Family First for Peace of Mind

When large-scale emergencies arise, natural or man-made, citizens rush home to their families. Police officers are expected to do the opposite and report to their job. Faced with the same concerns citizens have for their loved ones, officers should not have to choose between staying home and reporting for work due to a lack of preparation and planning to protect them. If forced to choose, it takes little imagination to forecast the outcome.

Through preplanning and preparation, officers can avoid or minimize this issue. Some may view such efforts and financial expense as unnecessary. I strongly disagree and suggest they attempt going without power and heat for four days, as happened in the south suburbs of Chicago in March 1998 due to an ice storm. What if terrorists attempt to disrupt basic services, or another major hurricane strikes the mainland? The loss of power for any extended period of time has life-threatening consequences if you have to do without heat, light, telecommunications, refrigeration, food, water, transportation, sanitation and more. Surely no one has forgotten the hard lessons served up by Hurricane Katrina.

The following suggestions are steps you can take to provide basic life-support systems for your family during a disaster.


Our daily existence depends on electrical power. If the grid goes down or local service is disrupted and you don t have a backup, you re in a tough spot. Backup power can be provided by purchase of a backup generator for home use. While you can make use of smaller generators and output, the typical home requires a generator that can provide 4,000-plus watts. Larger-watt units allow you to power more items and circuits, but the larger and heavier the generator, the greater consumption of fuel and lesser mobility.

The majority of smaller home generators (3-6 kW) use gasoline, but you can find models that use propane or natural gas. Tri-fuel generators can make use of all three fuels. The changeover process does require some expertise.

Propane-fueled generators are clean burning, and fuel storage is relatively safe. You can fuel one with the same 20-lb. tanks you use for your home barbeque grill.

Diesel models are the most efficient but are usually large and expensive. Diesel fuel is much less volatile than gasoline, but it will burn and remains a fire hazard if not handled with care. Natural gas typically fuels large non-movable units as found in commercial units but can be found in home units.

If you decide to purchase a generator, recognize that it only has value if you have fuel. Long-term storage of gasoline requires a fuel stabilizer such as Stabil, produced by Gold Eagle Co. (800/621-1251, The danger associated with storing gasoline is well documented. Storing it in your home or attached garage may void your homeowners insurance in the event of a fire, and worse, it may kill you and your family. If the only place you have to store gasoline is in your home, don t purchase a gasoline-fueled generator.

Electrical circuits to power with the generator can include the furnace/ HVAC, sump pump, refrigerator/freezer and lighting. To avoid the disaster of having the generator and your main power feeding the same circuits when the main power comes back online, you ll need a transfer switch. An electrician can wire a transfer switching box into your main service panel. For more information on the nuts-and-bolts of connecting a generator to your house, go to your local library and look up the article in the March 1998 Popular Mechanics titled Installing a Backup Generator.

Finally, solar power chargers have evolved tremendously over the past few years. They can charge 12V batteries during the course of the day, not to mention cellular phone and portable equipment batteries.


After much research, I suggest contacting Mayberry Sales and Service (800/696-1795, for generator information and needs. They are the largest Honda generator dealer in the country and have a wealth of information on the subject.

For tri-fuel generators, try Northern Tool + Equipment (800/533-5545,

For a transfer switch box (and generators), try Menards, Home Depot, Lowes or a similar major hardware retailer in your area. These stores carry a four-circuit transfer switch box with a 25 heavy-duty esso cable to plug into your generator.

Heat & Cool

In very cold weather, you may have to abandon your home if you lose heat for an extended period of time. Fortunately, several backup heating sources exist, such as kerosene heaters. These devices deliver up to 23,000 BTU, burn for up to 16 hours on 1.9 gallons of K1 fuel, are portable, have an automatic safety shutoff and can be used indoors so long as you maintain proper ventilation. The downside: They smell when ignited or extinguished, and they require liquid fuel, a potential fire hazard and storage problem. (To get around the smell, you can turn the unit on and off outside.)

Blue-flame convection heaters burn propane or natural gas. Hooked up to a natural gas line in the home (either a dedicated black-pipe hookup or, in an emergency, a fireplace log igniter or dryer line), these units can keep your home livable, and they don t have the liquid fuel problem. You can attach an air blower to these devices, but this requires 110V power. To make a fan unit to push the hot air, you can purchase a 12V fan from Northern Tool and power it with a 12V deep-cycle marine battery. Recharge this battery by attaching it to your automobile in place of your car battery.

Without a blower unit, you can site both kerosene and blue-flame heaters in the basement, and the hot air will rise through the house. A friend of mine heated his home with a kerosene heater for four days during our power outage in Illinois. I also spoke with a gas company repairman who heated his home with the natural gas heater. Both said conditions were livable and that no water pipes froze. (Should a cold-weather evacuation occur, you and your family members must know how to turn off the water supply to your home and clear the water lines to prevent burst pipes. It s a simple process, but like all emergency procedures, you must test and train for it.)

Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces can also heat your home, but you must put sufficient fuel aside. Fireplaces can be very inefficient and send much of their heat up the chimney.

No matter what type of auxiliary heating source you decide on, you must have the setup installed or checked by a professional service provider. Check with your local fire department for code requirements and safety issues. Purchase a digital-readout, battery-powered carbon-monoxide detector and keep it near your heat source.

A note on your furnace: It may contain a controller board often referred to as a Program Logic Controller. This item controls and runs the furnace and can burn out in a power reduction or brownout. A friend of mine once lost his furnace in a brownout in central Illinois. The repairman confirmed this problem. Contact your furnace manufacturer and determine if you have this potential problem. If a wide-area brownout occurs, a large number of furnaces could be affected, and there likely will not be enough replacement boards or repairmen to see to your problem immediately. Should brownout conditions occur, prepare to shut down your furnace immediately.

And last, make sure each family member has a good-quality sleeping bag rated to 0 degrees F, and cold-weather clothes such as long underwear.

Where heat is critical, air conditioning is less so. Barring serious health issues, those living in a residence heated by the summer sun may be uncomfortable but not faced with a threat as deadly as the effects of severe cold.

If you need air conditioning, the generator load will be high. A cool basement or low-power electrical fans can also provide a cooling effect.


You can purchase kerosene heaters, K1 kerosene, and blue-flame heaters from large hardware chain stores such as Lowes, Home Depot and Menards. K1 fuel can also be found at some gas stations.


Besides the obvious safety issue of existing in darkness, being stuck in the dark can cause serious stress. You must have battery-powered flashlights and lanterns in your residence. Fluorescent lanterns work particularly well. Store alkaline batteries and extra bulbs.

Other potential light sources include kerosene and propane lanterns. Kerosene lanterns work in the home but are low light and potentially hazardous due to the liquid fuel. (Not a good choice if children have access.) Propane lanterns made by Coleman are very bright, run on inexpensive fuel in removable canisters that last 15 20 hours and throw off significant heat. The instructions state these units are not for indoor use proper ventilation is required.


More important than food, human beings cannot go without water for an extended period of time. Each person needs one gallon per day for basic sustenance.

You can store drinking water in 1-gallon plastic water jugs. (Do not use plastic milk jugs they are biodegradable and self-destruct.) Two-liter soda containers also provide excellent water storage. You can fill new/clean 45-gallon plastic garbage cans with tap water. Line the cans with non-toxic plastic bags and add in an ounce of pure bleach. Duct tape the lid shut and keep sealed. This water can be used for drinking and sanitation. The home hot-water heater contains up to 50 gallons of water keep a short length of garden hose to attach to its drain nozzle. If you have a forewarning of a problem, you can fill your bathtub(s).

Depending on the water source, such as a back-yard swimming pool, you might need to boil, filter or add a purifying agent to the water to make it safe for consumption. You can use a two-burner Coleman propane camp stove to boil drinking water. The stove uses the same fuel container as the lantern.

Modern water filters work well. During a recent excursion in Colorado, one of our tactical EMS docs used an MSR ( filter to pump stream water for safe drinking. It filtered one liter per minute and was used extensively during a 14-mile, two-day backpack/climb up a 12,500' mountain. The doc says that as the MSR unit s filter gets clogged, you can easily disassemble it and use a Brillo-type pad to scour off the outer surface of the ceramic filter within two minutes you re back in action.

Finally, to flush toilets, use undrinkable water, including what you can find in any external water source.


To survive and remain operationally effective you must have calories. Purchase non-spoiling foods you would ordinarily eat. Difficult conditions are not the time to drastically alter diets; dried survival rations should remain a last resort. A change in diet can cause constipation or diarrhea; both need to be avoided. Canned soups that do not require added water from Campbell s or Progresso taste good, are hot, filling and easily store for extended periods of time. Other canned or poly-packed goods tuna, salmon, chicken, chili, vegetables, pasta, fruit, etc. will keep you fed. Put aside at minimum a two-week supply of basic provisions. Avoid foods that cause gastric/lower gastrointestinal upset. Test the food as a regular meal is this what you want to eat for a lengthy period of time? Research food storage on the Web. For fast energy needs, Power Bars or other similar sports/survival bars are available in most grocery stores. Easy to carry and light weight, these energy bars can keep you and your family going when rations are short.


Communication with your family is a priority, and if landline telephones fail, cell phones will probably go down as well. Available options include CB radio, which is very limited in range, or amateur radio. The amateur-radio range is great but requires a special handheld radio and a federal license to operate. Fortunately, you can easily obtain the license, and a handheld unit in the 2-meter band costs approximately $300. Check for a local ham-radio club in your area and request assistance.

Consider buying a cheap pay-as-you-go phone as a back up. Often times the vendors of these phones buy service from a variety of carriers. In New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, Nextel phones failed to work, but officers who brought pay-as-you-go phones reported good results. I now plan to carry one whenever I travel out of the area to back up my Nextel. Get one for each family member.

Get all your family and friends to join Pheeder (, a service that allows you to record a message and text-messages your family and friends to alert them to the new message. They then simply call in to hear your message. In a crisis, you d only have to send a single phone message to let them know you re all right. can do the same thing via SMS message; at press time, it reportedly serves 22 cities.

Establish a drop point at or around your residence where your family can leave a written or taped message in the event communications are lost and they must move to another location.

Purchase a police radio scanner so you and your family can monitor emergency services. When you are on duty, a scanner might also allow your family to monitor your position.

Download the free CUWin mesh network software ( and burn it to CDs to share with your neighbors so you can create a self-organizing, self-healing mesh network with neighbors even if your Internet access is lost in an emergency.

If Sirius Satellite Radio provides real-time weather and traffic channels for your area, subscribe. XM Satellite Radio ( features a special emergency channel it activates in an emergency (channel 247).


Medical support may be delayed or restricted during an emergency, so keep a basic medical kit on hand. Study the basic life support issues. All adults and teenagers should train on CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver.

Purchase any vital medications in amounts to carry you through emergency conditions. Have your physician authorize a 60-day supply instead of a typical 30-day supply.

Purchase baby wipes for waterless cleaning. You can buy toilet paper, paper towels, Kleenex and sanitary napkins in bulk.

In the absence of flush toilets, a great product is the PETT Toilet System/Pooh Powder, a dry powder you can use with five-gallon buckets as a toilet substitute. When exposed to liquid or solid waste, the powder sanitizes, deodorizes and gels the waste. Find this must-have backup item here:

With computer USB flashdrives available and inexpensive, copy your family s medical records (get them from your physician in digital form) and other vital documents on one and keep it on your person. Encrypt the files with a protective software product such as TrueCrypt ( for security.

Defense & Safety

Emergency conditions bring out both the best and worst in people. If you have not trained your spouse or adult children in the use of firearms, now is the time to do so. They must also understand legal issues of defense of life versus protection of property. If you decide not to provide them adequate training, don t allow them access to firearms. And if firearms are stored in the home, practice all safety measures. If a firearm is not secured on the person, have a fast-access, lockable gun safe. Firearms used for personal protection must be immediately available to have any value.

Generators are noisy, particularly the less expensive models. Noise makes the generator location identifiable and, in some areas, therefore presents a security/theft issue. Site the generator where it s protected from easy access.

Old, unused cell phones still function for 911 calls. Consider keeping an old cell phone on a constant wall charger and placed in your secure room. Purchase a conventional AA or AAA battery adapter for this phone, or a hand-cranked power unit. You can find both here: and

Locate fire extinguishers in areas where flame or high heat could occur. Conduct any refueling operation outdoors with at least two persons with an extinguisher at the ready. Do not attempt to refuel a hot piece of equipment.

Remember: Extreme stress and temperature affect judgment and physical skills. The use of any dangerous tool or hazardous materials requires stringent safeguards. A moment s miscalculation can produce a deadly effect. Set up procedures and rules to address hazardous activities and strictly enforce them.


The above information is a starting point. You may not feel all these issues apply to your situation, but you must determine your life-critical needs and address them now. At worst, you will badly need it. At best, you can rest easy knowing you have prepared your family for emergency situations.

As my good friend Dr. John Wipfler, co-chair of the Illinois Tactical Officers Association TEMS, explains, teach people about the Survival Rules of 3s: You can survive up to three minutes without oxygen, three hours in a bad environment without clothing or shelter, three days without water and 30 days without food. This keeps things in perspective.


I got the scoop on Pheeder, message drop-points, police radio scanners, CUWin and Sirius Satellite Radio at Hal Newman s Web site, Big Medicine (


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