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What If?


I wake as the light begins to filter in through the blinds. It’s cold inside, much colder than it should be. The entire house is eerily quiet and even the air itself feels still. There is no background hum of electronics or the rarely noticed regimented ticking of the clock on the wall. I reach over to the night stand to check my phone and find nothing but a black screen. I check my watch and it has stopped at precisely 3:33 am.

At some point in the night, Kayla woke up and crawled into my bed. Now she moves to snuggle closer to me for warmth. I get out of bed and lay an extra blanket over her to keep her warm and quickly get dressed, adding a couple of extra layers. Outside on the street, I start to hear voices. A couple of the neighbors have left their houses and are talking on the sidewalk in front of my house.

After letting the dogs out back to do their morning business, I exit through the front door and walk over to the small gathering of neighbors. It seems they too are experiencing the same power outage. No one’s heat, or electricity is working. No one’s phones are functioning and none of their cars will start. I feel the suspicions begin to tingle at the back of my mind but keep them to myself for the time being, not wanting to even acknowledge the possibility yet.

Having ascertained that we are all in the same situation, I head back inside and bring the dogs back in. I close and lock the doors securely to keep as much heat inside as I can. While Kayla is still sleeping, I go around and close off all the heating vents and cover them with a layer of aluminum foil and a wash cloth. It’s not the best insulator but it’s what’s readily at hand and will be easy to take back down if the power returns.

Before all the heat fades from the house, I go out to the garage and bring in the propane tanks and the heater, then continue sealing up the house as best as I can. I cover all the windows with spare blankets to minimize heat loss. This makes it nearly pitch-black inside, so I go about lighting candles throughout the house to provide light and a minimal amount of heat. As I’m hammering in the nails to hang a blanket as a divider in the hallway to keep as much warmth as possible in the living areas, I hear Kayla wake and call out to me.

After a quick stop in her room for warm clothes, I go in and help get her dressed quickly. Together, we pull the backpacks of camping gear out of my office and into the living room and pull out the small stove. I take it to the kitchen and fire it up. As the pan warms, I load the food from the refrigerator into a cooler and set it outside by the back door. Next, all the food from the freezer goes into a plain cardboard box and is set outside in the cold right next to the cooler.

With the pan warm and the perishable items out in the cold, She and I make some breakfast and have a warm drink, coffee for me and hot chocolate for her. While we are eating, I use the stove to boil a pot water to make more coffee with and fill the insulated thermos. After we’re done, I wash the dishes in the still running water and proceed to clean and fill the sinks and bathtub. I use only cold water for this, opting to keep the water still hot in the water heater as warm as possible for later.

With the dishes done and the water basins and spare containers full, we put on our coats and put the leashes on the dogs. I grab the thermos full of coffee and the two of us and the dogs then make our way out the back door (the front being covered by a blanket). We walk down the street in each direction to check in with the neighbors, asking if they need anything and offering coffee. A couple people gratefully accept a cup of coffee having no way of heating it for themselves but other than that, thank us and assure me that they are doing fine.

Making our way back to the house, we go back inside and remove our heavy coats, hats, and gloves. We pull our sleeping bags out of the camping packs and I decide we’ll use the oversized bathroom with the door closed to spend the rest of the morning in since it’s small and will be easy to heat. It also has no windows to let in cold air and has the fewest exterior walls and the non-carpeted floor is better suited to putting the propane heater on.

To make it a bit more comfortable, while she gets her Legos, a couple stuffies, and a few books, I set up the military style cot and bring the small folding love seat and chair in. I shut off the main gas valve to the house and after waiting a little bit, turn the heater on and set it in the corner where it won’t get knocked over or accidentally bumped into.

With the two of us, the dogs, the cat, a few candles, and the propane heater on low, it’s pretty cozy inside and the morning passes quickly and pleasantly. We decide on a lunch that we don’t have to cook to use some of the perishable items first and then settle down in our sleeping bags for a nap.

A short time later, I am awoken when the dogs start to whine and scratch at the door. Thinking they need to go outside again, I open the door to the rest of the house and hear yelling outside. Worried about what the commotion might be, I grab my shotgun, tell Kayla to stay there and that I will be right back, make sure the heater is off and cooling, and the dogs and I go out the back door. Going out through the back gate, I walk around the house to see that the commotion is not a fight, but a fire.

It turns out that one of the neighbors decided to bring their fire pit inside the house to provide some heat and the fire got out of control. Now their entire house has caught and is burning quickly. Without being able to call the fire department, there is little any of us can do but stand back and watch it burn to the ground.

I feel bad for the couple that lived there and briefly consider inviting them to come stay inside with Kayla and me. I’m spared from having to turn them down though when another neighbor invites them in first. I feel guilty about it but I’m instantly relieved. They aren’t a couple that I know at all, other than occasionally waving to each other, and I’m not so keen on bringing people I don’t really know very well into my house where my daughter and I sleep.

Plus, I am less than impressed with their attempts to keep warm so soon after the power has gone out and the resulting catastrophic failure that left them homeless. I don’t want to take the risk that they’ll do anything else ill advised that could put Kayla and I in danger or leave us in the same situation.

With nothing to be done outside, I head back in and check on Kayla. She’s curious as to what happened so I explain it to her, using it as an example of why we have to be so careful with the heater and the stove when we use it to cook and why the candles are all burning inside glass containers secured to the walls so they can’t accidently fall over.

Without being able to call anyone, I consider what options I have for trying to find out more about what’s going on. I pull out a hand crank radio from one of my backpacks and try to get it working but have no luck there either, it seems that too has been affected by whatever took out the power. Thinking about the possible causes, the only ideas I can come up with are an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) or a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) but I have no way of knowing which, if it is either of the two, might be the cause.

The rest of the afternoon and evening pass quietly and uneventfully. We build Legos together then make some dinner. With the sinks full of water, we let the dogs out back and use some of the snow to wash the few dishes we used while cooking. After that, just to get out and move around a bit, we put the dogs back on their leashes, bundle up, and take a walk around the block.

After we get back and are getting ready for bed for the night, Kayla tells me she’s worried about her Mommy and wants to go check on her. I explain to her that we can’t just drive over there right now because the truck isn’t working, but that Mommy is ok because she’s at grandpa’s and they have a woodstove so she’s warm and safe.

This gets me thinking a bit about my own wood stove. Seeing as I rent my house, I have a woodstove but haven’t been able to connect it due to not being able to modify the house in such a manner. As I lay next to Kayla and rub her back as she is falling asleep, I start thinking about how I might be able to use some of the vent lines from the dryer and the water heater to connect the woodstove to the exhaust fan in the bathroom that runs straight up and out through the roof.

The next morning after breakfast I start inventorying what parts the dryer and water heater have that I might be able to re-purpose. I still have plenty of propane for the heater, so I don’t want to tear it all apart just yet, but I’ve now got a plan in place for if I do need to. Kayla is still worried about her mom, so we spend the afternoon putting some supplies in backpacks and getting ready to make the couple mile walk to go check in on her the next day.

I can understand her concerns, I’m worried about my own mother too and don’t have any way to check on her. It’s too far of a walk in this cold to make it over there. I have enough gear that we could make the trip over a couple days, but with things in the neighborhood starting to get a bit tense, I don’t want to leave the house unattended for days on end.

So far, it has only been two days since the power went out and all electronic communications ceased, and people are already starting to have a tough time with it. In some parts of the country or world, this has happened numerous times, but this is Ohio. Things like this just don’t happen around here. Sure, the power will go out for a few days here and there when winter storms hit but we’ve never lost the radio and cell phones before. People haven’t had to go without news and the internet for decades and it seems like many of them have forgotten how to.

I worry what things will be like in a week or two if nothing changes. How desperate will people get, and what will they do when that happens? What sort of things will they be willing to do that they would never have previously considered when they’re kids are getting cold, thirsty, and hungry. What might I have to do to keep Kayla and I safe? Do we stay here in the house and wait to see if my Mom tries to make it out here or do we pack up what we can and head out to my ex’s parents house where they have a bit more land and less people around?

There are so many things to consider and so many questions I wish I could ask or find answers to but it’s too late now. Why didn’t I take more time to think about this when it would have been so much easier? Why did I not ask people things I now wish that I had just because I didn’t want to seem paranoid or didn’t want to accept that this was a possibility, even if only a very remote one? Why didn’t I talk to my family about it and come up with some sort of plan, some way of rendezvousing, just in case? Whatever it is that caused this has already happened and there’s nothing I can do now but the best I can with the knowledge, skills, and supplies I had before this unexpected event changed life as I knew it.

I decided to write this tonight because I was sitting in the shower thinking through one such “What if” scenario. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking through things like this and putting a few things in place, or learning things I might need to know while doing so with the benefit of the internet is so easy. It did make me realize that while I have thought about it personally, I haven’t really talked to those I love much about it. I don’t want to stress them out or make them feel like I’m unreasonably worried. I’m not worried.

These thoughts used to worry me and keep me up at night but then I started writing them down and finding the answers to the questions I could think of. But still, I don’t really talk to my loved ones about it. I remember growing up, we had a plan in place in case of a fire. My bedroom was on the second floor and I had this metal chain and rung ladder that hooked over the window sill and I could climb down to safety if I ever needed to. We talked about the plan and even practiced what to do a couple times. We had fire drills at home just like you do at school or work.

We never once had a fire at home and I never had need of that ladder, but I slept well and, even still, am grateful that we had a plan in place if we’d needed it. I’m not sure if this is just something that’s gone out of style or if it has fallen to the wayside in favor of spending time on social media, but It makes me wonder. If we can spend time each day reading or sharing funny but pointless memes on Facebook, why don’t more people take a few minutes to discuss things like this with their loved ones?

Is it just an American thing? Do we think that we’re invincible or is it just a case of “it’ll never happen to me” that lets us neglect thinking about things like this? No, it’s not the most fun thought or topic of conversation but neither is the idea of our house, school, or place of business catching fire. Yet no one bats an eye at having to do a fire drill. It’s just a part of life that we accept as a possibility. Yes, fires certainly happen more often than a situation like I’ve described above but it’s not just limited to things like EMP’s or CME’s.

Look at hurricane Katrina or some of the earthquakes that have happened all over the world. The world is a strange and unpredictable place these days it seems. I’m not saying you should all go out and stock up on supplies and become a super prepper or anything, but why not take a few minutes to talk about the possibilities with the ones you love and come up with a plan just in case? You stand to possibly lose something invaluable by NOT doing it but there’s nothing lost by doing it. I urge you to please at least consider talking to your loved ones about things like this, it’s not worth regretting it if something ever should happen.

Thanks for your consideration and for letting me talk to you about this today.