by S. G.
If you’re like me, a lot of your prepping is for end-of-the-world events, but I recently learned how my post-apocalyptic plans can help with smaller emergencies, too.
One of my favorite books is One Second After. Not only was the story gripping, but, it motivated me to transition from having some “extra things for storms” to hardcore prepping. While, generally speaking, that is a good thing, the story motivated me to focus on serious SHTF events. The kind that would end life as we know it, destroy society, and make Mad Max look like a kindergartner’s storybook. While that is entertaining and good to prep for if all other bases are covered—it can actually be detrimental if more realistic bases are NOT covered.
Even after I corrected my rookie mistake, two SHTF-mini editions led to several “face-palm” moments. One event was a serious wind storm that wrecked havoc; and, the other was when our house was struck with lightning. I had not even considered prepping for the latter. I learned later that it’s not that uncommon in our area; so, guess what will be moving up my priority list?
It was pretty eye-opening to see what preps worked, what didn’t, and where the gaps were from these two “mini” experiences. If we ever DO face the Apocalypse, the lessons learned from these little challenges will be magnified a thousand fold—and that is a sobering thought. On a positive side, our preps were also pretty multi functional.
While we may have gotten our supplies for a particular emergency, they were utilized well for ones we weren’t even thinking of at the time of purchase. So, if you are like I used to be and have focused on Armageddon or you just get stuck in an event you didn’t consider—all is far from lost.
Thanks to modern weather reports, I knew the storm was going to come through; and, I felt pretty prepared. But, I had not appreciated the intensity of this storm nor its impact. It came on so fast and strong—and everything seemed to go sideways at the same moment. The wind seemed like a living creature with its strength and howling. A really pissed creature.
As my dogs began to whine and huddle under the table I looked outside to our deck for my first “oh crap” moment. Our cast iron deck furniture—which is very heavy and has always remained in place—was being dragged and flipped as if by an invisible tantruming toddler. Running outside I prayed I could get the chairs inside and the table secured before one of the pieces went through our windows. Having just had surgery on my feet—this wasn’t an easy task; and, as I tried to secure the table my “plans” went awry.
I pulled the table to a more sheltered area; and, once there I tried to flip it so the top was down and legs were up. Less surface area for the wind to grab and drag. But while “flipping” this monster table the wind saw its chance and attacked at just the right moment, yanking it from my hands and slamming it onto my recovering feet.
Tears fell and some not so “Southern lady” words were absorbed into the wind as I limped along to finish the job. The pain and frustration brought my husband to my mind. I wondered if he was traveling home and if he was ok—and I wished he was there.
Once back inside, I barely had time to wipe my eyes before the power went out with a blink. Just like that. Almost immediately my children began emerging with cries of “the INTERNET IS DOWN!!!!” To them, it was now an emergency. While deflecting a thousand variants of “how long will it be DOWWWNNN???” I evaluated the flying tree limbs outside, the torrential rain now coming down; and, I ran through the next steps in my mind. Thank God we have a generator (I had just had a maintenance check done) that did its job and kicked in at that moment. But, I didn’t know how long this outage would last or how much fuel we were starting with (the last fill up was awhile back). I realized I would need to be careful about conserving fuel.
Praying I would find it working, I went first to our fridge. The one that holds my son’s insulin. Thankfully, it was humming along. Then, limping and biting back curses, I went throughout the rest of the house and checked freezers, water pump, other fridge, lights, heat, etc. to confirm everything that was supposed to be working actually was. The items that were hooked up were on track—except for the internet. Our system was down and I had no idea why.
Again, I wished for and worried about my husband. Electronics were his expertise. In the back of my mind, I wondered how I would be able to assess how bad things were in the neighborhood and beyond– but it had to wait. I also had noted that not all the things I thought were hooked to the genny actually were. Surprise. Several areas—including the bathrooms on the main floor—had no lights for example. I had a tub of flashlights and batteries—but the batteries were not installed. So, I lit some candles and began assembling for each person. Now all this was in about 30-45 minutes from the start—and the dogs were still whining in fear and the kids in frustration.
Then things I’d never even considered happened.
As I was putting batteries in I noticed the doors from the deck into our kitchen were bowing in with each howling wind gust as if being hit by a battering ram. With each attack, I could see a gap growing in the middle of the French doors and it was obvious that they would burst open at any moment letting the wind, rain, and debris run roughshod through our kitchen.
I stared at them for a second a bit dumbfounded. That possibility had never occurred to me to prep for. What do I do? The battering ram image stuck in my mind—and I thought “it’s a force just like an invader. . . aha!!!” I limped to my supply closet and got the Master Locks purchased for extra security in the event of an apocalyptic meltdown.
Of course—I had to unpack them and read the instructions while once again praying that the next gust wouldn’t burst open the doors. Fortunately, my ability to read, unpack, and install was fast enough to get them in place in time.
The kids began wandering around searching for signal by stretching their phones into every nook and cranny. Their loud complaints followed me as I returned to the flashlights. Once done, I rounded the house checking doors and windows. Coming back upstairs, my daughter informed me that she has sporadic signal near one window and that the entire neighborhood—in fact—most of the county was without power. She said the roads into our neighborhood are flooding in places; and, she worriedly asked “would daddy make it home?” Reassuring her that we would be fine and daddy would be too, I started a fire.
As I built the fire, my multileveled thoughts focused. Getting emergency help will become difficult if the roads continue to flood or if trees block them. I knew my youngest sons’ Epipen, Benadryl, a stash of prednisone, and nebulizer were in the cabinet. Same with my oldest sons’ glucagon, Cake Mate, and, back up diabetic supplies, but I went back to look at them again anyway.
The sight comforted me a bit before a moment of loneliness sets in. In all my prepping I never really thought I would be alone if anything happened. At least not for long. When would my husband get home? What if he couldn’t get through the roads? I had been a single mom for several years, but in our almost 11 years of marriage, I had come to rely on his presence to shoulder life together. It was an adjustment to not have him.
The moment of reflection was interrupted with a violent crashing sound. My son and I ran to the window to a sight I never considered in any situation. We had just had my greenhouse built—a dream I had nurtured for over 20 years. But there was still a lot of construction “by products” laying around—including a rather full porta-potty. This green demon had tipped in the wind. It was now on a hill overlooking my greenhouse with its windows still newly glinting as if in invitation. And with each screaming burst of wind it threatened to give in to gravity and hurtle through them.
Running outside to assess the options, I stood there like a crazy Medusa as the wind twisted my hair in a whirling mess, horror twisting my face as I pictured this giant toilet careening through the glass of my beautiful greenhouse. The vision of the “aftermath” was enough to kick me into action.
“Not without a fight,” I thought as I tried to figure out a solution. I had purchased bungee cords to strap things into or on my car. . . maybe I could use those to hold the big green toilet in place. Rushing inside I grabbed them and hollered to my son to help me. We fought through the rain and wind to lash the monster to my wood rack, heavy with firewood. My son looked to me for instructions as I was trying to figure it out myself, but we got it done. I hoped the cords of wood would be heavy enough to hold.
The big green potty was still moving from side to side under the winds lashing, but, it was no longer moving down the hill. Together, my son and I leaned against the side and shoved. What the wind could do with one gust, we struggled with our entire strength. A few inches of angle were achieved though—an angle I hoped would direct the massive nasty away from the greenhouse if my efforts failed.
And still, dinner had to get made.
Re-entering the house, I fell into a chair, surprised at just how exhausted I was. And how significantly my throbbing and painful feet had swollen. But I needed to get dinner started. And I still wanted to make sure we and the dogs/bunnies had enough water just in case the genny goes out for some reason or we needed to turn it off to conserve fuel. I could already see several things that I wish I had done differently, but having the electrician teach me how to turn on and off the genny manually was time well spent. I could turn it off if hubby was stranded and things went too long and fuel ran too low.
Hauling myself up, I noticed my son leisurely standing at the open fridge evaluating a snack. With an edge, I told him the fridge door must stay shut unless he knew what he wants – get in and get out. We had electricity for now but that could change. I didn’t tell him that the insulin he needs was what was mostly on my mind. He shut the door, but not before I caught the hurt in his eyes. Sighing, I got dinner on and as it cooked, I dragged myself to that little spot where the signal was hit and miss. For a moment I could access Facebook and the news. I was shocked at what I learned in those moments and the ones to follow over the week.
It had only been a few hours since the storm hit and the power went out. Already, many of our neighbors were getting uncomfortably cold. Temps weren’t freezing outside, but the wind was making it feel way below. And panic was setting in. Posts on social media were prevalent about how they and the children were cold. No wood for the fireplace. There are no lights and it’s dark now without power. Cooking is a challenge with no microwave or oven. . . and not much in the pantry. Soon, people started posting about not having water – the pumps don’t work. I tried to tell them how to drain the lines for water, but you could feel the annoyance because they just wanted the water to flow.
When it was over, several got generators and extra supplies. But several didn’t. They worry me the most now. As I was reading, and advising where I could, my husband came in the door. It hit me just how worried I had been and how much stress I was carrying as I felt the relief relax my shoulders and I limped as fast as I could into his arms. As he held me, he told of how one way into our neighborhood was blocked by trees and the other flooded just as he crossed. For a while, it will be just us.
And the saga continued for a week…
The next day, around noon, one road was cleared. But it would be almost a week before we got power back. A few hours after the road was clear most of our neighbors without generators abandoned their homes for hotels, family, or friends. They didn’t have the supplies, knowledge, or patience to handle the change. Even when opportunities were offered to meet needs themselves, with explanations of how to run a Mr. Buddy and the loan of one, the ability to go out and resupply, etc. – the preference was the hotels.
Only a day after the start, most had to drive an hour away because closer ones were already full. This caused great stress, anger, and frustration. Some tried to save food by filling coolers from their freezers and taking them to family freezers. One ended up having to move again when that family member lost power. Others just accepted the loss. The ones that stayed with friends often found the “friends” got tired of them after a day or so and they had to move on, at which point there were no hotels available. Social media posts about the shock and frustration were frequent.
The ones who stayed? Some had generators, a few opened their homes, and a couple of families stayed with them. Some didn’t open their doors; and, they stayed pretty quiet.
And the ones who didn’t have generators and stayed? They suffered. They either went to neighbors homes to shower or went without for the week. They either searched quickly emptying stores for water, got it from neighbors, or severely rationed. One spoke later of huddling with the entire family under blankets around a propane fireplace that they struggled to light without the electric starter. Not much warmth—but some.
People were getting more and more frustrated, angry, and miserable. And in just that one week’s time security became an issue. An unknown person took a hammer to a neighbor’s Gator utility vehicle that was in the driveway– busting out the window of the enclosed cab, and destroying a door frame. It seemed to just be an act of destruction since nothing of value was inside or even appeared to have been sought.
I was glad for the deterrent effect of outside lights that the genny provided . . . but also seriously aware of just how those lights shone like a beacon in a very dark neighborhood where most didn’t have them. I noticed the same thing with the sound. My propane generator is quieter. . . but when things go quiet, there is a different standard of “loud.” Running it would be obvious if things got really bad.
For us? After the first day, it was much better. My bungee cord and Master Lock solutions worked, thank goodness!!! My husband discovered that the internet system was plugged into an outlet the genny didn’t cover. One extension cord and we were back in service.
We had all the necessities to such a point that when the power DID get restored the kids didn’t even realize it. Nothing of substance had changed for them once the internet was back. Using flashlights in parts of the house at night was not a big deal in their world. I felt a GREAT sense of satisfaction that during that week my family was safe, warm, fed, and comfortable. But the rest of the week I also maintained an underlying worry/awareness. Everything depended on that generator and the fuel. I found myself constantly listening to confirm it was running smoothly. And I was absolutely SHOCKED at how wrong my fuel calculations were. We used fuel at a MUCH faster pace than I had thought we would and, that knowledge dramatically impacted our plans for any future events. A good thing, I believe.
Here’s what we learned.
I imagine you don’t need me to point out “the lessons.” But, just in case. 😉
In even minor SHTF events, stress goes through the roof!
I had to deal with fall out that I wasn’t “ready” for. It didn’t go “as planned.” Add in stressed dogs, kids without electronics, and worries about their father. Add in that I had an injury. Add in that even simple things like adding batteries or reading directions/unpacking a tool takes a lot longer to think of, find, and implement than you think it will. AND other things go wrong while you are trying.
Personally, I began making sure I have the most likely needs ready and I know how to use them so next time I don’t have to spend time and emotional bandwidth on that part. Stuff like having flashlights or oil lamps ready, Mr. Buddy should be set up, knowing how to use tools, beforehand can make a difference. There are concerns about family members that are somewhere else such as my husband, and, fear of being cut off from services. My children’s medical needs were always in the back of my mind.
Even during the part of the week that was “calmer” and we were comfortable the stress stayed elevated. Until normalcy is restored everything “next” is still unknown and the routine is off. Plus, preps may not have been tested for “the long haul” which can elevate uncertainty and anxiety. Ex: the generator. During the event, I learned of a neighbors genny blowing the engine which scared me about mine. Realizing that the propane was going much faster than I had calculated and not knowing how long the outage would last added to it. Physical strength is important—I mean who knew crap was so heavy and I would need to shove a big green monster load of it?? But mental strength can also not be overstated because it is CONSTANTLY being relied upon for all the above.
Prepping your kids is vital.
When they don’t know how to conserve or do basic things- it is much harder. My kids were stressed without electronics and with my intense instruction to conserve resources. If we had talked about this beforehand it would have been less stressful. Later, we did. And later, a simple tornado scare tested the theory successfully. (That’s a story for another day.)
When no one can get to you, you have to think of other solutions.
We could call out for help—but the storm had knocked trees across the roads and caused flooding all over the county. Until that was cleared no one was getting to us. There is a “shift” in the mindset that has to take place so you can solve the problems instead of staring at them.
Even in minor situations, we had problems come in ways I never anticipated. Who would anticipate a green monster potty attack? Doors being blown in? Ok—maybe that one could have been foreseen by some, but not me. It had never happened before.
Thinking of “common sense” as to how to deal with these problems can help. If you don’t clearly “know” an answer you can still come up with one that works. There was probably a better answer than using bungee cords—but it saved my greenhouse. There was probably a better answer than the Master Lock—but that saved my doors. Just don’t sit and stare hoping it magically gets fixed. Don’t just decide to wait for help that might not make it in time. If you come up with an idea that fails? It’s still a “win” because you at least went down with a fight.
You need tools.
Preferably those that are multifunctional. And notice I didn’t say “the right tools.” Yes, the right tool for the right job is ideal. But in our “mini SHTF” situations there were challenges for which there were no “right tools.” Things like bungee cords, duct tape, tarps, plywood, and nails can be used for a multitude of situations expected and not.
Having the right tools sometimes isn’t even what you originally planned the “tool” for. Like the bungee cords I originally thought were for strapping stuff to a car which ended up the savior from mass fertilization. Or the Master Lock that saved the doors from an invisible battering ram. Our preps can have surprising benefits.
It gets cold. FAST.
When our neighborhood lost power people were VERY uncomfortable in a matter of hours and it wasn’t even freezing outside. Our neighborhood tends to have well-built and well-insulated homes. Don’t underestimate how quickly this can happen and how uncomfortable it can be.
There is no shame in a “short-term bug out.”
Sometimes it makes more sense to leave temporarily than suffer. Having a plan—either hotel, friends, or family is wise. It is a good idea to think of when you would need to leave, beyond the obvious times when you are told to do so.
- For these situations have hotel info, family plans, or friends that will be happy to house you. (Also, know in advance how long your welcome would be.)
- Make sure you have options in several different driving directions and distances in case roads are blocked or places are booked. They fill up shockingly fast—as in within hours.
- Have this ALREADY printed out and saved in an accessible location because internet or cell coverage may not be available to look it up when needed. (Again, everything already done reduces the stress (see #1) that WILL come.
- Make sure if you have pets that they are pet-friendly and you have leashes/crates/food/poopy bags/etc. in a bug out bag for them. Put a copy in the cars so always available.
- Finally, have a budget for these emergencies. Bugging out temporarily will cost money for hotel, food, gas, etc. If possible have these funds in cash in case the place you go is also having some power issues and cash is the only thing accepted. However, this budget has to be prioritized with other financial needs/emergencies so this will be very dependent on each persons’ unique situation.
Security was a bigger issue and faster than I anticipated.
People WILL look for resources and get stressed about 12 hours after the event. Neighbors ran out of water 14 hours after loss of electricity. Tensions began to run high and while there was no aggression between neighbors—it wasn’t hard to see how that could happen had hotels not been found or the situation had continued.
Our one neighbor had the gator attacked with a hammer just a few days after the power went out and that is after one road was cleared and police were in full force. Imagine if it was different? I have read about this—but was surprised nonetheless with the reality.
A generator is noisy and lights are bright.
You don’t notice so much when there is background noise and lights from other sources but when everyone loses power? That is very different. Something to keep in mind if ever in a situation that lasts longer than a week. And have plans for how to meet needs without that generator.
And fuel for generators may not go nearly as far as you think. So while I love them and do my best to preserve function—it is still pretty wise to have backups to the things that REALLY matter.
Maintenance is critical.
Life without any electricity would totally suck. When possible, generators RULE. However, maintenance is critical. Get the oil changed, battery checked, etc. Otherwise, you end up like our neighbor with a blown engine.
Be sure to have maintenance done on a system that is important like getting septic pumped, weather stripping is done, well water tested, etc. while we can are great preps.
Communication is FAR more important than we realize.
When the power was out it was pretty comforting to still be able to use social sites to find out what our neighbors were up to, when they were getting things fixed, any weirdness in the neighborhood, etc. For me, I am much more comfortable if I KNOW where and what a threat is, even if it is bad, than sitting around clueless.
Maps are also important. Just in this mini situation, my husband would have found a map potentially useful to find another way into our neighborhood if he had to.
Test runs are invaluable.
It would have been better had we confirmed what my generator was and was not hooked up to prior to needing it. Knowing how long full propane tanks would last ACCURATELY would have gone a long way as well. I also learned that in “good times” of disaster (meaning roads are clear but lots of folks need fuel) it can take a 5-7 day window to get more fuel. That means that now I make SURE the tanks are full before a storm and the next time a longer-term outage happens I will be routinely checking levels to conserve enough to get us through that 5-7 day refill window. Or more based on the situation.
And again—because it can’t be overstated—having back up cooling for meds, canned foods, water source, heat, etc. that is NOT electricity/generator dependent is extremely important. Just in case.
Finally, it wasn’t all bad.
Even though we had internet there was still enough “sense of difference” where we played more games and talked more which was very nice. And the satisfaction that my family was warm, fed, and safe made EVERYTHING worth all we sacrifice to do so.
Hope you find this helpful and keep prepping!!!