Editorial: Be Prepared

I never was a Boy Scout, but when the 2009 pre-Christmas snowstorm took dead aim at the Eastern U.S. I was prepared—sort of.

Back in the 90s we had a couple of years of major snowstorms, and we learned the hard way that in a rural state such as West Virginia electricity can be a sometimes thing in snowy weather. That first bad winter, the electric went out and the first thing Karen said was, “Thank goodness we have gas heat.” Then reality hit. Blower motors need electricity.

In any case, we survived that storm 14 years ago, and soon after we bought a Coleman stove and lantern, warm sleeping bags, a Coleman tent heater, a weather radio, and a CB radio. We stocked the larder with emergency canned goods and bottled water. We bought back-up batteries for everything and stocked up on candles and Coleman fuel. We bought more dogs. We were ready.

That’s why I didn’t panic when the weather dude said we were facing the snowstorm of the decade. Karen had gone south to see her mother, so I was home alone. That night the dogs woke me up to let me know that it was very quiet, very dark, and getting very cold. The electric had gone out.

No problem, I thought. I grabbed the flashlight and went to get the Coleman heater. I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find the stove or lantern either. Same for the propane fuel and the spare batteries. I had been smart enough to recharge the battery on my Ryobi shop lantern, so I shined its light into every place I could think of looking for the emergency stuff.

I looked in the closet under the basement stairs where I found only holiday decorations, wrapping paper, bags of packing peanuts, ski vests, an air mattress, and two folding camp chairs. Oh, and lots of mouse poop, but no emergency gear.

It took me a couple of hours to find where everything had been stashed over the past 14 years and a little longer to get everything cleaned up and running. I did have to cannibalize batteries out of various devices since we had failed to replenish our emergency supply over the years. The critters and I survived, but lots of folks were still without electricity two weeks later. The storm dropped a couple of feet of snow, but I got dug out and then restocked everything. And I now know exactly where it all is.

The moral? If you think you’re prepared for emergencies you’d better double check. Chances are you’re not as prepared as you think you are.