These past few days have been very trying. The cold snap (at least I think that’s the best term for it) has been brutal over the past three days. And while we’re still not completely out of the woods, the cold has begun to let up and has given me a chance to reflect on the events as they unfolded. In turn, this is a chance to learn and improve.
Over the course of the past two years, I’ve written several posts related to the topic of preparedness. My interest in this topic comes from my own personal interest of being self reliant enough to survive safely comfortably as I partake in the outdoor activities I enjoy. It also means that I want to be personally equipped to respond to and deal with emergency situations at least until additional help can arrive (or can be reached) and next level care can be provided. As my interest and skills in this arena have grown, it’s extended into building additional layers of self reliance at home and my families day to day life.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the lessons that the Texas Snowmageddon (February 2021) taught me.
Lesson 1: Being prepared for one thing or another is not the same as being prepared for one thing and another
I conduct my own personal threat assessments regularly to prioritize preparation activities based on risk exposure. While the cold snap wasn’t high on my list, several preparations have been made to prepare for power outages (a common occurrence typical during hurricane season) or dealing with cold temperatures (a common occurrence during hunting season). Unfortunately, I had not considered dealing with both of these conditions at the same time.
My plan for generating electricity during an extended power outage consisted of starting up a gas powered generator outdoors and running extension cords into the house to power critical equipment (such as the CPAP I use due to sleep apnea) and recharge the smartphones. My plan for generating heat during extremely cold weather consists of space heaters (that require electricity) and maintaining a fire in the fireplace. The challenge here was that while the small generator can generate enough power to supply both critical devices and the space heaters, the space heaters could not generate enough heat to maintain a safe temperature for the pets (cold weather gear and layers would have been sufficient for the humans) while a window seal or external door seal was open (a requirement to run the extension cables into the house) even when using towels and other implements to reduce the heat exchange at the open seal. An additional challenge was the plan for generating heat was designed for warming up a tent (or an RV), not our entire home.
My point is that my confidence in dealing with the power outage or extreme cold independently of the other blinded me to considering how I would deal with both issues should they be concurrently present.
Lesson 2: Complacency is your enemy
I mentioned that a fire in the fireplace was a plan for generating heat at home. Unfortunately, with the craziness that 2020 was we didn’t get around to picking up any firewood for this winter. I didn’t think much of it since our fireplace is not something we have ever relied on for heat before. Rather, it’s something that we use to enhance the winter holiday ambiance. Regardless, I got complacent and we were left with burning an open gas flame in the empty fireplace. While it helped, it wasn’t optimal.
Lesson 3: A little bit of comfort goes a long way
The HotHands hand warmers that I keep plenty of for hunting trips had quickly become a favorite comfort item among the rest of the family members. Yeah, I know it’s not exactly a super tactical survival gear item. However, a little bit of comfort in uncomfortable conditions goes a long way psychologically. Especially, when the typical electronic and internet based distractions are unavailable.
Lesson 4: First aid, first aid, and first aid
People get hurt then they get hurt. This can happen at any time. It’s never convenient. It simply makes inconvenient times even more difficult (see lesson number 1).
Our youngest daughter had a pretty scary incident where she fainted and hit her head while covered in several cold and wet layers (from playing in the snow). My rudimentary first aid skills and my wife’s nursing skills were both put to use. Thankfully we had the know how, tools, and mindset to deal with the situation without having to rely on emergency services that were already overwhelmed.
Lesson 5: Stress testing and functional testing are both important
Skills, gear, and plans are all well and good. However, functionally testing those skills, gear, and plans is essential to ensure they will actually work in a pinch. But that’s not enough. When emergencies are real, stress levels increase. Stress can significantly limit our ability to think critically and analytically. In turn, we tend to fall back on habits (both good and bad) and instincts. Stress testing (like the fire drills) is important to get all parties involved familiar with executing emergency plans and to also identify areas of weakness in those plans.
For example, our family has an alternative communication system in case mobile phone services are disrupted. During the second night without power, our family split up. Some of us stayed with a close friend who had power and some stayed home to tend to the pets. As we were executing that plan, none of us considered making sure we were ready to use the alternative communication system in the event mobile services were disrupted while we were separated. Thankfully that didn’t happen. I think that has a lot to do with the stress we were under and think that stress testing a separation scenario in the future would ensure we are better equipped for that scenario should we need to repeat it.
Lesson 6: Don’t procrastinate
Things like generators and other supplies cost money. Set a budget, prioritize resources and gather them. It’s not difficult to look at something’s price tag and put it off because the price makes it less desirable.
On the morning of day three, I decided to go ahead and place an order for a portable power station and a solar panel to recharge it with. I had previous intentions to pick something like this up which can power the CPAP indoors without relying on gas as a fuel source. I had put it off a number of times because I was turned off by the sticker price every time I started shopping for one. Of course, now I wish I hadn’t. I’m not suggesting that everyone empty their savings and rush out to pick up things that have been put off right this second. I’m simply saying that it’s better not to put a purchase that will increase resilience off when in a position to make the purchase because the price tag is a turn off.
Lesson 7: Stock the pantry
Having a year or several months worth of shelf stable food is great and all, but having several days or a couple weeks worth of relatively shelf stable canned goods that are commonly consumed is essential. I get that eating fresh food is what is most often desired by most and encouraged by nutrition experts. I’m not suggesting changing eating habits to consist of canned goods and packaged shelf stable food. I’m simply suggesting that some canned meat, vegetables, a few soups, and some easy to make breakfasts (like oatmeal) come in handy when the perishable foods are gone and taste better than plain old rice and beans (unless that’s your thing). Also, refer to lesson three.
Lesson 8: Strength and safety in numbers
I still find that a lot of folks consider survival (which is the point of emergency preparedness) to be a lone wolf activity. While these events have stoked my desire for increasing being self-sufficient, the events have also highlighted the importance of maintaining a healthy network of other self-sufficient folks that can rely on each other during these hardships. Afterall, safety and strength in numbers is why folks build communities.
I’m grateful for the network of folks who offered advice and assistance to us during this time. The assistance my family and I received went a long way in helping us get through this. We also helped others as best as we could and I’m glad that we were in a position to do so.
That’s the point of the lesson. Don’t be entirely dependent on the community to take care of you. By being prepared to take care of one’s self, we are in a better position to assist others in our community while minimizing resources we may require when receiving assistance from our network and our community.