The night before Superstorm Sandy was supposed to hit, I called my friend A to see what she was doing to prepare. She lives in a fifth-floor walk-up in the East Village, and had spent a few minutes talking with a neighbor about which local restaurants would be most likely to deliver in a hurricane—that was it; that was the extent of her preparation. Since then, I’ve heard her stories of going for days without electricity, heat, and water. Our friend V told us about walking down 17 stories with a couple of empty water bottles, filling them at an open fire hydrant, and walking back up, over and over, again and again. K ran out of money when the ATMs ran out of power. And so on.
As far as I know, none of my friends’ homes were destroyed, nobody truly suffered, but I was surprised at the things they didn’t think to think about, the simple steps they didn’t take to make it easier on themselves. The following list is for people who live in the city and need just the most basic reminders of what to do when a natural disaster is looming. I know there are plenty of serious urban preppers who take things a lot further—if you are one, this list is not for you. These are clues for the clueless: It’s for A and V and K and anyone else who has never, ever sat down to think about what happens when the lights go out.
1. Fill your prescriptions. You do not want to be going cold-turkey from antidepressants when the world really is dark and cold.
2. Get some cash. ATMs run on electricity; everything else runs on money. Figure how much money you will need for three days, then double that.
3. Buy fresh
batteries. Oh my god: You do own
a flashlight, right? Right?
TIP: Buy a flashlight. And a little radio.
4. Take a bath. Wash
your hair. Start clean, because that gives you an extra day without bathing
before you start to smell really bad.
TIP: Buy baby wipes. Even if you can’t bathe, you can keep your aroma under control by rubbing your whole body with baby wipes. They sell them at grocery stores and drugstores.
5. Wash your clothes. Similar to #3, but don’t drop off your stuff at the laundry on the day of the storm because when you come back to pick it up, you’ll find they closed early on account of the weather and you won’t have anything to wear for a week. Watch the weather reports and try to get your laundry in a day or two early.
6. Wash your dishes. Yes,
there are a lot of water-related steps: You need water more than you need food. Also: Where does your water come from? What floor is your apartment on?
During the 2003 blackout, I camped out with a friend who had a 10th-floor
apartment. The pressure from the tank on the roof of the building pushed the
water exactly as high as the 9th floor; normally, an electric pump got the
water to the upper floors, he found out that night.
TIP: Buy some water. Grocery stores have gallon jugs of “spring water” for, like, $1.50. Get three of these for each person or animal in your apartment. It doesn’t hurt to have some water around. Go ahead, have them delivered.
TIP: Freeze some water. Take some empty plastic Evian bottles you haven’t gotten around to recycling yet (make sure they’re clean), fill them with tap water, and stick them in the freezer. They’ll help keep your food frozen just a little longer when the power goes out, plus you can drink the water once it’s not ice anymore.
TIP: Fill the bathtub, if you have one. Don’t drink that water (unless you have to), use it to flush the toilet. Think about it: the tank at the back of the toilet where the flushing water comes from is not going to be filling up if there isn’t any water. So you take a big cooking pot (if you have one), and fill it with the bathtub water, and dump it in the toilet, and hey presto! You’ve flushed.
7. Get some weird
food. You’ll need food, especially food that doesn’t have to be
refrigerated and maybe even food that doesn’t have to be cooked. Look at your
stove to see if it’s electric (bad) or gas (possibly good—it might still work).
Stock up on crackers and peanut butter, bread and hard cheese (which can go
bad, but not immediately), and canned tuna. Granola bars! Dry cereal! Canned
peaches! Beef jerky doesn’t need refrigeration and it has a lot of protein, but
also a lot of salt, which can make you thirsty. That’s maybe not so good if the
TIP: Make sure you have a hand can opener.
8. Grind some coffee.
Your artisanal-roasted single-sourced fair-trade coffee beans aren’t going
to do you a bit of good if your electric La Pavoni burr grinder isn’t running.
Grind enough coffee for a couple of days and put it in a ziplock bag in the
freezer. Yes, this is a horrible way to treat good coffee, but if it gets to
where you need to use it, you won’t care.
TIP: Those Starbucks Via Italian Roast instant-coffee packets aren’t so bad, if all you’ve got is hot water.
9. Charge your cell
phone. Just in case cell phones still work.
TIP: Payphones may work when cell phones don’t. Scout around your neighborhood to see if you can find a payphone in advance, and get some quarters ready.
10. Stay warm. About the only thing you can do if the heat is out is to bundle up. Do not try to heat your apartment with the gas oven, you’ll just get carbon monoxide poisoning or set the place on fire or something. Do not light the hibachi. Do not set a fire in your bathtub (if you have one).
Thanks for reading my blog post this time, and stay safe.