My Disaster Preparedness Grade: C-
I recently wrote a story about nurses and disaster preparedness – how they needed to be ready not only at their workplaces but in their homes, too. One nurse told me that trouble doesn’t always come via tornado, hurricane or flood.
She’s right. Sometimes it might be a regional power outage, which can be anywhere from inconvenient to downright deadly.
On Thursday, September 2, Southern California experienced a power outage that lasted 6 to 20 hours, depending on each resident’s location. It affected several million people. Less than a day doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it was surely long enough for me to realize that I didn’t do so well in the preparedness category.
I was working on the computer when the lights – and everything else – went out. I could tell right away that it was bigger than just a circuit in our house. The first thing I noticed was the absence of sound – no radio, no dishwasher, no clothes dryer humming in the background. After a few minutes, sirens, then neighbors wandering into their yards, wondering if others had experienced the power outage.
Since the sun was still shining, it took me another few minutes to realize that I’d better think about what was going to happen when it went down. I was secretly telling myself, though, that surely everything would return to normal within an hour or so and living in the dark was something we wouldn’t have to do.
No electricity also meant that my land-line cordless phones weren’t working, but I did have my cell phone. Unfortunately it was only half-charged, so after a few texts, I decided that I should use it sparingly.
I give myself an A for having stowed a couple of first aid kits in the bathroom and flashlights in my bedside table, but after that, my grade for general preparedness drops considerably. We discovered that neither of our Coleman lanterns was functional, and spent a lot of time gathering candles and assessing our bottled water and battery supply, which was sorely lacking. One radio needed D batteries and the ones I had were old and non-functional. The other radio required C batteries and I had none.
My husband and I retreated to the car and listened to the radio there. We decided to charge his cell phone at the same time, so had to open the automatic garage door manually before turning on the engine.
It wasn’t for several hours that realized that I do own a transistor radio – one that I use every morning. I ran upstairs and retrieved the little “shower radio” hanging on the towel bar in the bathroom.
By now, we were hungry, so we heated leftovers on the gas grill and worried about all the food in our freezer. We were prepared to walk the couple of miles to retrieve our grandson from daycare, but fortunately his father made it through a maze of traffic jams to pick him up.
The weather had been hot – in the high 90s – and like many people who live not-too-far from the coast, we have no air conditioning. Our upstairs bedroom, normally cooled by a whole-house fan, was too toasty for sleeping. What to do? We dragged a couple of mattresses into the first-floor family room and positioned them next to the screened door.
We had moments of anxiety when we received a call from our daughter, who was nearly out of gas and stuck in a traffic jam (unfortunately gas pumps and traffic signals don’t work without electricity, either). She did make it home – barely. Our son, whose car had overheated, called us from the side of the road, where the traffic was stacked up for miles. He’s in the communication business and would be extremely busy the next day dealing with phone systems that went awry when the power supply was cut off.
We experienced a lot of frustration with this power blackout but fortunately had no life-threatening worries. This loss of electricity was a good reminder that disasters of some sort are inevitable and that nurses must be prepared on the home front if they expect to be available to help elsewhere.
Do you have any stories of survival from a similar breakdown of services?
Were you adequately prepared? Please share!
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
My Disaster Preparedness Grade: C-