Originally published 1 February, 1999

- Preparedness is a good thing to be thinking about right now, so I thought it would be good to share a few of my Y2K preparedness columns.

Greetings Gentle Reader,

Remember those ice storms that hit the Northeast last winter? We have a report on the problems some of the people experienced due to a lack of electric power. Since we may have the same problem next winter, when the Y2K bug gets us, let's see how they fared:

First and foremost, without power, they had no city water. We humans not only drink, wash our hands, kitchen counters and clothes in water, we bathe in the stuff and use it to flush our toilets, and they could do none of the above. One lady said she surely could have used an air freshener for the bathroom. Another mentioned that you need to have water in your toilet bowl to hold back sewer pipe water. Is that really true? Could sewage back up in your toilet, if it had no water in it? Would somebody with a strong stomach please check that one out and get back to me?

Another woman wished for quick lime to put in her toilet. That's something we used to put in outhouses to break down THAT STUFF, so maybe it would work in toilets too. It all sounds really awful, but those people had to deal with it_ some of them for several weeks.

They had lots of snow and melted volumes of it on their wood stoves, then they dumped the used water in their toilets. It is easy to see why the people without wood stoves were in trouble. Unexpectedly, one of the primary complaints was a lack of big pots in which to melt the snow. They said buckets and large pots were at a premium, since no one had anticipated that particular problem. Another problem was lack of water purification tablets for the melted snow water. Bleach or iodine would have worked, but if you use that stuff, you'd better know how much of it to use.

The kids got a kick out of not having to bathe and change underwear everyday, but moms and dads weren't too thrilled. After a while, they made the kids shed their smelly underwear, but then they had no way to wash them, except by hand. One mother said she yearned for a scrub board; another suggested using a bucket of water with a toilet plunger as an agitator. I only have one question: Would a bucket of water and a toilet plunger be up to cleaning the grungy underwear those kids and their parents had worn for a week? As Al would say, "I don't think so, Tim." Now I know why Gramma used a "high tech" scrub board and homemade lye soap. She even boiled the clothes. I always thought it was to get them clean; now I know it was to unstink them and kill all the cooties.

One lady said her first act, when the power came back on, was to vacuum the carpet. She regretted that she hadn't kept a simple, old fashioned carpet sweeper that used muscle power, rather than electric power. They are still available, and it is something to keep in mind.

Some of the people had electric generators, but hadn't stored enough fuel to last the full month they needed it. Others had neglected to store and use an additive called Sta-Bil to keep their supply of gasoline in usable condition. Those who did not have one found that the supply of generators not only disappeared very quickly, but the price of those that were available shot through the roof.

Another problem that reared its ugly head: Generators must be operated outside because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, but most of the people didn't realize that the local trash would go around stealing generators during the crisis. Unfortunately, many unsuspecting owners found that their generators were a hot item for these contemptible thieves, but some of those who brought them inside to keep them from being stolen died from exhaust fumes, SO THAT IS NOT THE ANSWER.

I would suspect that the gutter snipes who stole the generators were selling them at premium prices to suffering families. The recommendation was to fasten them firmly with heavy chains. Even this is not a perfect solution, but it is better than nothing.

They recommended that those who heat with wood buy a good axe and a buck saw, with extra blades. I would suggest keeping tools with which to sharpen both saws and axes. In our area, storing all needed supplies for ice fishing would be a good idea.

Matches, candles and batteries of various sizes were at a premium and should be stored ahead of time. One lady realized that she could have taken batteries from her children's toys, had she only thought of it. Another thing that surprised me: Those who could get to stores found they could use neither checks nor credit cards. The banks were closed and the ATM's wouldn't work. They either coughed up the cold, hard cash, or they went without. Worse, the items still in the stores were sold at such inflated prices, they could buy very little with the cash they had on hand. So, cash is a very important thing to have, especially for those who refuse to prepare and then find themselves in big trouble. For the smart, preparation is still the best policy.

Montgomery County, Maryland, has already spent $34 million trying to prepare for January, 2000, but when they ran a check on four key systems: The 911 operators had to write emergency calls in longhand (the computers wouldn't work), traffic lights didn't function (the computers wouldn't work) and some people had to be rescued from elevators (the computers wouldn't work). Ah well, three out of four isn't bad... unless, of course, you or I are the ones who call 911, get hit in an intersection or stuck in an elevator. If that turns out to be the case, it will be very bad, indeed... even worse than dirty bodies clothed in dirty underwear.

Let's just decide to be good boy scouts and get prepared: For this week, let's all go out and buy three huge jars of peanut butter, one for each of the three month's supply Senator Bennett has suggested. If there is some left when this problem is over, we can invite the neighborhood kids in for peanut butter sandwiches... right after we bathe them to get rid of the cooties, that is.

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