Three Letters Re: Hurricane Sandy After Action Reports

Monday, Nov 5, 2012

James:
Let me first say we are doing well compared to the rest of the folks here on Long Island , NY . I am no hard core prepper but believe strongly that the need is there. We are in Nassau County and are served by LIPA, the Long Island Power Authority. As I write there are about 300,000 people here without power. Some of the things I have witnessed are very sad indeed and we were blessed to have our power back within two days.
 
South of where we live along the water the houses have had their basements flooded out. Even with prior storms my in-laws who live near the water had their basement flooded to the ledger board on their foundation. The water has never gotten that high since they have lived there for over fifty years. Everything in their basement was ruined. They had built up a sand berm but the water kept coming and then rushed into the basement, carrying the sand with it. Note to self, use sand bags. Upon entering their neighborhood the people were all on the streets taking their ruined belongings and bringing them to the curb. Everyone of them as I drove by had the “Thousand Yard Stare” made famous in pictures and photographs from World War II. We were able to give my in-laws our generator after they returned to their house. They bugged out to a hotel in a dry area of Long Island . Their Hotel lost power for a day.
 
Things that got us through the storm.
 
Trees
Over the past few years we have removed large trees that, had they fallen the right way, would have cut out house in two. We have three pre-teens and could not have dealt with their loss. After both my wife and I grew up near open water and the associated wind that can come off the water we learned not to have overhanging trees. While the shade generated from them cut out cooling bills, it’s just not worth it if you, or god forbid, your loved ones lose their life.
 
You need a generator (period)
Get a generator strong enough to power your refrigerator, a radio and a few lights. This saved us from having to throw out our newly purchased foods. We are fortunate to have both an old refrigerator (which seems to last much longer than the new ones with planned obsolescence built in, we are never getting rid of it) and a new one. The new one has better insulation. So what we did was take the ice from the ice maker and kept it in the freezer in zip-lock bags. This helped us build us the cooling thermal mass. We kept on letting the ice maker make more ice and put it in bags rather than letting the trip bar stop the ice making. If you think you don’t need a generator then get one anyway when there is a sale because someone you know will need it and being charitable may save someone’s life. After the storm here it got down into the 30’s and people froze in their houses.
 
Stock up on gasoline and stabilize it before the storm.
The Coast Guard shut the ports in NY which supply gasoline here and there are now huge lines for gas. We had about fifteen gallons in the garage and used about half of it before our power came back and we gave the rest to the in-laws to power their pumps to pump out their basement. We could have used a lot more gasoline. (check your local ordinances for storage limits) Again, learning from this instance, if you live in a low-lying area, rethink what you have in your basement. It was never this bad before and they lost everything in their basement.
 
Digitize every picture of sentimental value.
 
On the local news channel most people returned to their home to see if they could salvage any pictures. I can not tell you how sad I found this. If you are like some of my relatives and have, over the years amassed footlockers full of pictures maybe outsourcing is a good solution. Since we take digital pictures now, we save them on our hard drive and back them up to an external one terabyte USB hard drive. If we ever had to bug out we’d just take the USB drive and boogey.
 
Emergency food
Emergency food has helped us out. We went the canned route and slowly purchased canned meals like Ravioli with Meatballs and had them in-hand for use. We need to work on this as we were running out of milk and a few other items for the kids (lessons learned).
 
Water
 
While camping this Summer in New England we went pretty deep into the Maine woods to Baxter State Park . There was no running water and we had to carry it in with the pickup. We used hanging bag showers to clean ourselves and we carried in about 10 gallons of water for a couple of days. Get yourself a good storage container for clean water. We used two five gallon Coleman water containers but a few milk containers with screw-on lids (Sterilized) would have helped.
 
Security
 
While it could have gotten to an apocalyptic TEOTWAWKI situation here the big drama on “The Island” was as the gas pumps with fights breaking out as people tried to cut each other in line. One man was arrested for taking out a pistol. There is and was looting in other areas where homes are damaged and abandoned. Thankfully I did not have to rely on all the NRA patches I earned when I was a kid (I got to Barr III )
 
Batteries
 
Batteries and power for “Crackberries” were a pretty big story here. In New York City people who had power ran power lines to the street to let others charge their cell phones. I use a battery back up pack for my phone and fill it with four double-a rechargeable batteries and keep them charged at all times. Link .This doubles my battery life but when the area lost power…so did the cell towers. So I’ll be studying for the Ham technician license. We have four hand held FRS walkie talkies that my son won in a Boy Scout Raffle a few years ago and it did not get to the point where we needed them. But they are great fun to use in the shopping mall to find your lost kids at no cost.
 
Transportation
Walkability is how friendly your area is to walking. If you have to travel everywhere by car…in our current situation with gas shortages you’d be walking everywhere to get your food and supplies. While this has great health benefits you may end up burning more calories than you can take in. Get a bike and a hand operated bike pump with either a rack or basket to carry items. I need to get a hand operated air pump as I’ve been relying on the air compressor and it never occurred to me.
 
Psychological lessoned learned
 
Having survived the horrific scenes of 9/11 and losing many former colleagues (another  story for another day) and of the 2004 blackout here in NY, I learned that yes, you have to get your news from the media but if you watch the TV 24/7 you will lose your mind and get really really depressed. Get up from the “Idiot Box” as my parents used to call it and “Move a muscle and change a thought”. Getting up and around rather than hunkering down in your foxhole makes you feel “Big and Strong”.
 
Flaws and future plans
 
What I have learned is that a lot of people here needed our help. My in-laws come for dinner every night. They needed my generator when I was done with it. Our friends needed our extra heaters as they got their power back but their boiler (in the basement) was trashed and could not heat their house. Plan on being generous. Maybe someday it will come back to you as you have paid it forward.
 
I need to reconsider where we live. Right now I am unemployed from the financial community here in NY and have worked in Project Management and I am PMP certified. Hopefully the wife and kids will buy-in to the idea. Being a conservative in NY has not suited me well. My father had his life saved by a Naval Scholarship as his dad died at an early age from sclerosis of the liver (as my friend Bill says, he never took the first step).
I tried to join the Military but was unable to pass the physical due to a slight limp, I still got my pilots license though. I have not flown since 1995.
 
Hopefully my Project Management Experience will be able to help me pick up a job in another field somewhere safe. I have worked in banking and software development as a project manager and business analysis. I have traded for the worlds largest commodities firm (at the time) and know a bit about financial derivatives. Enough to know that it’s not the product but the greed behind it that ruins everything. So long as a trading desk is very profitable everybody in management leaves them alone. I’ve seen some pretty smart people (on paper) “Blow-up” and lose everything and then I’ve seen some pretty “street smart” kids make a killing.
 
In summation, while I’m no hard core prepper, I got by with the help from God and family. The 5 P’s are burned into my memory like a scar. Proper Preparation Produces Perfect Performance. Yes, I know there are derivatives of this saying. I was very happy to help other people. Because as soon as I got out of feeling sorry for myself I was able to feel great in helping others. This by the way has saved my life in another aspect. I’m an alcoholic and if I had not learned the lessons I had over half a decade ago things would have only gotten worse in this tragedy and I would not have my wits about me nor my family as they would have left many years ago.
 
I hope this has helped you. Best, - One Lucky Guy (and family).
 

Dear Rawles Family,
I have been an avid reader of your blog for about seven years. You actually recently featured a link on your blog to my radio show on blog talk radio called The Homeschool Homemaker where I discussed what Homeschoolers and Homemakers can learn from Preppers. I followed that with a radio show on how to prep for Sandy. I will be doing a follow up show shortly as the power was just now restored after being out for six days.
 
Your blog has changed my life.
 
The Good Lord Almighty and you are responsible for two proud moments in my life this last week. One, when I walked into Sam's Club last Saturday morning among HUNDREDS of people in full fledged panic and a smart alec greeter at the door said snidely "If you are here for supplies we are out of generators, water, batteries and lots of other stuff." I was able to just as smugly say back to him, "Then I guess it is a good thing that I already have those things on hand at home." He looked genuinely shocked. I spent the next two hours avoiding panic stricken mobs, taking my children through the store and teaching them what they should have on hand at all times and forcing them to watch other people's behavior. I told them what they could use as substitutes. I was able to get together a large list of wants (these were not needs as if I had to I could have survived at home, just not in luxury) and provisions for expected/unexpected guests. I shudder to think of what was going through the minds of those who needed those supplies and couldn't find them anywhere. Those poor people.
 
The second was when we were able to provide shelter to some friends who badly needed it. They said it was like coming to a luxury hotel, and were able to take warm showers, have a large hot meal and tuck themselves and their children into warm beds. It was a joy. They remarked upon seeing how we were weathering things, "You are the most prepared people I have ever met!". It was an honor to show hospitality in the name of the Lord in a time of trouble.
 
Here are some things I can share that may help my fellow readers.
 
1. Preparedness needs to be consistent, constant and progressive.
Had I waited till just the threat of Sandy was here I would not have been prepared to the level of comfort, maybe only to the level of survival.
For the last seven years we have moved, purchased and trained guard dogs, increased security, tucked ourselves into a small and preparedness minded community (hard to find for NJ) and slowly accumulated high quality items with long term preparedness goals in mind. This cannot be done in a week, not even in a month. It makes a HUGE difference.
 
2. Everything you say is true regarding the progression of things. It truly progressed in that fashion. People ignored the warnings, then were terrified when the storm hit, then panicked when they saw the aftermath. It is heartbreaking to see and I am not even in that immediate area. In my immediate area it is more that the cold and frustration was taking over, but the few neighbors who were not prepared quickly got out of town or found a way to manage. This is not what is happening in other areas.
 There is widespread looting. There is genuine hunger, thirst and terror. Others are moving from place to place as they don't want to be a burden. Prices are skyrocketing and people seem to have lost the good sense God gave them. This is not where the storm damage is, it is just where the power is out!
 
3.We had an attempted break in on my street last night that happened within five minutes of the Husband leaving. Dogs stopped it. Someone tried my doors the night before. My dogs stopped it. The day after the storm my neighborhood was inundated with people looking for work or just looking. My guard dogs took care of that, but scams and criminals abound in even the areas not hard hit. If you have a choice between a security system and dogs, go with the dogs every time.
 
I will just say that many times when I have read here I have had a hard time accepting all of your advice. Thinking things would never progress that quickly or that bad. I was wrong. Just days in, you had to be very careful who knew you had hot water. People were starting to remark on who seemed to be living the high life and who wasn't. You can see where this can quickly go.
 
Thanks to you, I was frying up chicken with mashed potatoes and drinking hot chocolate with whipped cream the day after the hurricane hit. I assumed we would not be able to leave the house as we would have to guard the generator and we were able to hold tight nearly a week now.
 
Of course now the shelves are all bare and the pumps are being rationed AND we have a huge snow storm coming. I am sorry for those who will lose even more.
 
This has helped me practice many preps, test them out and clarified places for improvement. People who mocked are now listening. People who thought that security wasn't an issue if you "didn't live in that type of area" have come to the horrifying realization that people who want to break in don't have to live next to you to be a danger.
 
I am afraid we are in for much more because of the snow storm coming, but we shall see.
 
Thank you for all you do! - The Homeschool Homemaker

 

Jim:
I’m grateful to you for sharing my post-Sandy updates. There is a “comfort” in reaching people. Here is Storm Update # 5:
 
Sunday morning. Relationships. They matter more than ever in an emergency. Yesterday, we burned through the decent firewood. We are now down to the rot. Before Sandy, I had contacted a landscaper to remove this stuff to make space for a new load. However, it fell to the wayside, in part because I had other priorities, and also because I was using this junk wood in our backyard fire pit. I logged in a call to the contractor who had provided us with firewood for the last seven years – his Fall advertisement was still on my desk. He remembered us, and though he was delivering in upstate Pennsylvania with orders backed-up, he understood the circumstances here and promised to deliver a heaping cord tomorrow. I thanked him, and headed out to clean-up our wood stack. This took several hours. The rot went into the mulch piles, which left two empty six by six inch railroad ties clear for the new wood. I also repositioned our eight-foot metal fireplace holder. Good to go.
 
Next, I turned to refilling the genny. I was mixing the stabilized emergency gasoline that had been under the tarp since last Spring, with the new gasoline I had obtained Friday. Normally, I would do first in, first out, but I didn’t want to risk the genny with bad fuel. While pouring the gas, our neighbor from behind the house (Mike) surprised me with a visit. He lives on a different street, and our last encounter had been testy as he had attempted to dig a drainage line over our property without permission. Don’t get me wrong, we resolved that episode. He had apologized, laying the blame on his contractor. Without rehashing the details, suffice to say that this was a knowing incursion onto our property. Still, I was of a mind to let there be peace.
 
Mike and I chatted for a while. He was cooking the last of his freezer meat on the barbecue – thus he had seen me – and was also a bit freaked. Though our prior encounter had not been the warmest, he was looking for camaraderie. Most of the neighbors on his side were also gone, and he never imagined that power-down could happen for a week in NJ! His genny, like ours, was also wired into critical systems. He had gasoline issues, food supplies in his basement and a baseball bat by the bed. He and his wife were “creeped out” at night. They had signed up for firearm instruction, but that was next month. Short story – I extended the olive branch, and told him I’d watch his back and to let me know if he needs anything. He agreed to do the same for us. I didn’t give him every detail on our situation, but enough. Relationships – they do matter. Perhaps one can be an island as a “prepper” in a hardened bunker in the Redoubt, but in my experience the folks that truly understand survival always acknowledge that it takes cooperation by a team of like-minded adults and children.
 
While I was busy at the house, my wife (Steph) was making a run to Whole Foods to see about fresh food. We got word through our friends on Twitter that the store was open, had generator power and had received a delivery. I reminded her that as the pet store was in the same shopping center, try to buy whatever bags they had available of Aslan’s dry dog food. I had bought two 20-pound bags pre-Sandy, but he’s a 70 pound shepherd and he rips through the chow.
 
Steph returned a few hours later with groceries. The entire shopping center was dark except Whole Foods. Fortunately, the pet store owners had set up a table outside and were walking customers in one at a time with a flashlight – cash only of course. She bought their last 20-pound bag and a few chewy treats.
 
Goods were unloaded, dishes hand washed, fireplace stoked, lanterns checked (fresh batteries for the non-rechargeables), dog walked and dinner cooked. Steph had purchased a mashed cauliflower side from Whole Foods, but upon sampling it in the pan with the onions, she tossed it. Spoiled. Lesson learned… she would ask for a taste at the store before buying any prepared items. After dinner - it’s dark, cold and windy – I did the genny refueling for the night, and observed that it was running a hair rougher to my ear. Note to self: could be the fuel mix, but six days of 24-hour running means that tomorrow I need to check the oil, carburetor, fuel line, etc.
 
Turning to the Shore, and a bit of positive news: I confirmed that mom had checked into the hotel. Eventually, we spoke via the mobile. Her phone battery charger had died the other day and she was otherwise busy with contractors, insurance adjusters, FEMA reps, etc. She had brought enough food with her from Pennsylvania, and in South Jersey, gasoline was not as much of a problem. As for our family home on the beach block, pretty much as expected. The garage had four feet of sand, the doors were destroyed from the waves and everything inside was history. The basement of the home (which is more like a first floor due to the home’s elevation) was trashed, a total loss of all systems (HVAC, pumps, washer, dryer, electrical, freezer, etc.). There was a foot of sand to dig out and everything will have to be removed to the foundation before the mold gets a grip. Thankfully, the first floor and above - having been built high in 1938 and all windows boarded-up for Sandy - suffered minimal damage. Mom told me that the local supermarket will not open for several days, but that other stores are beginning to show signs of life. The overall damage to the City is huge, and there is a foul “smell” in the air. She will do the back-and-forth from the house to the hotel until things are repaired. The only dependable contractor that has been helping her is the carpenter that our family has known for decades. Again, it’s all about relationships.
 
This isn’t the most riveting update, but life is all about the little things. Sometimes they take more energy than we imagine, and it wears you down. Our family realizes that our situation is so much better than that of others in NJ and NY, as well as other regions of the country. In part, that’s through our decisions and actions, but luck also plays a role. I’m told that power should be restored today, and that although our daughters’ school has one building without power or fire alarms, the main building will be open for classes tomorrow – Monday.
 
Best wishes to all. This might be the last update – in a good way. - Bill H.


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