Organizing for disasters: supplies that work and some that don’t

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been devastating to so many, and my heart goes out to anyone affected by these storms. My dad lives in Florida, so I followed Irma-related news pretty closely. (Thankfully, my dad is fine.)

I got many of my updates on Twitter, and I noticed two themes that might help anyone who wants to be prepared for potential disasters in the future.

Candles are not your friend.

Lots of people noted they were lighting up their candles as they lost power. But both public safety organizations and other experts kept saying, over and over again, that candles are a bad idea. The following are just some of the warnings:

  • The American Red Cross, South Florida Region:
    Use flashlights in the dark. Do NOT use candles.
  • Florida State Emergency Response Team:
    If there is loss of power, do not use candles or open flames as a light source.
  • City of Tallahassee:
    Flashlights, headlamps, etc. are better options for light if you lose power.
  • Miami-Dade police:
    Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, likelihood of a fire increases.
  • Dr. Rick Knabb, hurricane expert at The Weather Channel:
    Millions expected to lose power. Don’t run generators indoors – carbon monoxide kills. Don’t light candles and risk a fire.
  • Florida Department of Health:
    If the power goes out, don’t light candles in your home. It’s a fire hazard that can be avoided by using battery operated lights.
  • Plantation Fire Department:
    #SafetyReminder If your power goes out, utilize FLASHLIGHTS instead of CANDLES!
  • Oviedo, Florida police:
    Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, the likelihood of a fire increases
  • Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator, now in Gainesville, Florida:
    Hurricane #Irma, don’t use candles / open flames during the storm when the power goes out. The Fire Department doesn’t need more emergencies.

And the Miami Herald has a list of 7 stupid things we do during a hurricane that can get us killed and using candles is on that list.

So forgo the candles, and load up on some combination of flashlights, headlamps, battery-powered lanterns, and plenty of spare batteries. Some people like to include glowsticks in their emergency supplies, too.

A corded phone just might be your friend.

Key West lost most of its connectivity (cell phones and internet) after Irma, but reporter David Ovalle found a way to get the news out:

My savior. Patricia on Eaton St in Key West had a relic landline that worked after the storm, allowing me to call story after storm

Firefighters also used line to call their families. Her friends chided her for years. She has no cell, still uses an answering machine!

And someone else got good news via landline: “Random woman in Key West that still has a working landline just called me to let me know my parents are ok. #Irma This woman is my hero”

As Consumer Reports wrote, “A phone with a corded base can work during a power outage, as long as it’s connected to a conventional landline or VoIP service with battery backup.”

My internet service provider bundles a phone line with my internet service, and I’m glad to have it. Corded phones are relatively inexpensive, too. You might want to join me in having a corded phone in addition to a cell phone, just in case.

9 Comments for “Organizing for disasters: supplies that work and some that don’t”

  1. posted by K. Higgs on

    Thank you for the timely advice. A caution on corded phones: it’s about more than the cord!
    Those of us who get phone service with internet service may actually have VOIP (voice over internet), in which case we will lose phone service shortly after we lose power/internet access, even with a corded phone. (I don’t remember the exact details but I think it has to do with the battery backup on some wifi or router hardware?) It’s a good idea to speak with your phone service provider so you’re clear that you’ll still have landline access even if you lose power/internet.

  2. posted by Kathy on

    It seems you’ve never been in a long term disaster lasting days or weeks. Batteries fail after a few hours even with dozens on hand. Batteries don’t store and when it’s a slow-mo disaster like a hurricane, the stores sell out instantly. (Plus they are incredibly destructive for the environment.) Instead, you need some way to recharge them. Having a solar recharger is very important. And please DO NOT suggest glow sticks. Most are toxic nightmares and with all the debris and no garbage services those non-biodegradeables only add to the ecological disaster.

  3. posted by laura ann on

    I’ve used short thick candles placed in a stainless steel bowl for decades. Never had an issue. Blow them out at bedtime, use flashlites and battery powered lantern also. If candles are put up high like on a mantel, so they won’t get knocked over, can’t see it’s a hazard with adults in the house. One was placed inside a kitchen sink.

  4. posted by Evelyn C. Leeper on

    While glow sticks are a “toxic nightmare” they are also pretty much the only safe way to look for a gas leak. Do *NOT* try to find a gas leak with a candle or even a normal flashlight. Apparently there are flashlights safety-rated for such things, but they’re not what most people have.

  5. posted by SkiptheBS on

    An emergency radio with flashlight and USB, charged by solar panel or hand crank, is cheap and valuable in emergencies. Solar battery chargers are a help, but USB flashlights can be charged off a car battery or the emergency radio mentioned above.

    A hatchet or axe could be handy if you live in a flood plain. Houston deaths included people who went to their attics to escape rising water. Experts recommend going to the rooftop instead. This doesn’t work for those without extension ladders or adjacent trees. In that case, go to the attic and breach the roof with your tool. Expensive? Roof repairs are a bargain compared to the cost of a funeral.

  6. posted by Emily on

    Can candles be a fire hazard? Yes. Are they more of a fire hazard during the days and days of power loss after a hurricane? No.
    We use headlamps and keep small battery powered lanterns in each room, but we also used jar candles on the mantels, votives in the wall hung holders, lit the candles in the hanging sconces, and lit the large pillar in it’s glass holder on the coffee table. Along with a few 7-day candles on the tables. These are the same candles we light when desired while the power is on. Without them however we would have been in near darkness for five nights and that presents it’s own dangers.
    I think instead of telling people NOT to use candles officials should teach safe practices instead. For example, teach people about not putting them on windowsills near curtains, where pets or children can knock them over, near paper, etc.
    Also, solar lights work great indoors, especially the floodlight type. You can leave them charging outdoors all day and then bring them in, point them toward a ceiling and get a surprising amount of light.

  7. posted by Barbara on

    Candles can be dangerous if you have cats, too. Cats are attracted to the flickering flame, and can set their fur on fire getting too close to the candle. Some fires have been started by cats ‘playing’ with lit candles, setting themselves on fire, and then running through the house spreading the fire.
    Also, kids will do stupid things in times of stress, too, like lighting candles – even when told NOT to.

  8. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    We tend to use candles as stationary light sources during power outages that happen once in a great while. But we only use them in lanterns, same as people have done for centuries. They’re safe enough like that and will keep just fine. A candle will burn for a long time, too, but get good candles.

    Batteries seem to keep well enough for us and a flashlight with fresh batteries will last for hours. They’re certainly better than an open flame from a candle as a portable light source. But we don’t live in a flood zone and do not have the other concerns mentioned here.

  9. posted by Ian on

    Perhaps this is more appropriate given the recent earthquake near Mexico City but such a destructive natural force, be it an earthquake or incredibly strong hurricane like Harvey or Irma, is that one won’t know the state of gas mains in the area. Lighting any naked flame is potentially incredibly dangerous given this, the point isn’t just the possibility of knocking a flame over.

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