Prepare yourself for the next big storm

By Bruce Stewart

When Hurricane Sandy came ashore in New Jersey, and the storm surge hit New York City and environs, we all watched the news in voyeuristic horror and amazement.

Now, more than two weeks later, the headlines have moved on. But meanwhile, in the region, storm damage continues to affect lives.

Preparing for extended power outages, heat outages and disrupted travel that makes store shelves go empty and stay empty is just common sense, saving you from pain and misery.

First, every residence should have food on hand. Food that doesn’t require your freezer to work, and that can be eaten if the stove is off, too.

The average town or city is constantly resupplied, which means stores keep enough on hand for a few days at most. Enough for two to four weeks is all that’s required.

But think about this — not only do prices rise sharply in a disaster. If it’s the last tin of beans and the truck’s unable to come to restock the shelves, you can be sure they’re not on sale at 79 cents.

Buying for your larder on sale, then eating it down slowly, means you save a few nickels. Over the course of a year, this will slow your own inflation rate by as much as 10 to 15%.

Some maintenance each year can keep your residence much warmer if the heat’s off, too. Touch up the weather stripping, have some blankets to throw down at the bottom of the door, maybe keep some plastic ready to add a layer to windows.

It can happen in Canada too. The windstorm that flattened Stanley Park in Vancouver a few years back also took down a number of power lines. Neighbourhoods on Vancouver’s west side had power out for two to four days while crews worked fixing things. November in Vancouver isn’t like early February in Regina but, with the heat impaired and the stove dead, little things like this made the difference between a warm enough house, and a too cold one without food.

A Coleman stove can handle a meal for hot food.

Don’t forget that, depending on the incident, roads may be impassible. I have a friend in Upstate New York who two or three times each winter finds himself cut off from ‘civilization’ for days due to ice on the roads. He keeps supplies, keeps the gas tank in his car over half full all the time, and has kerosene lamps mounted on the walls in his rooms.

He lives, by the way, on less than $10,000 a year in terms of income, yet his pantry is always full, just in case. The savings by buying during sales and laying in a case of tins helps him stretch his budget and keep him fed.

This matters to all of us because what has happened in New York and New Jersey will take years to recover from. Getting the power turned back on was just the beginning.

The infrastructure is getting old in all our towns and cities. That means it’s more likely to fail on us than it was in the past, even if nothing else happens.

We don’t need massive ‘once-in-a-century’ storms (which Sandy wasn’t) to suddenly throw us back on our own resources. Nor do we need ‘the big one’ (earthquake). We just need bridges, water pipes, and transformer stations to wear out from age.

One more thing that’s important is to have cash. In a world where we all go around using our credit and debit cards constantly, we forget that ATMs, gas pumps and stores can’t accept those in an outage. So having some cash on hand is a smart thing to do, too.

There’ll be more ‘newsworthy events’. You can be ready ahead of them. It’ll be good for your wallet, too.

Troy Media Columnist Bruce Stewart is a management consultant located in Toronto. His column is distributed through