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Tips for staying warm and fed during a winter emergency

If a winter storm causes power to go off, and travel was treacherous, would you be able to stay in your home for some time and wait until it comes back on – or would you be forced to brave the conditions and find somewhere else to stay for a while?
Being prepared for an emergency such as this should take place during good weather. The storms come, but there is no fear when one knows they can keep their family and pets warm and fed for several days or weeks while waiting for things to return to normal.
According to Ray Palermo, director of relations at Response Insurance, some things should receive attention before an outage include:
• Chimneys for wood-burning stoves and fireplaces should be checked for any creosote buildup to prevent a possible chimney fire.
• Home heating systems should be checked by a professional for energy efficiency, proper operation and carbon monoxide leaks. Check your carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarms too.
• Windows and doors let a great deal of cold air in. Windows and doors should be weather striped or caulked as necessary.
• Almost half of a home’s heat escapes through the roof. It is recommended all attics have insulation with a minimum of R-45.
• Residents who use electricity to heat their homes are recommended to have a back up plan if the power should go out.
The first thing to remember is that it isn’t necessary to heat the entire house. Choose an area, preferably an interior room with few windows on the south side of the home. Hang plastic, towels, blankets or use cardboard to section off an area that can accommodate a family, making it easier to heat. Protect pipes from freezing with heat tape and a heat source under sinks, near washers, and other appliances that use water.
It is best to have a portable heater that is indoor safe approved, however consumers should be careful in their selection as some emit fumes that can be deadly. Mr. Heater makes portable radiant heaters that have an oxygen depletion sensor that automatically shuts the heater off if air circulation is reduced. Another option is a catalytic heater by Coleman. The portable cylinders required to run these heaters weighs just one pound and are easily stored. The possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning can exist without proper ventilation. It is recommended to have someone awake at all times during the use of alternative heating, both to keep the room heated and check the pipes, but also in the event fumes begin to overtake.
Woodstove, coal stove, grill or fireplace are also great places to heat bricks or rocks that can be wrapped in heavy towels or blankets to warm a bed, or to place in a container to heat another area. They hold heat for quite a while.
A gas-powered generator is a great investment as it can operate during an extended outage. Batteries may be recharged and the refrigerator kept running, but it does require gasoline and therefore a supply. Generators should not be operated inside of a home or a garage. A supply of propane or wood will be necessary, but must be stored away from the house and garage.
Anytime fuels are used, there should be items on hand to use in the event of a fire. A fire extinguisher should be nearby and readily available. Buckets of sand, containers of salt, baking soda, heavy blankets and water are also important to have on hand.
Besides the fuel to operate heat sources, it is recommended to have a supply of blankets, sleeping bags, sweatshirts, coats, mittens, hats and scarves. Dressing in layers helps the body retain heat. Hand pocket warmers and heat packs can also be utilized.
If the power is out for an extended period of time, decisions may need to be made concerning how big of an area to heat, what to do about the pipes, keeping frozen food frozen, cooking, bathing/hygiene, travel and other daily living needs.
A cell phone (charged) is recommended as contact may be made with neighbors, employment, family and emergency services if necessary. It is also advisable to have a weather radio to keep abreast of the conditions.
Lighting could make matters more difficult so residents should consider battery-powered lights or camping lanterns, however if the lanterns are fueled with propane, or kerosene, ventilation is a must. A window should be opened at least an inch on each side of the room.
Batteries for radios, CD players, power inverters, flashlight or other lighting can be part of a storage kit.
Food should be kept on hand that is easy to cook on a portable stove, over the fireplace, on an outside grill or in a dutch oven. Breakfast bars, jerky, cheese, peanut butter and crackers are some other examples of foods recommended to keep on hand. Bottled water, packaged drinks and hot chocolate should also be part of a storage package.
How to operate equipment and procedures for an emergengy should be discussed on a regular basis with family members.
Food, water and fuel supplies that will last for a month are generally sufficient. It is a good idea to have a month’s worth of prescriptions if possible, a good first aid kit, a general home repair kit, pet food and pet meds, and ice melt in addition to living supplies.
Some Richmond residents may remember the ice storm of 2001. People reported being without power for three weeks in some areas. Being prepared for such a crisis should take place before the crisis, and winter is well underway. Take some time this weekend to consider your preparation as the colder temperatures arrive again this weekend and into next week.
- Additional information from Dennis Pavan of Camp Safe Coalition and Avianweb.com.

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