Most of us live in a relatively civilized first world environment where the lights come on with a flick of a switch, furnaces and water heaters heat potable water that freely comes from our taps and our toilets flush … so long as we keep our utility bills paid.
All of that can change in a matter of minutes or hours. Witness the snow and ice storms of the last week of January 2011. One of our daughters and her family live in El Paso, Texas. They have to come home to see snow and enjoy winter activities. Winters are a lot warmer there. They even plant peas in late February. This year was different.
The routine calls to tell us how warm in it is in El Paso were replaced with, “It’s about zero here. All of the schools are shut down, the freeways are closed with ice on the road and the store shelves are almost bare.”
The next day the report was even more dire: “Our power went out last night for hours and will continue to be out in rolling blackouts for the foreseeable future. There isn’t enough power generation here to meet the needs of anything out of the ordinary. They’ve also instigated rolling cuts of natural gas because of lack of supply, so we don’t have heat many times a day. Homes in El Paso weren’t built for extended cold weather.”
On day three, the calls exposed yet another problem. “The water pipes in many of the homes are frozen, pipes are bursting. Our neighbors, ward members and folks all over town have lost water to their homes. We’ve only lost one of the pipes to our swimming pool pump.” Our son-in-law spent 48-hours straight turning off the water in neighbors homes and taking care of the water destruction in the homes of the widows that he home teaches.
“Young mothers are sending their children to homes with heat, not only for warmth but for a place to use the bathroom and shower. The water in their homes is out due to burst interior and exterior pipes.” All of the plumbers in a hundred mile radius were booked for weeks and even though our son-in-law is qualified in plumbing skills, there were no repair parts on the shelves ….. anywhere.
Of course, the city and homes were slowly repaired and are back to ‘normal’, although the water damage is in evidence. Many families have additional repair bills that have almost crippled them financially. Insurance coverage was often inadequate or the coverage folks thought they had wasn’t really included in the fine print. Their financial reserve preparedness was found wanting too.
Our kids fared well during the problems. They had plenty of food on hand in their 12-month food storage. They had a generator and knew how to safely use it to run a base load of electrical needs in their home. They had propane stoves, charcoal and Dutch ovens to cook their meals. They had wood and other fuels for their fireplaces and stoves. When they bought their home, they added insulation around the water pipes on exterior walls that protected them from freezing.
They didn’t have enough piping parts in storage to help many people, let alone any major pipe damage that may have occurred in their own home. They thought they had plenty of flour, only to find that the buckets labeled ‘flour’ were mislabeled during one of several recent moves. The food storage rotation planned for the next week would have exposed this problem, but it was too late.
An easy to prepare meal of pancakes became a wish, not reality. All commercial buildings and restaurants had been ordered to close during the days of the outages, so they couldn’t run to McDonald’s. The few grocery stores that stayed open looked more like advertisements for shelving rather than purveyors of food products.
Even though our kids live with a focus on preparedness, they found weaknesses in their preparedness plan when reality struck. The event wasn’t even a major disaster, just an exercise in discomfort. Our daughter has the preparedness calling in their church. The theme for her articles and lessons in the coming months has been established. Our son-in-law will undoubtedly speak on the subject in his church assignments.
He and two of their daughters are licensed ham radio operators. Accurate information about the situation came from the ham operators on the ham net, not from TV and local radio stations. A positive note was that our granddaughter gained experience as net control for SW Texas and can support the ham group in that role if needed when the ham net is activated in an emergency.
Many lessons were learned. Weaknesses in most family preparedness plans were exposed. People suffered but only a few died from the event. Let’s learn from their experience and not have to learn the hard way. Run a disaster exercise in your home for a week and find the weaknesses in your own preparedness plan.
We can do it now or find them in a real disaster. You choose.