In January 2009 a very large ice storm hit my area along with other states. We were talking about it at work the other day and I thought I'd share some of the lessons (most hard ones ) I learned from it.
First off we had some advance warning from the weather man that the storm was coming but I and a lot of other people didn't take it seriously enough. The freezing rain started at the beginning of my shift at work which is 24 hours,7am-7am so I wasn't able to be home to help my family any and that nagged at me the whole time. The streets very quickly became very slick and people going to work or trying to get back home after the roads got bad started sliding off roads or into each other and page outs to us and the cops and ambulance started coming in heavily. Shortly after wards the power began to fail all over the county as power lines dropped and poles snapped from the weight of the ice. People were already making runs on the stores and every generator,kerosene heater,lantern,propane heater and batteries sold completely out within hours as well as the usual bread,milk and prepared foods.
This is a retirement community so there were a lot of elderly folks who were suddenly without heat or a way to run their breathing equipment etc. This brought in more calls to 911 and the office of emergency management was scrambling trying to get enough warming shelters set up to handle all the people who had no emergency preps to fall back on (which was most). There were 3 structure fires in short order caused by people attempting to heat their homes with long unused fireplaces,stoves or trying to re-fill a kero heater in the house. All off duty firefighters and cops were recalled to duty and we were still overwhelmed by the volume of calls and the difficulty of getting through streets that were blocked by fallen trees and power poles. To get to some calls required busting out the saws and cutting a path through blocked areas which delayed responses and backlogged calls some more. The phone lines went down all over the area which made it difficult for people that needed help to contact 911. The only thing we could do at that point was split up into teams of 2 men per truck and drive through neighborhoods slowly with lights on so people could flag us down if needed,the LEO's did the same and since our radio's and dispatch was running off generator power we were able to make do during the first 24 hours of the event.
As the night went on more and more power failed and the transformers blowing all over town looked positively surreal. By the time daylight finally arrived there was probably not 10 % of the population that still had electrical power,maybe 30 % had phone service. A lot of people had spent the night in their vehicles after trees,limbs or other things had damaged their houses and were very low on gas after running the engine off and on to warm up. Unfortunately there was only one gas station in town that still had power (for awhile anyway) and long lines formed to try to get gas and kerosene until it ran out. An amazing amount of people apparently eat every meal from a restaurant or take-out and needed food and a lot of folks with wells needed water because they didn't have a generator to power the pump. Many others had little cash on hand and the stores that were open couldn't process credit/debit cards and many wouldn't accept checks.The point of this post is that emergency services may not be quickly (or even slowly) available in a widespread incident.
When I finally got off duty and headed home I found out that a lot of my preps worked great but I also found a lot of holes in my plans and some poor planning and oversight on my part. I'll continue that little adventure in another post in a couple of hours if anyone is interested.
One good source for such information as well as almost anything you can think of in the realm of preparedness can be found at the Frugals Squirrels preparedness forums I strongly urge you to go and get your (free) account and take the time to look at all of the valuable resources that they have to offer, you will be well rewarded in doing so.