post storm disaster victims

I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to those who are suffering from the latest hurricanes and wildfires. May this pass quickly and leave you safe. This post may come too late to help the current victims, but hopefully, will help in future situations. There are a few things disaster victims can learn from campers.

If you are a camper, you may not find anything in this post that you did not already know. You can stop reading here, but please share this with your friends whose idea of camping is a weekend at the Marriott.

Campers may own a lot of expensive equipment, but there are some inexpensive items that can make life in the aftermath of a disaster safer and more comfortable. Every person should have a few of these basic items in their emergency kit. These camping implements are also useful during commonplace electrical outages.


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Food

Chicken Pot Pie for Disaster Victims

There is no need to empty the shelves of bread; there are better things to eat off grid than sandwiches. Milk is not going to last without refrigeration. You can have hot, delicious, and nutritious meals without electricity.

If you do not have electricity, it is likely that the restaurants in you area are also without, so you need to be independent where hot meals are concerned.
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How Do I Cook with No Electricity

Boiling Water on BRS Stove

Before you can decide how you are going to cook, there are several factors to consider. Are you in your home or evacuated to another place? Are you able to cook outdoors? Are you going to have to carry your makeshift kitchen very far?

Some cooking options cannot be safely used indoors. Fuel sources such as charcoal and propane emit dangerous fumes and you must use them outdoors. If you need to cook indoors due to a hurricane in progress, you may want to use an alcohol stove. For many meals, you need only boil water.

The following list of stoves is not a complete list, but does provide a good start.

Stove TypeAdjustable HeatIndoor UseApproximate PriceDisadvantages
Alcohol StoveNoYes$1-15Fire risk with spilled fuel
Backpacker Dual FuelYesNo$15-50
Butane StoveYesNo$20-50
Charcoal GrillNoNo$15-100
Liquid Fuel StoveYesNo$80-250
Liquid Propane Gas GrillYesNoExpensiveDifficult to transport
Propane Camping StoveYesNo$20-150
Wood Burning Camping StoveNoNo$15-50Fuel may not be available

Do not forget that you need a way to light these stoves. Keep extra lighters on hand in case your main lighter does not work. Consider using different methods to start your fire, such as waterproof matches.

What Do I Cook with No Electricity

There are many food choices that do not include tuna, peanut butter, or canned food. You can dehydrate your own meals, order bulk freeze-dried food, or use prepackaged freeze-dried meals (backpacker meals). Even without heating water, you can use freeze-dried dairy products, such as milk, butter, sour cream, and cheese.

Try out different freeze-dried foods to find your favorites before they are your only choice. You will find that some brands taste better than others and have a wider selection. These meals are surprisingly good and easy to prepare. You can eat them directly from the bag to prevent having to wash dishes.

Water

Katadyn BeFree Filter

Water is an essential for drinking, sanitation, and hygiene. There is a possibility that water could stop flowing from your taps or your normal water could become contaminated.

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Water Storage

It is a good idea to store some water when you have warning of impending disaster, such as a hurricane. You will need water for:

  • drinking
  • flushing toilets
  • bathing
  • laundry
  • brushing your teeth

Keep large plastic bins on hand for water storage. You can fill your bath tub, but most have a slow leak. A plastic bin is more reliable. Some people also collect rain water in a barrel outdoors. Whatever method you choose, make sure you have enough water to meet your needs for several days.

You do not have to buy bottled water if there is none available. You can store water that you draw from your faucet. If you never drink water outside of a disaster, then feel free to buy the beverage you usually drink. So many people who drink nothing but soft drinks panic when they cannot find water before a hurricane.

Water Treatment

You should have a way to treat water to make it potable. Water filtration systems have become very modestly priced. For example, you can purchase a Katadyn BeFree Filter for around $35. These types of filters remove bacteria and protozoa. You can also use tablets and drops to purify water.

You can remove foul tastes, such as sulfur, with a Brita Filter. A good alternative to bottled water is to collect water, treat it for purity, and filter it for taste.

Temporary Housing

You may be able to stay in your home, but if necessary, evacuate to a shelter or other location. This may require a swift departure, so make sure you have a checklist of items to take with you. If you disobey an evacuation order, you may need alternative shelter.

It never hurts to have an substitute shelter in the case where you do evacuate. If you have a tent, hammock  system, or even a tarp with cordage, you can use it as shelter if there are no hotel rooms or space at an official shelter available. There are also places to camp for free. Obviously, you should set up a temporary shelter in a safe location.

Sleep Systems

Ultralight Gear at Cataloochee Horse Camp

If you are fortunate enough to stay in your home, you may not have to worry about where you are going to sleep. In the event you have to go to a shelter or sleep in an alternate location in your home, having a comfortable place to sleep is paramount.

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Cots

If you are evacuating to an official shelter, they will likely have cots. However, owning your own cot provides flexibility of where you can stay and ensure sanitary conditions if you choose a shelter. You can also use a cot to offer a place to sleep in your home for emergency guests.

Cots fold up and are extremely portable. There are bunk bed versions of the cot that sleep people without taking up as much floor space or you can use one of the bunks for storage.

Air Mattresses

Air mattresses offer a more comfortable sleeping surface than a cot. You can use a twin size air mattresses in conjunction with a cot for a more comfortable bed. Because an air mattress is very portable, you can take it to a shelter to place on top of their cot.

There are disadvantages to air mattresses. They make for a very cold night’s sleep. You will need to place something to insulate or reflect heat between you and the air mattress, such as a mylar blanket or a piece of Reflectix.

Air mattresses can also be cumbersome to blow up. If there is no electricity available, you can use a battery-powered pump; however, they are very slow and drain the batteries quickly. You may want to consider using a pump sack. If no pump is available, you can still blow the mattress up with your mouth. Self-inflating camping pads are another alternative.

Hammocks

Hammocks are one of the most comfortable ways to sleep. However, in the case of evacuations, they are not likely practical. There is no place to hang a hammock at a shelter. If you are evacuating to a campground, a hammock would be a compact and lightweight sleeping alternative.

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags are much more portable than sheets and blankets. They are easily kept within reach for an emergency departure from your house.

Lighting

In a disaster, the chance of losing electricity is very high. Moving around in the dark increases the chance of injury. It is important to have emergency lighting, but not at the risk of starting a fire. Candles, oil lamps, and other flame producing lanterns are best avoided.

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There is a vast selection of lighting alternatives that do not need an electrical outlet, such as:

I find solar-powered lighting the most useful, but consider that you may not have sunshine to recharge them. It is best to keep a variety of lighting types to ensure you are covered.

Communications

To keep the lines of communication open, your cell phone is an invaluable tool. In times of disaster, cell towers may not work. Consider getting something like a SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger to send emergency communications.

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Another consideration with electronics is the ability to keep them charged. You can use a solar charger, but if it is cloudy, you are not likely to be successful. A good charging alternative is an external battery pack. These packs have become very inexpensive. If possible, buy more than one.

You can also save battery power by:

  • turning off your GPS
  • turning off your data plan
  • turning off your bluetooth
  • not using your phone for entertainment
  • limit the hours you use your phone for contacting friends and relatives and keep the phone on airplane mode the rest of the day
  • use a power saving setting on your phone, if available

Clothing

This is a subject where your backpacker friends are an expert. Backpackers use only  two sets of day clothes and one set of sleeping clothes (sometimes even less). Their clothes are also made of the correct materials for survival.

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There is a saying among campers, “cotton kills”. This is because cotton is a major contributor to hypothermia in wet and cold conditions. For this reason, gather two outfits that use modern-day materials that wick moisture, are breathable, and are appropriate for the outdoor temperature.

Why only two outfits? You will not need an entire wardrobe if you are not working due to a disaster. Keeping only two outfits and one set of sleeping clothes reduces the size of your pack so that you have room for other essentials, such as a water filtration system. It is much easier to keep one outfit clean while you wear the other than to do an entire load of laundry with no electricity or running water.

Hygiene

Keep a duplicate set of toiletries. It is much faster to evacuate or even take a vacation trip if you do not have to worry about packing hygiene items at the last minute.

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There are more ways to clean yourself than hopping in a nice hot shower. You could use one of the following methods:

Of all the listed methods, a dunk in the lake is my least favorite; it gets you wet, not clean. If you choose to use the lake or river method, please do not use soaps. Even biodegradable soap is not designed for using directly in a body of water.

My second least favorite is baby wipes. They leave me feeling sticky instead of clean. However, you can make your own wipes out of paper towels that have less chemicals and do not leave a film on your skin.

To take a bucket bath, boil water on your camp stove and mix with equal parts cold water in two buckets (you can change this ratio to reach the desired temperature). Add a little biodegradable soap to one bucket. Place a wash cloth in each bucket. Wipe with the soap water to clean and the clear water to rinse. Do not forget to bathe at least 200 feet from any camp site or water source.

A solar bag is very effective to heat water for a shower. You can also use your camp stove to heat water that you place in the shower bag.

Shower kits can include an on demand, propane water heater. This would end the need for heating water with a camp stove, but keep in mind that they often require pressurized water. If there is no water flowing from the tap, you will likely need a water pump to make them work. You can run a water pump off of a battery.

In cold weather, it is more likely that you will want to use a wipe down method rather a shower. It is too chilly to remove clothing and wet your skin.

Do not discount the importance of a good shower or bath. It can lift your spirits during troubled times and is defnitely appreciated by the people that surround you.

Sanitation

Sanitation in the time of a disaster is extremely important. There is enough suffering after a catastrophic event that you do not want to add insult to injury with digestive upset.

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Washing Dishes

Ideally, try to use as few dishes as possible. You can eat prepackaged backpacker meals directly from the pouch. Because you only boil water, there is no pot to clean.

Use only biodegradable soap to do your dishes if you have to wash them outdoors with no way of properly disposing of gray water. Strain the food out of the dishwater, bury the food particles six inches deep, and scatter the dishwater. Make sure you are at least 200 feet from any camp site or water source before scattering.

When you rinse dishes, boil water on your camp stove and pour the boiling water of the dishes to disinfect.

Proper Food Preparation

If you lose power, be wary of food from your freezer. You can test the integrity of the food by leaving a frozen container of water in the freezer with a coin placed on top. Upon your return, if the coin is not sitting on top of the ice, discard the contents of your freezer because it has thawed and refrozen. When in doubt; throw it out.

Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer before preparing food. Resist the urge to taste test food with a utensil used to cook the food if you are serving it to other people.

Be sure to bring water to a rolling boil for foods that need hot water to rehydrate.

Laundering Clothing

Try to use as few article of clothing as possible until life returns to normal. It is much easier to wash one outfit at a time than an entire load of laundry when there is no electricity or running water.

Use biodegradable soap. Do not wash your clothes within 200 feet of a source of water or a camp site.

You can use a piece of cord between two trees as a clothesline. If you double the cord between the trees and twist it, you can insert edges of the clothing between the twists in place of clothes pins.

Keep Your Hands Clean

One of the best things you do after a disaster to prevent illness is to keep your hands clean. Wash them often and use hand sanitizer, especially after using the toilet.

No Toilet Available

If there is no flushing toilet available, dig a six to eight inch hole for waste. Cover the hole when you finish. Do not bury toilet paper; dispose of it in sealed trash bags.

You can use water stored in a bath tub as a temporary measure to flush toilets in your home.

Climate Control

Let’s face it; there will not likely be any climate control after a catastrophic event. However, you can do a few things to make yourself more comfortable. Most importantly, wear weather appropriate clothing made of wicking and breathable materials.

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If it is hot outside:

If it is cold outside:

  • build a camp fire, where appropriate
  • layer your clothing
  • wear a hat
  • wear gloves
  • use chemical hand warmers
  • make a hot water bottle for bed
  • use a good sleeping bag
  • eat more calories
  • eat hot meals
  • drink hot drinks
  • seek shelter from the wind

Summary for Disaster Victims

Here is a short list of items to buy that can serve as a starting point to help you get through the aftermath (without breaking the bank):

  • an inexpensive camp stove
  • a water filtration system
  • dehydrated or freeze-dried foods
  • a camp lantern that runs on solar or battery power
  • a battery-powered fan
  • an external battery pack to charge your phone

You can start with the listed items and begin to duplicate your toiletries. Slowly acquire any other items in this post to enhance your quality of life should the unthinkable happen.

Once you have built up a bit of equipment, test it out by taking it camping. You may see what all your camping friends are so crazy about.


If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comment box.