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Emergency Preparedness

Cooking When the Utilities Are Out

Whether you need to cook in an emergency depends on your tolerance for snack foods. For most people, after a few meals of dried fruit, granola and energy bars, crackers, beef jerky and Crystalite, you will be as happy for something hot and tasty as the America G.I.’s were in WWII when they were lucky enough to capture a German camp kitchen, and could eat something other than their C-rations.

Here are a few options:

Stove inserts –You can cook on top of a wood stove, of course. Many stove inserts don’t leave a very large area for cooking, however, and so are not ideal. Some older wood stoves made for cooking have an oven in them.

Fireplaces – Cooking over an open flame is not easy, and requires tongs or other implements for lifting pots on and off the fire. Cooking over coals is easier, and the heat is more consistent.

Coleman-type camp stoves produce a lot of heat and allow you to cook on two or three burners at once, depending on the model, but a little practice is valuable. These stoves are large and don’t transport well, but do a good job of cooking if working properly. After long use the gaskets on the thumb pump need replacing. Check yours to be sure it working well. There are shops in the Valley which repair these stoves for a reasonable price. These stoves require white gas, often called Coleman fuel, which costs about eight dollars per gallon, and is less explosive than gasoline. Don’t use these or similar stoves indoors.

Backpacking stoves commonly burn white gas, but some will run on kerosene, gasoline, and some on propane and butane. Butane is a clean fuel, but doesn’t work well in cold weather. Most require a stand to hold a pot, and allow cooking only one item at a time, but if operated correctly, can be quite efficient; many weigh under a pound. Practice using these – you don’t want to learn to use it for the first time in an emergency.

Alcohol Stoves are popular with lightweight backpackers, and can be made from an aluminum Pepsi or Heineken can according to instruction to be found on the Internet. These stoves require denatured alcohol or pure ethanol; isopropyl alcohol found in the pharmacy is 30% water, and so is a poor fuel. Alcohol burns with about half the heat of a white gas stove, so it takes longer to cook a meal; these are best for just heating water and simple meals that require little cooking. Two oz. of alcohol will keep a small stove going for 10-15 minutes. Some backpacking and emergency stoves run on fuel tabs or Sterno.

Dutch ovens are made in many sizes, from two quarts to 12 quarts or larger. The six-quart, 12-inch model is most popular but these are heavy, weighting about 22 lbs, so you don’t want to carry it far. The traditional cast-iron Dutch oven is almost indestructible, and can be used to cook just about anything you can cook on a home stove or oven, from stews, to pies, biscuits, or bread on an outdoor fire, usually over wood coals or charcoal briquettes, or in a confined space, such as in a Volcano stove (12-inch dia. max.). They say that the flat lid of a Dutch oven can be inverted and used as a skillet. Dutch ovens are usually used over coals or charcoal. The typical Dutch oven has three legs so it can stand up over the coals. For baking, put coals or briquettes on top of the lid.

Propane Bar-B-Que grills are designed for grilling meat, but can also be used for heating pots and pans. Many have a side burner for heating pots. Extra propane cylinders may be desirable.

Solar Ovens can be made from simple materials, such as a cardboard box and tin foil, or you can buy them commercially made; some cost up to $300. A solar oven requires reflected light from the sun to cook the food, and so can only be done during the part of the day when the sun is high, and when there is minimal cloud cover. Food must be prepared before the midday, and needs to be cut into smaller pieces to cook properly. Most homemade solar ovens reach temperatures of 250-300o F., enough to boil water and cook most foods, but it takes longer than a normal oven. One benefit is that you can hardly overcook food in a solar oven. There are designs and instructions on line. A black pot to absorb the light works best. Covering the pot to keep the heat in improves efficiency. Building one could be a fun family or Scout project.

Volcano stoves, belying their name, are reportedly quite dependable and can be used to cook with wood, charcoal, or with added attachments, a five-gallon propane tank or smaller propane cylinders. A round 18-gage steel shell which sits on legs and keeps the heat of fuel in a chamber where its more efficient than an open fire; when expanded, the stove is about 18 inches high and can be used for grilling, or with a pot, pan or 12-inch Dutch oven. Collapsed, the stove is six inches high by 16 inches in diameter. The legs raise the stove so you can cook on a table. A Springville, Utah company makes this well stove which has been well reviewed. Jeremy Wall has used one of these at home, and on Scout campouts.

Storing Fuel – Coleman fuel (white gas), propane, butane, kerosene and gasoline fuel should not be stored in the house or in your garage: not only is doing so unsafe; it may void your fire insurance policy.

If you have further questions or concerns please contact:

Steve Osborn, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator

Cell: (801) 856-9128


Is your family ready for an emergency, such as an earthquake, an extended power failure, a blizzard, a house fire, chemical spill, or other emergency?

In a serious earthquake, police, fire, public works, and utility crews will be overwhelmed, and will go to the areas where the needs are most serious, such as a collapsed multi-story building downtown. We will be on our own for initial response in such an event. It could be days or even weeks (or perhaps months if there is an attack on the electrical system) before we get help from outside, or before essential services are restored, and stores reopen. What we do for our families can make a big difference. Each of us will be the emergency response.

We need to prepare now. We can’t wait until a disaster occurs to get ready. If we prepare now, we can face the future with less anxiety. Here are some recommended steps that you and your family can take now.

At this Christmas season, why not buy practical gifts that might be need needed by your family and friends in an emergency, such as long underwear, a good hat, gloves, wool socks; a reliable LED headlamp and AAA batteries; candles or kerosene lantern, a small FM radio with ear buds; a manual can opener; a backpack, water purifier, sleeping bag, blanket for the car; a generator, wood stove, storage battery, or solar panels in case the electricity goes out; ready-to-eat packaged meals, canned or dry foods which will keep, a small efficient rocket cook stove, or a cook stove that powers a fan which can generate electricity for small devices such as headlamps or cell phones – all of these items are useful and will be appreciated in an emergency, or perhaps for recreation or other needs.

1. Make a family emergency plan for various emergencies, such as fires, blizzards, earthquakes, etc. Discuss where you’ll meet, how to pick up children at school (local public elementary schools don’t allow children to leave in an emergency until a parent or other authorized person comes to pick them up). Include pets in your planning: emergency shelters for families generally don’t allow pets, which was the main reason people didn’t leave New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. Have food, medicines, a leash, collar and tags, a bowl, and a kennel for your dog or cat. Don’t let the animal run free after an emergency; animals can be anxious in a disaster. A fire emergency requires knowing how to get out from each room in the house, and meeting at a place near the home, such as the front lawn, teaching children how to get out of bedrooms at night, feeling a door before they open it if they smell smoke, and so forth. Have an out-of-area (outside the Wasatch Front) contact to call and report to in an emergency. Each family member should have that number in his or her purse or wallet, on a cell phone, or memorized. It’s not a bad idea to carry three quarters to call with in case pay phones are the only way to communicate. (Cell phones are usually overwhelmed, and standard residential and business land line phone service often doesn’t work in an emergency.) Some cell phone services dedicate certain lines just to text messaging, so if a voice call doesn’t get through, a text message might. Your family plan should consider what you would do for shelter if your home was damaged by an earthquake, or otherwise unusable: Can you stay in the garage, with a neighbor whose home is likely to be standing, in a tent, or with a relative? How will you keep warm? Do you have extra firewood for your fireplace or wood stove, or fuel for a kerosene heater, or gasoline for a generator? Gasoline is unstable, and storage of flammable liquids in the home or garage may void your home insurance policy.

2. Make a 72-hour emergency kit for each family member that you can grab and take with you if you have to leave your home. Don’t leave it in the basement, as in an earthquake the basement may not be accessible. The best 72-hour kits are those you assemble yourself; the commercial ones usually have substandard quality items in them, and aren’t tailored to your needs. Remember, you may be out of your home for more than just three days. Think about what you’d need to survive if you couldn’t get back to your home – it’s like camping out in the city: you’d need food that takes little or no preparation, water, and water purification measures, a flashlight and batteries, a first aid kit, a portable radio, soap and other basic toiletries, medications, warm clothing, sleeping bag or blankets, sleeping pad, perhaps a tent, and similar items. There is a lot of information on the Web about this. You can also make an emergency kit for your car. Experts recommend keeping a sturdy pair of shoes next to your bed, with your eyeglasses and a flashlight in it in case there is an earthquake or other emergency in the night. The most common injury in earthquakes is cut feet.

3. Build up at least a three-month supply of food, fuel, and some water for the family – items that don’t require refrigeration, and keep well. If you can’t afford to buy it all at once, you can buy some extra items each time you go shopping. Over time, build up to a larger supply of food; experts say that it is likely in the near future that our electrical system will be attacked by computer hackers, and that large parts of the U.S. electric grid will be knocked out for weeks, months, or as long as two years. See Ted Koppel’s new book Lights Out for more on this. Consider that you’ll need at least a gallon of water for each family member just for drinking, cooking and sanitation per day; more is needed for cleaning and other uses. You can use clean soda bottles, fruit juice bottles, (not milk cartons – milk residue is hard to clean and breeds bacteria), or you can buy five-gallon cans or 50-gallon barrels. You might want to buy a water purifier.

If you have any questions regarding personal or community preparedness, please contact:

Steve Osborn – Wasatch Hollow Emergency Preparedness Coordinator

(Phone) 801 856 9128