Saturday, February 21, 2009

Arkansas Ice Storm After Action Report

The following AAR is courtesy of Vernon Humphrey, and is posted here with his permission.

Some of y'all may remember my survival story from last February, when a tornado tore a 123-mile long swath through Arkansas (Not posted here. --DM).  Mountain View was hit, and the hospital, ambulance service, and one critical fire station destroyed.  We were cut off from the outside world (although there was sometelephone service within the county.)  We were without power for a week.

Not long after, we lost power for another three days when a snowstorm disrupted our jury-rigged system.  Then we had two floods, one on top of the other -- producing a 100-year flood.

A few months later, the remnants of Hurricane Ike went through the Ozarks and we lost power for another six days.

Finally, on Monday, the 26th of January, we had an ice storm -- the mother of all ice storms.  It began as heavy fog in freezing weather.  The fog froze on the trees, sheathing them with ice.  Finally, the weight of the icewas too much for the trees.   They began to split and break.  Power poles were broken off.  People in rural areas were truly isolated -- so many trees
were down that we literally had to chain-saw our way to the highway.

In my case, being 3.5 miles down a county road, 0.6 miles down a common road(shared with one other family) and a quarter mile of private drive, it tooktwo days to cut a path out.

There was one bright spot -- although the power pole at the end of the common road was broken off, some neighbors working to clear that part of thecounty road realized that pole carried my phone line.  They cut the pole insections, and dragged the sections aside as best they could -- the sectionswere still held together by my phone line.

So I still had telephone service.  Until Saturday.  On Saturday, the postman came.  Those sections of power pole made it a bit inconvenient for him to reach the mail box.  So he thoughtfully cut my phone line, so he could drag the sections out of the way.  And, of course, we can't get a cell phone signal here in the mountains.  I had thought about getting a two-way radio since the last disaster, but hadn't yet got around to it.

Other than that, my survival plan worked well.  First, as soon as the power went out, I cleaned out the freezer compartment of the refrigerator.  I took all the frozen food downstairs and put it in the chest freezer in the basement "machine room" (which is where the heating system is, the junction box, water cut-off and so on.)   The machine room also contains the chest freezer, my gun safe, and all our survival stores.  I keep a 1.35 kWgenerator down there, along with a Coleman dualfuel camp stove and lantern.

With the freezer as full as I could get it with frozen food and freezer packs, I closed it up, took the generator outside and fired it up.  For 13 days, I ran this little generator two to three times a day -- and it kept the food in the freezer solid.  The value of the food saved exceeded the
cost of the generator.  It more than paid for itself  Thirteen days of operation, two to three sessions a day, each time allowing the generator to go out of fuel, burned about nine gallons of gas.

In passing, I might note some of my neighbors have large generators, and used them for lights, TV and other purposes.  This is really expensive, because these more powerful generators use a lot of fuel.  And fuel can be hard to come by in a survival situation.  Since the tornado last February, I keep 15 gallons of gas on hand, and use my generator for the freezer only.

I got a fire going in the Buck™ stove that heats the basement, and as soon as I managed to clear a driveable way out, I started cutting the downed trees into firewood lengths, hauling and splitting then.  My Buck stove will take an 18" log, but I tend to cut them to shorter lengths -- makes them easier to split with my Wal-Mart splitting maul.

Over the long haul, you will find the fire will burn down at night, and you need to get a good fire started each morning.  I keep at least a full box of Starter Loggs ™ in the basement.  These are made of wax and sawdust, and can be broken into cakes that start fires easily.   If you stack split wood in the stove with a cake of Starter Logg under the stack, you don't even needkindling to start a roaring fire.

My wife is a nurse -- she's the Assistant Director of Nurses at the local nursing home.  When we got warning of a coming ice storm, she packed up and went into town -- the nursing home put her and several other nurses up in a motel room, so they could keep staff on hand when other nurses couldn't get into work.

She finally came home on Friday, the 30th.   And rearranged everything.  Me, I was comfortable with a folding table set up in the basement with the camp stove, a pot, spoon, glass and GI canteen cup.   That was all I needed.  But women need more.  Soon we had half the kitchen down in the basement -- pots, pans, seasonings, and so on.  Plus her makeup, knitting and other essentials.

Crews from several states were working to restore power.  The number of power poles broken exceeded the number of new poles on hand, and our power company had to borrow from other states.   Finally, on the evening of Sunday, February 8th, the power came back on.  But we didn't get telephone service until the about  6:45 PM on Friday the 13th, and only one number at that (I have a dedicated computer line, which wasn't restored.)  When I went
down to check on the work, the lines were merely twisted together -- the splice wasn't even wrapped with electrical tape.  There was so much  noise on the line, conversation was difficult, and of course, Internet connections were impossible.  My dedicated computer line was  restored (and the other line properly fixed) at 4:00 PM on Friday, the 20th.

As I look across Lick Fork Creek toward Johnson Ridge, the whole mountain seems to be speckled yellow -- that's raw wood showing where  trees split under the weight of the ice.  The timber is ruined -- anyone who was counting on selling timber will have to put that off for a generation.  And, of course, the woods are full of "widow-makers" -- the split tops of trees
still hanging  by a  thread.

I have already cut next year's supply of firewood from fallen and splintered limbs -- and after cutting it, I took down all the  dangerous trees around the house, and now have a double supply of firewood.

The lessons here are:

· Survival disasters can occur at any time, and leave you completely cut off.

· Work with your neighbors.  Help them and they will help you.

· Disasters can last so long and come so often they aren't fun anymore.

· The key to survival is to anticipate a real disaster situation and plan accordingly.

· Plan to stay where you are, if at all possible, and to stick out the disaster at home.  Remember, you have far more stuff in your home than you can possibly carry if you opt to go somewhere else, and you may need all of it.

· Practice your plan.  Each time you practice, make a note of what you didn't have but wish you had, and steadily improve your plan and your equipment list.

· Economize.  Scarce resources (like fuel) may be difficult to replace in a survival situation.  Use them sparingly.

· Choose your survival tools for utility, not for cleverness.  I use a real ax, splitting maul and chainsaw, not a "multi-purpose survival tool."  If I need game I use my ordinary hunting rifle, not a folding compromise "survival" weapon.

· Shoot that damn' postman!

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