The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Emergency preparedness goals

Cats in front of the fireMark and I have a very hit-or-miss approach to emergency preparedness.  We've covered the basics --- storing drinking water, making sure we have enough food for a few weeks, staying warm during outages, and keeping the lights on without electricity (all of which I write about in more depth in The Weekend Homesteader).  But each new disaster we face reminds us of a few ways we'd like to keep comfort levels higher, and Just in Case gave us some extra ideas as well.  So here's our new preparedness plan, which we'll be pecking away at over the next few years.

Now or soon:

Longer term projects tentatively include:

As usual, some of these plans are quite ambitious, but it helps to have them all laid out from easy to hard.  After all, I know I can buy soap and toilet paper and take some money out of the bank in small bills this week, putting us 16% of the way to our goal immediately.  What is on your preparedness list for the near and far future?

Sick of dirty water?  Your hens are too.  Treat your flock to an Avian Aqua Miser.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Anna it is refreshing to read thoughts on preparedness that do not focus on armgeddon scenarios. Our lifestyle has always been one of conservation and preparedness. We have managed to remain frugally comfortable through loss of power, transportation and income, because we felt we needed to be prepared and concerned ourselves with the "what if's". We are grateful to our parents, and grandparents before us, who taught us a lot about the importance and methods of preparedness. That takes us our lessons back as far as 1896.

Comment by Maggie Sun Jan 27 08:27:40 2013
Until you get a chance to convert the generator to propane, you can take steps to make it preparing easier. One easy step is to use gas stabilizer and run your generator under load for 10 minutes each month. With this simple preventative maintenance activity, you know it will always start when you need it. Keeping several plastic gas jugs of stabilized fuel allows you to rotate you fuel so it doesn't go bad. Each month you dump one jug into the car, then refill it with stabilized fuel. Of course labeling the jugs with the month or numbers makes it easier to keep track. If you develop the habit of replenishing the fuel on the first day of each month, remembering is easier.
Comment by David Sun Jan 27 08:41:56 2013

Given that you live in tornado country, having an underground shelter of some sort would make me feel safer about you. A lot of deaths from tornadoes are those who live in trailers because of the lack of basements/other underground shelters that can be gotten to quickly.

I'd also be interested in anyone's suggestions for books about converting your house to solar. We're debating that in my family right now.

Comment by Bess Sun Jan 27 08:49:41 2013

Anna, I also live in tornado country and struggled with the realization that if one hits, I have no where to go. I believe I have found a solution that will work for both me and for you. Are you aware of Earthbag structures? They are amazing; flood proof, bombproof, tornado proof and extremely cheep to make! Here is a website that I believe you and your readers will really like. I know I'm really excited to have found this and plan on building a 10 foot dome this summer.


Comment by Jim Sun Jan 27 09:26:30 2013

A hood around the cook stove is an excellent idea. It is probably best to go for stainless steel there, since it doesn't need corrosion protection (paint can burn as well) and is easily cleaned (grease/oil are flammable). It's also very hygienic.

In a kitchen the biggest danger is probably a grease or oil fire. It is possible for a stove to heat the oil or grease above its autoignition temperature. Oil and grease fires are very hard to put out, because the hot oil can easily re-ignite when it comes into contact with air again. A k-class fire extinguisher will work best on these kinds of fires. Having a fire-blanket around would help as well. In a pinch a wet (but not dripping!) towel can be used to cover the fire.

I probably don't have to tell you that trying to put out an oil/grease fire with water will only produce spectacular fireballs.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Jan 27 12:20:59 2013
Very good about your looking harder at possible scenarios, But do you also have a battery-operated a radio? And we do need a family plan. And I think you do need a neighborhood plan! In the case of a neighborhood disaster, you really need to know how to connect with others, what they might need, and how youall can help each other.
Comment by adrianne Sun Jan 27 12:26:09 2013
Remember to store soap & tissue in another container as mice love to eat soap & nest in paper. It sounds odd but the sterilite containers sold at Walmart are food grade plastic so are safe to store almost all your supplies in.
Comment by Stephanie in AR Sun Jan 27 13:42:43 2013
I really enjoyed The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book by Mike Oehler.
Comment by Phil in OK Sun Jan 27 14:50:38 2013
The Idiots Guide to Solar Power and Solar Power for Dummies
Comment by Sylvia Sun Jan 27 17:06:53 2013

Anna, do you know about "" ? I think they're located in Virginia. It's a good site if you want to learn about setting up your own solar systems, no matter the size. They also offer classes, I believe at their warehouse.
Also, one of the things I've been doing to prepare for an emergency is teaching myself to cook from the basics. I no longer buy packaged and/or prepared foods. I'm learning to cook and bake everything from scratch and educating myself about dehydrators for preserving foods, mills for grinding grains, presses for making juices, churns (?) for making butter, how to cook with dried foods, etc., etc. It has been both educational and fun.

Comment by Samantha Sun Jan 27 19:39:01 2013

Several years ago, a severe ice storm knocked out power to more than half the state of New Hampshire. Downed trees blocked roads, making travel difficult. When loss of power is this widespread, you discover quickly that you had better be ready to be self sufficient. Without power, you cant get money from an atm, and stores cannot process card purchases, gas pumps do not work, cordless phones dont work ( keep a spare old fashioned phone!) and most stores are unable to operate. Our small town convenience store opened for cash sales, but could not sell any perishables ( dairy, meat, eggs, etc) because federal regulations prevented it after no refrigeration for x number of hours. This outtage lasted for weeks, and no power also meant no communication- we could not find out where there might be gas available, for example, and we could not risk just heading out in search of some and possibly getting stranded. All police, fire, and emergency workers were already overburdened. We were on our own. That experience taight me several things. I will always keep food and water in hand, plus a way to cook, even if it is a solar oven, or a rocket stove outside. We will never be without a wood burning stove, and firewood. And i keep gas on hand. Plus, since we live in a fire zone, i have a bag with important document copies, hard drive backup, change of clothes ( clean underwear!) and basic emergency things like flashlight, multi tool, emergency rations, etc. all together easy to grab if forced to evacuate quickly. A cat carrier is for our canaries.
My goal for preparedness is to purchase a water purifier- we have wells, and no power also means no water, we can lug river water if it came to that, but a purifier is necessary.
I am also backing up all of my kitchen gadgets with non electric versions- hand coffee grinder and french press( priorities!) hand grain mill, meat grinder, and cast iron cookware that can be used over an outdoor campfire or wodstove if need be!
And i tend to store food that is home canned or dehydrated, rather than frozen because our power goes out rather frequently in our rural location.
Gee, was that more than you wanted to know?

Comment by Deb Mon Jan 28 02:00:43 2013
Please get smoke detectors TODAY. They can be had for as little as $10. Placement is important, you obviously don't want it in your kitchen. Put one in each bedroom and one on the other end of the trailer. Another thing that is a little more expensive is called the "stove top fire stop" It is a little thing that mounts over the stove that dumps extinguishing agent on the stove if a grease fire breaks out, youtube it. They are about $40-50 but they work well, and its much cheaper than rebuilding. Not trying to scare you, but trailers can be dangerous and being in a rural area, the fire dept. isn't going to get there quickly...
Comment by Anonymous Mon Jan 28 08:36:31 2013

It would take a bit of work, and at least the use of a bobcat, burying a 20 foot container into your hill would work as a shelter and a root cellar. If it were only partially buried, straw bales could be used as insulation for the root cellar. Much cheaper than a container but still the same concept would be a dead van with its wheels underground and the passenger side dug into your hill. [You could use the side doors to get in.]

Somewhere I ran across a root/storm shelter school bus buried to its windows with the back 2/3s covered with dirt

I agree with Deb that freezing a lot of food leaves you vulnerable to a major storm. Also, when I heated with wood, I had the wire brushes for my chimney and I would clean it out several times during the heating season to avoid fire issues.

Comment by Gerry Mon Jan 28 11:25:14 2013

There is a great podcast called The Survival Podcast (by Jack Spirko) and he has a great guest named Steven Harris who has tons of info on energy usage and alternative energy etc... One of Steven's websites I suggest for you is Listen to the podcast episodes (on that website, ready for android or iphone streaming too) and check the items, pictures and links provided. Yes, he sells his books, DVDs etc.. but the free info on the site is wonderful.

I can't recommend that podcast enough either! (

Thanks for the great blog! I just found you last week and thoroughly enjoy it!

Comment by Bryan Mon Jan 28 12:57:59 2013
I wish your books were available as PDFs. Because it's free, I use Linux rather than Mac or Window$, and Kindle doesn't work properly on Linux. So I can't buy your books.
Comment by Anonymous Mon Jan 28 13:35:21 2013

This is an interesting product. From reading the disposal instructions, it probably contains sodium bicarbonate, which decomposes releasing CO2 and water when heated.

And as opposed to potassium bicarbonate (which is twice as effective at putting out fires, see purple-k) it doesn't produce aggressive and toxic decomposition products.

One of the best features is its automatic operation. It releases the powder when a flame touches the bottom of the canister. Very good idea.

I would certainly recommend this.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Jan 28 14:27:09 2013

Anonymous --- I use Linux too, for the same reasons, and I gladly give pdf versions of my ebooks away to folks who email me. On the other hand, you can read any Amazon ebook using your web browser in Amazon's cloud --- that's what I do when I want to read one. Thanks for your interest!

(And thanks to everyone else for your thought-provoking insights.)

Comment by anna Mon Jan 28 17:59:13 2013

I maintain many generators for friends and family and have to say that the best thing that can ever be done to a generator is to switch it no natural gas or propane. I switched over my father in laws generator to natural gas and it was amazing. Every time since it has been smooth starting and easy running. No fouled spark plugs No gummed up carburetor. I only need to change the oil. Compare this with my grandmothers which had gasoline left in it for a year and needed a complete overhaul of the carburetor to make it run again. I used the "c" kit from

Comment by Michael Tue Jan 29 14:30:33 2013

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