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Big Storm, Dry Run – Reflections on Sandy from a Jersey Boy

This is a guest post by Tom Haluszczak Jr.  Tom is a native of New Jersey and the author of American Jihad.

The lights are back on and gas rationing has ceased.  The big clean-up has commenced.

It’s a mess.  Depending on where you live in what is euphemistically referred to as The Garden State, Jersey isn’t exactly a feast for the eyes on a good day.  It’s a loud, tough, congested, profane and extremely expensive place to live in.  It’s a day to day struggle to just pay bills and commute to a job that may or may not be around next week.  This girl got serious warts.  Sandy has made it all uglier.

I can say this because I’ve lived here my whole life.  Paid my dues – and taxes.  If there’s one thing you can’t con me about – it’s Jersey.

The night before the storm hit I took stock of my Prepper inventory – water, canned food, flashlights, batteries, candles, matches, dry clothes, caffeine drinks, guns, ammo, antibiotics and medical supplies. I had a storm radio and a honkin’-big generator.  I had about six five-gallon gas containers filled with gas.  With smug hubris I settled-in, thinking I was ahead of the curve.

This is what I learned.

  • Major oil companies – who own most of the large gas stations in the USA – should be required to have a generator to pump their gas in the ground in the event of a power outage.  The majors can’t afford it? Are you kiddin’ me?  The smaller mom and pop operations can be exempted – but let’s not devolve into a capitalist rhetoric here….

When you’re going without heat or a stove to cook on you aren’t in the proper frame of mind to debate Darwinian free market principles of Mitt Romney or Fox News.  In fact, your politics turns quite pink…..

Frustration and anger does that to a man in weak moments.  And there was frustration and anger here aplenty .  At a Hess gas station down my block on Route 22 in Bridgewater fights broke  out (mostly in the “gas can line” where people were cutting-in) and Bridgewater PD had to intervene.  There were 500 people on line (people in cars and standing on line) and two cops.  Not good odds for the cops.  Thankfully, things didn’t get out of hand.  What bothered me most about the situation were the comments from some people on line – “Why don’t they send more police????”  There it was.  People asking for government intervention.  Government protection.  For a few gallons of gas they’d have probably given up their guns – if they even had guns.  I could see it in their eyes.  Why were they giving up so soon? Years of fluorinated water?

  • There was much more looting than was reported in mainstream news.  I know this for a fact.  I’m in law enforcement.  There was violence.  Just what you’d expect.
  • I now believe that people who let their front-yard trees grow high enough to imperil electric lines lack a social conscience and should be publicly flogged.  When your tree destroys power to hundreds of homes because you’re either too lazy or too stupid to cut it back – or because “only God can make a tree…” – you deserve a healthy kick in the pants.

In congested neighborhoods preventative maintenance on trees and cutting them back from wires should be a legal obligation on the tree owner.  Of course, the city or county may “own” the offending tree.  Oh well, whoever owns it – cut it back or fell it.  Power companies do the bare minimum – and are woefully oblivious to this issue.  They seem overwhelmed just delivering overpriced electricity through our aged infrastructure.  In Jersey everybody likes the look of tree-lined, countrified thoroughfares but nobody wants the real responsibility of effectively minimizing the effect of tree collapse on our power grid.  This conversation has to take place.  No power is not an option.  I shouldn’t suffer because you’re in love with your poplar.  We’re crammed into this state like sardines – and one person’s esthetic hang-ups or tree fetish should not leave me in the dark and cold.  This is Jersey – we have plenty of trees.  Get over it.

  • Find a way to power your home heat plant.  One of my most egregious oversights was failing to hot-wire my furnace (forced hot air) to my generator in advance of the event.

Most forced hot air blower units are 110 – ergo one generator plug will suffice.  My first order of business was to shut the breaker (in the main panel) serving the furnace and isolate that circuit.  I then located the red “Emergency Shut Off” box on my furnace and cut the power wire (Romex) leading into it.

I positioned a gang-box at the cut and tied-in another piece of Romex (black to black, white to white and ground to ground) to a new power plug receptacle I mounted on a nearby beam.  This gave me a plug-in power source running off the furnace power wire (handy for hanging a drop light, etc. in future better times).  Once this plug receptacle was connected it didn’t have any effect on the Emergency Shut Off box that was downstream from it.

Now – if power can flow out of a power receptacle (to power a lamp, etc.), then power can flow in, too.  I cut two commercial extension cords and spliced the male lengths together.  I plugged one male end into the generator and one into the power receptacle plug that I’d just connected to the Romex wire powering the furnace.

I turned on the generator – and Viola!  Heat.  Blessed heat.   I was disappointed in myself that I waited for the middle of a Hurricane at two o’clock in the morning to make this happen.  Crouching in a cold attic in the middle of the night fumbling with electrical connections and a four-cell Maglite flashlight is not the way to go.

Be proactive.  Learn basic wiring and home construction skills.  As in any battle, your best weapon is your brain.

  • Stockpile gas.  I go for a low-tech tickler system:  tag each five gallon can with a shipping tag showing the date of purchase.  Rotate the cans every four months.  Pour the four month old gas into your car and refill the can.  Put it at the end of your gas can line.  I store my cans in my garden shed – a safe distance from my home.
  • Stockpile propane.   In the Sandy event, propane was unobtainable.  Sold out in the first few hours.  Those of you who think you’re going to have an easier time of it powering your generators on propane rather than gasoline – think again.  Of course, nothing beats a natural gas powered generator tied in to the house gas supply.   But that’s an expensive project beyond the resources of most suburban types.  For most people, gasoline may be the only show in town.
  • Strategically position your generator outside so it cannot be easily carried off in the middle of the night.  In Jersey thugs in pickup trucks were driving around at night snatching and grabbing generators and gas cans left outside.  You can’t watch everything 24/7 – and Sandy brought out the worst in some people.
  • Keep an extra extension cord to run to your neighbors’ house.   Maybe they have a sick relative or a baby.  Be mindful that your suffering should not reduce your humanity.  Share food and help.  In a catastrophe we’re all in the same boat.  Some may have a better seat – but we’re all at the mercy of God’s tide.
  • Keep faith that the worst will pass.  Pray and offer your struggle up to The Almighty.   If we don’t act like animals, we won’t become animals.

I tried to be prepared – but failed somewhat.  I consider it all a dry run for what is to follow.  I’m convinced that bigger storms and more difficulties of all types are coming.   Build on your knowledge.  Share your experience.  Fine-tune your plans and get involved in your community.  Raise the awareness and practical issues that have to be raised.  We can survive this – but we can’t do it alone.

 

Tom Haluszczak Jr.

Vlchek1 [at] gmail [dot] com

This article first appeared on Ed That Matters.

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7 comments to Big Storm, Dry Run – Reflections on Sandy from a Jersey Boy

  • B Salazar

    As an electrician, I want to caution you against a male to male cord and connecting to your genny before you start it. You should ALWAYS connect your male to male cord to your load side first, start your genny and bring it to running speed before you connect it to power. The surge will FRY computer components inside your heater. ( I did this with a camper and a portable generator.) $100 for a new board. NEVER Connect the Generator first as the prongs on the other side could make contact with anything and shock or spark and create a fire

  • Tom Haluszczak Jr

    Good advice. In the interests of brevity I neglected to mention that at the junction point of the two male lengths of extension cords I wired another gang-box and a regular Leviton wall-type on-off switch (breaking the “black” leg). I recall connecting one male extension length to the wall plug that I positioned on a beam next to the furnace – and then connecting the other male extension end to the generator as it was running. I then flipped the switch. I assume this kept me from frying the board of the furnace control because it’s running fine ever since the power has come back on. Thanks for explaining the science behind it all. I was cold and disgusted at the time I cut into the furnace wire. I was flying without a net – or substantive electrical training. You’re right, though – expert advice is key. Electrical work ain’t for amateurs. Tom H.

  • nan

    Very nice piece. My favorite line is, “Be mindful that your suffering should not reduce your humanity.” I also love the,”In a catastrophe we’re all in the same boat. Some may have a better seat – but we’re all at the mercy of God’s tide.” I understand defending against those who go out of their way NOT to prepare but I guess I have that thought in the back of my mind of the 5 loaves feeding the thousands. Thank you for the good ideas.

  • Tom Haluszczak Jr

    Nan – yours are some of the kindest comments I’ve ever received about my writing. I’ve always believed that when you share something the piece you have left goes alot further than you ever expected. Thank you.

  • Ditch Doctor

    Tom: I read survival articles everyday and I can say this article was a very good read.
    I have a generator but never thought of chaining it down. I also plan on calling a electrician now and adding an outlet to my furnance.
    Since I have a fireplace, I was more concerned about the refrigerator and sump pump.
    As far as pray, that would be on top on my list….
    Thank you and God bless.

  • Tom Haluszczak Jr

    Ditch Doctor: If you are having an electrician install the outlet to your furnace, you might want to have him run an on/off switch to it so you can protect against what B. Salazar cautions above. He gave us some priceless advice here -a furnace motherboard is expensive and something you don’t want to fry in an emergency situation. If that happens, the chances of getting an electrician to repair the furnace circuit when you need it most is slim. Keep power to the outlet on “off” until your generator is running and good 110 power is streaming through the cord. Then flip the switch to the furnace outlet. Of course, don’t forget to kill the breaker to the furnace on your main panel before you do any of the above. When get hold of the electrician, pick his brain. Maybe he has an idea about the project that you may like better. Information is key. Get as much as you can. Thanks for your kind words. Peace. Tom

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