Step 3: Heat, Shelter & Sanitation

Time and time again, most personal survival situations are directly a result from weather related disaster.  Most of us have weather related scenarios at the top of our list for disaster preparations.  The violent nature of weather usually leaves a trail littered with destruction.  Although cleanup efforts usually begin immediately, the size and scope of the storm could put your family low on the priority list for government relief funds.  Insurance companies can quickly be overwhelmed by claims, dramatically delaying disbursements to the customers.  After Hurricane Katrina, some people spent two years in litigation with their insurance company to settle claims, inevitably receiving only a fraction of what they needed.  Although most claims are processed in a timely manner, shelter is an immediate need for survival, and not a convenience.  Construction materials and supplies will quickly become scarce, as well as qualified contractors to repair your home.   In the event your home is destroyed, Step 6 will prepare you for the relocation process.  However, since most houses are still habitable, we will discuss how to be prepared to stay in your home and avoiding relocation.

Prior to the storm, you will want to have basic construction materials on hand.

  • Nails & Hammer
  • Plywood
  • Polyethylene Tarps
  • Natural Gas & Water Main shutoff tool

This short list of materials can quickly allow you to regain the integrity of you home.  Broken windows will funnel heat out of your house away from your family.  A damaged leaking roof can exacerbate an already stressful situation by further damaging your house.  Plywood can be quickly nailed to the window casing, providing a temporary fix to a broken window.  A tarp can quickly patch a damaged section of roof, preventing leaks and further structural damage.   A very dangerous situation can occur if a gas line in your house, or your neighbor’s house, begins to leak.  Seconds count; having a gas wrench on hand to quickly turn off the house’s gas supply can prevent an explosion, and potential neighborhood fire.  Similarly, frozen water pipes can easily burst, flooding your house or street.  Knowing where the water-main shutoff valve is located and having a way to turn it off can avoid a freezing mess.

Not just shelter from the weather, your home is also you protection from looters and criminals.  Because you’ve taken the precaution of preparing supplies, your home will become your safe haven, especially as many others will flood the streets looking for a government handout.  An inhabited home will help deter early looters looking for an easy score.  Eventually, the criminals will become more desperate and your home defenses will need to be addressed (see Step 4).

Depending on the time of year and your home town’s latitude, restoring heat will quickly become an immediate need.  If your home is without power to run the furnace, the most obvious and effective source of heat is an internal fireplace.  This is the safest option because the fireplace is a permanent, self-ventilating, heat source designed to provide heat.  Whether you have a wood burning, or gas burning fireplace, you will be able to provide a backup source of heat for at least a portion of the house.  Even during a power outage a gas fireplace will typical still operate; however, models with an electric blower may not work, dramatically reducing these fireplaces’ heating ability (For your family’s safety, be sure the unit does not require an electrically powered ventilation fan system).  Wood burning fireplaces are incredibly simple, so long as you have enough wood stored in a dry place; wet firewood will not be readily available to burn (Note: Wet wood is usually commonly referred to as “seasoned.”  Depending on your type of wood, fresh wood can take between 2 weeks to a year to dry sufficiently for burning.) If you home does not have a fireplace you still have 3 great options for heat:

  1. Portable Electric Heaters – Designed as supplemental space heaters for your house, these heaters require an external power source.  These heaters require a tremendous amount of wattage and will overwhelm most small sized generators.  Larger commercial generators can handle the demand; however, these generators are quite expensive.
  2. Kerosene Heaters – A very practical source of heat, Kerosene is a relatively inexpensive and clean burning fuel.  A portable heater can supply 20,000 BTUs, enough to heat 1000 sq. ft.  Expect to use a few gallons a day for continuous use, so have enough kerosene on hand for at least 3 days.
  3. Propane Heaters – A supplemental heat source, Propane heaters are a portable heat source to reach places your fireplace or kerosene heater cannot heat.  Many models are designed to use the 1lb bottles, with optional adapters to connect to the larger 20lb bottles.  Like the Kerosene heaters, these are also rated to operate inside, heating up to 400 sq. ft.

 Although power outages will also disable your air-conditioner, from a preparedness standpoint, these are a merely convenience devices and are not lifesaving.  Human bodies are designed to survive hot temperatures so long as you have shelter and adequate drinking water.  To avoid heat related injuries, open all windows in the house creating airflow, and consume water continuously.  You might find refuge outside in the shade if your house does not allow for comforting air flow.  Remember, military members deploy for months in temperatures above 100 degrees (reaching as high as 120) without anything except a tent for shade and drinking water.  This is yet another reason for having abundant drinking water stores.