Hurricane Sandy left 4.5 million people without power. How would you survive the cold for a protracted power outage? What would you do if you were stranded for days in your home or office, and it started to get cold?
Even houses equipped with generators rarely have sufficient fuel to maintain a household for more than a few days, so how would you handle a situation like hurricane Sandy? What will you do when there is no power, no heat, and you are stranded?
Those who live in cold climates generally know what to do, and they are usually at least somewhat prepared. But even if you live in a warm climate you can be hit by a freakish winter storm. Even if the outside temperature isn’t close to freezing, you and your family can experience serious problems if your furnace isn’t working. Temperatures in the 40s and 50s can still be life threatening, if you aren’t prepared.
Fortunately, with just a little preparation, you can easily survive such an event. The easiest way is indoor camping. An inexpensive tent, the size to fit your family or a little bigger, is perhaps the easiest solution.
Set up your tent in the warmest room in your house. Close all the doors leading to that room, and use duct tape to seal any drafty doors or windows. If there is an unused fireplace, make sure the damper is closed, and use duct tape to seal several layers of cardboard over the fireplace opening.
For comfort, a family of 4 should have a 6 person tent (a family of 2, a 3-person tent, etc). A larger tent will be more comfortable, but much harder to heat using body heat. Because of this, it is best to select a tent size that is not much larger than what is actually needed for the number of people you have in your family.
Once the windows and doors of the tent are closed with your family tucked inside, you will be surprised how little time it takes for body heat to warm the tent’s interior. As long as you aren’t sleeping, you can use a few carefully placed candles to speed the warming process.
If you don’t have warm clothing and sleeping bags, wear your baggiest clothes and stuff wadded-up newspaper between you and your outer layer of clothes. This will produce an air-gap that your body will heat. Though this isn’t as effective (or fashionable) as expensive winter clothing, it is extremely effective for maintaining warmth.
If you don’t have warm sleeping bags, you can make a newspaper-insulated quilt. Simply sew, pin, or duct-tape the edges of two blankets (or sheets) together to form an envelope, leaving just enough space unsealed so that you can insert crumpled newspaper. Then fill the interior space with wadded-up newspaper, and finish sealing the envelope. Ideally, fill the envelope with sufficient wadded-up newspaper to maintain space between the two blankets (or sheets) when you are tucked underneath. This will work like a down comforter to keep you warm.
Wadded up newspaper and corrugated cardboard boxes are very effective insulation. Windows which radiate cold can be covered with cardboard (or even garbage sacks). Be sure to leave a little space between the glass and the cardboard, as this gap will increase the insulation effect. Seal the edges of the cardboard to the wall or window frame using duct tape, or small nails or staples and duct tape. (It’s important to use tape on the edges as this helps prevent the insulated air from escaping).
Wear a cap. Even a baseball cap will help you stay warmer. We lose an amazing amount of body heat through the top of our heads. If you have a stocking cap or a sweatshirt with a hood, that’s even better. If you don’t have a hat, wrap a scarf (or item of clothing) over the top of your head like a hood, especially when you are sleeping.
If you get wet, be sure to immediately remove your wet clothing, towel dry, and put on dry underwear and clothing. Unless you are wearing wool or one of those unusual fabrics which insulate when wet, remove ALL wet and damp clothing. When cotton and most synthetic fabrics get wet, they suck heat away from the body, and this can quickly become dangerous. This is a problem even when goose down winter clothing gets rain soaked. Don’t risk becoming chilled. Get out of those wet clothes.
Once your body temperature drops, it is very difficult to bring it back up. It’s far easier to maintain body temperature than to try and increase it after you’ve become cold. Being naked under a blanket is warmer than wearing wet clothes under a blanket.
If you are stranded with others, you can increase a cold person’s body temperature by cuddling together with them in a “spoons” position. Since a healthy body radiates a lot of heat, this is much more effective than trying to get a cold body to radiate heat for itself using blankets. Skin-to-skin transfer of heat has saved many lives.
Remember, too, that open flames consume oxygen. Carbon monoxide poisoning claims many lives each winter, so don’t be tempted to use a barbecue indoors. Be extremely cautious about using a camp stove indoors, or a propane or kerosene heater in a confined space. Adequate ventilation is essential. Headaches, or unusual drowsiness, are indicators of carbon monoxide poisoning. Use a carbon monoxide sensor inside your tent, or wherever the family congregates.
In addition to the standard at-home survival kit and preparedness items, and in addition to the more sophisticated cold-weather supplies you might be able to afford, be sure to have the following items available for cold weather emergencies:
1. Sleeping bag for each family member, or lots of extra blankets.
2. Tent, with floor and doors which can be tightly closed. If the tent has windows, these must have covers. Tents designed to be watertight in a rain storm are best. (As opposed to a summer tent which uses mesh rather than waterproof fabric).
If you don’t have a tent, you can make one using plastic tarps, blankets, sheets, or even plastic garbage sacks pieced together using duct tape to form a tent. Do the best you can to seal the edges, and the doorway. This will help eliminate drafts, and prevent heat from leaking out. Use paracord, heavy twine, or clothesline to form your tarp into a tepee or pup-tent shape.
3. Duct tape (minimum of 6-rolls).
4. Paracord (lightweight rope, 50-ft minimum).
5. 18” stack of newspaper (or more).
6. Corrugated cardboard (collapsed moving boxes, etc.)
7. 12-hour (long-burning) candles (50), plus at least 4 safety bases (to prevent burning candles from being knocked over).
8. Carbon monoxide sensor, battery operated. (Similar in appearance to a smoke detector, but for detecting carbon monoxide).