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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Mae West, Or, The Second Annual Disaster Planning Story

So you’re sitting at home, riding out the big storm, and the next thing you know the power goes out.

It’s not just you, either. Tens of thousands of your neighbors are out as well, and you immediately know power won’t be restored for days.

This can be an utter disaster...or not that big a deal...depending on the things you did before the storm.

Because I’m watching Mae West movies as I write this, we have today a most unusual story: serious tips that can help improve the disaster experience greatly; and Mae West’s snappiest quotes to add just a spoonful of sugar to the medicine those tips represent.

“I’ve changed my mind.”
“Yeah, does it work better?”

--Mae West and Edward Arnold, in “I’m No Angel” (1933)


First things first: your friendly Department of Homeland Security tells you to be ready for three days of isolation-and I’m here to tell you that three days is nowhere nearly enough.

Be prepared for at least seven days.

Don’t believe me?
Check this out:

--The BBC reported 350,000 or more were without water for up to 14 days in the UK following flooding in July of ’07.

--Over 100,000 of the 600,000 households knocked off the power grid in St. Louis were still dark a week later after storms a year earlier.

--Residents of Eastern Maine learn to survive blackouts caused by events as disparate as high winds, ice storms-and even squirrels. In January 1998 power was out “for weeks” in parts of the State.

“Young lady, are you showing your contempt for this court?”
“No, I’m doing my best to hide it.”

--Mae West to Addison Richards in “My Little Chickadee” (1940)


A growing number of us are deciding that the generator is the perfect solution for disasters, but there I’m here today to offer other options.

Why?

Consider that in the worst of power outages, the gasoline your generator requires might not be available-gas stations also need power. Some states have tried to address this, notably Florida, but there is little consistency to the effort.

Then there’s the cost.

The larger propane-fueled generators consume about .9 gallon of propane per hour at half load, and propane is currently priced at $2.46/gallon. That’s about $50/day for electricity.

Gasoline generators?

This Briggs and Stratton 11hp, 6000 running watts unit is fairly typical: 13 hour running time at half load. That’s somewhere around $40 a day.

If your generator’s providing more than half load, it’s more expensive.

And don’t forget...if the power fails, the ATMs do too.
Getting cash to pay for that fuel may be a problem.

“Goodness, what beautiful diamonds”
“Goodness had nothin’ to do with it, dearie.”

--Mae West to Patricia Farley in “Night After Night


So how do we replace the lost services if we have no generator?

Let’s start with heat:

Kerosene heaters are an effective option when the power goes out. When it’s in the 20s-and even lower-one of these heaters can keep three rooms very cozy for about $10 a day. Put up a blanket and close off the hall, bring in the sleeping bags, and it’s “campout in the family room” time.

Cooking?

Who doesn’t have one of those Weber grills out in the yard? Get a couple of bags of charcoal now and put ‘em away, because you can cook everything in the fridge and freezer on a Weber.

I have personally made cornbread, corned beef and cabbage, and even meatloaf during times of no power-just make darn good and sure you do not ever do this indoors....or out in the garage.

As for the food: frozen food will survive for a day or two-maybe even three-if the door is kept closed; but if it’s constantly below 40 F. (4 C.)....well, the world is your refrigerator. You just load up a cooler, and all is good.

Entertainment?

Here’s where your car’s ability to charge things will come in handy. Use rechargeable things (iPod, portable DVD player, CD player); throw ‘em in the car as you go about your daily business, and recharge like crazy.

As a backup, go out right this minute and buy all the AA and D batteries you can lay your hands on....you’ll need them.

“Where is that man, that.…that officer?”
“Why he left….he had to leave sometime.”
“Oh, you sent him away?”
“No….he left under his own power.”

--Mae West and Jack La Rue in “Go West Young Man” (1936)


Of course, if all else fails....you’ll be doing some reading.
This logically brings us to how will you provide...

Lighting?

Two basic choices are available: the old-fashioned oil lamp, and the newfangled battery operated lamp. For reasons of fire safety, I prefer battery, and we have a lovely “camping lantern” with two fluorescent lamps (the thing requires eight D batteries, however), and numerous smaller LED lamps.

However, just this weekend, at Costco, I purchased the handheld millions of candlepower rechargeable lamp (it reports 20 hours of operation per charge); and I am here to tell you that the thing is not only extremely bright, but at a range of three feet or less, it makes an excellent personal heater.

That said, beware of rechargeable. You can only charge so much in a car in a day, and you need backups. If power is out for more than a few days, it may be time for oil lamps. (Just so you know, the larger the bottle of lamp oil you buy the cheaper....and there is a significant difference in price here, so look for large bottles or cans.)

Two more pieces of advice:

--You might want to leave a trickle of water flowing from your outside faucets...or head to the hardware store and get insulating covers, and if power fails you might want to do the same indoors (all of this is intended to keep from freezing your plumbing and splitting a pipe somewhere).

--It’s going to be easier to keep everyone warm if everyone has clothes for cold weather. Consider hitting the thrift shops now and getting yourself and the kids snow and ski clothing that you can keep in the attic until you need it. I have two ski coveralls, purchased at thrift shops in the middle of summer, for which I was truly grateful last December when we lost power for a week.

Bad weather is coming, and if you do some of this today it will make life so very much better if the power should vanish for a few days. And you’ll save a ton of money, too.

Best of luck; be ready, and most important of all-have some fun with it.
It’s not: “Damn, the power’s out!”
Instead, think of it as “camping out in the living room”.

To complete the effect, you can even go outside and make s'mores on the grill over the charcoal.

3 comments:

jmb said...

I had to laugh when I read Crushed's post yesterday about being without power for 2 1/2 hours which caused him to rant about the Labour Government in Britain.
The longest time we were without power was for two days and we were under a foot of snow. I had to go to work in the hospital via bus after walking 1/2 mile to the bus stop in the snow. We had one wood fire at home so huddled around it. We had gas to cook by thank heaven and various camping lanterns.

Thanks for the good tips, especially the faucet covers which I did not know existed. I shall be looking for them very soon.

fake consultant said...

just moments after bill cinton's inaguration a windstorm occurred which left 600,000 in the dark (a portent of doom? god's odd sense of humor? you be the judge...), and it was a bc hydro crew that hooked us back up more or less a week later.

as i recall it was bitterly cold (-18 C., 0 F.), and i remember sweating out the possibility that there might be frozen plumbing.

in fact all was well, and until last year that was our longest outage...i believe last year's was a tie, at seven days.

Unpremeditated said...

Sometimes you just have to love living in Britain - a country where the chief annual disaster is the return of the Big Brother TV show.