Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Some emergency preparation questions and answers


Following my recent articles about emergency food and water, and answering some reader questions about them, I had other queries to which I responded.  I thought some of you might be interested in reading some of them.

Q:  My red dot sights for my rifle and shotgun use coin-style batteries.  I guess, in an emergency, those won't be all that readily available.  Can I safely store them for long-term use?

A:  I honestly don't know.  A lot of batteries advertise that they have a certain shelf life, but experience with them shows that those claims are frequently wildly optimistic (if not fraudulent).  They leak all over the place within a year or two.  (I'm looking at you, Duracell!)  My suggestion would be three-fold:

  • By all means keep a stash of coin-style batteries to fit your existing sights.
  • If your budget allows, get a couple of red dot sights that work on standard AA batteries.  (Sightmark's Wolverine series aren't too expensive:  they're a bit larger and heavier than today's teeny-weeny red dots, but have worked well in my experience.)  You can use your lighter, smaller, more sophisticated sights while coin-type batteries are readily available, and switch to one of the AA-battery units when they're not.  Lay in some rechargeable AA-size batteries while you're at it (don't buy cheap crap:  ENELOOP is a trustworthy brand, at least so far), plus a solar charger for them, to ensure you'll always have power for your sights and other tools.
  • The time may come when any battery is hard to find, not to mention there will be many appliances and items of gear needing them.  A couple of simple telescopic sights are worth having under such circumstances, because they need no batteries at all.  Don't buy cheap junk, but there are some adequate-quality sights out there at reasonable prices.  (For example, see my recent review of a Primary Arms offering.)  Lower-powered scopes are most suited to "tactical" use;  higher-powered scopes are for hunting or precision marksmanship.

Q:  When you spoke about emergency water supplies, you didn't say how much is needed for washing your cooking and eating utensils.

A:  That's because I've already recommended in several previous articles that you keep a stash of paper plates and bowls, and plastic knives, forks and spoons, for use in an emergency.  I suggest enough for at least 30 days, possibly for a longer period if you have storage space available.  This saves a great deal of water, and also a lot of time, in that you don't have to wash and dry crockery and cutlery several times a day.  Used paper bowls and plates can be scraped clean (or licked clean by your pets), then dried, torn into strips, and used as fire-lighters.  In the same way, paper cups can be used for cool drinks.  That leaves only pots and pans to be washed.

Q:  How many buckets should I buy for water storage?

A:  When it comes to 5-gallon buckets, I don't think one can have too many (provided you have storage for them all).  Food-safe buckets can be used to store dry food as well as water (line them with mylar bags and heat-seal the latter if necessary), and their lids will do for both purposes.  Non-food-safe buckets are useful to water plants, hand out washing water to individuals, launder clothes, and a host of other tasks.  They also make very good trading material in an emergency, because a lot of people don't have enough (perhaps none at all), and they'll need them for all those tasks.  I currently have 40-50 5-, 3½- and 2-gallon buckets and lids of all types, and if I get the chance to lay in a few more at low cost I'll take it.  (Look for free buckets from bakeries that buy icing in them.  All they need is a good wash, and they're good to go.  Buy different color buckets if you want the color to indicate what's stored inside.)

Q:  I don't have enough storage space in my small house to store emergency supplies.  What do I do?

A:  Use every scrap of available space.  For example:

  • In your garage, fasten shelves on brackets to the wall above the roofline of your vehicle(s), and store totes and other supplies on them.  If there's enough vertical space, stack two or three of them on top of each other, using a stepladder to reach the top one if necessary.  You may have to move your vehicle(s) out to get at those supplies, but they'll be there when you need them.  (If you live in earthquake country, don't forget to adequately secure what's on those shelves!)
  • See how much you can put under your bed(s).  If necessary, replace solid box springs with metal bed frames.  You can get them from 12" to 18" in height, and in varying widths.  You can fit a lot of containers underneath them, from shallow underbed units to full-height storage totes.  (Shop for totes at your local Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot or equivalent store;  they're usually cheaper there than buying them online and paying for shipping.)
  • A lot of drawer units use drawers that don't take up the full depth of the unit.  See whether you can store water bottles (upright, of course, so they don't spill) or shallow upright storage containers behind them.
  • Use the back of pantry cupboards, shelving units, etc. to do the same thing.  I once stored three or four dozen #10 cans of freeze-dried food, stacked 2 high, at the back of shelves containing kitchen plastic bags and wraps, salad bowls and similar items.
  • Consider your attic.  It may not be configured to store anything, but if you can get a few planks and nail them across rafters, you can make space to fit several totes or plastic bags.
  • Consider renting a small storage unit, sharing the cost with friends, so that each of you can store a few cubic feet of emergency supplies there.  This isn't an optimal choice, because in an emergency you may not be able to get to the unit quickly or easily (and storage units will be prime targets for looters), but it may be the only solution you can find for larger items.
Those are just a few ideas.  I'm sure you'll find many more as you look around.

Q:  I barely make ends meet on my salary.  I can't afford emergency preparations!

A:  I feel your pain.  Many of us are in the same boat:  for a long time, they included my wife and I.  However, as the saying goes, "The longest journey begins with a single step".

  • Buy one or two extra cans of goods every time you shop for groceries, and put it/them away.  Vary that by buying an extra packet of pasta or an extra bag of rice now and then.  In two to three months, you'll have a full box of food.  That's the start of your emergency pantry.
  • Ask your friends to save you half-liter, or one-liter, or two-liter soda bottles (with their caps) when they finish their contents.  Wash them out carefully, rinse thoroughly, and fill them with water.  In two to three months, you'll have two to three days' worth of emergency water supplies.
  • If friends of yours buy their household needs from stores such as Costco or Sams Club, save up your pennies and ask them to buy you one of those stores' bulk packs of toilet rolls or paper towels.  (If that's too much, ask your friends if you can contribute a few dollars to the cost of those bulk packs and get a pro rata share of their contents.)  The cost per roll is so much lower than buying just a couple at a time that you'll be able to put aside a roll or two each month towards an emergency.
  • If you can't afford plastic storage totes, use cardboard boxes.  They're not ideal, and they do perish over time, but they're a lot better than nothing.
  • Look for stores that want to get rid of things you can use.  I mentioned earlier bakeries that get five-gallon buckets full of icing sugar, pre-mixed.  I know some just throw away those buckets.  Why not ask the bakery(ies) for a few?  If they say "No", you've lost nothing;  but if they say "Yes", you've got some very useful containers.
  • Give up a few small luxuries (e.g. one or two cans of soda per week, or one take-out coffee per week, or take a paper-bag home-made lunch to work instead of buying it from a vendor) and use that money to expand your emergency supplies.

There are any number of ways to get started.  I'm sure readers can contribute many from their own experience.  The main thing is, get started, and keep going.  If you never start, you'll never be prepared.



Anonymous said...

Consider preparing a jury rig to power devices with non-spec batteries. A 3D printed insert in the dimensions of the original cell, with copper contacts and a wire to the new power source. The voltages will have to match, either inherently or though a circuit, and it might require altering the compartment lid to admit the wire, and water and dust tightness might be compromised. A replacement lid could be waterproofed quite easily. Better than nothing, and it might even work out better than OEM.

Anonymous said...

Eneloop makes adapters for AA sized batteries to upsize them to C or D cell. No, the AA won’t last as long as the physically larger d cell but the ability to recharge is great. Here is a random example that popped up first in the search.

TMF Bert

stencil said...

Plastic buckets - two thoughts:
--Never ever stack buckets vertically, particularly in locations where there's more than just a few degrees temperature fluctuation. Vacuum lock frustrations will lead you to do silly things involving drills and heat.
--Be aware that there is no industry standard for lid design; no one brand fits all. GammaSeal lids are great, but first ensure that they will fit your pails.

Anonymous said...

On red dot sights: If budget allows, look into prism sights instead. I've mostly moved away from red dots on my carbines and AR pistols to prism sights with etched reticles. They have illumination, so they're easy to see as long as the batteries hold up. But if the battery is dead, you still have a black reticle. Some of the ones I have are 3x, so they work great as a lighter, more compact LPVO replacement. A little more expensive than the cheapest red dots at $250-300, but not nearly as much as say, an EOTech.

Completely agree on stashing batteries; I pick up one or two when I see them in the checkout line at the home or farm center, just to have on hand. I've had better luck with Energizer than Duracell, and the cheap chinese batteries leak after about 9-12 months.

Anonymous said...

ARs with red dots should also have iron sights, which should be SIGHTED IN. There are iron sights available for Pickatinny rails. This is your ultimate battery backup.

Beans said...

Attics should only be used to store items that are safe from humidity and heat.

And storage units? In an emergency, most likely you can't get to your storage unit.

A better storage for water is those big 5 gallon water jugs that you can turn upside down for water coolers. Not that you have to use water coolers, but you can buy brand new jugs full of clean water sealed at the factory for not much more than a 5 gallon bucket.

And don't buy one of those 'sits in the tub water bags' as you'll need access to your tubs for getting clean (if you have water pressure) or for hanging wet stuff in bad weather.

And if you store clothing or bedding in plastic or rubber totes (I highly recommend Rubbermaid over anything else) toss some of your favorite soaps (still in wrapper) into the tote as it will make the clothing or bedding smell nice when you access it (and you'll have spare soap in case you need it.) Keeps out bugs, too.

Stan_qaz said...

Batteries are a real frustration for me, I kept ending up with ones that were dead out of the wrapper or that only lasted a few weeks in use. All appeared to be legitimate name brands but they apparently weren't.
Went back to buying (on sale) at Costco and the ones I'm getting there are lasting even if a bit more expensive.
Comparing the two packages I can't see a difference but the difference in the contents is clear.

For emergency supplies or even just stocking up it is critical not to be scammed into buying fake things that won't work when needed and will be out of the replacement window by the time you notice the problem.

lynn said...

I keep ten packs of AA (48 per pack) and D (12 per pack) batteries in the hall closet. That way when the natural gas fired generator dies, we at least will have light. I have several LED lanterns located around the house and a couple still in their boxes.

I have several LED AA flashlights around the house, 2 or 3 in each vehicle, office, etc. Sadly, Rayovac does not sell that model anymore. I have bought 60 or 80 of them and given them away to relatives and other people.

After Hurricane Ike in 2008, one of the neighbors came over wanting to see what we were using for light as they could see that we had light through our windows. I gave him one of my LED lanterns and some extra D cells which he returned in three days when the power came back on. He had nothing for hurricane season in Houston, even though he lived in a half million dollar home in Houston.

Harbinger62 said...

the enloop AA and AAA work well, and the AA to C or D works well in my Maglight flashlights. The enloop chargers have a type that can charge from a 5V USB outlet which adds flexibility. And the same chargers can be used to give power FROM the AA batteries to power 5V USB needs.

Anonymous said...

For storage you can get small totes that fit behind your sofa up against the wall or store water jugs there also. Have seen pics where you pull off the kitchen counter baseboards and put cans of food under them. Put small totes under the tv stand! Anything up off the floor you can put stuff underneath! Then just put a piece of wood to match across the front and no one will know! Lots of hidden spaces if you look and get creative!

Tom Bridgeland said...

Food is cheap. I bought 15 lbs of flour last week for <$3. 99 cents for a 5lb bag on sale at the local super. Most people don't cook.

JNorth said...

I have a storage unit and a fair amount of stuff there but I agree with Beans that in a big emergency it probably wouldn't be accessible. On the other hand most emergencies will be of lesser disruption and having off site storage means if your place burns down you don't loose everything. I mostly have it due to lack of storage but I'm now in the process of renovating a foreclosure I bought and it has a full basement, so LOTS of storage, I'll even be able to get organized so I know exactly what all I have.

For those coin type batteries like the CR2032, if you get the Energizer packs of them from Costco the plastic casing around them pretty much has to be cut off to use them but if you store them together outside of the plastic they will short each other out. There are rechargeable ones available but none by Eneloop.

Anonymous said...

Button battery charger....

Hello Peter, I bought one of these quite some time age to charge button batteries. I remember the charger did a good job on some batteries, not so good on others. I see they are not available on some web sites, and seem to be on others. I found this site by searching for "SBE-1 Button Cell Charger". Although there are other sites out there, this one has a .pdf of the single page manual, describing the uses and limitations of this solar powered charger.

Good Luck, Mark


Anonymous said...

Peter, concerning the question about cleaning dishes: in the rural South, we have 'lickskillet dogs', which is basically any dog. They'll generally performed the function described--just cool the skillet first, out of kindness!
--Tennessee Budd

Dan said...

Coin style batteries are almost all Lithium based and as such have a much longer storage life than acid type AA/AAA batteries. Especially if kept somewhere cool and dry. I have used some that were more than a decade past the date listed on the package and they still functioned. They may have a shorter life than a new one but they will usually work.

Anonymous said...

"Buy one or two extra cans of goods every time you shop for groceries, and put it/them away. Vary that by buying an extra packet of pasta or an extra bag of rice now and then."

Exactly how I got started 25 years ago when money was tight. This absolutely works.

Also, look into a prismatic sight. If your battery dies, the reticle is still etched into the glass.

Hightecrebel said...

Test that flour before you store it. I bought a couple bags of store-brand all purpose last fall and they don't cook the same as gold medal all purpose. Same recipe, same oven, MUCH different results. Biscuits were edible, but texture was off. Cinnamon rolls were horrid, and sandwich bread was a failure.

John T. Block said...

On plastic buckets - if stored in a stacked configuration, put cardboard strips between them to avoid air-lock. Also, DO NOT store them in direct sunlight. They will become brittle and useless in a year's time....

Anonymous said...

batteries will last longer if you keep them cool. You can put them in the refrigerator, if sealed in zip lock be sure to use silica gel packs inside. Open air in the refrigerator is fine too. Why is this? Batteries produce electricity through a chemical reaction. All chemical reactions go faster if you heat them up. And stay away from the beep bop beep! batteries, you know black + bronze color? Since they outsourced all the manufacturing to Ch-EYE Na (as orange man would say) the quality is hit or miss (and mostly miss in my experience)

From the Bunker. . . .

Douglas2 said...

Lithium CR3032 and similar button cells have been a standard "keep the memory remembered" power source on circuit boards for a LONG time, and I frequently see them when I'm opening gear for other repair and think to myself "probably time to change this" and then being surprised that it is OEM from 18-25 years before yet still is providing the minimal current needed for the intended purpose.

I've stopped buying disposable batteries from many online sources, as I've received too many apparent counterfeits. I've found that the top reputable brands (not necessarily the most popular/most advertised brands!) purchased from trusted sources give me reliable service well past their 'use by' date. For local purchase I've found that some dollar-tree stores have a good selection of button cell type batteries with good lithium cells at a really good price, but unfortunately they mix them on a display that also has alkaline button cells (that one should avoid because of their potential to damage equipment when they leak.)

I really like (Anonymous at April 2, 2024 at 5:40 AM)'s idea of 3D printed battery inserts -- I've done that for the "letter" type cells with cut-to-length wooden dowel with foil&tack, mostly to run battery devices from external mains supply adapters, but I've got a local library that lets anyone use their 3d printers and if someone uploaded a good design for such button-cell inserts to shapeways it would be easier than making thin slices of appropriate dowels to replace button cells.

Anonymous said...

As to sights. Over the years i have come to conclude that battery powered sights are worse than no sights. Twice i have needed a rifle for predators and they got away.. one with the chicken still in its mouth because the batteries were dead. Its never an issue going hunting as your pre hunting prep will probably have you pack some. But that time you need a gun right now is in my experience iffy. I now have Israeli mepro 21 sights on all my short range to mid range weapons. Ar's and shot guns. They are tritium powered and a milspec design. In 15ish years they have never let me down. I would have like some of the smaller trijicon versions but at double the money it didnt make sense.

For mid to long range rifles i as others in the comments have said use scopes with etched reticles. If the battery dies you can still use it. Im partial to the primary arms brand 1x-6 and 1x-8 scopes. They have impressive performance for the price.

As to food.. buy rice and beans. The 50 dollar sams club membership will pay for it self with the purchase of a couple hundred dollars worth of said rice and beans vs the cost at most other stores. Using a sams credit card for gas 5% back and the 100 dollar membership. We save about 700 a year between savings and cash back.
If your not good at using credit cards safely then dont do the credit card 😀