We're a little crazy, about science!

Surviving catastrophe: A how to guide

Well what a crazy time to be alive, a time where everything is trying to kill us. Okay I acknowledge that nature is one ruthless force, but a lot of what has happened in the past few days has been almost completely due to human greed. Between the global warming causing this “once in a lifetime” storm — that is certainly not once in a lifetime — and power companies more concerned about profit than human lives, it’s been a trial. People, real people like you or I, but with far more money, are trying to kill us. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

Disability sucks. People either give you puppy eyes, call you lazy, or in rare occasions acknowledge that it sucks. When the pandemic hit, more than a handful of local government officials were perfectly happy letting us die. Who cares if someone who couldn’t play the capitalism game dies? Not the people in charge, that’s for sure. Some of us have more needs than others. I’m thankful that cold weather hurts, like literally hurts. I’ve got several old war wounds and some days I feel like a old man trapped in a body that thinks it’s even older. I’m not even forty yet, but I have the health problems (and the attitude) of an eighty year old. Let’s just say old age isn’t something I’m looking forward to. Still, I don’t require a whole lot of special equipment to keep me alive, so I am lucky.That doesn’t mean that others are so fortunate.

Proper disaster preparedness is for the wealthy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the cash laying around for a generator or one of those fancy powerwalls. I wish I did, but I wish I had a lot of things. The point being when a disaster hits people are often wondering why no one planned better, no one evacuated, no one did X or Y or Z. The answer almost always comes down to money. Sure, there are the few people who don’t believe the news, or are foolish enough to stay even though they have the means to escape, but for the bulk of us, there is no where to go.

By the time the storm hit the roads were icy enough that I was stuck in my home like it or not, I don’t own a truck or anything with four wheel drive. No matter who you are or your health conditions there are a few things that every person needs in order to live. Food is nice, but without water you won’t survive long. So instead of saving your money to buy some fancy and expensive shelf stable food that costs more than $100, spend less than $20 on 5-10 gallons of water (depending on your household size, it’s best to have ~1.5 gallon a day per person, that sounds like a lot, but it isn’t, trust me). Regular water, not distilled, nothing fancy, just sealed gallon size jugs of tap water and store them someplace safe. That’s the first thing you need to do and trust me, you won’t care about needing it until you definitely need it. You will thank me for telling you to have it when you do need it.

Now that we’ve got water figured out, we need to talk shelter. Some of us (myself included) are lucky to have a home. I wasn’t always so lucky and the experience taught me the next big important thing that you as a soft sack of meat needs to stay alive, warmth. Summertime sucks, it gets hot, you sweat and everyone wants to just cool down. As humans we can take a lot of heat… to a point, but we can survive most of what the planet can throw at us if we can find shade and follow the previous step of having water. Cooling down to non-life threatening temperatures isn’t easy, but it can be done without needed power.

However, the cold is a bastard. Cold weather is sneaky and warming back up isn’t simple. If the power goes out in the summertime, you have options to cool down, in the wintertime warming up without electricity can be deadly. It’s how people die from carbon monoxide poisoning, which we’ve already had a few cases of that happen. Cold weather freezes pipes, which causes all sorts of problems. It also constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow. If you feel cold you’re in good shape, when you stop feeling cold you’re in trouble. Frostbite is a very real thing and while having dry shelter will (most likely) prevent that from happening, it doesn’t make living through it easy. Creating heat is hard, if the gas is working and you can at least have warm food, which will help, but you cannot and should not use your stove for heat.

Instead you should conserve your body heat. Humans are terrible at keeping body heat in when we need it most. Clothing helps, so dress warm, but most of us need more than that, breathing cold air can hurt. My bloody sinuses can attest to just how much damage cold weather can have on a person’s ability to breathe. My best advice in this case is to build a good fort. Like when you were a kid… you did that too, right?. I have sheets for my bed, they are thin, don’t hold a lot of warmth, and are practically worthless in cold weather, but they make great fort building materials.

Once I had my bed sheets set up in a nice tent configuration, speaking of which to build your tent, use whatever you have around your house, I used my couch, a step stool, two cat scratchers, some string, a box, and a chair. Get creative, but remember the larger the tent the harder it is to keep it warm so balance size/comfort with the need to stay warm. I only had two sets of sheets (I mean who really has more?). Once I had it built, I rolled out some plastic tarp I had laying around the house over the top of my “fort” two or three layers worth. I mean who doesn’t have plastic tarp laying around? But seriously, it’s good to have on hand and not just for painting or other house renovation projects (which is honestly why I had it), but for emergencies too.

Thankfully I seem to be a magnet for blankets. Just this Christmas I was given one blanket from the VA, two from the hospital I research at, and I had several from my move when I was living in a much colder place. Basically, I had more blankets than I had sheets, but even if I didn’t I would only need one or two to keep me warm inside the tent. I’ve been sleeping on the floor, or or accurately the rug covering the floor. It’s wood flooring, the cheap stuff, so I definitely didn’t want to sleep on a cold floor. I also only used one rather warm blanket inside my tent, the warmest I had. I gave one each to bulk up my cat beds so they would be warm as well. The rest of the blankets went to insulating the walls of my fort and generally just keeping the air from coming inside.

The end result is a good 5 to 10 degree (fahrenheit) temperature increase compared to outside the tent. Don’t underestimate the insulation abilities of a good plastic tarp, but also don’t wrap yourself in it or you’ll end up suffocating yourself, instead do what I did and line the roof of your fort or even the walls with the tarp (I couldn’t do that, the cats love to claw at the stuff). It won’t be air tight, but it shouldn’t be because you need oxygen to breathe so don’t go taping things down or anything to seal it shut. The point is the heat will get trapped inside so now you have added insulation from the cold and a way to scavenge your body heat to stay warm and keep pets (if applicable) warm.

Theoretically you should build your tent on the top floor of your home (heat rises) and in a room with the fewest walls that make up the outside of the house (as in the other side of the wall is outside the house). Practically this may not be the best option. In my case, I chose the living room which is the largest room in the house and has the most walls made up the outside of the house. However, it also had my gas fireplace, which I had never used before and turned out to be almost completely useless, the fireplace is more for decoration than heat, but I did manage to warm up slightly by it.

With the power still spotty, I haven’t taken down the tent, I’m still writing from inside my little tent and I’m keeping all the doors of my house closed to insulate everything better. The power could go out at any time for any length of time so it’s important to be prepared and it took a few hours to set everything up right, so I’m not ready to give up the security yet. I’ve also lowered my heat substantially to help reduce power load on the grid (as the power company asked us to do), it may be ~60 outside my tent, but inside it’s now warm enough that I am not using any of the blankets. As a bonus my cats seem to love the thing and one barely leaves even when the house warmed up.

Now this is already a very long post, but let’s briefly touch on power. Having spare batteries and flashlights are handy and good to have in case of an emergency. Batteries are not super cheap, but I would like to think that cost isn’t a substantial barrier for most people who have the ability to read my blog. So have spare batteries around, specifically a emergency set and rotate them out semi frequently when you can.

If you need special medical equipment that can run on batteries try to have a spare or some way to charge it. Medical equipment powering is especially hard because batteries large enough to help in that case tend to be expensive and that is definitely a barrier. In those cases I don’t have a lot of suggestions unfortunately. If they are absolutely needed, I would advise at the first sign of any disaster you leave the area if possible. If you are not able to do that, then I would see if there are special groups, organizations, or even your insurance, that would cover an emergency battery or some way to keep the device running. Frankly that’s the best advice I have in those situations and I acknowledge it’s crappy advice. Unfortunately it’s the best I can offer.

That is about all I can offer you. Food is important, but your primary concern should be water and warmth/cooling (depending on weather), always stay dry in the cold if you can help it. If all else fails just remember this one simple fact. Some rich fuck somewhere is making more money for every hour you’re suffering than you will make in your entire life. Why is that important? Spite is a powerful force, you need to live so you can make sure those bastards pay.

But enough about us, what about you?

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