Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days

Posted by: MartinFocazio

Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/14/10 02:43 PM

Sometimes I hate some of the scenario work I have to do when putting together emergency plans for our teeny little community. 1,400 people, no municipal services whatsoever, an understaffed volunteer fire company, no full-time government employees at all....

So the latest thing to cross my desk is a review of the North American Ice Storm of 1998. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_ice_storm_of_1998

The key thing in this scenario is summarized here:

"Prior to the 1998 storm, the last major ice storm to hit Montreal (1961) deposited around 30 to 60 millimetres (1 to 2 inches) of ice. However, the 1998 storm left deposits twice as thick, downing power lines all over the region, damaging most of the trees in Montreal, and leaving streets covered in a thick impassable layer of ice."


And the key impact was:
"Many power lines broke and over 1,000 pylons collapsed in chain reactions under the weight of the ice, leaving more than 4 million people without electricity, most of them in southern Quebec, western New Brunswick and Eastern Ontario, some of them for an entire month. At least twenty-five people died in the areas affected by the ice, primarily from hypothermia, according to Environment Canada. Twelve more deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional damage were caused by the flooding farther south from the same storm system."

So, in my scenario planning, guess what the major issue turns out to be in this scenario? I mean aside from the obvious - no way to respond for EMS/Fire/PD in heart of the storm?

WATER & POOP. 100% of my area is on wells. Power goes out, most people have something to burn in to keep warm, but the wells go out, and in many cases septic systems are pump-up to sand mounds.

So in the planning process, I'm developing a centralized water distribution point (the National Guard has wonderful water tanks that they can bring in) and we'll also have sufficient power to operate water wells at the firehouse to refill the tanks - BUT - we have to get each tank-load certified as "safe to drink" by the county department of health - so now I need to plan a runner to fill sample containers, drive to the lab, and come back with the certification for each 6,500 gallon tank we fill. That means I could have delays before we can release water to those who have containers.

So that leads me to....if that's the scenario we're ending up with for an ice storm, and you're on a well, for your own sake, make sure you have a generator that can at least run your well, and is, optimally, propane powered so you can forget about fuel problems. We can bring in propane refilling trucks easily enough in a few days after the roads are clear, it's not so easy to bring in gasoline or diesel fueling services.






Posted by: Arney

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/14/10 03:00 PM

Originally Posted By: martinfocazio
We can bring in propane refilling trucks easily enough in a few days after the roads are clear, it's not so easy to bring in gasoline or diesel fueling services.

Martin,
Could you explain this a bit more? I don't quite follow why propane would be easy compared to the others, unless you're referring to just your own unique situation.
Posted by: MartinFocazio

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/14/10 03:59 PM

Originally Posted By: IzzyJG99

Propane is easier for a few reasons, Arney. Namely you can haul a buttload of propane on a small truck. You see it often. There are more HAZMAT rated drivers that drive propane trucks than their are giant gasoline tankers. So it's numbers. Another thing is that a lot of states have laws that say utility companies that provide heat (Propane in this case) HAVE to come out when you make a call in an emergency. In Florida for example if your on 2 or more propane appliances in an Emergency and call...they'll come out right away. FPU is great about that.


Exactly those points. I have no less than 20 sources for propane that can roll up to homes and refill the 800 lb "fat boys" as well as the mini-submarine sized tanks. bar-b-que tanks are easily hauled and swapped.

Propane does not go stale, does not gel in cold weather. It's really an optimal emergency fuel, I'm really surprised that we don't see it used more for things like portable generators - it makes a whole lot more sense for something you only run now and then to not have fuel festering in the works.



Posted by: falcon5000

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/14/10 06:53 PM

Martin, just wanted to throw my 2 bits in, they do sell kits to use on your generators that you can use propane or natural gas with your generators in a loss of power situation. I thought going to that during our long hurricane outages, but the amount of propane my generator consumes, price and availability led me to stick with gas. During those times in my area, gas was the only thing available, no kerosene, propane or natural gas was available at my location but every location is different. If you can get propane in that area that's great, better yet kerosene would help out as well. We were raised up utilizing kerosene as back up for heat and cooking in the old days and we survived and sometimes that old tried and true thing sticks around. As for water we always lived near a alternate water source weather it be creeks, lake, ocean or lots of swimming pools. If those were unavailable I would start buying a lot of food grade 55 gallon drums for back up and keep them filled all the time and rotate them out when needed. Like you said with a big communality, you could look into bladders as well. A underground Water Bladder with pumps and solar/wind source for backup would be ideal, you need to keep that water from freezing and the beauty about underground is it holds temps above freezing better.

http://uscarb.com/04451-kits.htm

http://www.interstateproducts.com/water_bladders.htm

http://www.usplastic.com/catalog/default.aspx?catid=459&parentcatid=458


Posted by: Arney

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/14/10 07:20 PM

Originally Posted By: martinfocazio
Exactly those points. I have no less than 20 sources for propane...

Izzy, Martin, thanks for the explanation. Makes sense.

Still, an ice storm like Montreal's sounds like really bad news. So deceptive. No howling winds or shaking earth or crashing waves. Just the intermittent sound of crack-crack-CRASH in the middle of the night as the ice starts to build up on trees and the power infrastructure and starts to bring them down.
Posted by: MartinFocazio

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/15/10 01:01 AM

Originally Posted By: IzzyJG99

As for your neighborhoods wells. I had a well, as did the whole 'hood in 2004's season. Doesn't take much Geni power to run a well. I don't know how the wells are near you, but in Florida most wells have a faucet on them.


Most wells around here are deep - mine is 450' deep - and the pumps are submerged in the well some height above the bottom - mine is at 400'. Each home/building has its own well, with a pressure tank. Most pumps are 220v units, there are some shallower well systems with 120v units.

There are wellheads but no faucets (freeze risk).

There is no water distribution system of any kind (no fire hydrants either).

Posted by: dougwalkabout

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/15/10 02:38 AM

I remember watching ongoing footage of the '98 ice storm (from a couple thousand miles west). DW and I looked at each other and within a few weeks we had a permanent, code-compliant wood stove and chimney in place and crackling away in the living room.

In terms of EMS access, I think that the ice on the roads was much less of an issue than the debris of trees, power poles, and power lines blocking the roads. Unless there is snow on top of glare ice, also known as "dance wax." That's just pure nasty.

Aside from that, heat, water, and sewage are the bottom-line issues. I continue to believe that each garage should be equipped with 5-gallon pails, stacked floor to ceiling, each containing a couple of gallons of sawdust. Better yet, sawdust and charcoal in equal amounts. Problem solved.
Posted by: williamlatham

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/15/10 12:25 PM

Martin,

Have you talked to the local test lab/Cooperative extension about portable assay kits that could be transported to the firehouse as opposed to taking samples to the lab? Just a thought.

Bill
Posted by: MostlyHarmless

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/15/10 12:41 PM

Originally Posted By: dougwalkabout
I continue to believe that each garage should be equipped with 5-gallon pails, stacked floor to ceiling, each containing a couple of gallons of sawdust. Better yet, sawdust and charcoal in equal amounts.


What do you use the sawdust and charcoal for?
Posted by: Compugeek

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/15/10 01:11 PM

Originally Posted By: IzzyJG99
This is the Water Bob I was talking about.

http://www.cheaperthandirt.com/CAMP205-1.html

I especially like the first customer reviewer. He used it to make Everclear laced punch for a party! Lol.


Everytime I see something about using the tub for temporary water storage, I keep feeling like I'm missing something.

You'd have to fill it (or the water bob) before you lost service. Is this option only for when you can see something coming, like a hurricane?
Posted by: adam2

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/15/10 02:45 PM

Originally Posted By: MostlyHarmless
Originally Posted By: dougwalkabout
I continue to believe that each garage should be equipped with 5-gallon pails, stacked floor to ceiling, each containing a couple of gallons of sawdust. Better yet, sawdust and charcoal in equal amounts.


What do you use the sawdust and charcoal for?


As an improvised toilet if flushing water or sewage disposal are not available.
The sawdust soaks up liquids, and the charcoal reduces bad smells.
Store used buckets outside until the thaw and then bury or compost the contents.
If you have a woodstove then the ashes from this are useful for the same purpose.
Posted by: Art_in_FL

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/16/10 02:26 AM

Many of the small macerator/lift pumps used to get sewage into raised-bed drainage fields for single-family homes are quite small. Most are under half a horsepower. Combined with a small reserve storage capacity in the pump chamber and drain lines and it should be possible to run the pump off a simple inverter connected to a vehicle a couple times a day.

You could run the well the same way. Running the well off an inverter you could store water and get as much heavy use done as possible. Then switching over to the septic system you clear the lines.

It would take a bit of coordination and handiness with electrical equipment but it isn't that complicated. Easier still if when the well and septic pumps were installed the installation incorporated the extra equipment that makes external connections easy. Something to ask your contractor about.
Posted by: MartinFocazio

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/16/10 11:49 AM

Originally Posted By: Art_in_FL
Many of the small macerator/lift pumps used to get sewage into raised-bed drainage fields for single-family homes are quite small.


MY home is set up so that critical systems have backups - when the power goes out, I don't have an automatic transfer, but I go out, start the generator, plug in the cord (I use a portable genset and rigged up an underground feed back to the house from the shed), go to the basement, flip a few switches and I have water, septic, furnace, fridge, freezer, some lighting and a microwave all up and running. It's a small generator (3,500 watts/220v) so I do have to balance loads a little, so I tend to leave the furnace OFF and run the woodstove instead, and we have electric hot water, which takes 100% of the generator to operate, so we leave that off the backup.

So it's not ME. It's the residents who don't have that kind of setup that I'm planning for. One of the other things we learned from this incident study was that people who abandoned their homes to stay with friends/family found out the hard way that their baseboard heating systems (water filled) and other pipes froze and burst while they were out of their homes. So another part of the drill is if they are going to evacuate, we need to remind them to drain their systems out - and even then, they need to check J and P traps and other low spots in their plumbing systems for cracked pipes.

Most of the training I get for this position borders on "duh" but this scenario is very close to home, we've had ice storms, and we will have ice storms again, so we're really thinking it out.

Next up for the incident command training sessions is one that I also don't like to think about, because it's also in the realm of very possible in my district - we have an annual fireman's carnival.

Here's the scenario description:

"Your small community is having a carnival. On the grounds of the carnival are rides, vendors, a mercantile exhibit, a stage with musical performances, food tents and so on.
On site you have one BLS ambulance with a crew of two, two state police troopers and one fire engine from the local volunteer fire company, but it is not fully staffed.
There are approximately 1,500 people at the carnival.
It is a cloudy evening, and the weather forecast is calling for isolated storms.
From cloudy but not stormy skies, a bolt of lightning hits the ferris wheel, and the resulting power surge knocks out the main generator for the carnival rides and starts several small fires in the food tents.

What is your plan of action?"


Yikes. That's just so incredibly possible for us...


Posted by: Art_in_FL

Re: Lights Out, Wires Down: 14 Days - 04/16/10 11:40 PM

Quote:
So another part of the drill is if they are going to evacuate, we need to remind them to drain their systems out - and even then, they need to check J and P traps and other low spots in their plumbing systems for cracked pipes.


In a well designed and built system both supply and drains, excepting the traps of course, drain dry once the caps are removed. In very cold locations it sometimes pays to invest in some drain antifreeze, typically propylene glycol as it is non-toxic. A splash down each drain protects the traps and avoids the unpleasantness of finding out a trap, even worse the toilet, froze and cracked.