Emergency Preparedness: Some lessons learned in New Jersey
To store utility water (for flushing, etc.), use contractor-weight garbage bags in garbage cans. For drinking water, use gallon-size ziplock bags. They can be emptied and reused later. Keep your emergency water supply for a week or so after services have been restored in case of a relapse.
Get a land-line (copper wire) phone. They often keep working when all other services have failed. Consider getting a dial-up modem and have an account that supports dial-up. Cable/Internet service can be out for weeks, and cell phone service suffers when towers go down.
Keep your car's gas tank full if you know a big storm is coming. Have gas cans on hand. Know how to transfer gas out of your car's tank into a can or another car. They sell gadgets for this in auto parts stores.
Have all laundry done and the dishwasher run before the storm hits and the power goes out.
If you plan on sleeping elsewhere in the house (it's common here to sleep in the living room or basement during big storms because of trees crashing through the roof into second-floor bedrooms), inflate the bed before the power goes out.
Have a gas water heater that doesn't require electricity for ignition or for operating the vent. It will keep operating indefinitely in a power outage.
If you have an automatic garage door opener, disengage it before the power goes out, especially if that's where you keep the generator, your car, or emergency supplies.
Flashlights are plentiful in the stores here, but there are no D batteries anywhere.
Get headlamp flashlights. You can do things while wearing one.
Get a Red Cross hand-crank radio that can also be used to charge phones.
Figure out how you wil make coffee without electricity. (Including grinding the beans.)
People in cold climates with fish tanks and exotic birds -- How will you keep them warm? Keep the fish oxygenated? Our local pet store, with power, is hosting several parrots and cockatiels. (Joy says "fish tanks - have a large dutch oven that I fill with water - boil the water and place under the tank. throw every blanket we have over tank and pray. Reheat the water about every 8 hours or
sooner - so far so good.")
Tarps, thick plastic sheeting, furring strips, staple gun or slap hammer, duct tape, chainsaw.
Paper plates/bowls, plastic cups and utensils.
A manually operated pump, depending on your drainage situation. Extra sump pumps in case the installed one fails.
If you have a 3G-capable iPad but have never used 3G, you will need a SIM card to use 3G. Get it now and set up a pay-as-you-go account.
Mobile hotspots will not provide Internet access for many desktop computers, only other mobile devices. If the Internet goes out, will you possibly need to transfer files from your desktop to your phone, perhaps to email them somewhere? If so, figure out how in advance. (I'm on a Mac and an iPhone, and I'm using Air Sharing over my home wi-fi network.)
Get a TV antenna so you can receive digital over-the-air channels if the cable goes out.
Identify what electrical items you absolutely must have. In my area, the must-haves are (1) heat, (2) basement sump pumps, (3) ability to charge electronics, and (4) lights, followed by luxuries, such as a TV or a refrigerator.
If it doesn't get all that cold, or if you have electric heat, consider getting kerosene or propane space heaters for emergency heat. If you live in an area where pipes will freeze, either come up with a whole-house heat solution or understand how to drain your pipes.
If you have a gas- or oil-fired boiler with circulating hot water or steam, the electrical requirements are minimal and you can run the system from a generator or using deep-cycle marine batteries hooked up to solar panels or even a bicycle for recharging (or you can hook it up to your car, I've heard). Have an electrician install a transfer switch on the breaker that feeds your boiler so you can isolate the boiler from the panel and plug it directly into the generator (cost is about $400 - $500 for the transfer switch). Do it now, before you need it.
Another option is a natural gas fireplace. A neighbor has one in his basement, and it keeps his whole (big) house warm.
Generators get stolen. Try to locate it out of sight, and get a lock and chain to attach it to something.
Have spare extension cords so you can share generator power with your neighbors. It's the best way to compensate for the noise they'll have to endure.
Related pages: The Cohousing Movement