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Lessons Learned

  • Lessons Learned: Kirsten Survived a Four-Day Blackout


    In the summer of 2005 Kirsten and her family experienced a four-day power outage caused by lightning striking the area transformer.

    Here’s what she had to say about it.

    My husband and I thought we were prepared for a "common disaster". We were completely wrong.  When power went out for days, we could not run my husband's CPAP machine to help him breathe overnight. We also lost everything in our fully stocked freezer, causing us to lose hundreds of dollars of frozen food.  We also neglected to realize just how hot the house would get in a heat wave with the power out, or that people run the fire hydrants to try to cool off. This made it so that we had very low water pressure, which meant that we didn’t have water to rely on!

    We [were counting] on frozen and cold food storage for our food, and on being able to cook with our electric pilot light gas stove!  While having a small propane cook stove helped, it rapidly became so hot in the house that we couldn’t cook anyway, and all of our cold food stores were ruined.

    I wish we had known to store water; it never occurred to us we wouldn’t have water!  I wish we had more shelf-stable food, more water, and enough battery or generator power to handle my husband's medical needs!

    Kirsten’s advice to preppers?

    Get a generator or several batteries to handle medical needs, have stored water on hand to last at least a week (the amount of time my neighbors were without power during Sandy), and have a LOT more dehydrated foods and shelf-stable foods.

    All too many people assume that they can cook when the power is out, but some modern stoves will not light without an electric ignition pilot! In addition, so many city folks rely on frozen food and their refrigerators (like we did) and that’s simply not helpful if you lose power for very long.

    Thanks for the great advice Kirsten! Make sure you have a way to ignite your oven’s pilot light. In some cases the solution may be as simple as keeping matches on hand. It also pays to be prepared with alternative cooking gear (like a Volcano stove or a Sport Solar Oven).  And of coursewe love the point Kirsten makes about storing potable water. Clean water for drinking is a top priority.

    If you’d like to read more from Kirsten, check out her Be A Prepper blog.

  • Lessons Learned vol 3: Stephanie Survived the 2005 London Bombing


    I was a student at the University of London, scraping my way through school by working as a software tester in a building on Tavistock Square.  On July 7, 2005, London was attacked by suicide bombers who set off explosions in the London Underground (London’s subway system) and on a bus. In addition to the bombers, 52 civilians were killed and 700 more were injured. This is part of an email I sent to my brother:

    The bus bomb went off about 60 yards away from my office. It was scary. We'd heard rumors of bombs but I didn't believe them until I heard the boom. I got scared when people ran back into the building yelling, “Get back! Get back!" I thought for sure we were goners; that someone with a gun was headed our way. (It's a terrible feeling to know there is nothing you can do to protect yourself or those around you.) We also thought there might be another bomb. Our office faces the street and has huge windows so I knew if there was another explosion, the glass would shatter and we'd get injured that way. I dove under my desk but it felt so futile. My desk was one of the few exposed; any debris would’ve hit me.

    They evacuated us out the back door. We had no idea what was going on. The supervisors were rattled, but did a pretty good job of making decisions.

    One thing that was tough to see was the worry people experienced when they couldn't get a hold of their relatives or friends. In the panic, I had forgotten that there was another set of employees in the basement; I thought maybe they were stuck down there still... they got out all right though.

    At first I was upset because we waited a long time for someone to make a decision about where we should go. Also because we had no idea how big the attacks were we didn't know how to get to there safely. On maps London looks very big and spread out but most of the places in Zone 1 (central London) are within walking distance. So no matter which direction we took, we'd be running into an area that had been bombed or threatened... basically we didn't feel safe.

    Some of the guys in our group, when we were waiting around in the park, went into a few shops and bought water, crisps, biscuits, and candies to pass around. And everyone was very calm and relaxed; patient too. I think people were a bit upset that the supervisors asked us not to leave, we all just wanted to go home (!), but overall there was a sense of support and patience.

    A few hours later my company got us to their headquarters (we walked) and made sure we had food, water, toilet, cash, a place to stay, and counseling. I think they're a great company and really admire the way they handled this situation, and even more how they treated us.

    All transportation in Central London shut down for a while, so I offered my place to those who couldn't make it home. I don't consider this a particularly large gesture, but some people were quite moved. There were also two kids who had been evacuated from Euston Station that were wondering how to get to London Bridge (where I live). I heard them asking and said we were going there later and wouldn't they walk with us... somebody called me a hero for helping them out and I felt like snorting. If that's all it takes then we're all heroes really, because everyone was helping everyone else. We hugged people we never met who were shaking or crying. We tried to cheer up each other and offered sweaters or coats to strangers. People were encouraging the supervisors and supporting their decisions.

    I'm a little rattled, but safe and sound. I feel really blessed because I realize that if things had been timed a little differently I would have been caught in the middle of two, if not three, of the bombings. I could have been on the Russel Square train that was bombed. If I had left home a little later I would have been trapped in the underground, or if the bus bomb had gone off when we were on break I would have been standing right in front of it.

    Emergency Essentials: For whom were you responsible?   

    Stephanie: I was only responsible for myself, but I picked up two teenage boys who were headed to my area. They were with our crowd outside of the office building.

    EE: Were you prepared?

    S: I was not prepared.

    EE: What didn't work for you in this emergency? What do you wish you would have had on hand?

    S: I wish that I would have had more information on hand, and more communication ability so I could know what was going on. I needed to decide whether to leave or stay. I wish I’d had a map, so I could plot out alternative routes on it.

    EE: What will you do differently next time?    

    S: I hope there isn't a next time! I would like to keep an emergency kit/backpack at work. I might also keep a bicycle or scooter for when other transportation is not possible.

    EE: Anything else you'd like us to know?

    S: I’d also like to let you know that in an emergency situation, it’s really important to be able to make decisions. Find out as much information as you can and make the best decision possible. Usually that’s going to be to return home. If you’re in a large group it’s important to let people know you are leaving. Tell the supervisor in charge of head-count. Don’t leave without notifying several people – always tell more than one person.

    Note: Originally published 12April2013.

  • Lessons Learned: Don Pectol Survived a Once-in-a-lifetime Flood. Twice.

    Once in a Hundred Years 

    In 1955, I was 6 years old and lived in the small Northern California town of Blue Lake. Our family lived next to a creek—the type of creek that completely dried up in the summer. It was about a mile away from the Mad River. In December of 1955 we had a major flood in Northern California. It was later called a one-in-a-100-years flood by California’s Governor. I remember my father putting me on his shoulders and walking over to the bank of the creek. As we looked at the creek we realized that it was ready to go over the bank to our home—which it did the next day. My father then took me—still on his shoulders— a short distance away to my grandparents’ house, which was about 10 feet higher in elevation than ours. There my grandparents fixed a meal for my family, on a wood stove, by the light of what they called a coal oil lamp. I don’t remember what was served, but I remember it being one of the best-tasting meals I’ve ever had. At that time I felt a sense of security—a feeling that in the midst of something that was really terrifying, I would be okay. It is an experience that I will never forget.


    Once in a Thousand Years 

    Another flood came nine years to the month later—Christmas of 1964. Northern California, along with Oregon and Washington, got hit with a flood that Governor Edmond G. Brown of California said could “happen only once in 1,000 years,” and it was later often referred to as the Thousand Year Flood.

    It was significant how these storms came about:

    "They resulted from meteorological conditions similar to those of the December 1955 floods. An arctic air mass moved into northern California on December 14, 1964, and precipitation on December 18-20 produced large quantities of snow. Beginning on December 20, a storm track 500 miles wide extended from Hawaii to Oregon and produced unprecedented rainfall on northern California and melted much of the snow from the previous storms. In the Mattole River basin, just south of the Eel River, nearly 50 inches of rain was reported during December 19-23, 1964 with 15 inches observed in 24 hours. In most of the coastal mountains and many locations in the northern Sierra Nevada, the December 19-23 rainfalls totaled 20-25 inches." [1]

    And the resulting damage was extensive to say the least:

    "Many communities in Humboldt county suffered massive power outages and were left isolated (or completely cutoff from the rest of the state for a period), including the region's larger populated areas around Humboldt Bay, such as Eureka and [my home], Arcata, despite the fact that those cities were located on higher ground and not in the path of raging rivers. Unfortunate riverside communities like Klamath, Orleans, Myers Flat, Weott, South Fork, Shively, Pepperwood, Stafford, and Ti-Bar were all completely destroyed by flood waters, some of which were never rebuilt and none regained their former status. Metropolitan, Rio Dell, and Scotia were significantly damaged. Crescent City, still recovering from the tsunami created by the 1964 Alaska earthquake only nine months earlier, also suffered from the floods.

    Over 22 inches of rain fell on the Eel River basin in a span of two days. By December 23, 752,000 cubic feet per second of water rushed down the Eel River at Scotia (still upstream from the confluence of the Van Duzen River), 200,000 cubic feet per second more than the 1955 flood, and more than the average discharge of the entire Mississippi River basin. Just under 200,000 cubic feet per second of water flowed down the South Fork Eel River alone, causing severe damage along its entire length. Every single stream gage on the Eel River was destroyed. The flood crest at Miranda was 46 feet. Signs were later placed on top of tall poles to mark the unusual height of the water.

    The flood killed 19 people, heavily damaged or completely devastated at least 10 towns, destroyed all or portions of more than 20 major highway and county bridges, carried away millions of board feet of lumber and logs from mill sites, devastated thousands of acres of agricultural land, killed 4,000 head of livestock, and caused $100 million in damage in Humboldt County, California alone." [2]

    By this time our family had moved from our home in Blue Lake (the one next to a creek) to a safer location in Arcata, California, which was further away from the river. Although we still experienced power outages and were cut off from all normal benefits of the transportations system (we couldn’t evacuate, no supplies could be brought in on trucks), we had made preparations and were able to weather the storm.  But I will never forget going in a Safeway supermarket and seeing the shelves completely bare. There were two people fighting—arguing—over a small can of mushrooms. I also remember seeing an entire house float down a swollen, muddy river. The influence this flood had on me and my family was a powerful reminder of the principle of preparedness. We knew floods could happen where we lived, but not like this! We moved to higher ground. Higher ground is not just a physical location, it is also a state of mind and a way of life. Being prepared for emergencies is “moving to higher ground.” It means thinking of those you love and “putting them on your shoulders” like my father did with me in 1955.

    Symbolically, when you prepare your family you are putting them on your shoulders. Over the years my parents tried to regularly update their supplies and succeeded in passing this wise principle on to me and my siblings. I am grateful they did.

    --Don Pectol

    Thanks for sharing your story and insights, Don. There are several important lessons here; these ones in particular stood out to us:

    • Involve your children (if you have any) in your preparedness efforts, even if they are too young to understand the concept of a disaster. If a disaster strikes, they'll certainly remember feeling safe and protected if you're prepared, just like Don remembers.
    • The importance of food storage and water storageWatching those two customers fight over a can of mushrooms is something Don will never forget, and it's something we hope you don't ever experience first-hand!
    • Knowing the possibility for certain natural disasters in the area where you live. These flood were created by out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, but after the first flood, Don's family moved to higher ground and weren't affected as much by the second, more severe flood.

    Learn how to prepare for a flood.

    Learn about emergency preparedness in your state.



    [1] http:// www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/hearings/usbr_dwr/docs/exhibits/cspa2b.pdf. Accessed March 8, 2013.

    [2] "Christmas Flood of 1964." Wikipedia.org. Retrieved March 8, 2013. (Author's Note: See especially footnote #7: California Department of Water Resources (January 1956). Flood!. Sacramento, California: California Department of Water Resources. OCLC 8135568.)

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