
Link 1: OthalaFehu – Cool As A Cucumber
Link 2: The Retirement Manifesto – Am I A Prepper?
Link 3: Mrs. Retire to Roots – In Case Of Emergency Follow The Plan
Link 4: The Lady In Black – Emergency Preparedness
Link 5: The Green Swan – Preparing For The Worst
Link 6: Minafi – Minimal Hurricane Preparation
Link 7: A Gai Shan Life – Earthquake and disaster preparedness
Link 8: The Financial Journeyman – Emergency Preparation: Be Proactive
Link 9; John And Jane Doe – Thinking the Worst: Emergency Planning or Fighting the Last War?
Link 10: Adventure Rich – Emergency Preparation Up North
Link 11: Money Beagle – How Much Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?
Link 12: Crispy Doc – Fighting Fire With FI/RE
Link 13: She Picks Up Pennies – How Can A Planner Be Unprepared?
Link 14: Chronicles Of A Father-Getting Ready for a Natural Disaster
Link 15: Rogue Dad MD- Disrupting the Equilibrium
Link 16: Unique Gifter-10 Ways To Help Disaster Victims
Link 17: SomeRandomGuyOnline-Friday Blog Roundup – Emergency Preparedness Edition
Link 18: 99 to 1 Percent: 15 Frugal Ways To Prepare For An Emergency
Link 19: I Dream Of FIRE – Your house is burning and you can only save 10 things – what do you choose?

11 Comments

  1. Yet Another PF Blog
    Yet Another PF Blog November 1, 2017

    If I were you, I’d get a generator. I imagine wood stove is probably cheaper, but power is just so key in an emergency.

    We’re in a city where there aren’t a lot of natural disasters. Occasionally some downed wires during storms or blizzards, but that’s the sum of it. I don’t think we’ve gone more than a few hours without power. In one ideal world, we’d have a battery as backup with our solar decoupled from the grid, which would probably be enough to get us through most storms. We keep about a month’s dry food on hand, but I’ve been lazy about storing water (mostly because that’s never been an issue and because of the hassle of switching it out).

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance November 1, 2017

      Solar is an interesting option. However, we currently live on a lot surrounded by giant oak trees. It would be really hard to find a place on our property with consistent sunlight which is why that option is not on the table. Great suggestion though, with a different lot that would probably be my solution.

  2. SMM
    SMM November 1, 2017

    I think it’s really important to have a good working relationship with your neighbors. I remember back in the blizzard of 2009. Our previous neighborhood which was deep inside a community didn’t get plowed for DAYS! Fortunately, our neighbor had a gas snow blower and helped our many of us. We all shoveled too each other sidewalks, etc. It was a bonding experience and then had dinner together. We had a generator as well and I said that if power goes out they are all more than welcome to come over 🙂

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance November 1, 2017

      I can get on board with that recommendation. My neighbor has a large tractor with a snow plow. Last year during the blizzard and ice storm I probably would have been two days shoveling our way out if he hadn’t showed up. My back thanked him. Great add.

  3. Torch Red
    Torch Red November 1, 2017

    I have several neighbors with automatic home system generators. This is the best method, but it is costly. A portable generator would cost much less and allow you to keep your fridge, freezer and well pumps running. If you have fresh gas for your mower and/or snow blower anyway, it is not much of a maintenance headache to start up the portable generator 1-2 times per year.

    I’ll share a story… We lost power for 4-5 days in the northeast in October one year when the remnants of a hurricane came through. I didn’t have a generator, but I did have a power inverter we sometimes use when camping. I ran a 100′ extension cord from my garage to my basement and kept the sump pump operating by hooking a power inverter onto the car battery. The sump pump ran the most often starting about 12 hours after the rain stopped. I would start the car every couple of hours to recharge the car battery. This method saved our finished basement, but 4-5 days was too long for the food in our freezer. We live and learn along the way.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance November 1, 2017

      The steps you took with the inverter sounds like a colossal pain. You do what you have to do though. I have to ask, was it Sandy?

      We live in a dry spot on top of a hill, so my sump pump risks are primarily driven by if I delay cleaning our gutters. Then again it’s Delaware so even the highest point is only 300 feet above sea level. I can definitely see that being a top priority.

      • Torch Red
        Torch Red November 2, 2017

        Yes, super-storm Sandy. I’m in central PA. Yeah, the inverter wasn’t ideal, but at that point we had been in the house 8+ years and never lost power with all of the utilities in our neighborhood running underground. We were not properly prepared for an extended outage.

  4. Mr. Need2Save
    Mr. Need2Save November 1, 2017

    I would go for the generator. Given that the need is hopefully infrequent, the frugal side of me would go with the portable version. That said, we don’t lose power too often or for too long, so I would put up with the extra work and maintenance.

    Outside of some extra water jugs, we are ill prepared for an extended disaster situation. Recent events are a good reminder that we need to take action on being better prepared.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance November 2, 2017

      As sad as the events are at least if it triggers some of us to be better prepared for the next one it’s served some positive value. It looks so far like the generator is the crowd favorite.

  5. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe
    Emily @ JohnJaneDoe November 2, 2017

    Mostly, we’ve lost power due to ice storms or wind damage, and that has largely been in cooler months. We have a generator and LP fueled gas logs. But we also have an inverter, and it generates enough power to run a small lamp or a space heater. We use that when we suspect the outage isn’t going to be long enough to drag out the generator.

    Personally, I’d go with the generator and make sure you have a space heater on hand.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance November 2, 2017

      Thanks for adding your thoughts Emily. With almost everyone weighing in on the side of the generator it is starting to push me that direction.

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