Emergency Preparedness for Beginners
By Brett A. Fernau
Part 6 – Bugging in: Cooking and Warmth
So far we’ve talked about surviving the initial incident, getting home, stocking-up on food and water and disposing of your waste. Another basic element you will want to consider is some way to warm up your food, boil water and, possibly, if it is cold outside, keep yourself warm as well.
There are a number of things you might want to think about before you light a fire in your back yard, or even fire up your grill to warm up your supper. The first thing to think about is security. Are you the only one on your block with a stock of food and water? If so, it might be wise to keep a very low profile until you know how long you will need to stretch your supplies to insure your own and your family’s survival. If you start cooking in your back yard, some of those people downwind from your fire are very likely to come to visit you and ask you to share with them what you have. If you have sufficient stocks to do that, fine, have a party. However, if you think the emergency is going to last a while, you might not want to advertise the fact that you have something that others may not possess. This will be a difficult decision to make, but it may well come down to you and your family or group surviving, or you and all your neighbors quickly consuming all you have set aside and then slowly starving together. There may also be the possibility of roving bands of hungry, desperate and armed people seeking to take what you have and leave you with nothing. Think about the nature of the disaster you are facing, the amount of time it will take for normal functions to be restored, when the stores will be restocked, what the nature of your neighborhood is, and, then, based on those factors, decide whether cooking your food is a wise choice. You might be safer eating cold food in an inside room with no lights showing to the outside.
Another thing to think about is ventilation. Anything you burn will have some effect upon the air around the fire. If you cook indoors, depending upon what method of cooking you use and what fuel you are burning, you will have to deal with either CO2 or CO; that is carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. Either one will kill you in a subtle, odorless, colorless, gentle, falling asleep kind of way. You’ll fall asleep, but you’ll never wake up. Be very, very conscious of getting fresh air into any area where you are burning fuels to cook or keep warm.
One other consideration about cooking isn’t about cooking at all, but about cleaning up after you cook. If you have limited water supplies and don’t know how long you may need to rely on those supplies, you will have to find a way to clean up your cooking gear without using your precious drinking water. In this case, it might be better if you ate your food cold and saved your water.
On the positive side, warm food is a great morale builder. It gives comfort and a sense of safety and security to what will be a stressful time. It warms not just the body, but the spirit. So, if it is safe to warm up your food, by all means do so.
If you think that you might need to cook during the time when public power, water and gas supplies are shut off, you will need to have planned ahead and acquired devices and fuel that will enable you to do so. If you already have a gas barbeque grill you can get a few more propane bottles and keep them filled and ready in the basement or the garage. You can buy a camp stove that burns Coleman fuel and keep a couple of extra cans of fuel stashed away. You should store any sort of flammable liquids or gases in a safe place, so that when disaster strikes you don’t compound your problem with a fire caused by your own supplies burning your house down. You can buy or build a “rocket” stove which burns small twigs in a very efficient manner, if you have a source of twigs for fuel. You can use your charcoal grill, too, if you have stocked up on a few bags of charcoal. There are also available a variety of propane fueled cooking devices made for the camping and RV market. They’re easy to find and not too expensive, just check your local sporting goods store, or any number of online resources.
In the colder months, keeping yourself warm inside your house will be difficult unless you already have a fireplace or a woodstove and a supply of fuel. As I mentioned earlier in this article, you will need to be very careful about doing any burning of fuels inside the house where there is inadequate ventilation. If the lack of oxygen doesn’t kill you, setting the house on fire might. Be careful. You’d be better off getting a sleeping bag or, perhaps two, one for the summer temperatures and one for the winter temperatures, than to try to heat your whole house anyway. We’re talking disaster here. You’re going to have to get used to living with a little discomfort until things get back to normal.
If you are a city dweller, and most people are these days, you will discover that it gets very, very dark at night when all the power is off. When it gets dark, plan on getting into your sleeping bag and going to sleep if you can. You will want to conserve your flashlight batteries for the time when you really need that light. If there is any sort of civil unrest around you, you would probably be wise not to show any lights at night so as not to attract any unwanted attention to yourself.
It might be a good idea to invest in a solar powered battery charger and then standardize the battery size in your radio, flashlights and other battery-powered devices so that they can all be charged by your solar charger.
Depending upon where you live, figure out what you will need to help you survive when you are off the gird and on your own. Think it through and make a list of what you will require: solar panels, a wind turbine, propane, gasoline, charcoal, a camping stove, a charcoal or gas grill, kitchen tools, firewood, etc. Start acquiring these things as you can afford them. Learn to use them. Practice your skills. Talk to your neighbors. Make sure your neighbors are just a prepared as you are. You will survive better as a group than as an individual. A group can share resources, skills, labor, and security duties and get all the jobs done much more efficiently that an individual. We’ll talk a bit more about that in the next article.