No Power – No Worries

9 Comments

As many of you would be aware, a large portion of the eastern part of Queensland has endured some pretty wild weather over the past week or so.  Ex Cyclone Oswald (hurricane) has wreaked havoc over a large area.  Because the system was moving quite slowly we had plenty of time to prepare for the bad weather.

Flooding in the backyard

‘Prepare’ is the key word here and I think I did a reasonable job.  As usual, there are things that we did well and some that could be improved.  In the interests of creating a reference for the future I thought I would share what I discovered.

Firstly, here is a bit of background.  Our household consists of 2 adults in a 3 bedroom, high-set timber-framed home on a small acreage.  We are totally reliant on our tank water and have solar hot water as well as grid-connected solar panels.  We live about 8km from the nearest town and there is no public transport.  We have 2 vehicles.  Strong coastal winds do affect our property.

Apart from the risk of structural damage to our home, my main concern was losing power.  Without electricity we are unable to run the pump to get water to the house so we boiled water so that it was ready to drink.  We prepared 40 litres which we stored in a 20 litre drum from our camping equipment and the Duke’s 20 litre home brew kit.  We have a refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen as well as a small upright freezer in the study.  I filled several ice-cream containers with water to freeze in an attempt to keep the frozen goods OK for as long as possible.

Home brew

Once we lost power we were still able to access water from a tap on the tank to fill buckets.  However, it is about a 400 metre round trip to the tank.

Solar panels
Because we are connected to the grid we cannot access power directly from our solar panels.  I have heard that this can now be done so I will be investigating this possibility with the company that installed the panels.

Cooking was not a problem as we have a gas cooktop and we also had the wood-heater blazing in an attempt to keep the humidity down.  We had 2 billies of water on the heater at all times so there was plenty of warm water for a ‘shower’ using buckets of warm water.  I also cooked soup and bolognaise sauce on the heater .

Bolognaise sauce
The biggest challenge was keeping food cold.  Since the refrigerator/freezer was in the same zone of the house as the wood heater it did not stay cool for long.  The small freezer fared better as it was in another part of the house.  I ended up using it like an ice-chest.  It was lucky that we did not have a lot of meat on hand so I was able to cook and use all of it without any loss.  I did throw out a few things  but the total value would have been less than $30.  That is a small price to pay rather than getting sick from eating food that has not been stored safely.

We were without power for a total of 59 hours and in that time we had to work hard just to ensure that we had food and drink as well as water for washing dishes and bathing.  I did not even contemplate washing clothes as I knew that we had enough to last until the immediate crisis was over.

THINGS I DID WELL

Prepared plenty of drinking water
Cooked nutritious meals using ingredients we had available
Made sure that the perishable foodstuffs were used first
Wasted a minimal amount of food
Bought a lighter for the gas stove/fire when we realised that the humidity meant the matchbox was damp and striking a match was almost impossible
Having the house decluttered and organised meant that we knew where things were and they were easy to access with minimal light

THINGS I COULD DO BETTER

Start freezing water earlier to ensure that it is completely frozen before the power is lost
Consider buying a small generator
Set the camp fridge to ‘freeze’ before power is lost and fill it with frozen goods that will not need to be accessed during power outage.  This would be especially useful if I had a lot of meat.
Move the small freezer downstairs (the coolest part of the house) and use like an ice-chest
Follow up on our plans to install a rainwater tank close to the house so that water is easier to access

I also gave some thought to what we would take if the house were damaged substantially.  I had sturdy shoes and socks and a torch as well as my essential medications ready to grab if we needed to seek shelter downstairs.  This seems very minimal and I need to give a lot more thought to what we would need to take if we had to leave in a hurry for any reason.  I would love to hear if you have a ‘grab-bag’, what is in it and where you store it.

We survived quite well and were certainly not tested to the limit but the last week has given us several things to think about and priorities to consider.

9 thoughts on “No Power – No Worries

  1. It sounds like you were very prepared for the storm. I don’t have any tips for you it all depends on the season. right now being winter, food could be stored outside. I never realized that if your solar panels were connected to the grid you couldn’t use your own power when the grid went down, hope you can change that for the future it would make a world of difference. I don’t know about you, but recently I’ve had an opportunity to really consider how easy we have things past generations didn’t and how much work they did to survive.

    • We do have things pretty easy compared to our ancestors. I keep telling anyone who will listen that back then ‘just surviving was a full-time job’.

      I am doing some more research on the solar panel issue and it is looking positive. More details once I have the full story.

  2. Hi Fairy, I have a “go-bag”, which I leave in the bottom of my wardrobe usually, however, with the wild weather recently I threw it in the back of the car in case I had any trouble going to and from work, between Coolum and Maroochydore, (pretty safe, really). However, I am a shift worker and a lot of my travel is at night, so I am always aware of the possibility of being stranded alone in the dark. I am off to work right now, but I will come back later and tell you what I have in it. It is just a cheap $19 school backpack from Aldi, but quite sturdy, waterproof, with lots of handy pockets. Cheers, Kerrie

    • Keeping the go-bag in the wardrobe is a neat idea. I will keep that in mind. You can’t be too careful when travelling at night – that was the reason I got my very first mobile phone – way back in about 1997!

  3. Well done Fairy. We were very lucky and did not lose power but did get some water through what we think is a cracked roof tile under our solar panels. Have lodged a claim but there are a lot more to be attended to before us.

  4. Here in the NT we are expected to prepare for 72 hours without any assistance whatsoever. Power, water, telephone and other services could easily be unavailable for that long. For remote locations, help may not arrive for much longer.
    If you go to the SES website you will find the list of what to take in your evacuation/cyclone/flood/fire kit. It was probably on the radio and in the press, but you seem to have missed it.
    Treat the emergency conditions as a camping event. Avoid opening your fridge and freezer and instead wrap them in blankets. Remember that there is a supply of good water in your hot water system. Fill the bathtub or something similar and do not empty it after you have washed yourselves. Use tinned food and UHT milk if possible. Tape your windows to minimise flying glass. If you have security screens or crimsafe screens that will protect the glass instead.
    Do not fuss about the humidity and instead be glad you are not flooded. Many things dry out later.
    Collect your jewellery and wrap it to look like a parcel of meat. Hide it in the back of your freezer. You may be able to retrieve it later. In your evacuation kit you should have a change of underwear and possibly another set of clothes as well. You should have strong shoes. Pack all your necessary medications and prescriptions, including any birth control, and any machines you use. Include your phone chargers and a GPS unit if you have one. Include all the usual things like a battery operated radio, a torch, and spare batteries. You should include copies of your wills, work ID, driver’s licences, passports, insurances, birth certificates, address books, testamurs, and anything else you will need to start your life again. A complete inventory of your possessions will make the insurance claims easier. You should pack a can opener, some emergency food and water, and a tarp. Have spare keys made too but disguise them. Do not take any guns or similar weapons even if you are an Olympic champion and even if the crocs and snakes are circling.
    Some of these things you need during the emergency and some you may need afterwards. Pack everything in the back of your car so you can leave at very short notice. If it is in a suitcase you are able to take it with you if you have to use other transport. You will not be able to take it in a helicopter.
    You could create PDFs of the documents and have them on a website such as Google Docs. This would allow you to access them later from another location if you lose everything.
    If you intend taking your pets with you then have a box of supplies for them. Remember that some evacuation shelters and centres will not accept pets.
    Organ recipients already know that they should be in touch with the hospital at these times. Others with serious health conditions should do something similar.
    Why not join your local volunteer services such as the SES, Rural Fire Brigade, Volunteer Ambulance, Red Cross, or St Vinnies. You could be of assistance to others and it will also educate you about aspects of dealing with emergencies.

  5. Hi Fairy, I have a list of the contents of my go-bag for you.
    My list:
    – A small first aid kit in a wallet.
    – Wind up torch with a radio in it. (I like this option better than a battery one, as I don’t have to remember to keep updating the batteries if the kit is not used for a length of time). I was able to find one that has a universal mobile charger incorporated in it, so could throw in a cheap Nokia phone and leave it there, I also use a prepaid with credit that never expires, so I don’t have to recharge to keep my number or balance.
    – Tiny sewing kit in a little wallet.
    – Silver emergency space blanket (this is really thin and folded up in a tiny envelope)
    – Rain poncho, one of the thin folding ones in a little plastic bag.
    – A plastic zipped toiletries bag with miniature toothpaste, hand gel, shampoo/conditioner, shower gel, toothbrush, small deodorant, small cake of soap, small microfibre travel towel. (Most of these contents gleaned from past motel stays or plane flight packs)
    – A pair of bed socks, the kind you get on planes.
    – A 3 piece camping eating utensil, you know the kind, folding knife/fork/spoon in a little pouch.
    – A wide mouth enamel coffee/soup/tea cup from the camping store.
    – A toilet roll and a small pack of tissues in a ziplock bag.
    – A folding multi tool (generic swiss army knife type of thing)
    – In a small tin: A metal flint, striking tool for starting fires, also a small capsule with waterproof matches, a little compass, a whistle, small notepad and pencil, a small mirror, a length of thin nylon rope, could be used as a clothes line or to hang a plastic sheet over if making a rain shelter or privacy screen. (most of these quite cheap from the camping store)
    – Bottle of water and a packet of water purifying tablets from the camping store.
    – Small tube of pawpaw ointment and a small pack of paracetamol
    – A fold up, felted inflatable neck pillow, of the type used in planes.
    – Insect repellent (Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Spray, smells nice)
    – A pack of dust masks, got these from the hardware store. And my daughter in law is a nurse and brought home a handful of surgical masks also.
    – 3 large safety pins, the locking, nappy pin type.
    – Pair of leather gardening gloves.
    – Pack of chewing gum
    All these things were accumulated quite cheaply and when I costed it roughly, it cost me about $60 including buying the backpack. I also have a stash of cash in $5 notes and a thumb drive with copies of handy documents, incl insurance policies.
    There is plenty of room left in the bag for a change of clothes, a pair of shoes, a pack of cup-a-soup, some crackers, a couple of small tins of salmon or similar from the pantry if I had to evac to a shelter for a couple of days, or had to camp in my car. I intend to add a thin nylon groundsheet or tent fly when I get a chance. I think if I had to spend time in a community shelter, I would like a bit of privacy if possible. There is heaps of scope for making up your own bag. My son has one made up that incorporates stuff for the dog. I hope we never, ever have to use these in anger, but I am willing to make the small investment for them to sit in the cupboard just in case.
    – For my personal entertainment, I have a small solar charger that can charge phone, camera, music pod etc, ipad if I had one. This is only as big as the palm of my hand, but folds out to about 30cm and works very well if you have some sun. I am a fan of gadgetry, so I am always finding little things I could add, but I try to restrain myself in the name of frugality.

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