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DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: So I of course have water and gas shutoff tools, but the Insta-Wife seems to always confuse them. Since she might have to shut off utilities when I’m gone, I finally got this shutoff tool that’s for both, with clear GAS and WATER labeling. Now everything’s easy and clear.

WHAT WITH HURRICANE SANDY, ETC., several readers have asked for links to my disaster preparedness posts. Okay. Here’s a post on low-budget disaster preparation. Here’s one on bug-out bags. Also, stuff to keep in your car or SUV. Also, recommended preparedness books.

And, by the way, I just got the latest Consumer Reports and they really like the Generac GP5500 generator, which they say “performed almost as well as the top-rated portable generator for hundreds less.” But read the reviews on Amazon before you buy.

UPDATE: Reader Charles Cheek writes:

Bought one last year after losing about $500 worth of food due to a storm and the resulting power outage. Bought it online at for $200 less than what Home Depot was advertising at the time. Delivery was free, and the truck driver put it right where I wanted it. I had to install the wheels and put the oil (which was supplied) in it. It cranked over on the second crank and has served us incredibly well through several storms and outages since, the latest just last week ( 6 days with Hurricane Sandy), usually starting on the first crank, always by the second. It is powerful enough to provide my whole house with power. I haven’t yet installed a transfer switch, although I am considering it. It runs 14 hours on 5 gallons of gas (or less), is relatively quiet, and maintenance is easy. I highly recommend the Generac GP5500.

Not bad.

MORE: Generator advice from Popular Mechanics.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Reader Kathleen Wallace writes:

I have been an Insta-addict for three years. I appreciated, among others, the recurrent theme of disaster preparedness during Hurricane Irene, and was struck particularly by the role of inverters.

So, when we saw Sandy on the way, we finally got our inverter, set it up, and tested it here in our home in New Jersey. As predicted, our power went out.

We ran the inverter off the car periodically each day, an hour in the morning and the evening. We ran the fridge, the furnace, the modem, charged the phones, and caught up with the Instapundit. We were conservative (of course), and at the end of 5 days, we had well over half a tank left in our Ford Escape, were warm, and knew what was happening. The car ran quietly, cleanly, and safely, unlike the many loud, smelly generators in the neighborhood.

We never needed to wait hours in line with several red plastic containers. The candles and transistor radio made the evenings enjoyable.

I thank you for your blog, and especially for helping us rethink disaster preparedness.

Inverters are pretty cheap, too. You’ll want extension cords, too.

UPDATE: Say, here’s a question: How much power does a gas pump consume? Could you power one with a big (2000-3000 watt) inverter?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader John Marcoux writes:

I second what your reader Kathleen wrote about using inverters instead of a generator. Followed some of your links to arrive at that conclusion. Fortunately, I haven’t had to use anything yet.

One obvious reason to go this route: fridge, a big concern, doesn’t have to be on all the time to maintain, per what Kathleen is doing. I wish she had written what inverters she has.

Yeah. I assume she has her furnace wired with a pigtail connection, too. You can splice into the furnace, of course, but not everyone would want to do that.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Alan Gray writes: “How about some rules of thumb on the right size inverter? And can any size be run off a car?” Pretty much — up to 2000-3000 watts pretty easily. There are bigger ones, but they’re best hardwired. Of course, you can run low-power stuff off the battery, but if you’re running more than a few hundred watts you really want the engine running. You want to keep the inverter close to the car — no 12-volt extension cables — and then run an extension cord into the house. You lose a surprising amount of power in cabling, though, so you want to keep things as short as possible.

MORE: Reader Curtis Franklin writes: “If you’re going to try to serve circuits in your house through a generator/inverter (rather than simply plugging appliances directly into the outlets on the power source), then it’s critical to have a transfer switch wired into your main breaker box. They’re not all that expensive (thought they’re a definite licensed electrician job) and they prevent power from your house from back-feeding into the local power lines — a situation that is dangerous for the people trying to restore power and can delay that restoration for hours while they track down the homeowner working so hard to kill them.” That’s true. Not many inverters big enough people would plug them into their house, but yeah.

And reader Allan Pierce writes: “A quick search on Fuel Dispenser Electrical Requirements turned up a gas pump mfr’s brochure, which suggests a gas station pump has one or two 1 horsepower pump motors. Figure about 1000 watts per motor, so the answer is yes. Big issue is safety: wiring the gas station with a power inlet and cutover switch for each pump near its electrical panel. Could be done under disaster-recovery conditions by electricians certified for hazardous area (explosion-proof) work. It’s better not to wait, but gas stations are low-margin businesses so this is unlikely to be done in advance of need unless required by law or encouraged by economic incentive for all stations in the most-vulnerable areas (hint to people doing post-disaster ‘lessons learned’ reviews).”

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: In Backup Generators We Trust? They’re handy, they’re not perfect.

On Monday, New York University’s Langone Medical Center lost power during Hurricane Sandy, and ended up having to evacuate 215 patients when the generator that was supposed to keep its charges alive and its critical systems running failed to turn on. Across the United States there are about 12 million backup generators. Most only operate during blackouts — times when a hospital, or a laboratory, or a bank, needs electricity and can’t get it from the larger electric grid.

But backup generators aren’t 100% reliable. In fact, they won’t work something like 20%-to-30% of the time, said Arshad Mansoor, Senior Vice President for Research & Development with the Electric Power Research Institute. The bad news is that there’s only so much you can do to improve on that failure rate. The good news: There are solutions that could help keep a hospital up and running in an emergency, even if the emergency power system doesn’t work.

It’s like having a car you never drive. The less you drive ’em the more they rust.

UPDATE: Reader Will Frye writes:

As one who was responsible for operation and maintenance of backup generators during my 37 year career I can assure you that emergency generation can be a LOT more reliable than a 20 to 30 percent failure rate. Of course like other electromechanical systems they require continual attention. Maintenance and training and testing on a recurring basis are essential.

They are expensive insurance policies for worst case scenarios and management has to understand their importance. If not valued and maintained they will degrade rapidly.

I don’t know what Langone Med Center did to prepare for the storm but if administrators failed to include testing the backup generators in their preparation plan they should be summarily fired. Testing doesn’t ensure the machines will come on line next time but it should make it highly likely.

And reader Billy Rawl emails:

Don’t know about others, but my 25 KW Generac has never failed when I needed it. But like a car, boat, airplane or any other piece of mechanical equipment, they have to be maintained. My worst nightmare is to lose electrical power and have a $10,000 inoperative generator, so I do everything I can to keep it in running order such as maintaining the battery, oil, coolant and make sure it runs for about 20 minutes every week. Well maybe not my worst nightmare. That would be if we get stuck for another 4 years with that charlatan in the White House.

It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to live normally with A/C or heat, lights, computers, TV, stereo, etc. when the rest of the neighborhood is dark and cold (or hot).

It’s probably even more wonderful to know that your ventilator will keep working. And reader Harmon Ward writes:

For dozens of engineering related reasons the vast majority of commercial backup generators run on diesel fuel. In California this has led to regulations which limit how often backup generators can be tested and how long they can be run while being tested. Even at hospitals. Hopefully our Air Quality Management District has factored in the amount of air pollution caused by an emergency evacuation.

Great. I hope that New York didn’t have similar rules.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Christopher Smith writes:

I’m a life long IT worker. I worked at a high availability data center on the weekend shift. One of my jobs was to run the backup generator once a week, take the readings on the 1000 hp diesel engine, check the fuel level, write down the power output readings every 10 minutes for an hour, etc.

A critical emergency generator should not fail to start. If it failed to start when you needed it or failed to provide the power it was meant to provide, that means you failed to properly maintain it.

One would think that a hospital’s maintenance schedule would be particularly rigorous.

MORE: An anonymous reader sends this:

The generator failed because it was flooded. No steps were taken to prevent flooding from the storm surge.

Once under water, there was no way for the thing to work.

Simple sandbagging would have prevented the failure. But no one bothered.

No supporting links, but if true it’s an egregious failure.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Alabama tornadoes: Storms show limits of warning sirens.

That’s why it’s good to have a weather radio. I have this one, and it’s been good. But some readers who have both say that this one is better.

UPDATE: Reader Jenny Parker writes: “Glenn, my weather radio (neither one of your links) wasn’t being reliable the other night, so we tried the Wx Alert USA app for our phones, and it was fantastic. We just programmed it to sound for tornadoes, but it will sound or message for whatever you like (only absent zombies, really). Gives off the hideous NOAA sound, sure to wake you from anything.” Hmm. I’ll have to give that one a try. Though the reviews seem uneven.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Reader Brian Durant emails:

Professor Reynolds- I am a long time reader, but have never emailed you. Many times you have mentioned the need to be ready for disaster including having a “bug out” plan with bags ready, etc. Last THURS evening we learned the lesson the hard way. A wildfire forced us to evacuate our house in about 15 minutes- we grabbed a few valuables, a change of clothes, some toiletries, and headed out thinking we’d be gone for a couple of hours. More than 36 hours later were we were allowed to return. Fortunately thanks to God and some great volunteer firefighters, our house was spared. During the time away, I spent a lot of time trying to determine what I should have taken, would need to replace, etc. Please remind us again of the importance of being prepared (and a good list would be helpful, too.)

Happy to. Here are a bunch of my disaster preparedness posts. Here in particular is the one on low-budget preparedness.

Here are some bug-out bag recommendations, and here’s a list on survival preparedness for your car or SUV.

Here’s something from Jed Babbin, and you might also want to spend some time at Bill Quick’s survival discussion board.

And, really, just spend 15 minutes now — when you’re not distracted by having to evacuate and your head is comparatively clear — thinking about what you’d take, and where it is in your house, and then make a list. Then look at the list in a day or two and add what you forgot. Do that a time or two and you’ll be much better off.