Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Greetings from Gas Starved NJ‏

Hi Fernando,
I’ve read your book a few times and I actively read your blog for advice and tips and how to be better prepared for disasters both natural and man made.  Before I go further let me give you some background on me.  I live right next to NYC in NJ.  I’ve lived here all my life and through Sept 11th, as well as Hurricane Irene last year.  So far this is the worst disaster I have seen here and what we have experienced in North Jersey/NYC is nothing compared to South Jersey.  In light of all this, I want to give you an up close and personal view of what it is like living in a disaster area right now.  Hopefully others will not need to live through what I am living through.

All of your advice is turning out to be spot on with regards to weapons, riot-like conditions, lack of electricity, lack of modern communications (i.e. cellphone service) and the overall breakdown in society.  Its funny how people become crazy when the electricity is off even though many didn’t have electricity a century ago.  The major issues we are facing aren’t so much related to food or water (yet), being that our water supply for the most part is unaffected by the storm surge.
The biggest issue here is gas.  After Hurricane Irene many people bought generators but never stockpiled gasoline to fuel those generators.  Most of our gas stations have been pumped dry and require police presence to break up fights and to keep some semblance of order here.  And for the stations that do still have gas the wait time is in the hours to get gas.  To give you more information on the gas supply chain for the area, there are refineries literally 20 minutes away near the ports in Newark and Elizabeth; so gas supplies were never an issue.

Commuting is a nightmare right now because some roads are closed down and many don’t have working traffic lights on them so the police have blocked off intersections, effectively increasing commute times and burning away more of the gas in people’s cars.
I filled my tank before the storm hit so I am ok but I am doubtful I will be able to gas back up until sometime next week at best.  One thing I am looking to invest in is a generator that can also run on propane and/or natural gas to bypass the gasoline supply chain.  While I am doing my own research into alternative fuel supplies, I feel that everyone that reads your blog would benefit greatly from an article discussing ways to survive without gasoline or diesel.
Adam in NJ

Hi Adam,
Thanks for your email. Being without electric power never bothered me as much as being without water. That worried me dearly until we had running tap water again (even if that tap water had to be filtered too).
Considering that most people don’t stock up on any emergency food or water stash, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that they don’t stock up gas for their generators. Keeping a generator without fuel is like having a gun with no ammo.

One thing to look into is public transportation. We’re so used to using our vehicles that we sometimes overlook how convenient and cheap it can be on occasions. For years I used buses and train in spite of having a car, just because it was safer at times (avoiding carjacking) and to save on gas.
These post-Sandy days are times to stay put and preserve as much resources as possible until things get back to normal. There’s not much people can do now if they didn’t prepare ahead of time. It´s getting colder too so that will be an issue. Sounds silly but most people have no idea of what to do to stay warm, they just know how to switch the thermostat on high and sit back to watch TV. I went camping last weekend with my son, today its snowing on that same forest so while not under 0ºC, it was pretty cold. Things like thermal underwear and polar fleece combined with a good jacket and wool cap goes a long way into keeping you warm. Reducing the living space into just living in a room where you may have a kerosene heater or fireplace helps too.

You need to have plans A, B and C for your essentials, such as keeping yourself warm and cooking. When our burner broke down last winter we used electric heaters for a couple days, we all slept in the same room to stay warm, also keeping a couple large bottles of natural gas both for cooking and heating as well as some wood for the fireplace. That gives you options, alternatives in case one option goes down. Its also nice to keep logistics simple. One of the things I’d like to do eventually is have a diesel vehicle that during an emergency could use the same fuel used for heating the house, tap into that 1200L  fuel tank if needed.
Regarding generators, a small, quality generator may not light up your entire house but it does use less fuel and can be altered depending on what you need to run.
Stay safe!


FreeMan said...

A friend and former army generator repair guy suggested one brand. Then he showed us it action. A lot of us have it and love'm. This is the Yamaha EF2400iSHC converted for tri-fuel use. Great item to run lights, fridge, and the blower fan on your gas furnace.


KeithC said...

Fernando, I would argue that a gun without ammo is still more useful. You can't club appliances into working with your fuel-less generator!

We have family/friends in the Bronx, Long Island and Maryland. So far, no awful reports coming in. Likewise, though, no discussion of prepping for next time (even though this is the third major regional power outage since Halloween 2011). I was even declined an offer to ship an emergency generator to a friend because "power would be back in 2 or 3 days". Just before the storm hit, I suggested something as simple as a marine battery and a 500w inverter just to keep lights and comms running but... it's a different mentality, I guess. Doing for yourself is just "crazy". It's sad.

Karla said...

The train systems in and around NYC were severely damaged in the storm, which is why there are so many cars right now and why competition for gas is so fierce. The agency in charge of the subway doesn't even know when full service will be restored. I'm all for public transportation, and people in the NYC metro area are very good about utilizing it, but using it in the near future isn't an option for many people right now.

Oh, and just because I found this jaw-dropping: I read in the New York Times that some subway stations are using flood pumps that they purchased secondhand from when the Panama Canal was built. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914!!! I have a feeling those stations are not going to be operational anytime soon.

Cowboy said...

I bought a decent generator (Champion brand - a lot of internet research and I agree with the euphemism that it's the Chinese Honda) that is portable, “relatively” quiet and large enough to run our electronic ignition furnace and water heater, a sump pump, and the refrigerator and freezer. It was approx. $500 when I bought mine a couple of years ago. Then, for less than $200, I got a conversion kit that I was able to put on myself (and I'm not overly mechanically gifted) which allows the generator to run on propane or natural gas as well as unleaded gas. Frankly, it was most expensive by far to have an electrician install the transfer switch and reposition the circuits which I want run by the generator, and to install the plug-in receptacle in the garage for the generator to run the whole thing - but I've been convinced that the benefit of proving you had a licensed electrician install this is worth it.
The biggest reason requiring repair for generators is stored gasoline going bad in them due to lack of use. With a conversion kit I can essentially keep the generator empty of fuel, have about 20 gallons of gasoline reserves for the generator which I can store in 5 gallon containers and just cycle through every 4-6 months by using in my car as needed when it's time to refresh, and I'm able to keep 5 20-gallon propane containers (which store indefinitely) in a shed away from my home in our backyard. For an approx. $100 additional insurance policy (the price of the propane), I’m hopefully more prepared for just this situation when the emergency impacts our ability to get more fuel. The conversion kit and extra propane then seems like it would have been an affordable investment in relation to the generator cost to be able to actually use the generator, and have light, heat, food storage, etc. for up to several weeks after any emergency which results in power loss . . . and if we're at that point and can’t refuel it's probably a regional/world calamity and a whole different ballgame. Here's the website from where I got the conversion kit, again I was able to fairly easily install it myself, and have successfully tested it to run on propane (not natural gas, yet) to power the selected appliances with the main power off:
In my case I needed one of the A and C kits (Champion 6500W generator).
The generator isn't the first item on my list when starting to prepare, but after food, water (look at the Sawyer Products bucket filter as another good multi-backup option) and protection, it might be a good next step, and ensuring you can use it when it's needed seems wise. Hope this helps someone . . .

Don Williams said...

1) It's not hard to "cocoon" at home if you have supplies of water, food, cooking fuel, blankets,etc. Even with winter coming on, the US East Coast is not a difficult environment.

2) Where Americans are vulnerable is transportation --and they know it , hence the panic. We have dispersed settlements and our public transport in not all that great in many places. Plus New York depends on its subways and some of them are still flooded.

3) I am not much into the treehugger lifestyle/mentality but I think a bicycle with a rear rack for panniers is excellent insurance. You can easily cover 10 miles and it sure beats walking with a backpack. Plus they are pretty cheap if you look on craigslist for used ones.


4) Bike snobs sneer at the cheap Walmart Huffys but I think the older ones and Schwinns are adequate ($50-$100) although you save some on weight with more expensive ones like Trek. I think the fatter tires of the mountain bikes makes them more resilent to sharp road debris, potholes etc but the road bikes are fine in most places and are faster.

5) Plus some spare parts, tire patch repair kit to fix flats,etc allows you to keep a bike running for a long time. I think the maintenance book by Bicycling magazine is good.

6) It is essential that you have a good lock. Unfortunately, the problem is that New York City has such sophisticated bike thieves that bike shops sell an expensive lock for that area -- the $100
New York Fahgettaboudit:


It has a very thick (almost 1/2 inch) u-bar shackle.

7) Which is actually a good argument for a good , cheap basic bicycle that thieves will ignore in favor of the $2000 Fuji that some yuppie left tied to a parking meter with a thin cable that can be cut with a small bolt-cutter.

8) However, in a disaster, people will steal even a cheap bike because of its utility, not its market value. The best value lock I've found is the $25 Onguard MiniBulldog with cable -- its small Ubar locks a bike tightly to a post without leaving a lot of space between the bike and post that a thieve can stick a lever bar into. Plus it easier to spread a cut ubar away from its locking cylinder if the Ubar is large than if it is a mini.

9) A New York guy named Hal Ruzal has some funny Youtube videos showing the right (and wrong) ways to secure a bicycle. Just search for his name. Also search for "bicycle lock cut" to see some of the ways bicycles are stolen.

Lance said...

A tri-fuel generator is indeed handy. They generate less power when using gas rather than gasoline, but the oil does not get dirty when running on gas. I turn off the main circuit breaker to the house and plug the generator into the dryer outlet. The dryer circuit breaker basically becomes the panel main circuit breaker. This will run some lights and the fridges. This being the GULf Coast, where we get these storms more often, August without air conditioning is miserable. We keep a small window A.C. unit to be able to sleep in one room. A furnace fan would work as well. Just never thought of that. Another tip, as one getting older, make sure the generator start battery is charged. Pull starting a 13hp motor is not so easy anymore. Sound is another issue. Buy a quiet one, though they are more expensive. Most of those small air cooled units are rather loud.

When hearing of a storm approaching, buy 5gal plastic cans at the store and fill them. You can always just pour it into your vehicle later. As for water, stay friends with the neighbor who has a swimming pool. You can pour that water into the commode tank to flush.

Anonymous said...

Those gas stations still have lots of diesel fuel. Just an observation.

FerFAL said...

Hey Don, I agree. A good bike gets you around unless youre pretty far away from everything (which is something Id avoid)

Anonymous said...

The best source of information on generators is an interview on thesurvivalpodcast.com. Jack interviews steven harris over two podcasts concerning all one needs to know in order to plan for using a generator.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the East Village of NYC. 3 blocks from where the city was 5 feet under water. I've read your blog for years and your book. Too busy to write much, but I am not suffering at all because I completely followed your advice. Thank you so much

Anonymous said...

I only had one problem. At 4am Saturday while the lights were still out on my way to work, I was getting in my car and someone darkly dressed started walking toward me without saying anything. I pointed my Surefire at him and he turned and walked away. In NYC you cant even possess a pepper spray as big as a tube of lipstick. Definitely not good to stay here under these conditions. Best to be prepared to get out.