Monday, January 22, 2007

One Week Without Power - Observations

The below post was written by RNKaren over at Frugal's ( It is an excellent after action review which provides cogent insights into what it was like to experience a region-wide ice storm and the resultant loss of electrical power. More than anything, it is a good first-hand look at how people react during times of emergency. There are lessons here that would apply in many different disaster situations. I liked it so much I requested (and received) permission from RNKaren to post it here.

Well, the big ice storm hit southern Missouri/Kansas/Oklahoma and some other areas last Friday. Lots and lots of people, urban and rural, are still without power, some are looking at weeks more. I have been very lucky, we were only without power for 3 days (thank God we got the trees trimmed), and there are a lot of open fields around us, which helped. However, much of the Ozarks is tree covered and some areas will just have to be bulldozed out and completely new poles and electric wires placed. Total do-over. I have been very interested in what is going on around me and with other people. I live in the country, but work in the city, so I get to see both sides.

1. People (sheeple) soon begin to hate and be very jealous of the prepared. Especially when they've been standing in line for a generator for 2 days, and the guy across the street is humming away.

2. Some people emotionally break down, totally panic, or both. These are the people who hit the shelters and leave their houses for pipes to freeze, etc. These are the "government will protect me people"

3. Other people try, but do dumb things, like run generators inside, fire up charcoal grills inside, etc. End up in the hospital or worse.

4. The sense of "entitlement" increases - the "where is FEMA" attitude is what I call it. These are the people who are running out of meds 1 day after it hit. No food, no water. Cry and give up.

5. The con artists and thieves abound. Many generators have been stolen in the Springfield, MO area. Have heard reports of tree trimmers charging super inflated amounts, stating that "FEMA will reimburse you" - which is totally false. FEMA is only clearing roads of debris, that is all.

6. A few non-prepared people are tough, and they do what they have to do. They will stay on their turf and make do with what little they have for a long time. They are proud.

7. In this particular case, it was about 3 days that the city was totally out of supplies - no gennies, gas stations running out, not a drop of kero or a tea candle out there. Then the trucks started rolling in. Wal-mart was open and cases and cases of stuff were sitting out in the aisles. The bread and milk trucks were rolling again. It still seems like people are panicking, buying more and more stuff. Kind of retroactive preps.

8. This situation really brings out the best or worst in people. Some are volunteering at shelters, and feeding the utility workers. Others are stealing and trying to loot. People also either get very generous and nicer than normal, or they get very cranky. After a few days, everyone is pretty much cranky.

9. Stuff happens that I didn't anticipate. My bank is still without power - my paycheck is electronically deposited. I can't go get cash out. Also, "telecheck" declined one of my checks because the previous one had been declined - because my bank's electronic system is down. Luckily I bank at 2 different banks in different towns, and the other one is fine. However, I realize the importance of having a fair amount of cash on hand. I'll just have to straighten out the "declined" electronic check mess later.

10. I realized my preps won't last as long as I thought. Gas, kero, propane - all go faster without electricity. More so as time goes on and you HAVE to do laundry, etc. Realized the need to get a better wood stove. And store lots more fuel.

11. Things break down, and you can't get parts - because everyone else is after the same things. Propane heater parts, thermostats, kero heater wicks, adapters for generators for different applications, chains for chainsaws, etc. Stuff like "I've got a flat, and all the tire shops are closed". It becomes very important to be able to do things yourself, and the tools to do it.

12. Murphy takes over, and you are stressed - even the best of preppers can do dumb things. Safety is important. Carbon monoxide detectors, ladder safety, chainsaw safety, etc. These are the things that get people the fastest.

13. Organization is very important. Testing your equipment. That gummed-up old generator is pretty much worthless. Camp stove you haven't used in 5 years. Air mattress with a hole in it and no repair kit. It is important to be able to FIND and USE what you need when you need it. Test runs are necessary. You will always think of things you wish you had, or find better ways to do things. Example: sometime when you have power and it's 12 degrees outside - just see how well you can heat with that kero heater. Does it keep the pipes from freezing? We learned a lot.

14. In this initial few days, when your trying to keep going and getting everything in place, it is not the time to begin grinding your own wheat and cooking beans for hours. Some ready-to-eat food is a must, just for morale. Canned ravioli can taste pretty good, as well as good comfort foods like soup and stews.

15. This is not the time to quit smoking or caffeine because you don't have any or can't get any - do it now. It will only add to the stress.

16. Have some instant coffee on hand, or a good way to make it with alternative means.

17. You soon find out that our culture of showering twice a day is not exactly necessary.

18. Bickering at your family because your all stressed does not help anyone.

19. The first few days of "camping" soon wear off - and it's not fun anymore.

20. I am glad I don't live in the city.

I know an ice storm is not TEOTWAWKI, but it was devastating to a lot of people. I think this will open a few eyes, but I already hear people saying "well this is the worst one we've ever had, it's not likely we'll have another one this bad for years and years" - so they won't prep again. They don't think that maybe next time it won't be ice. It might be flood, fire, NBC, anything. Preps are preps. Some are specific to certain events, others are standard for all. We were okay, but there were a lot of things I hadn't prepared sufficiently for. If it had been worse, or lasted longer for us, we would be hurting. Lesson learned, luckily we will get another chance.


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