My parents just booked our camping reservation for this summer – a trip we’ve taken almost every year for my entire life (and going back generations). Sure, we camp at a state park with a bathroom building (which it is illegal to not use, btw), but it’s still a life without electricity, air conditioning, heat, or refrigeration – which was exactly how I lived for 12 days because of Hurricane Sandy. Not only did a lifetime a semi-camping make me mentally ready to live without a few amenities, it also meant I already owned a lot of stuff I’d need.
Things I Had
The most crucial (and expensive) piece of equipment is a 100 Watt general purpose AC battery. I haven’t shopped around since it was a gift (and probably overpriced) but it has a hand crank that recharges it faster than it charges an iPad (or two iPhones) so you’re good to go instead of wasting your car battery. Like all batteries, higher wattage will drain it more inefficiently so if you’re using it with your MacBook, inappropriately use a 45watt 11″ MacBook Air charger. Sure, it’ll say “non charging” if you’re using it heavily enough, and may even net drain if you’re using it really heavily, but the moment you stick a 65W magsafe in it the fan turns on and that obviously wastes power. (also recommended: just using the Air).
As a happy camper, I’m also well stocked on various light sources. After the first 24 hours, stores will be out of C and D batteries, so buy LED based light sources that use AA and AAA batteries. They’ll be much easier to find. Also, any lights you can easily mount in a high place and are wide angle will help make things feel more normal when you’re using them to light your whole apartment. I put a set of these string lights between some clothes hangers and hung them on curtain rods and cabinet doors. Their white is luckily white-white (neither blueish nor warm white) so they won’t drive you too insane… (see next section).
If your house has a fireplace, learn how to use it – with real wood not prepacked duraflame logs. Buy firewood ahead of time (don’t chop down your own trees, please – firewood is farmed specifically) and keep a rolling stock going. Add a little romance to your winter during non-disasters. On that note, remember that you can totally use your barbecue during winter. Unless it’s a snowstorm that knocks out your utilities, it might be too warm to simply leave your freezer items outside and it’s not worth trying to buy ice every day. Just eat it.
Since we didn’t have heat (including hot water) for the first week, I took to using a generic spray bottle filled with water to perform sort of a half-shower ritual. For the record, I’m pretty sure showering in ice water during the winter kills you so don’t yell at me for not toughing it out in the shower.
More important than anything else, have friends and family. We spent the weekend between weeks without power at the girls’ parents house 40 minutes away and disaster free. They may not have the fastest internet (I continued tethering while I was there) and their stores were just as ransacked as ours but it was nice to have a break. My parents and grandparents (backdoor neighbors) consolidated their survival efforts. Even if they can’t help improve your situation, talking to people can help you keep sane.
Shelf stable milk (which is available in every supermarket) will disappear after the storm hits, but no one remembers to buy it before hand. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it’s opened and it tastes like diner coffee creamer (in a good way).
Things I wish I had
Warm. White. LEDs. This was after we set the clocks back so it was getting dark at 4:00 and the blue-white lanterns were driving me insane. I was happy to have less light and use only my white-white LEDs and burn through my candle stockpile. I’ve since purchased bulk warm-white LEDs on Amazon and will spend the next disaster playfully wiring them around the place. As a plus, lights you make yourself aren’t constrained to any particular battery, so although I’m designing these to run off of a single 9V (because I can use a simple wall adapter while developing) it’s no big deal to splice in a row of AAs and take out a resistor should the need arise.
Whatever carrier your iPhone is on, buy your next LTE iPad on the OTHER carrier, whichever that may be. Depending one which towers go out and which towers stay on, who’s the dominant carrier could change in an instant. AT&T LTE was fast enough to stream election night coverage, but only by taping my phone outside the window. AT&T worked great _outside_. Maybe Verizon didn’t fare any better, maybe they did, but it’s better to be over-prepared. Plus, the iPad doesn’t have to be activated. So, although I got my iPad mini on AT&T LTE (continuing my grandfathered unlimited plan) I bought an iPad 4 on Verizon, (potentially my last big iPad ever) as an insurance policy for next time.
More curtain rods and insulating curtains. When your heat (or AC for that matter) isn’t working, it helps to quarantine your living space into hot-cold zones. We had cooking gas so we hung a curtain in the kitchen doorway and moved a table in there so we could eat food that didn’t instantly get cold when we brought it into the living room. If I had more extra curtains and rods, I would have fully isolated every room to store localized body heat.
I’m also going to look into the cheaper alternatives to the Brookstone to add to my battery capacity. There was a shortage of powered gas stations so I’m not assuming I can run things off of the car, even though it is a Prius (and thank god for that – Prius’ don’t burn gas while you’re idling in a gas line and it’s 600 miles to the tank). I’m also looking into deployable (not permanent) solar panels. If it’s enough to keep an iPad charged while I use it on a cloudy day that’s plenty.