Wednesday, May 22, 2024

A few disaster recovery considerations coming out of Houston, TX


I'm sure most of my readers are aware of the storm that hit the Houston, Texas area last week.  Power transmission pylons crumpled as if they were so much tinfoil, and hundreds of thousands of people are still without electricity.  Floods have complicated travel over much of the region, and haven't drained off yet.  Spare a thought and a prayer for those affected.

Talking to friends in that area, I've been struck by the additional problems being experienced by people with breathing difficulties - asthma, COPD or the like.  I'm hearing reports that those conditions are being aggravated by the humidity down there, which is about as high as it gets in the continental USA (and still is not at its full summer height).  I'm told some patients have had to be admitted to hospital for breathing assistance, while others who rely on electrically powered technology like HEPA filters and CPAP machines are finding it very difficult to cope without them.  Many are using generators, but after several days are running short of fuel for them - and fuel isn't yet reaching local gas stations in the quantities required.  My comments in earlier posts about emergency preparations, suggesting that we add gasoline to our supplies, are confirmed, I guess.

Of interest is that small camping-style "power stations" with solar panels for recharging are proving very effective indeed, more so than I would have believed.  I expected whole-house backup solutions with high-capacity power stations would work well, but I thought the smaller versions wouldn't provide enough power to be useful for long-term outages.  Turns out that's a matter of quantity.  Because the small power stations are relatively low-cost, some people have three or four of them, plus one or two solar panels for recharging.  They can use one to power a HEPA filter, another for a CPAP device, and have one or two in reserve, either being recharged from solar power or standing by ready to replace one already in use.  That's good to know, and good for our budget as well.  There are some real bargains in smaller power stations right now (see, for example, at the time of writing, this 1400W Ecoflow DELTA mini for $549, or this 800W Bluetti EB70S for $399), if you need one.  The larger units, putting out thousands of watts, are also getting cheaper over time;  for a whole house backup or the ability to run fridges and freezers, washing machines, air conditioners, etc. is important, they're still a lot more expensive than generators, but don't need fuel and are whisper-quiet.  Those can be real game-changers, particularly for longer power outages.

A darker side to the power outages in the greater Houston area is that I'm hearing about prowlers, sometimes gangs of them, making their way through darkened neighborhoods, looking for what they can steal.  Assaults have been reported, and attempts to steal generators (because houses using them can be easily identified by the lights, exhaust fumes, etc.)  I'm informed that local cops are, in some cases, tackling the bigger problems around them and ignoring cases where home-owners defend their families and property.  This is Texas, after all, and people are generally pretty self-reliant.  As long as there are no bodies untidily littering the landscape, attracting unwanted attention, there's no harm and no foul.

Part of that security problem, of course, is the lack of working security systems and external lights.  A lot of people rely on burglar alarms, break-in detectors, security lights outside their home, and so on.  None of them work in the absence of power.  I understand some homes that stood out in times past thanks to their security systems (after all, why invest in such systems unless you have something valuable to protect?) have been targeted by gangs after the power went out.  One hopes they had good manual backup defensive and protective systems.  (Again, this is Texas, so that's not unlikely.  I'd hate to estimate how long gang-bangers would last on my street if they tried anything.  I daresay they'd be dealt with in a very short time.  Neighbors here look out for each other.)

Anyway, things are slowly getting back to normal in the Houston area.  Let's hope they have a respite this hurricane season, so they don't have to do it all over again a few months from now.



Old NFO said...

And this doesn't take into account those that have been flooded out AGAIN! Those folks need to leave those low lying areas... I know they bought cheap, and 'love' that lifestyle, but many times can you rebuild and lose everything? And how many times are the locals willing to rescue you?

nick flandrey said...

Meh. I've lived in Houston for 21 years now. I moved here from southern California. The hazards changed from earthquakes and riots to hurricanes, and flooding.

I brought a smaller gas powered gennie with me, that I'd purchased for Y2K, and used it for the first time during Rita (which followed Katrina and had everyone spooked.)

I've used it every time since, including 14 days straight after Ike.

It won't run the A/C, but it will keep fridges and freezers cold and run chargers and other conveniences. It's not hard to operate but it was quality and not the cheapest thing I could find, and it needs maintenance every year. I'm still using it, 20+ years later.

In the mean time I've also picked up a Honda gas inverter generator. The inverter gennies tend to be very quiet, but don't have the full capacity of cheaper "jobsite" generators of similar cost or size. I got a propane kit for it and I've been very happy with it.

I'm handy/mechanically minded, and learned mostly thru youtube and trial and error, how to deal with most generator issues. I typically spend some time helping neighbors get their gennies running during a disaster.


All that said, I'm continually amazed when I hear about Texans that aren't prepared for storms and power outages. They are our major threats, and it only takes a few days to convince one of the benefits of having backup power. Some people even learned from the experiences of others.

So why don't people have any backups at all? My neighbor threw away a fridge full of food on the second day. If you have enough money to be throwing away food, you have enough money to be buying a generator. They were the only family on the block that didn't have a gennie, somewhere to go, or some other way to keep their food cold (that I talked to). No one asked me for power or a gennie this time. One neighbor loaded his freezer in the truck and took it with him to wherever they went that had power. Some people did ask for help getting a borrowed machine running, and I helped. Others that I'd helped during the big freeze said that they were now ok, having learned the lesson.



nick flandrey said...


The linemen and utility contractors have done and continue to do a fantastic job. I figured I'd be dark for a couple weeks but it was only a few days. Still there are people on FB and elsewhere stomping their feet and making @sses of themselves by demanding better response, faster response, and in particular response to THEM. Unlike a typical hurricane, none of the recovery personnel and assets were per-positioned and just waiting to roll in after the storm went thru. Fantastic work by selfless guys in really unpleasant conditions.

WRT storing or buying fuel and such. Home Depot has and has generators for sale locally. By the second or third day you could buy one. Other stores were open and had repair materials and generators too.

Gas is widely available. Some stations were running on local generators. Some had power restored due to being near a hospital/police station/or fire station. At WORST, you had to drive 10 miles to be outside the affected zone to get gas, food, or anything else. It was very strange to me to see everyone around Houston continuing with business as usual. Unlike a hurricane, the affected area was fairly compact, being mostly just the city of Houston and immediate surroundings.

I bought 4 bottles of propane the first and only time I had to go looking for fuel. Gas was the same, get out of town a bit and everything was normal.


Now, I'm a prepper and have significantly more preps than what I used. Never even ate anything out of the freezers, just normal food from the fridge. Cooked on a colman propane stove. Ran the gennie 8-12 hours a day. More than enough to charge up powerbanks, laptops and phones, and to cool down the freezers.

Anyone with medical issues that need power that doesn't take steps to ensure their safety and comfort is rolling the dice, and sometimes when you gamble, you lose. Even then the City had "cooling centers" and other places open where people could go if they had issues.


It's your life people, no one cares about it like you do.


Lastly, you can let your provider know that you might need priority when service is out.


I've been banging my head against the preparedness wall for a long time, and I'll keep doing it, but the time to take responsibility for your own life, safety, and security has long passed. If you haven't already, you're starting late but you can still do it. Get busy.


KurtP said...

That reminds me that I need to get off my @ss and buy a dual fuel genset w/ 220 to run the well pump.

Aesop said...

I'm pretty sure Texas has a far bigger problem than storm aftermath in Houston with the ongoing disaster that is Austin.

Priorities, kids. Priorities.

Anonymous said...

I _DO_ love my Malinois...
Seriously, a good dog, even a chihuahua, makes an excellent alarm system sans electricity, AND a deterrent, all in one furry, fun loving package!

audeojude said...

Part 1
I live in SC and grew up in a ranch/farm environment as a young kid. Mom's family were farmers going back to before the turn of the century. I guess it's a different mindset a more self sufficient one. Lots of friends have to go to the store 3 or 4 times a week just to eat. Without even talking about long term storage we can feed ourselves for months. Might be a limited selection after a week or two but plenty of food.

Due to hurricanes we have always kept generators. Keeping them running has always been the biggest issue with the carbs going bad due to improper storage compounded by 10x when ethanol became a thing. Then they came out with this wonderful thing called a dual fuel generator. You can let it sit for years and hook it up and it will fire right up as propane doesn't degrade over time nor does it do bad things to carburetors. If the outage is longer than a week we can move over to gas.

We keep about a 120 gallons of gas on hand. I found a truck toolbox on Craigslist with a 90 gallon capacity tank built in. Dropped it in the shrubbery beside the front drive where we pull around. It has oil, antifreeze and other car car products in the tool storage part and if someone forgot to fill the gas tank before driving the 40 miles into the country we live at they can pump gas in the car so as not to be stuck on the side of the road. It's been a great day to day addition to working on cars in the pull through drive with it sitting 2 ft off the edge of the drive. Got a 30 gallon tank on wheels off ebay for under 200 that we can run to gas station and fill and bring back to top off main tank. Gas in that tank was a couple years old so this year we ran it down running cars on it. Think im going to get non ethanol fuel this time to fill it. it lasts a bit longer. Make sure to use stabil or another fuel stabilizer when storing gas for long. it will go bad as in wont even burn on a open fire bad eventually and eventually is a lot quicker than you think without stabilizer. At least in our hot environment this has been true for us.

audeojude said...

part 2
Everyone has a propane grill. Great emergency stove. Get one with a side burner. For us who like to camp a Coleman 2 burner propane camping stove with an adapter to a 20 gallon propane tank is a must.. We lived with one for a year once while our kitchen was pulled out remodeling. set it on top of a small table or your countertop and just have fun. We have portable induction and electric burners we can do the same for if we run out of propane. Tank of propane lasts for months of cooking on it. It's not cheap but just bite the bullet and buy an extra 20lb tank every 6 months or so and fill it.
We have a gas stove in the house and use propane with it. I have 2 100lb tanks that will last most of a year of cooking each. Inherited one from my brother that was used for firing a pottery kiln and got another years later to have a better reserve. I don't recommend them. I'm now older and much weaker and they are almost impossible for me to take and get filled and then get them back in place. 20 lbs tanks are much easier to transport and use. I try to have 300+lbs of propane on hand at any time. We use it for the inside gas range, inside propane heater if needed, grill, tiger torch :) , and generator. Under normal circumstances the most fuel hungry thing we use it for is in winter for heating the house. We can keep our 1100 sqft house in the low 70's with a single tank a week.. about 10 dollars a fill at current prices here. We live in a moderate climate so unless your in the south or south western part of the country it will take more.

the long winded point is that we have decently deep stores of food and fuel not as a part of prepping or anything but as part of our daily lives. This means it isn't something that is out of sight out of mind till you need it and find it went bad or you forgot to replace it. It's a dependable resource whose systems are being used and maintained on a regular basis. For the most part I don't even pay much attention to hurricanes and such as we are prepared all the time. Systems that are used daily are way more dependable than those stored away for a bad day.

Gerry said...

If you think Houston is bad check out the flooding in Brazil.

Anonymous said...

Some good ideas to consider for preps are posted, and I agree. But the back up generator, solar panels, etc, people sometimes expect too much - they want the washing machine, the oven, air conditioners. I know AC is important in some places, but be realistic. The modern conveniences might need to be discarded.
We use the gen for running the freezer, fridge, well pump, and lights. We have some small solar panels to use for lights and recharging phones. It’s not easy but it works and is better than no power. We use a gas stove or the propane cooktop outside, or the grill. Wash is done by hand and hang outside to dry.
Southern NH

Fredrick said...

I've used a Cummins PS160 for powering my cpap while camping. It's good for 3+ days when charged and comes with a solar panel option. It's a lot cheaper than some of the other options. Sadly the current draw limit won't let it run my coffee pot.

tsquared said...

I have a diesel truck with an internal 1500w inverter. I also have a 4000w true sign wave inverter. With both inverters near max load The truck will burn 6.6 gallons of fuel in 24 hours. I have 4 hurricane oil lamps for lighting. A trained German Sheppard or Anatolian Shepherd is better than any burglar alarms. I have a German/Anatolian Shepherd mix. Everything she sees from our yard is her territory and she goes into scary bark mode on anyone that is not family until I tell her it is OK.

Stan_qaz said...

We have a solar system that is designed to make AC power when the grid id down, plenty for fridge/freezer all day and enough for coffee/cooking around noon.
We also use it to recharge a pair of battery-bank/inverter systems. They came with their own small panels so "both" is also an option.

We plan to not make any noise or show lights that would attract predators.

Anonymous said...

I bought replacement carbs with tune-up kit off Amazon cheap (hope they aren't junk) for my old matched Coleman5000ER"s rather than rebuild kits. They will run window AC units and refrigerator. Bigger is needed for central air conditioning. The old people (I'm one now too) need AC to breathe easy on the humid Mississippi Gulf Coast. Houston is every bit as bad. At least hurricanes are well forecasted now.
After Katrina we drove west to Baton Rouge for more gas and working laundromats and bread and milk, east to north of Mobile. It took eleven days to restore some residential power in a subdivision seventeen miles inland from Gulfport. I store forty gallons (more wouldn't hurt) of 90octane no-eth recreational fuel with Stabil, that gives you from the beginning of one season until the end of the next. Also have inverters and batteries, but not enough for serious, have to up that. Those power stations sound good.
It's always a good idea to keep a low profile and not to attract unnecessary attention and envy/covetousness for your preps at any time, not just after disasters. Generators and window units have copper in them, and rogues are stealing them again as scrap copper rises. Looters ransacked the flooded neighborhoods after Katrina and until the bad guys were intimidated by armed citizens and householders, they weren't concerned about the police and national guard, who usually won't shoot looters as readily. Since all the houses were dark whether occupied or not most looters avoided them. Everyone I knew that was living in a dark house was armed and ready to shoot first. Weren't any cops to call. It was dangerous because everyone was a potential looter to the householder. Even the innocent walked up to the dark house with their hearts in their mouths, loudly calling names to prevent accidents of mistaken identity. It's easier and safer to loot Kmart and Winn Dixie, so some did. And some people on my mom's street were too poor to afford to evacuate, I brought them water and ice and MREs from the aid distribution sites, they had nothing left after chest high water. They kept an eye on her house for me in return. I stayed and spent years rebuilding. I won't do it again.

lynn said...

I had no idea that many people were on CPAP machines.

Constant running to the gasoline station or the propane truck coming out is why I hooked my whole house generator up to the natural gas meter at the house. It cost me an extra $3,000 for a 200 foot pipe in the ground from the meter to the generator but was well worth it for the peace of mind.