Category: Resources

Your Home Inventory — Missing in Action?

In disaster, no household inventory means confusion and potential loss
“I don’t even know how to get started . . .”

I am an avid list maker. I’ve been known in certain circles as “The Queen of Lists.” (It’s a toss-up as to whether that title is meant to be admiring or annoyed.) Still, with all the hundreds or even thousands of lists I’ve created and operated with, one has been missing: a detailed home inventory.

Yes, we have some partial lists. (Joe loves building databases.) But covering EVERYTHING? Nope.

We’re going to need the inventory sooner or later.

Just like some other aspects of emergency preparedness, this one gets overlooked by a lot of people. Yet in any disaster, we’re going to need that home inventory! 

  • House burns down to the ground, Can we PROVE to the insurance company what we lost?
  • Storm damages our home and garage. Insurance company low-balls the cost of repairs. A claims adjustor wants 15% to help. Will we get what we need in order to recover?
  • Family member passes away. One of us is named executor. The job of executor (slightly different in every state, unfortunately) is to inventory all the assets before the will can be probated. If I have to do it, or my kids have to do it, how long will that take? Who is meant to get what? Whose feelings are going to get hurt along the way?!

Yes, building a detailed inventory can be daunting!

If you start making lists of your belongings when you’re in your teens, it might be easy just to keep adding to them. But most of us don’t. And all of us keep adding stuff! Just swivel around in your chair right now. Take a look at everything around you – it’s likely to add up to dozens or even hundreds of individual items!

But that’s just how to start – by listing everything in your home, room by room.  

The actual process may take time, but it needn’t be complicated.

Start with pen and paper.

You can find many useful and free LISTS on line that will help you get started with paper and pen. (Search for “home inventory list templates.”) In fact, your own property insurance company may have templates you can request or download. But take the time to research. Get a template that’s not too simple, not too complicated, just right for your use.

Here’s an example of home inventory lists from New York Central Insurance. It consists of 18 pages of lists, room by room. The first page also has ideas on how to store your lists so they will be available when you need them. As you will see, this template also has a place for the name of the manufacturer, serial number, date purchased and purchase price.

Other templates may give you a place to show whether you have the actual purchase receipt, plus what it would cost to replace in today’s dollars. One thing I didn’t see on any of the simple lists: “Who is to inherit this.”

Lots of detail already! But if you’re like Joe, you want even more info on each item So you’ll probably consider expanding your list into a database of some sort. That way you can add everything!

You’ll quickly see the value of photos as part of your home inventory.

As soon as you begin making your list, particularly when you start listing one-of-a-kind items, you’ll realize you need to add photos. For collectibles, you’ll want to add the name of the artist or creator, appraised or estimated sales value (as part of a collection or alone), etc.  (For these specialty items, you may also discover that you’ll need to add a rider to your homeowner’s policy. Most policies have a limit for jewelry, art, etc.)

And don’t overlook important financial and personal documents! Best and easiest way to store them is as photos, too.

Once again, start simply. Use your camera to take a video of each room, all four walls and ceiling. This is a great start to establish what you actually own. Then, you can video or take individual photos of specific items to match them to your paper or digital inventory list.

Research tools for collectibles: I inherited a brass Chinese tea caddy from my grandfather. How to find out more about it, and what it is worth? First, I headed to Google Images to look at similar items for sale, mostly on Etsy but some via galleries. Recently I discovered that my new iPhone has Google Lens – an app. You take a photo and then Google looks across the whole universe for similar items for you! Possibly an exaggeration. But it’s using artificial intelligence – and is impressive!

Surely there are programs to help make building the home inventory simpler!

Yes, there are. In fact, search for “Home Inventory Programs” and you can find dozens of them. Prices range. (I noticed in my own search that many of the programs were created a dozen or more years ago. Many don’t seem to have been updated since. Read the fine print.) There are well-known brands represented along with specialty products for particular uses.

Look for these feature as you shop:.

  • FREE software to download. Check to see how much info you can enter (usually limited). Check how your information can be accessed and/or printed out. You may be able to buy “additional features” for separate small fees.
  • FREE software to download, followed by pay per month or per year. Note that in some of these cases you are paying because the owner of the software is keeping your data on their server.
  • One-time program purchase. Again, look carefully at what information you are able to record and how you can retrieve it. For example, can you download a pdf? A comma delimited file (or comma separated file) for a spreadsheet? Where does the inventory information reside: on your own computer, on another website, or in the cloud? Will the software be updated?
  • All-in-one programs do their best to combine everything you’d want, starting with automatic insertion of new items into the database where they belong. They’ll offer regular updates, search and sort capabilities, cloud storage, robust security and training videos. If you are serious, take a look at It offers a free trial. (I got owner Carol Kaufman to guide me through — and I was impressed! Used my iPhone to take a photo of a shelf of my own books. Within just a second everything appeared right on my PC’s “Home Office” inventory page!) The folks at Pinventory may also be able to give you personalized help if you need it.

How and where to store your home inventory.

As you have realized by now, anything you store IN YOUR HOME may be lost in the disaster. You’ll want to store hard copies in a safe or a safe deposit box. Store digital copies on your phone, computer, an external drive off-site, and in the cloud. Make a plan for regular updates.

However “prepared” you consider yourself, if you haven’t done a household inventory you are leaving yourself open for financial loss and emotional trauma. Putting it off only makes it worse!

Hope you can get started today!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Any horror stories about losing time and money because no inventory could be found? Any good news stories because an inventory was available? Please share!

Time for an Emergency Radio Clean-up


You’ve seen our miscellaneous collection of emergency radios. We add to it from time to time, mostly when we see a new model that we just have to have!  But easy as it is to get a new radio (and you can never have too many), it’s harder to schedule in time for an emergency radio clean-up!

That time came last month. I was busy dusting and straightening (Guests were expected.) and came to our “radio shelf.” As I picked up one of our older radios I let out a yell — “Oh, YUCK!” 

The radio, one of my favorites, was all sticky!

I grabbed the next one. Same problem! Sticky, slimy, yukky!

So in true survivor fashion I went online for rescue. Here’s what I came up with – and what we did to solve the problem.

First question: Why the stickiness?

Apparently the vulcanized rubberized coating that is so popular on all kinds of gear – like radios, hand-held walkie-talkies, cameras, etc. – simply breaks down with age. That deterioration translates to a sticky, even slimy surface. (One comment I read suggested that manufacturers know this fact about deterioration. They just assume we will go through these devices so fast that we’ll never get to the slicky stage!)

The only solution to the problem? Clean the surface to remove the top sticky layer. Be aware that over time, as long as there is rubber left, the surface will get sticky again.

So then the second question: How do I get rid of that sticky layer?

Seems as though there are several ways to approach the problem. I tracked down stories about using common household cleaning products like Windex, Magic Eraser, Rubbing Alcohol, and Baking Soda.

We tried two of these methods as part of our emergency radio clean-up.

Test #1 – Clean radio using paste of baking soda and water

Below you can see the Voyager radio ready for its cleaning. Toothbrush, baking soda paste in brown dish.

emergency radio with baking soda paste ready to be applied

I used a tooth brush to slather on the paste and get it into all the cracks and crevices.

Actually, I was a bit too generous with the paste, shown in left photo below! It got into the speaker holes. You can see me prying out the residue with a toothpick.

emergency radio covered with baking soda paste, then being cleaned off

Result of baking soda paste?  Satisfactory. After dusting and wiping it off, the worst of the stickiness is gone. I am happy to pick up that radio again.

Test #2 – Clean radio using rubbing alcohol.

This was Joe’s test. He is much more precise than I am. He used a rag and a sponge with alcohol, rubbed and rubbed and rubbed. He even scraped some of the rubber off using one of his dental picks. (Why he has dental picks is another story, related not to dentistry but to his N-Scale railroad collection!)

emergency radio showing slick and sticky surface

The photo above shows not just the stickiness but the slimyness. See my fingerprints there?!

Clean emergency radio with rubbing alcohol

Result of rubbing alcohol for the emergency radio clean-up? Better than baking soda. But still, some residual stickiness. (We could work on it more, I guess.)

Test #3 – Avoid the problem altogether.

The best solution seems to be to find devices that have no rubber on them at all! Among our own radios, the surface of our Grundig (gold radio shown below) remains in perfect condition. (This radio is at least 12 years old, and has actually been discontinued by the manufacturer.) A couple of our other radios are fine, too, including our Bell & Howell Shortwave radio and our Kaito 5-way powered radio. (Not shown here. Click on the link to see current colors, prices, etc.)

Grundig emergency radio

But wait, there’s more to this emergency radio clean-up story.

Naturally, when you pick up a radio you may notice the slimyness but you still have to check to see if the radio actually works.

Well, the champion Grundig non-sticky radio looked and felt great, but when we opened it up . . .

Corroded batteries inside emergency radio
“What’s that white stuff?????”

Look closely, please. You may recognize a little bit of chemical leaking out of those batteries. Shameful for us professionals!

So, it was back to the baking soda for a thorough inside cleaning. (Joe has that down to a science.)

Moral of this story – schedule a radio clean-up.

Maybe you can add it to the twice a year time change, right along with checking your smoke alarms. Since November 7 is “Fall Back” day for 2021, that would be perfect as your first scheduled clean-up!

So let us know how it goes. If you have found better ways to clean up the stickiness from the rubber, let us know about that, too.

In any case, do check your radios and make sure they are in working order. You may need them at any moment!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. We have updated our list of recommended radios to include some of the smaller ones. If you haven’t checked it lately, take another look at Best Emergency Radios.

Buy Batteries On Sale


Is getting batteries “on sale” a good idea?


Check out this article before you buy! Price isn’t the only factor. In the world of batteries, it seems you get what you pay for, and you’d better know in advance just what you need.

Some Background on Batteries (Skim if you already know all this!)

How batteries work

Batteries use a chemical reaction to do work. Alkaline batteries, the AA, C and D batteries we all know, typically depend on zinc interacting with manganese (through an alkaline electrolyte solution) to produce electricity.

Other batteries use different chemistries to achieve a higher “energy density” so they will last longer and perform better. Some of them: nickelcadmium (NiCd), nickelzinc (NiZn), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium (Li-ion),

In a regular alkaline battery, the reaction ultimately consumes the chemicals (leaving behind hydrogen gas as a “waste” product) and the battery dies.

When to recharge

While an alkaline battery can be recharged, the process is inefficient and dangerous because of the hydrogen gas buildup. Recharging non-rechargeable batteries can result in a leak or even an explosion.

Rechargeable batteries are designed differently. First, they use specific chemicals (most popular seems to be Lithium Ion, which is being used in Tesla batteries) that can undergo a “reverse chemical reaction” easily and efficiently. They contain a catalyst to keep hydrogen gas from forming. They have vents to prevent pressure from building up during recharging.

As you might expect, rechargeable batteries are more expensive because you have to buy that extra “charger.” However, studies suggest that you will save money over time using rechargeables, but they need electricity to work, so IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION you will probably want to have regular disposable batteries on hand, too.

Getting the most out of batteries

No matter where they are stored, all batteries will ultimately die. Eventually, the steel casing will corrode and rust and leak. (Heat like we’ve had over the past several weeks can speed up the deterioration!)

Still, there are things you can do to preserve the life of your device batteries.

  • Don’t attempt to recharge non-rechargeable batteries.
  • Remove batteries from a device that you won’t be using for a while.
  • Replace all the batteries in a device at the same time. (Clean the contacts with a cloth before you install the new batteries).
  • Don’t mix different kinds of batteries in the same device. Use the same manufacturer, same type, same manufacture date.
  • Store batteries in a cool, dry place. (Your car, in the summer heat, is not so good for preserving the life of whatever battery-operated device you store in there.)
  • Don’t mix loose batteries with metal objects – like in your pocket with change. They can short-circuit and burn or explode!

Oh, and that story about storing batteries in the refrigerator? Keep batteries cool, but there’s no need to refrigerate modern batteries.

My phone’s my most important survival tool! What’s the best solution for it?

The battery already in your phone or computer may have to be replaced as some point. If so, you’ll probably have to get whatever the manufacturer requires.

But, you’ll be recharging that device many times before you have to get a new battery! In an emergency, of course, electrical power for recharging may be out or you may be nowhere near a wall socket. One back-up option is a device that holds an extra charge, just ready for you to plug in to when you need it.

So let’s look at portable chargers or Power Banks.

Power Bank with Flashlight
My Power Bank has a flashlight, too.

If your goal is to extend the life of your electronic devices, consider a Power Bank,  otherwise known as a “mobile power supply,” mobile battery, external battery, spare battery, charging stick, or portable charger. These devices can keep you operating for days at a time!

If your time is worth anything, a power bank will be an inexpensive boost to your productivity and, in an emergency, to your peace of mind.

Power Banks are sized from something similar to a small flashlight to a device that resembles a small external storage drive. They all fit in a palm, pocket or purse, but may be a bit heavy to carry around all day. (Check the weight.)

As you compare them, look for:

  • Capacity (measured in mAh, or milliampere hours). The higher the mAh, the more stored power.

    IS THE POWER BANK BIG ENOUGH TO DO THE JOB?  Some negative reviews come from people who expect a small battery to recharge a much larger device. Doesn’t work!

    You want enough juice to reload your phone or tablet completely, at least once and preferably more often than that! For example, one power bank model declares its 15,000 mAh are able to charge an iPhone 6 more than 5 times. To know how much capacity you need, get the specs on your device from the box it came in, or search online for “technical specs.”
  • Output (measured in V, or volts). Generally, you want the power bank output to be the same as the input to your device. For example, your phone and Bluetooth headset probably each have 5V input.
  • How many ports? Some of the chargers can “feed” as many as 4 devices at the same time. (You’ll need the right cord for each device.)
  • What security against short circuits, over-charging or over heating?

The chart below will gives you a quick idea of features, options and prices. These models range from $20 – well over $100. Click on the image to go directly to more details on Amazon.


10,000 mAh. Two different charging speeds. Slim and lightweight.

20,000 mAh. Charge multiple devices at once.

About the size of a small book. LED lights show status. Charge laptop 2 1/2 times, phone 11+ times.

What are the best batteries for our other emergency devices?

Disposable batteries

Understanding all that basic information listed above, we have tested disposable batteriesEnergizer, Duracell and Kirkland (Costco brand) — multiple times for our emergency radios. These radios are used once a month for our Emergency Response Team drill, and then very lightly, so we don’t go through the batteries quickly at all. We do automatically replace them regularly (usually twice a year at the time change.)

Re results of our testing? There doesn’t seem to be too much difference in manufacturers, although our current favorite is the Duracell Coppertop with Duralock.   You can get what you need at your local hardware or big box store, or add them to an Amazon order. Some packages have both AA and AAA sizes in one.

Rechargeable batteries

For multi-use devices, like our emergency radios, we prefer rechargeable batteries. We’ve found that rechargeables are often specified BY NAME by the manufacturer of the product. If specified, use ‘em. Other raters for rechargeables have consistently come up with Eneloop NiMH. These are made by Panasonic, and come in AAA and AA sizes.

Panasonic says these can be recharged 2,100 times!  For that reason alone I would try them!

Solar chargers

Finally, don’t overlook the small solar devices designed to recharge your phone and/or other devices. Some emergency radios have small solar panels, and can recharge a phone.

There are also small, handy solar panels you can attach to your backpack and recharge while you go! They cost somewhere between $20 and $40. Here’s an example – click on the picture to get full details.

Whew, this is a lot of info, but given the fact that we all seem to invest in batteries on a consistent basis, it’s worth it to get the right battery for the job. Oh, and buying on sale? A good idea if you know what you’re buying.

But buying just on price alone makes no sense.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you’re part of a Neighborhood Emergency Response group, you’ll need a budget for batteries for your walkie-talkies. Here’s an article with some ideas about financing your group’s efforts.

The Best Generator for Emergencies

Emergency generator
What should I be looking for???

More on electricity?

Emphatically, Yes!  Why do we dwell so much on electrical power? It’s simple.  We depend so much on electricity for just about everything we do that it becomes a major concern in an emergency. And the news about power outages is ominous. But is a generator the solution? If so, what’s the best generator for emergencies? Let’s take a closer look.

First question: what’s your neighborhood like?  

If you live in a single family home with a lot of space around it, having a generator may make sense for emergency power. If you live in a multi-family unit (an apartment, for example, or in a mobile home park), it’s unlikely that a generator will work for you.

Why not?  Mostly, it has to do with logistics.

Second question: What different kinds of generators are there to choose from?

A home stand-by generator is about as big as a stove, and weighs twice as much.  It will be permanently installed outside, probably on its own pad. It’s hooked up to a permanent source of fuel (probably natural gas) and switches on automatically when power goes off. Depending on the size of your home, you are looking at at least a 10,000 Watt generator, and more likely 20,000 to run nearly every appliance and system. These are big, heavy (like 600 lbs.), and are relatively noisy. (Like your A/C.) As you can imagine, a whole-house stand-by generator is also a big investment – typically in the thousands of dollars.

Even the more efficient portable emergency generators for sale today — meant to power a few essential appliances — are about as big as a filing cabinet, and weigh close to 100 pounds. You plug your appliances or equipment into the portable generator using extension cords. Most run on gasoline; some are dual-fuel, which adds a propane option. Costs range from around $500 (which would be a real bargain) to as much as $2,500. Portable models are just as loud as the stand-by generators, too — so you’ll be bothering the neighbors if they are at all close to you! Even if you could stand the noise, you can’t run these inside the building due to emissions and perhaps fire danger.  Every year, people die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they run a generator in the garage!

A third type of emergency power supply is the inverter-generator. If your major concern is keeping your computers and telephones running, you’ll want an inverter style in order to be sure the power going into your devices is “clean.” Inverter-generators are generally smaller in size, weigh less, and are a lot quieter. This makes them a favorite for week-end camping and tail-gating! Prices for inverter-generators start at below $400 and go up.

Still interested? Here are a few other issues to consider.

Can you handle the weight?

First off, how much does the generator weigh? As mentioned, even the “small” generators are heavy, often over 100 pounds. (That’s why most portable generators come with wheels.) This is one hefty piece of machinery to move around. Can other family members move it without your help?  Can you move it even with everyone helping?

How much fuel can you store, and where?

The real issue here is how long will you be without power and how much gasoline or propane can you store safely? Even the most efficient portable generators, run at 25 or 50%, will empty their gas tank in a day or two. To refill the tank during an extended outage you’ll need to be able to safely (and, we hope legally) store several gas cans or propane tanks.

What size generator do you really need?

By now, you should have realized that there’s a great variety in generators — in size, weight and price. One thing we haven’t mentioned yet — and maybe should have started off with — is the amount of power you require.

Generators’ capacity is measured in Watts. Look at the appliances you want to run and pull the wattage requirement from the labels. Note: appliances or tools with a motor take about TWICE as much power to get started up (surge capacity) as they do to keep running (continuous capacity)! That’s why you’ll see generators advertised with two different wattages.

For example, I recently checked on our house, taking a look at keeping just the refrigerator and freezer and some lights going in an emergency. We need about 2,400 Watts to get everything started — but less than 1,000 to keep everything running! So I was searching in the 2500-2000 Watt range.

The only way you can figure out what size you need is to add up all the appliances/equipment you intend to run. Here’s a wattage chart to get you started. As you’re making your list, consider how many appliances you’ll need to plug in at the same time. (Judicious scheduling can give you better efficiency.) And note what sort of plug each appliance requires. Every generator will have a variety of plugs but it’s limited.

How much generator can you afford?

A stand-by generator will be a custom install, so I can’t anticipate what it might cost. As mentioned above, it will be in the thousands of dollars.

The cost for the dual-fuel generator shown below is around $600. Other similar units won’t cost much less but may cost as much as $2,000, depending on where you live. (We’re having a hot summer here in California, and are anticipating power outages, so prices are higher than usual.)

Prices for the inverter-generator start low, but also go up sharply. It all depends on how much power you need.

Finally, don’t overlook the fact that different states have different emission requirements – notably California. This can also change the prices.

As you consider price, compare to what you might lose if you don’t have a generator. A freezer full of food? Days worth of work?

What to look for in the advertising?

Good advertising is helpful. Look for the wattage output, size of the gas tank, noise in decibels, and safety features like overload and oil sensors, CO sensors, and surge protectors.

Example of a dual-fuel portable generator

This generator could easily serve to get you through a temporary power outage. I’d certainly consider this one for myself.

It’s one of the mid-size models from Champion. If you click the image or link and head to Amazon, you’ll find smaller and larger versions on that same page. Read everything, including reviews, and compare! It’s worth learning all you can before making a buying decision!

Champion Power Equipment 76533 4750/3800-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Generator with Electric Start

Example of an inverter-generator

In our household we spend hours everyday at our computers, and we have an office full of printers, lights, fans, etc. For us, a power outage is above all a business disaster! So we’ve also been looking at generators that will provide high-quality power for devices. The model below looks as though it would fit our needs well. And I could lug it around!

WEN 56203i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator w/Fuel Shut Off, CARB Compliant, Ultra Lightweight

The real solution to whether you need a generator for emergencies will be a personal one.

You final decision will require some advance planning. You’ll need to figure out what size you need (based on what appliances or equipment you want to run, and how often), where you’ll store the generator and fuel when you don’t need it, and how you’ll start, refill, and maintain the machine. The best generator for you might be very different from mine.

Full disclosure, we haven’t yet made our final decision!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Please share your personal experiences with home generators! We need more information to make a decision about the best generators for emergencies.


Overlooked Threats to the Neighborhood

Pig pee and poop. Where does it end up???

When we wrote our “Neighborhood Disaster Survival Series,” Part Three  was aimed at building a more capable neighborhood. After all, our neighbors are our true First Responders. They are right there next door or down the street when calamity hits. They know our neighborhood. And we trust that, like good neighbors everywhere, they will be the first to help in an emergency. It follows then, that . . .

The more the neighbors know about threats to the neighborhood, the safer we all will be!

That’s why, after covering personal preparedness and training in Parts One and Two in the series, Part Three of each book provides a step-by-step plan to strengthening the neighborhood. One of those steps is doing a more thorough job of identifying THREATS to your particular neighborhood.

As you might expect, we include a long list to choose from. (59 different threats, to be exact. Even though our list was first compiled in 2018, I’m happy to say it included “Pandemic.” Who would have guessed . . .?!)

Now in the past I’ve done research and written an Advisory on the dangers posed by dams. If you know you have a dam nearby, I urge you to review that Advisory. And follow up with some of its recommendations. Why? Dam safety gets a “D” rating from by the American Society of Engineers. That’s why dams are high on the list of infrastructure improvements for legislation being considered right now. But along with dams,

My attention has recently been drawn to another, water-related threat.

While maybe not so dramatic, it’s equally scary. Take another look at the pig in the image above. Note that puddle he’s lying in. It could well end up in a so-called “hog waste lagoon.” (I find this expression offensive, actually. Trying to make something distasteful and dangerous sound benign . . .) Open air ponds and lagoons, typically built with earthen walls and sometimes lined with clay or plastic fabric liners, store water and all sorts of liquid products. Their level rises with rain, goes down thru evaporation.

If ponds and lagoons leak or overtop, dangerous and toxic waste can flow into neighborhoods and contaminate local water supplies.

Here’s the current news story that prompted today’s Advisory. It’s taking place today in Piney Point, Florida. There, an industrial waste pond, pretty much abandoned since its original builder went bankrupt 20 years ago, has started leaking.

Governor DeSantis has declared an emergency. People have been evacuated for fear that a full-fledged collapse could lead to a wall of “mildly radioactive” liquid pouring through their community. Special teams have begun siphoning millions of gallons of water off the top of the pond, and diving into it to inspect the pond liner. Thermal imaging is being used to ascertain the rate of flow of the leak. Authorities are issuing daily reports.

This NPR report has all the details,

This year I discovered threats I had known nothing about!

Just a year ago our town put finishing touches on a new Emergency Plan. Now, we only have a couple of visible dams anywhere nearby, and no animal farms. So when I got a copy of the plan I was amazed to find that we are surrounded by eight dams and reservoirs!

The plan makes it clear that if any of the larger dams were to fail, releasing their maximum capacity of water, millions of dollars of infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of people would be impacted. As you might expect, more vulnerable households would be disproportionately affected.

What about your town and your neighborhood? What threats have you overlooked?

Do you actually know what kinds of reservoirs or other water storage might be tucked into the hills or lying overlooked in agricultural fields or industrial areas? Does your water utility have ponds? What kind?

Time to add a water storage threat assessment to your neighborhood plan!

Here are some ways to do that assessment.

  1. Find out if your city/town has an Emergency Plan that includes a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. (That’s the chapter where I found out about those eight dams in our town.) It will probably list flood zones, dams, etc.
  2. Then, contact your local water utility to find out about their water treatment system. They may have “waste stabilization ponds” – typically open basins that hold run-off and domestic wastewater. Each basin uses specific techniques to treat water, like sunlight, temperature, plants, oxygen and bacterial action.  Your water utility may also manage reservoirs for drinking or recycled water. If you can, schedule a tour for your neighborhood group!
  3. You can also search for local dams and reservoirs on the following list, maintained by Wikipedia. (I found several of our local dams there!)
  4. Certainly, if you find local dams that would be high-hazard dams, see if they are following FEMA requirements for an “Emergency Action Plan.” (Only about 80% have one on file.) You can get more info about what should be in that EAP here.
  5. Finally, if you feel you really need a better understanding of dams, reservoirs and other artificially-maintained bodies of water, it turns out that just this month FEMA has added three new courses on Erosion and Seepage.  

It seems strange to be writing this Advisory on floods and liquid seepage just as we head into the driest months of the year. But most everything we’ve talked about today may have been built 60 or 80 years ago – or longer ago than that. And things wear out.

Be sure you and your neighbors are thinking creatively about some of the hazards currently all around you, not just the storms or hurricanes that might be on their way.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Let me know what your investigation reveals. And if you don’t have your copy of the Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guide for YOUR neighborhood, here’s where you can pick the one that fits best.

Update on Self-Defense Products

Scary Parking Lot

I wrote my first Advisory about self-defense products about 5 years ago. Since then, I’ve added a couple more and then, last year, I turned an update on self-defense products into a whole booklet in the Emergency Preparedness Q&A Mini-Series!

The Advisories and that booklet have generated a number of comments. The topic continues to be one of our most popular. Still, no matter how attractive as a subject for reading, buying and actually using self-defense products isn’t for everyone!

At the same time, personal safety continues to be a concern, today more than ever.

So we keep up with the news and reviews about all aspects of self-protection, including Second Amendment controversies. I’m not ready to jump into recommending firearms yet, but I certainly can suggest some non-lethal alternatives that may serve ALL our readers.

Stun Guns vs. Tasers – They are NOT the same.

The confusion about these two items continues in the public, at least. Even on Amazon, there is no distinction!

Here are three differences you need to know:

1 – Different technology

While both these devices operate using a charge of electricity, the stun gun generates a shock when the probes on the gun itself are pressed against someone. Stun guns are available starting at around $20. On the other hand, the taser shoots a projectile that creates the shock when the projectile hits someone. Tasers start at around $300 and quickly go up in price from there.

2 – Different uses

Obviously, given the technology, the stun gun is an up-close weapon useful when you are being physically attacked. The taser can be put to use from a distance – typically from 10 – 25 ft, away.

3 – Different regulations

Stun guns seem to be legal in most states. Tasers may not be legal without a weapon carry permit and the training that goes with it. It all depends on the state – or even the county – you live in.

Here is a place you can begin research about your own state: (Updated as of 2020)

No guarantees! Check with official agencies in your OWN town to be sure you know the rules. And if you’re looking for more about the advantages of stun guns vs. tasers, check out this Advisory. The Advisory shows several sample products, too.

Warning about these NON-LETHAL devices.

The taser really isn’t non-lethal. It has been reported as causing the deaths of hundreds – now over 1,000 – of people in law-enforcement related incidents. Only some of these deaths seem to have been accidental.

My recommendation – Unless you are willing to come up with the cost for a taser, get the appropriate training and licenses and run the risk of a tragic accident that could get you mired in the legal system – I’d stay away from a taser.

Stun gun vs. Pepper Spray

The disadvantage I see to a stun gun is that your attacker has to actually be within arm’s reach for you to use the device. Of course, its colorful “Zap” may have some deterrent effect, but that’s it.

When it comes to stopping an attacker before he gets too close, I’d prefer pepper spray.

A hand-held canister of pepper spray can shoot a spray or cloud at least 8-10 feet, and probably more.

The important questions to ask about pepper spray:

Size of canister – Does the spray canister fit easily and comfortably in your hand so you can grab and use it? Sizes range from lipstick-tube-size to much larger cans. The 2-oz. size offers enough liquid that you can test a couple of times without emptying the canister.

Safety features – If you hang your canister on your key chain or onto the outside of your purse, or carry it IN your purse, what keeps it from accidentally going off? Flip top? Twist top? Can the safety features be operated WITH ONE HAND?

Life of product – Pepper spray won’t last forever, although it should last at least a couple of years. Check the expiration date on the packaging, and test to see that the spray is working every 6 months or so. You don’t want to need it and discover that nothing happens when you press the button!

Product quality – There are a number of manufacturers of pepper spray, and while I am usually happy to get “the best deal” on anything I buy, in this case the cheapest is not likely to give me what I am looking for.

My research has led me to one particular manufacturer of pepper spray – Fox Labs.

Reviews from law enforcement users as well as “regular” people are compelling. This product seems to work when other products, similarly priced and highly promoted, do not.

Here’s what the 2 oz. canister looks like. It should provide 18 or so ½ second bursts, so you can practice a couple of times. Its range is advertised as 17-20 feet.

Click on the image to get the latest pricing at Amazon. (It was just over $20 when I last looked.)

Fox Labs 22FTM Mark 3 2Oz. 2%,Fliptop Fog

There is also a 4 oz. canister that may shoot even farther and has double the number of bursts, but that size is not legal to be shipped in California, so may not be legal where you live, either. Again, check local regulations!

Note that this product must be shipped via ground, so it may not arrive immediately.

Important Update! Thanks to a prompt from one of our readers (See his comment below!), I’m compelled to add another couple of items to this Advisory! They are both variations on the pepper spray theme.

There are now pepper sprays in GEL format and in FOAM format! They have the same basic capsaicin ingredient and serve the same purpose of self-defense. But neither is as likely as spray to blow back onto you in a confined space! Moreover, pepper gel goes a good 6 feet farther than either spray or foam, so you can use it from a safer distance. The gel doesn’t spread out as much though, so you may have to be better at aiming.

Click on the link below to get to a sample of gel made by SABRE. I own the SABRE spray and find it fits my hand well, and it looks as though the gel is packaged pretty much the same way.

SABRE Pepper Gel with Attachment Clip, 35 Bursts (5X The Competition), 12-Foot (4-Meter) Range, Gel is Safer, UV Marking Dye, Twist Lock Safety

Finally, if you purchase any pepper product, check your canister carefully. Note its expiration date. Then . . .

Practice with self-defense products!

Practice getting it out of your purse, unlocking the cover and shooting. You must be able to do it in the dark and when you are nervous!  Get your moves down, and then refresh your skills from time to time.

If you ever need this, you’ll need it.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Joggers and bike riders say this spray works great on threatening dogs, too.

P.P.S. I mentioned that we’ve written other articles about protecting yourself from danger. If you are serious about buying for the first time, please get a copy of our 2020 mini-book, Personal Safety. Its 50 pages of common questions and answers will give you an update on self-defense and self-defense products plus a discussion of the necessary state of mind required to use force or weapons.

Make your business stand out in your community!


Now, I’m always on the lookout for ideas and activities that help spread the word about emergency preparedness. Since you’re here, I assume that fits you, too. If you’re in business,

Here’s a way to use emergency preparedness to make your business stand out from the crowd!

It’s a simple idea. Just copy what one of my friends does so well!

Jacque is a longtime and very successful real estate sales professional. She’s also a CERT graduate. Now, while I don’t buy a house every year (!), Jacque and I do enjoy meeting up at various trainings, city meetings, etc.

Like many business owners, every year she delivers a holiday gift to clients and friends.

Of course, corporate gifts are common, particularly among professional service providers. I’m sure you’ve received boxes of candy, coffee cups with a company logo, maybe even a fancy bottle of wine in a tote bag. (Most of these gifts are worth less than $25, the magic number as far as IRS deductibility is concerned.)

These promotional items work to retain connections and create goodwill, and that’s why businesses continue to include them in their marketing plans.

What Jacque does that is different, though, is to deliver gifts with an emergency preparedness theme!

A couple of years ago, when our part of the world experienced multiple deliberate power shut-offs because of fire danger, Jacque’s gift was a bright red battery-operated lantern! (Collapsible style)

red emergency lantern

Last year, after we’d been threatened by evacuation, she handed out emergency radios pre-tuned to the city’s AM emergency channel.

small emergency radio

And this year, she announced to me that for 2021 she wants to hand out “two or three of your mini-books” to help people get settled in their new home and feel more confident about what to expect in their new location.

We got together via Zoom and picked three (Shelter in Place, Custom Go-Bags and Power Outage) with two alternates. She placed her order and the books have already arrived! (I am eager to see how she packages them. Her gifts are always so stylish and tasteful!)

mini-series from Emergency Plan Guide

Emergency Preparedness gifts are a win-win promotion.

Of course, as author, I am proud to see my books being shared. And I earn a few pennies for every one sold.

But as a “Preparedness Activist,” I’m even more pleased. Getting people to take action has become our mission here at Emergency Plan Guide. Jacque’s clients and friends are a part of our community. The more prepared they are, the better off we will be, too!

Emergency Preparedness is a marketing message unique in our community. It can be a unique marketing message for your brand, too.

How can YOU take advantage of it to make your business stand out?

Joe and I stand by to join in a discussion of how you might offer tools or planning, discuss, gift or distribute emergency preparedness items to prospects, customers, and employees. There are many, many ways to turn your own expertise and this special interest into value for your business.

If you’d like to talk it over, send an email to get the conversation started!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Some links to items (similar to those) mentioned in the Advisory:

Drones in Emergency Situations

Drone at dawn

By now you know our mantra here at Emergency Plan Guide: “The more we all know, the safer we all will be.” This attitude is convenient for people like me. I enjoy learning more about aspects of emergency preparedness I don’t expect to become an expert in

Today’s Advisory about the use of drones in emergency situations is an example. While we’ve written about drones before, Joe and I don’t own one. But drones appear ever more frequently in First Responder and emergency preparedness circles. When I got the chance to work with an expert, I grabbed at it.

Today’s Advisory is built around the professional roles that drones are playing today. It’s written by Anthony Jamison, head of the Outreach Department of Drone Services Phoenix. The company provides aerial photography and videography for commercial projects (real estate, construction, etc.. (If you’re interested in learning more about drone services as a career, check out their website! Lots of good info there.)

So here’s what Anthony pulled together. I emphasized a few sentences in bold that I thought were particularly important.

How Drones Are Being Used To Assist In Emergency Situations

Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have come a long way from their beginnings as a purely military tool. While they remain an indispensable part of countless military operations to this very day, their ever-increasing commercial availability has ushered in a new era of widespread use among everyday people.

Today, UAVs are a potent business tool, with many companies and entrepreneurs leveraging aerial drone photography to further their business goals.

Drones are also proving to be quite handy during emergencies. Let’s take a closer look at how people are using drones for disaster relief and other emergency situations.

Water Rescue

A drone operated by lifeguards saved the lives of two people who were at risk of drowning after getting caught in heavy surf in Australia.

It took only two minutes to complete the rescue. The drone flew half a mile above the struggling swimmers and dropped a flotation device, which helped the swimmers back to shore.

It’s the first time that a drone was used to achieve such a feat. It likely won’t be the last. After all, drones can get much faster to those in trouble in the water than rescuers swimming towards them.

Drones can also be used to scan the surf for sharks and keep beach-goers safe.

Supply Drops

Disasters can render any part of a village, town, or city inaccessible.

With drones, we can now deliver supplies and emergency survival kits to those who need them most without delay. Our increased drone capabilities also mean that we don’t have to risk human lives to make food, water, and medical supply deliveries to victims of a disaster in hard-to-reach spots.


For the longest time, firefighters have been using planes and helicopters to combat wildfires. But flying them through the conditions such conflagrations create can be downright dangerous.

Drones equipped with infrared cameras, however, can fly through thick, black smoke into spots too dangerous for manned aircraft.

Whether they’re carrying buckets and massive tanks filled with water and foam for dumping over large areas or ping-pong ball-sized incendiary devices that deny advancing wildfires of fuel, drones are proving to be quite effective firefighters.

Search and Rescue Operations

Locating people that need rescue and evacuation is a task that drones appear to be built for.

Drones can reach high altitudes, fly into mining shafts, and detect body heat through thermal imaging cameras. They are proving their worth as an indispensable tool for search and rescue operations.

CBRNE Events

Natural disasters are bad enough, but chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive, or CBRNE events are even worse.

Whether the release of hazardous materials was accidental or intentional, like in the case of a terrorist attack, a CBRNE event creates extremely unsafe situations for victims and relief workers alike. However, immediate relief must be provided and the extent of the damage assessed. An aerial drone can help with that and more.

Drones were deployed to inspect the meltdown-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a direct result of a powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. With the help of drones, authorities were able to receive data that allowed them to measure radiation inside the reactor, monitor possible radiation exposure, and repair destroyed areas.

With drones doing the dangerous parts of the job, nuclear fallout exposure for relief workers was kept to a minimum.

COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst crisis to hit humanity since the Second World War.

To date, the coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than two million people worldwide. Its economic impact is also massive, with millions of people losing their livelihood amid business shutdowns and country-wide lockdowns.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has given birth to a larger role for drones.

  • With the pandemic in full swing, drones have become instrumental in contactless food and medical supply deliveries.
  • Drones are seeing use as a disinfectant delivery system, spraying large areas to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
  • In the United States, special drones designed to monitor public spaces and ensure compliance with social distancing protocols are already in use. These UAVs can detect temperatures, heart rates, coughing, and even social distancing.

As drone technology evolves over the years, we can expect to see more developments that will make them even more useful in times of crisis.

What about us non-professionals or hobbyists using drones in emergency situations?

I know that some preppers have considered using drones in non-professional – and maybe even illegal – ways. For example, just today I read an article suggesting that drones could serve to intimidate or distract people approaching your location, or to surveille people or situations that might turn into a threat.

I think these are good uses. The “illegal” part is that these drones would likely be flying low over groups of people, or flying out of the sight of the operator, both of which have not been allowed.

An update on drone regulations has just been announced.

In December, 2020, the Federal Aeronautics Association (FAA) finally passed new rules that have been in the works for a couple of years. They give drones new flexibility to fly at night and over humans and traffic as long as the drone is able to broadcast its identification and location. (Apparently community-based and educational groups will still be able to fly non-remote-ID equipped aircraft in specially designated areas.)

I assume that professional pilots know all the details. (I had trouble finding a source for more than what I’ve written above.) If you are interested in flying a drone as a hobby, be sure to check in with the FAA regarding licensing and flying requirements.  

I’ll close this Advisory with a few more words from Anthony:

As drone technology evolves over the years, we can expect to see more developments that will make them even more useful in times of crisis.

While we may still be a long way off from drones capable of evacuating people from disaster areas, the advances that we are going to see will be just as exciting.

All very thought-provoking, isn’t it?!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Our earlier Advisories about drones – what to look for, limitations, what they cost, what equipment they carry, etc. – have been updated. Check them out:

Personal Safety – Should You Consider a Stun Gun?

personal safety

The news is so frightening these days!

Threatened bombings, actual shootings and beatings, rape. Awful. Disheartening. And, unfortunately, reality. Here at Emergency Plan Guide we try to be as upbeat and level-headed as possible. At the same time, it seems sensible to be aware of personal safety options.

One option, legal in most states, is a stun gun.

You hold the stun gun in your hand. Press it against the body of an attacker, and its “electrical punch” can completely disable and disorient him for seconds or minutes, giving you the chance to get away. In fact, the zapping sound and electric blue flash of a stun gun being set off may discourage the attacker from approaching in the first place.

Here are a couple of examples, available at Amazon where we are Associates. They come in pink and black, and in different “strengths.” (The more the jolt, the more expensive the gun.) Personally, I prefer the pink because it’s a lot easier to find in a purse or the glove compartment. You can click on the images or on the link below to do some “shopping.” Read the “shopping questions” below, though, first!

VIPERTEK VTS-979 – 53 Billion Stun Gun – Rechargeable with Safety Disable Pin LED Flashlight, Black VIPERTEK VTS-880 – 30 Billion Mini Stun Gun – Rechargeable with LED Flashlight, Pink

Is this really something to consider carrying for personal safety?

I asked these questions as I was researching for this post on personal safety.

1. Is a stun gun legal?

Stun guns are treated differently in different cities, different counties and different states! Sometimes you have to go through a registration process to own one.

To give you an idea, one stun gun advertised on Amazon carries this disclosure: “We do not ship to the following locations: Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, District of Columbia, Annapolis, MD, Baltimore, MD, Chicago, IL, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore County, MD, Crawford County, IA.”

If you intend to purchase one, I recommend you check carefully to find out the LATEST rules governing buying and carrying stun guns in your town. If you plan to travel with your stun gun, then check again, because different rules apply there, too. (Mostly, it appears as though a deactivated stun gun can be carried in checked luggage. But don’t take my word for it!)

A good place to start your legal research:

2. Is a stun gun the same as a taser?

Legislation sometimes lumps stun guns together with tasers, and sometimes treats them separately. For our purposes, there is a distinct difference.

  • A taser is a “long-distance” (15-20 ft.) weapon. It shoots out wires that carry the electrical current, and once it’s shot, you can’t quickly reload. Tasers start at around $400 and the “professional” models used by police cost more than $1,000. These tasers are of colored plastic in the shape of a pistol, with a hand grip and trigger, and are worn in a holster.
  • The stun gun, on the other hand, is a close-up self-defense tool. It has to be pressed against the body to create the circuit. You can use it repeatedly as long as its battery is still charged. Stun guns start at just over $10 and there are many available in the $20-40 range. They could be carried in a purse or pocket.

You can see more about tasers and stun guns for personal safety here.

3. How do you charge the stun gun?

Obviously, your stun gun needs to be charged to have any impact. The typical gun comes with rechargeable batteries and a cord that you plug into the wall. You’ll get instructions to charge it fully (10-12 hrs?) when you receive it and then to “top it off” on a monthly basis.

A solar-powered charger suitable for charging your computer or phone would likely work to charge your stun gun, too. Check.

4. Other features to consider?

Stun guns have been incorporated into other personal items. We mentioned the flashlight/stun gun style above. Stun guns have also been incorporated into iphone lookalikes, into actual iphone cases, and into batons and other professional law enforcement tools.

There are many sizes and styles.

Pick the one that suits your own needs and lifestyle.

If I felt threatened, or were heading into an unsavory or dangerous place, I’d have my stun gun in my hand and ready to use. I personally like the “safety disable pin” that comes with the example above. This gun also comes with a wrist strap attached to the pin. (Scroll over all the images to see the wrist strap.) If the stun gun is taken away from you in a struggle, the pin will be pulled out. This stops the stun gun from working so it can’t be turned against you.

In my opinion, the stun gun is closer to being a weapon than other personal safety items we’ve talked about. I’d investigate carefully before deciding to carry one or to give one to a family member.

It might, however, be something that would give you new peace of mind.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Do you already have a stun gun? Have you ever used it? What more information can you share with Emergency Plan Guide readers to help us make our decisions?

Business Owner – Are You Personally Liable?

Business owner Worried about  personal liability for business
Vulnerable to a lawsuit?

This is one of my favorite topics. Or rather, it is one of the topics that I spend time researching. I am worried about busy business owners being held personally liable for not taking steps they should have taken to protect the business.

As we reach the end of 2020, the pandemic is absolutely raging. Cyberattacks threaten our government and a number of major U.S. corporations. The threat of lawsuit is more critical than it’s been in all the dozen years I’ve been maintaining this blog!

And as a business owner, your threat of being sued continues to intensify.

You could be sued by employees or customers who claim they got sick in your establishment. You could be sued by customers or shareholders who claim you didn’t protect confidential data. You’ve heard this saying: “You can be sued by anybody for just about anything.” Well, it seems true.

We are not lawyers. We aren’t saying you will get sued. We can’t keep you from being sued and we can’t help you if you do. Our goal is to raise some of the important preparedness issues that may serve to protect you. For sure, these are issues you need to be aware of.

It all starts with “The Prudent Man rule.”

The concept of “the prudent man” (or more likely today, “the prudent person”) is well established in the world of finance. It says that if an incident occurs, a money manager will be examined to see if he or she made the decisions that “a prudent man in the same position with the same training would make.” Often, those prudent decisions are closely tied to what might be considered “best practices.” If best practices have NOT been followed, then that manager might be held personally liable for negligence.

Today, the prudent man rule is being expanded.

This means your problems may be expanding, too. Three examples with important questions . . .

  1. With cybercrime increasing exponentially, what are considered “best practices” for information, cyber and network security continue to evolve. Are you keeping up with other “prudent people” in your industry as regards information security for your business?
  2. With health policies changing rapidly (even erratically) as a result of the coronavirus, is your business keeping up with regulations from OSHA, your state, county or city? Are you taking and documenting the steps that a prudent person in your similar business situation would take?
  3. Given this year’s economic upheavals, not just from the pandemic but from storms, wild fires and other disasters, have you updated your business continuity plan to include coping with all likely disasters? (Was “pandemic” even included in your previous plan? Have you included it in your updated plan?)

If your answer to any of the questions above is “No,” you could be personally liable if your business gets caught up in a lawsuit!

Unfortunately, keeping up with industry “best practices” isn’t easy. Here at Emergency Plan Guide we regularly attempt to bring readers’ attention to business-related issues, including those associated with cybercrime and even public health policies. Since we’re not specialists in either of these areas, this sort of information is tough to stay on top of. We do what we can.

However, we do feel confident reminding all our readers about building and updating their business contingency plans.

It’s an ongoing effort. Just like individual families, some businesses have an “exit plan” aimed at getting employees out of the building in an emergency. (OSHA requires such a plan if you have more than 50 employees.) But at least half of small businesses have no workable plan for getting back to work following an interruption. Even fewer — only about 30% — have even consulted with an insurance agency about business interruption insurance.

An emergency exit plan may save lives, but, the lack of Business Continuity and/or Disaster Recovery Plan means that there may not be a company to come back to. In that case, everybody loses . . . employees and their families, owners, investors, creditors and customers.

No-cost or low-cost help is readily available.

If you are concerned about being personally liable because your business doesn’t have a reasonable business continuity plan, you can start putting the pieces in place using some or several of these resources.

  • Many cities, in conjunction with FEMA and other local organizations, offer the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training to residents, businesses and employees of businesses to help save lives and property in a disaster. Most classes are free and some actually issue equipment to aid in light search & rescue, triage, etc. (Lots more about CERT here.)
  • The American Red Cross offers classes and online information. Look at
  • The Small Business Administration provides an online guide for drafting a business continuity plan.
  • The Insurance Institute for Home and Business Safety® offers a guide to help small businesses stay open, called OFB-EZ. (“Open For Business – Easy”)
  • Many insurance companies offer documents and assistance in evaluating risk and risk mitigation efforts before helping you purchase any business interruption insurance. Start with a conversation with your own property insurance carrier.

Taking advantage of these services should be the logical first step for the “prudent” business owner. When you’ve done some research, or it you want to get right to creating your plan, consider our book:

Emergency Preparedness for Small Business

Emergency Preparedness for Small Business - Nicols and Krueger

We wrote this book for the busy, DIY business owner who isn’t ready to hand over planning to an outside consultant. The book trusts in-house expertise to build your plan and give employees “ownership.” Joe’s military experience led him to come up with the “file folder” approach that is so easy to delegate!

If you’ve been with us a while, you’ll recognize our straight-forward, step-by-step approach in Emergency Preparedness for Small Business. Plus there’s a companion WORKBOOK that will make it even easier for you to get started on your small business continuity plan. Click the links to go directly to Amazon for full details.

The resources listed here may not cover everything the business needs, but with them you will have made a solid start. Use your own industry experts to fill in any blanks about current “best practices.”

Going back to the Prudent Man rule, it says that a person making decisions for others can’t simply rely on what he or she knows. The Prudent Man will be held accountable for what he SHOULD know.

Don’t get caught on this one!

Joe Krueger and Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

The Magic Space Blanket — Quiz for Today

Mylar space blanket
Looks familiar, right?

I have to assume your recognize the item in the photo. We’ve seen them all over the news in images of marathon runners, immigrant children, and earthquake survivors. These mylar space blankets are lightweight, cheap and versatile, and they are on every list of emergency kit supplies.

But even if you have one or two, do you really know much about them?

Today’s little quiz will give you a better idea of what you’re carrying. And if you don’t have several, why you might want to take advantage of BLACK FRIDAY SPECIALS and pick up one or two dozen!


How big is it? How sturdy? How slippery? How shiny?

As with everything else, space blankets come in different sizes and qualities. The least expensive are often the smallest – maybe only 35 in. wide. Personally, I prefer larger sizes. A standard large size is 55 x 84 in. and there are a few even bigger than that.

How sturdy? The blankets range in thickness from a minimum of 12 microns and then get thicker and thicker depending on how many layers are involved. The basis is just one sheet of stretched-out polyester. These are light and fragile – and are see-through. It’s only when another thin sheet of aluminum is fused to the plastic that you get what we know as space blankets. More than one layer of material can be added. The more layers, the heavier and sturdier.

Slippery actually translates to water repellent, which is good. But these blankets aren’t exactly cozy. Their job is to contain and reflect your own body’s heat. They don’t cling.

Shiny really refers to the reflective nature of the blankets. Some have a silver metallized surface, others gold. By the way, NASA first used thin metallic sheets to deflect heat from the Skylab that was becoming dangerous from temperature rise. That’s where the name “space blanket” came from!


1. HEAT. Wrap up someone who’s exhausted or injured. Turn the space blanket into a sleeping bag of sorts (with the help of duct tape?) to make it through a cold night outdoors. Use as insulation over a window to keep heat in and cold out.

2. COOK. Yes, that’s right! According to one manufacturer, you could fashion a bucket shape out of your mylar blanket and hold it over the fire to heat water. You could put food in there to heat, too. Of course, don’t get the blanket IN the fire, because it will burn up. It’s plastic, remember.

3. COLLECT WATER. Use your blanket to capture rain or melt snow.

4. WATERPROOFING. Line your backpack and your boots with Mylar; wrap it around feet and legs to keep out the damp from snow. Use a space blanket with grommets to build a lean-to to keep off the rain. Use another space blanket as a keep-out-the-damp ground cover.

5. STORE FOOD. Hang food in a mylar package to keep it out of reach of animals. Keep food cold by sinking it in the creek in a carefully sealed mylar bag.

6. SIGNAL FOR HELP. Turn your blanket into a mirror to reflect light. Use torn off pieces to mark your trail.

7 AVOID BEING SEEN. The reflective metallic coating can reduce your infrared signature if that’s what you want. The Taliban has used blankets this way.

If you wanted to do all these, then obviously you’d have to have more than one blanket.


The VERY GOOD NEWS – Space blankets are amazingly inexpensive! Bought in bulk, you can get one for less than a dollar. And the concept of “bulk” starts with about 5 in a package!

I know that this year may be different when it comes to your holiday gift budget. But space blankets are so inexpensive and so useful that you can have several in every vehicle and every Go-Bag.

Here are some variations on the mylar space blanket theme that demonstrate just what we’ve written about above. The images and links will take you to Amazon, where we are Associates. If you buy through these links we may get a small commission — which will help support this website!

Space Blanket Sleeping Bag (with emergency whistle)

I have a number of plain space blankets like the one in the photo at the top of the article, but I am adding this space blanket sleeping bag to every one of our emergency kits (Go-Bag, car kit, etc.).

BesWlz Emergency Sleeping Bags,2 Pack Survival Sleeping Bags with Survival Whistle, Waterproof Portable Bivvy Sack Survival Gear for Outdoor Camping Hiking with 2 PCS Thermal Emergency Blankets

Insulated space blanket tarp with grommets

(This blanket is advertised to reduce your infrared signature. Check out the images on the sales page.)

In an emergency you could build a simple shelter using this blanket and some cord; lay down a second space blanket as ground cover; climb in your shelter and into your emergency sleeping bag.

Arcturus Heavy Duty Survival Blanket – Insulated Thermal Reflective Tarp – 60″ x 82″. All-Weather, Reusable Emergency Blanket for Car or Camping (Orange)

The basic blanket – pack of 20 (less than a dollar apiece)

Science Purchase 73MYLARPK20 Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets, 54″ x 84″ (Pack of 20)

Mylar space blanket companion items

Paracord comes in over a dozen colors including olive drab and camo

Use this to build your shelter, string up your food, etc.

PARACORD PLANET Mil-Spec Commercial Grade 550lb Type III Nylon Paracord (Orange, 100 feet)

That all-purpose duct tape

This is black. You can get all other colors, of course! You may not need the largest roll. You may also want to mash it so it fits more readily in your pack.

Duck Max Strength 240201 Duct Tape, 1-Pack 1.88 Inch x 45 Yard Silver

You could probably buy everything on this page for the price of one ugly sweater. Having space blankets tucked in your car or in the kitchen drawer could provide a lot more serious warmth — and a bit more peace of mind as we head deep into winter.

Put some space blankets on your list!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team




A Fire Hydrant for Helicopters?


The overwhelming threat of wildfires hangs over us in California, and promises to get worse. A week ago we personally were at the very edge of a fire. Hundreds of fire fighters, multiple aerial firefighting crews, more than 70,000 people evacuated before the winds shifted and sent the flames in another direction. (I posted my minute-by-minute description of that day last Thursday!) The next day, a second fire sprang up only 20 miles away! The two fires, Silverado and Blue Ridge, ultimately were managed jointly. As of today, they are reported as “98% contained.” But fire season continues.

An unexpected discovery . . .

In the midst of this ongoing bad news, I was excited to discover what seems to be a sort of “secret weapon” for wildfire suppression. Something I’d never seen before in all the fire-fighting footage I’ve watched!

The discovery? The Heli-Hydrant – a simple, reliable source of nearby water to help fight fires at the wildland-urban interface.

It all started when I noticed an unusual photo. A helicopter hovering near the ground, siphon dangling. OK, I got that – it’s a water-carrying fire-fighting helicopter. But no flames in the photo? No lake? Just an ordinary-looking gravel lot with fence and some sort of tank in the background?

Fire-fighting helicopter hovers over unusual water source - the Heli-Hydrant.
So what am I looking at here??

I clicked to read more. Then I made a phone call. And I discovered what looks to be . . .

The best idea I’ve seen in a long time!

The helicopter in the photo is getting ready to refill its belly with over 2,000 gallons of water from that simple tank visible in the background.  And that tank is only minutes from an active wildfire line. Even more impressive, the tank is hooked to the municipal water system like a regular hydrant. Open the valve and the tank fills so fast that the helicopter can’t empty it.  It’s a source of water that doesn’t run out!

I needed to know more. That meant asking a lot of questions about this fire hydrant for helicopters. Here are some of them. If you have any connection with fires, fire suppression, emergency management, or real estate development, I think you’ll be as interested as I was to find these answers.

“Why haven’t we seen these tanks before?”

It seems as though tradition rules just as strongly in the fire-fighting industry as it does in many others. Fire departments focus on fighting fire. Water districts (that provide the water for fighting fires) stick to water. That all makes sense: following proven practices keeps people safe.

Still, a tank serving as a fire hydrant for helicopters doesn’t seem too far outside the box. So my next question was,

“Maybe helicopter tanks add new risks for pilots?”

Who would know any better than a pilot actually filling up at the tank during the twin fires last week? He was definitive when I asked about being able to hit the tank target.

“Not a problem. We do that kind of flying all the time. This was the first time I’d used this tank so what I was concerned with was visibility and potential obstacles. It turned out to be a great location – at the top of a ridge and wide open.”

And then before I could ask my next question, he added, “And that location cut my turn-around time in half – from about 15 minutes to 6 or 7!”

“So you only had to travel half as far for water as you would have otherwise?”

In this case, yes. Other aircraft had to travel to a nearby lake to refill.

Then he added a comment about the water itself. “The tank water was clean. We don’t always like the water we sometimes have to use. Lake water can bring up fish or algae or, if the water level is low, we get mud. And we don’t want to use salt-water at all– too corrosive. Clean water means things go smoother.”

“How does the water get into the tank?”

Often, when a fire is discovered, water has to be delivered to a distribution point using a tanker truck, with driver and crew. That takes decisions and time. According to Whaling Fire Line Equipment, manufacturer of the Heli-Hydrant, this tank is permanently installed and is connected to the municipal water system, just like a regular fire hydrant – hence the name, Heli-Hydrant!

When not in use, the tank is drained and remains dry. When it’s needed, the valve feeding the tank can be opened remotely by the helicopter pilot. The 2,700 gallon tank fills from empty in less than 3 minutes.  

“And when the tank gets emptied out?”

Here’s the magic. It doesn’t empty! The flow rate from the municipal system is such that the tank fills faster than the helicopter can pump it out. So the minute one helicopter leaves with its load, another can pull in and fill up, right behind it. In the Blue Ridge fire, three different machines took turns using the Heli-Hydrant.

“How much water do fire-fighting helicopters carry, anyway?”

A variety of helicopters are used to fight fires. Smaller models carry from 100–500 gallons; a larger model, like the pilot’s I talked to, can carry as much as 3,000 gallons. Some, even larger, are equipped to carry both water and fire-fighting crews.

“Who owns the fire-fighting helicopters?”

Since not every fire department has its own helicopters, departments depend on a network of leased, contracted and even jointly-supported machines that come from agencies and private companies across the country. According to news reports, in last week’s fires 14 copters from multiple sources were active.

“That Heli-Hydrant was in the right place. Who decided to put it there?”

The Yorba Linda Water District owns the tank in the photo. The District’s recently retired general manager headed up the award-winning installation. And he spent a lot of time talking to me about the location of the tank. Not just its site (top of ridge, no dangerous power lines, etc.), but even more important, a location close to the wildland-urban interface. As new residential developments spread ever higher into the hills of Yorba Linda, they get harder to reach quickly in fire emergencies. This Heli-Hydrant is near such a development. It seemed a sensible addition to the fire safety services provided by the District.

“Why don’t cities require fire hydrants for helicopters to be mandatory for developments that butt up against the interface?”

I thought this was a legitimate question, but I didn’t get a clear answer from any of the people I talked to. But I gleaned some intelligence about who would be interested. My non-professional opinion:

  • If I were a local fire department, I’d certainly be looking at whether strategically positioned Heli-Hydrants could help get more water more quickly onto a wildland-urban interface fire.
  • As a residential developer, I’d consider adding tanks as a “perimeter defense” — a feature to complement the “natural setting with spectacular views” of my new homes on the interface.
  • If I were part of a water district, responsible for the water being used for fire-fighting, Heli-Hydrants could be a water-saving investment to take a look at.
“Last question: How much do the Heli-Hydrants cost?”

Of course, the answer to this question is, “It depends!” The Yorba Linda tank has the most efficient set-up possible, sited by an expert already on staff and simply added to the already-existing water system. Extending a water main to allow for the tank connection would add to the cost, as would the size of the lot required for a larger tank. So obviously, every install would be unique.

But the concept seems so straight-forward, and so obvious. I am looking forward to seeing some Heli-Hydrants positioned at the edge of our town soon, since there seems to be no question that fires will again find their way there!

If you have more questions, please contact Whaling Fire Line Equipment. You can tell them I sent you!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Video Conferencing Best Practices

At-home video conferencing
“Gallery view” lets you see when people arrive — or leave.

“Stay connected” is the advice we hear these days. And it’s not just friendly advice. It’s a requirement for businesses that plan to stay in business!

Of course text messages and email generally work as well as they ever did. But because of the pandemic, business communications are turning to web and video conferencing – a market expected to grow by well over 100% in just this one year!

Whether you’re using video conferencing for daily business meetings or as a marketing tool to reach out to clients and prospects, get the results you expect by choosing the right platform for the job and following best practice guidelines. And stay tuned, because what’s considered “best” keeps evolving!

Use the right video conferencing platform for the job.

As you have surely discovered, well over two dozen popular video conferencing services are competing for place. That list includes Zoom, BlueJeans Meetings, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, Skype, Google Hangouts – and the list goes on. One of my consultant friends reports that over the course of the workday he may find himself using several of them!

When you are joining . . .

as a meeting participant, all that’s required is that you click on the invitation link. You can join online via the platform’s website or you can download an app onto your cellphone or mobile device and join there. (Phone apps may be faster, but they only function on iOS or Android.) Either way, the platform that the host selected will automatically open.

If you’re the host of the meeting . . .

however, how do you know which platform to choose? Features you’ll want to consider as you plan your meetings:

  • Customer support. Particularly if you are a relative beginner, look for companies that offer strong training videos and 24/7 help desk. (You aren’t likely to get all the support you’d like on a free service.)
  • Budget. Several of the leading services offer a level of free service, with monthly plans that add more dollars for more features. You may want to start at that entry level and move up as you discover exactly what you need.
  • Size and length of meeting. Every platform has limits to the number of people allowed to attend the meeting and how long the meeting can run. (It’s a question of bandwidth. Too many connections can overload the capacity of the system.)
  • Number of meetings. Again, different levels have different limits, both on how many “hosts” from your company can be registered to use the platform and how many “participants” can fit into any given meeting. (I was at a meeting a week ago where attendance reached the maximum and the guest speaker, who was running late, couldn’t get in!  Not good!)
  • Ability to record. Not everyone can make every meeting, so it’s convenient for people to have access sometime later. (Recent statistics show that nearly 30% of people who sign up for webinar presentations miss the original schedule but show up later for a repeat!) Having a recording also allows people to go back and check the details of what was presented or what everyone said.
  • How much collaboration or interactivity. If you know you want to stream presentations on demand, share screens, share documents, interact with participants via surveys or monitored Q&A chat, etc., look specifically for “web conferencing” capabilities. Some apps don’t offer full interactivity. And while many of the popular platforms offer these services, it’s generally not part of the free level.

As you consider these features you may come up with more you want or need. But this list will get you started!

Be sure your meeting is secure.

Everyone needs to consider security when going online. Earlier this year some online meetings were “bombed.” Pranksters and/or more determined bad actors assaulted meetings with racist images, pornography, interruptions, loud music, etc.  Online teaching sessions (with young children) were particularly targeted.

“Bombing” has been declared a cybercrime, so incidents seem to have died down. At the same time, better security practices have arisen. Your company may already have instituted upgraded security practices. Here are standard recommendations you and your company should be familiar with:

  • At home, use a VPN for your online meetings. By default, your data will be encrypted. Keep all your home devices updated and running anti-virus and malware protection. In particular, change default passwords for your router and any home IoT devices. (Surely you have heard the stories of hackers taking over home security cameras – and business security cameras, too! Readily accomplished when people use the same password for multiple accounts or devices, or never update passwords!)
  • If you are hosting the meeting, use strong meeting platform passwords at every step and change them frequently. Never share a host pin or meeting passwords publicly.
  • Only invite people you want to attend, and restrict meetings to people who signed up in advance or who are otherwise authenticated.
  • Require participants to sign in for meetings and choose “Announce When User Enters” for all meetings. When everyone has arrived, “lock” the room.
  • Enable “Mute participants on arrival” if available to prevent interruptions. You may also want to disable the chat feature.
  • If you run meetings back to back, use a “Waiting room” feature which keeps a new meeting attendee from accidentally barging in on a meeting still in progress.

A new caution: Be sure to block your webcam (unplug a separate camera, or put a piece of tape over the built in camera) when you are not on a video call! Hackers may be watching everything you do and seeing everything in your work space!

Communicate effectively!

We’ve all attended or seen video conferencing episodes interrupted by charming children or pets. We can overlook these . . . but participants will not welcome a meeting that is disturbed by echoes, static, loud noises, telephones ringing, faces in shadow, etc. Set up your meeting for the best possible experience!

  • Manage the audio, above all else. The audio from most laptops is simply not good enough, and it gets worse the farther you are from the device. If possible, use a noise-reducing headset and microphone. (Hint from pro user: “Consider an over-the-ear headset with microphone boom — the type used by gamers are just as good and cost less than high-priced office versions!” See a sample here.) A separate microphone is also key if you expect to do any typing during the session; the integrated mic on a laptop will make the sound VERY loud for others in the meeting!
    I have a stand-alone camera, too, because I use a desktop set up with separate screen. Here you can see me with headphones and microphone, and my Logitech webcam.)
  • Light (at least YOUR face!) from the front. No windows behind you! If you can’t sit facing a window, set up soft lighting from a lamp. The light from a laptop screen usually shines upward – and it’s usually blue. Not attractive.
  • Position yourself directly in front of the screen. We’ve all seen interviews on TV where the speaker is looking down (through glasses?) at the computer screen — and we are looking up his nose.  Best way to get the effect you are looking for is to place your laptop at eye level on top of a box or even a stack of sturdy books.
  • Look professional. Even though you are at home, make the effort to dress professionally, comb your hair, and apply make-up as appropriate. Avoid clothing with stripes or patterns or large white spaces –they don’t translate well onto video! Professional also means making sure what’s behind you is simple and uncluttered – and no visible white board with confidential info on it! (Some platforms have “virtual backgrounds” that block everything behind you. Be sure to pick a virtual image that suits your audience!)
  • If you are the host, TEST and PRACTICE with a friend before your meeting to be sure your equipment is set up properly. Most programs have an audio and video test meeting you can play with. Test with mobile devices, too.
  • Schedule your family to avoid interruptions. Turn off your phone, silence alarms, send dogs and children out for a walk.
  • Manage your meeting with an agenda and a clock. Be sure to welcome everyone and go over any instructions about how to use the platform. Check that everyone knows how to “raise their hand” to ask questions or make comments. (Introverts can get lost if they don’t use these tools!) Have all your props or tools at hand so you don’t have to get up to get them.
  • Have a glass of water handy – but not too near your keyboard! — in case your throat gets dry!

You may never have imagined being “on camera,” with everyone’s eyes on you. It may be intimidating — at first! But get used to it, because there’s no doubt that video meetings are here to stay.

As with any new skill, the more you practice, the more confident you’ll be. You can start practicing today using a free trial from one of the video conferencing companies mentioned above.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. If you are working from home, guidelines for effective presentations may be just that — guidelines. But best practices for security really shouldn’t be considered optional. Share this info with co-workers. Be sure your online communications aren’t inadvertently exposing the company to a cyber threat.

Walkie-talkies for emergencies and much, much more!

Boy with walkie-talkie
Walkie-talkies not just for emergencies

It’s one thing to make your lists and carefully assemble all your emergency supplies and equipment. I assume your stash includes walkie-talkies, or hand-held battery-operated radios.

But if you really build preparedness into your lifestyle, you’ll find yourself using walkie-talkies for emergencies but also for every day tasks!

We use walkie-talkies for emergencies but also for so much more!

If you haven’t considered getting radios for your own stash of emergency supplies, consider the following list of how you might use them if you had them.

Manage traffic using walkie-talkies.

Just yesterday Joe and I were asked to help direct traffic at a drive-thru food distribution taking place right down the street. (It was a last-minute call.) We grabbed our fluorescent-striped vests (always important for both visibility and authority), a couple of walkie-talkies each, and jumped into action. I stood at the distribution point, Joe positioned himself at the assembly point around the corner, and we made sure cars approached slowly, on the correct side of the street, etc.! Safe and easy because we could keep in constant touch!

Pickup at airport.

We always carry walkie-talkies when we’re picking up somebody at the airport. Joe drops me off and continues around the loop. (No parking and waiting allowed.) I run in, find our guest, keep Joe apprised of the timing, tell him exactly where we’re coming out – and he swoops right up in front of us! There’s no dialing, no answering of phones, etc. Joe just listens to my commentary so the pick-up is smooth and easy.

Convention contact.

In the days before COVID, we regularly attended industry conventions. Since the purpose is to network, that means you can easily get separated – one person stays to talk with a vendor, while the other cruises on down the aisle. Pretty soon you have lost each other in the crowd. But, with a handy walkie-talkie, you can let the other guy know right where you are. Again, no need to dial, no crossing your fingers hoping there’s reception within the conference hall. Works perfectly.

County fair.

This same concept works for any kind of fair, outing at a theme park, etc., but with an improvement: You can let the whole family know, all at once, that you’ve decided to take a rest by the Snow-Cone stand.  

Parking assistance.

Last week I watched as a neighbor tried to back his new camper into a parking space. (There was no option for a drive thru!) He was having a tough time. His wife was trying to help, but he couldn’t keep her in view because of the sharp angle. (And her hand signals weren’t too clear, either.) Joe and I have used walkie-talkies for years to safely back RVs (and RVs towing cars!) into campgrounds, storage areas, etc. It’s a lot easier to tell the driver when the hitch is just 6 inches from crunching into the corner of the rig than to try to SIGNAL it!

Tracking racers.

Our CERT group often participates when the city sponsors a long-distance race. People with walkie-talkies are positioned along the course and report as the runners come by, if there’s an emergency, etc. All the course monitors can hear as the race progresses and be ready as contestants approach. We’ve used walkie-talkies to track cars passing checkpoints in a hill climb, too.

Sporting events.

When you are in line at the stadium concession stand for hotdogs and beer, and your youngster needs to head to the bathroom, send him along with a walkie-talkie and instructions to check in at the top of the stairs, at the door to the restroom, etc. He’ll be fine – and you won’t have to worry.

Explore safely.

Part of the joy of camping is heading off into the trees just to see what there is to see! As a parent you want your kids to have that experience. But as a parent you naturally worry that they could get lost, injured, etc. Send your kids off with walkie-talkies so they can keep in touch with each other AND with you. Then let them all know when it’s time for lunch. One call is all it takes to reach the whole pack.

Car convoy.

If you’re traveling with a couple of cars it’s good to be able to agree to a stop, warn about something ahead on the road, report that you’ve lost sight of the other car, etc. Walkie-talkies are instantly available for messages like that! Now safe driving habits include not having to REACH for a phone and not having to use more than ONE FINGER to activate the phone. That’s why walkie-talkies are usually not included in legislation defining “distracted driving.” (At least, that’s what I’ve been able to discover. Check with your own state.) It’s best, of course, for the radio operator not to be the driver.

Construction and plumbing.

We occasionally find ourselves trying to figure out where there’s a break or an obstruction or a leak in a pipe. Picture Joe outside at the sewer cleanout, me inside at the sink.  “OK, turn on the water!” “OK, now turn it off.” No yelling. Easy and efficient. Or picture me on the roof, cleaning off dead branches. “Can you hand me up the leaf blower?” Again, no yelling!

I think you get the message! Walkie-talkies rock!

Of course, our walkie-talkies are our main resource for emergency communications. We fully anticipate that a wildfire could cause a complete communications shut-down. So we’ll be holding our monthly neighborhood group radio drill this very evening.

But having and using the walkie-talkies on a regular basis makes them even more valuable. If you haven’t yet considered adding them to your own supplies, now may be the time. Perfectly good ones are available for around $30 a pair.

Our walkie talkie reviews page goes over 6 things to watch for, and has links to examples of different styles and their costs. Our favorite for regular usage is the first in the list.

We think everyone can take advantage of walkie-talkies for daily living!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Let us know how YOU use walkie-talkies — for everyday and also for emergency communications. Really, these are some of the most valuable and useful tools available! (They make great gifts, too.)

Solar For Back-Up Power

Solar Panels for back-up power
A realistic option?

We write often about how to be ready for power outages. The conversation may start with battery-operated emergency radios and/or flashlights, but it almost always moves to solar for back-up power.

A couple of weeks ago, our Advisory was about smallish “solar tools and appliances” that can be put to work when it’s dark, at home or outdoors.

This week, we’re continuing with a look at larger solar systems, the kind that can actually substitute for lost utility power.

Here’s an aside: You may not realize that starting in 2002 I worked for nearly 10 years with an energy consulting firm. One of our major projects was to introduce solar electricity systems to families, schools and businesses in southern California. When the program started, I remember the cost of solar being $9-$10 per watt for a residential roof-top system. Today, the average price across the country is more like $2.50-$4.00 per watt! That’s a 60% drop!

Price drop per watt makes solar of renewed and continuing interest. And it would be natural if your first question were, “So how many watts do I need?”

The correct question would actually be, “How many kilowatts do I need?” (How many thousands of watts?) For your reference, the average installation in the U.S. is around 6 kW. In 2020 the average system cost (after tax credits) was between $16,000-$20,000.

But that’s actually NOT the first question. In fact, there are several questions that come before that one!

So let’s take a look at some of the questions you’ll be asking, and finding answers for, if you are considering solar for back-up power. Along the way I’ll share some stories from the “old days,” some current resources, and some cautions.

Does solar really work?

Yes, it really does. Panels and their various connectors have become a lot better. Proof: Some panel warranties extend to 25 years! But keep in mind that it still takes lots of solar panels and accompanying equipment to produce the amount of electricity you would need to power your whole house. We’re talking thousands of dollars, not hundreds.

That’s why most people start with just a modest system – maybe as small as just two or four panels! — and add as they get more familiar with the technology.

(I spoke last week to a long-time EPG reader. He had just finished doubling the size of his 10-year-old system because of our utility companies are warning about “safety outages.” In California, wildfire season has started!)

The point is, solar is flexible.

How hard is solar to install?

Let’s look at some examples:

1. Hooking up the panels is straightforward. You can certainly learn to build a back-yard or RV-roof system yourself if you are willing to put in the effort. (See more on this, below.)

Here’s a diagram of a simple back-yard system. Direct Current (DC) is generated by the panel. It goes through the charge controller (to prevent any overloading) and is fed into the battery. From there, it heads to the inverter, where the DC current is changed to Alternating Current (AC). Most household appliances run on AC. Your AC appliances or devices can be plugged directly into that inverter and will have power as long as the battery remains charged.

Solar panels for back-up power
1. Simple back-yard, stand-alone system

2. Now, if you want to connect your system to your house, things get more complicated. Your house has power coming from the utility grid. If power from the grid fails, your home solar system has to shut off so it blocks any of your solar power from feeding back into the grid. (It’s actually a matter of life and death, because you can assume that somewhere on the utility grid people are working to fix whatever has gone wrong. “Your” solar power could electrocute them.)

Here’s another image, showing a “grid-tied” system. There would be a switch near (or part of) the meter (my red X) to protect the grid in the case of a grid outage. Note that this solar system is meant to supplement grid power. When the sun goes down, the solar stops.

solar for back-up power
2. Grid-tied system. Thanks to Samlex Solar for these two images.

3. Now let’s look at a hybrid system, that is, a grid-connected solar system designed with back-up battery power. Power for the home can come from either the solar panels or the utility grid or from both. In a utility power outage, a switch at the meter would turn off the grid. The amount of power usable in the home would then depend on the size of the solar system and its battery capacity.

Grid-tied, hybrid solar for back-up power
3. Hybrid system. Thanks to ArizonaAccurate for image.

Whew! So which type of system should I pick?

 In this Advisory, we’re talking about solar for back-up power. So you’d want either the simple back-yard system or the full-fledged hybrid system. (The grid-tied version, number 2., is meant to cut your electricity bill, not provide back-up power.)

How much is it going to cost?

As you can imagine, it’s all going to depend on the size of the system. The bigger the system, the more parts and of course the more cost.

So your first challenge is to decide how much of your home you want to be able to power if the grid goes down.

Whole house?

Calculating how much capacity you’d need for the whole house is worth another whole Advisory. You’ll need to start by taking a look at your usual hourly energy requirement, how many peak sunlight hours are available where you live, whether your panels can be positioned to get the most of that sunlight, and how much overall space you have for panels and batteries. (Here’s a simplified description of how to figure everything from one of our local solar installers. )

The reality for most home-owners? Your solar system will probably NOT be able to power your whole house. A system that large will take a lot of space and will be just too expensive.

Just the essentials?

Experienced solar-system users pare down when it comes to sizing their system for back-up power. They know how to pick only the essential appliances (refrigerator, TV, medical device), how to measure the appliances’ kW requirements, and how to schedule when appliances will take their turn, so as not to overwhelm the system.

If you’re trying to size a system for essentials only, check out this article. It will give you an idea of how many panels it takes to run particular appliances.

What should my next step be?

Based on my research and my experience, I recommend you (1) do some homework and then (2) talk to professional installers to get some advice and some quotes.

Professional system installers will want to know:

  1. Do you want a grid-tied system or a stand-alone system or a hybrid system? (For emergency power, it’s either of the last two options.)
  2. What appliances do you absolutely need to be able to run if there is a power outage? (Type, size, amps, how often and how long, etc.)
  3. How much space do you have for panels, batteries and associated components? (Solar contractors will likely take an image of your roof and yard and start with that, but of course they don’t know about your garage, etc.)

You will want to ask them:

  1. What panel options do I have? (Why do they pick the ones they use?)
  2. What inverter options do I have?
  3. How many batteries will I need to store energy for the appliances I want to run in an emergency?
  4. What warranties are available on the equipment?
  5. Will I be able to add to the system at a later date?
  6. What building or other permits are required?
  7. What tax benefits are available in my community?

If you are more of a DIY person, or want to know more before you reach out to a salesperson, consider these three steps.

First, go to Amazon and buy this book by Will Prowse. (We are affiliates at Amazon, as you know, so we’ll get a small commission.) Get the paperback version so you can mark pages, take notes, etc.

Hands down, Will has the best solar material for enthusiastic beginners. You’ll want to refer to this book often. (I have found that I need to review the watt/volt/amp equation on a regular basis!) The info works even if you aren’t installing your system on an RV. Here’s the link:

Mobile Solar Power Made Easy!: Mobile 12 volt off grid solar system design and installation. RV’s, Vans, Cars and boats! Do-it-yourself step by step instructions.

Second, go to YouTube and watch a few of Will’s videos. I’ve watched a half-dozen of them and every one is first-rate! Here’s one for beginners that will explain all the components mentioned above in my article, and show how they fit together.

Finally, take a close look at some of the “solar kits” or “all-in-one” solar power packages that are available for people starting out. (Search online for those words in quotes.) Kits are attractive and make sense, since you wouldn’t be buying all the individual parts separately. The video above shows a small kit. Below is a link to a larger kit (from the same company, Renogy) with 12 solar panels.

Renogy 3600 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Cabin Kit for Off-Grid Solar System with 12 Pcs of 300W Panel and Midnite MPPT Controller

For all kits, do be careful to check what is included. Many “starter kits,” even the ones above, do not include batteries.

I think solar is a great addition for any energy-conscious person to consider. It has become ever more affordable and reliable, and is no longer considered “cutting edge.” Solar is here to stay!

From a preparedness standpoint, it’s also a reliable source of power for emergency communications and lighting, not to mention security.

Stay tuned. You’ll be reading more about solar here!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. We’d like to hear about your experience with solar for emergency back-up. Leave a comment! (Give us an idea of where you live so we can make adjustments for our own experience.)