If you have been following along at TheiPhoneMom.com (see our Halloween newsletter and our Giving thanks contest), you may have noticed that part of our team was in the Superstorm/Hurricane Sandy area.  We are incredibly thankful that none of us lost our homes due to flooding, but we did have to deal with a week of electrical, cable and internet outages.  We are still contending with gas rationing and lines, and the area was just hit with a nor’easter, which while under normal circumstances we can handle with barely a pause, this time caused more outages on some newly reenergized power lines. I was amazed at how many trees clung to their changing leaves during the Hurricane. Unfortunately, tree limbs heavy with leaves do not handle heavy wet snow all that well.

TheiPhoneMom has learned a lot about living without power over the last couple of years.  Last summer brought Tropical Storm Irene to the area followed by a freak early season snowstorm in October.  Losing power for 7 days straight last year led us to one of our top three best purchases ever: a generator.  We feel so fortunate that because of our generator, not only were we able to stay in our home during this latest seven day stretch, but we were also able to house and feed friends and family. Our children had a blast having so many other kids around at all hours of the day and night.

There are many areas in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut tri-state region that have been decimated by Hurricane Sandy. Please visit the American Red Cross or other community orginizations to see if you can offer assistance to these communities.

In the event that you find yourself without power but can safely remain in your home, here are some tips for families that I have begun to compile:

1) Create an emergency supply list.  Actually buy the items on your list! We have been urged by the government to do so over the last several years, but many times lists do not get past the planning stage. FEMA has several resources to help you begin to plan your own list: Emergency Supply List, Family Supply List, Basic Disaster Kit (see tabs on bottom of page for first aid, emergency, and unique needs).

2) Fill up your car – this should be among the last things you do before you hunker down in a safe place to ride out the storm.  No one expected the gas shortages in the NY/NJ area (well except for Hess who moved in generators to most of their gas stations in advance!).  If your entire town is out of power, your gas station probably is as well.

3) Buy bottled water and fill up your bathtub with water.  We had water throughout the ordeal but I had friends who lost.  There were also numerous towns whose water was contaminated for days.  It’s recommend that you have at least a 3 day supply of water, one gallon per person per day.  A week’s supply is even better.

4) Keep spare gas for your car. I never even considered this before, but you can bet we will be storing gas (safely) from now on.  Lines for gas at the few open gas stations were over a mile long in areas. Have a few full gas cans available. The lines for people with cans to refill their portable generators were almost as long.

5) Stock up on batteries way before a storm is forecasted.  From experience, any time a storm is mentioned now, there is a run on D and AA batteries at every local store.  Keep a large supply at home.

6) Stock up on candles, matches and firewood.  Use these in safe and appropriate ways.  Make sure you always practice fire safety, especially with children around.

7) Have a few lanterns and flashlights around. We found a really fantastic lantern after Tropical Storm Irene (Summer 2011) – the Coleman LED Quad Lantern. This lantern has four detachable sides which made it easy for my kids to be able to grab one of the sides and go search for books and toys. The light was very bright too. I am bummed to see that it is out of stock but there are great alternatives: Coleman 4D Rugged Personal Size Rugged Lantern and Coleman 4D CPS LED Duo Lantern.

8) Food! Any family with kids knows how important it is to have a good supply of food to feed the always hungry little ones. Here is a guideline on when freezer and refrigerator items need to be thrown out: foodsafety.gov. I would suggest that you always have backups of favorite non perishable foods and keep a supply of things like powdered milk that can be used if you have no access to backup power for your fridge. Remember my grocery system? It really came in handy during the week following Hurricane Sandy. I had plenty of food to feed our guests, and when I did have to go to the supermarket, it was a surprisingly small trip for the amount of people! Before the hurricane hit, we also did a special run with the kids and let them each choose a few treats to make the experience a little more pleasant for them.

9) Do laundry right before the storm. Especially if you have young children.

10) Charge all electronics any chance you get. Even once power returns, you may lose it again while power crews work on other lines. No matter how full your battery is, any time you see a working outlet, use it! David Pogue, technology writer for the New York Times had some suggestions on alternative ways to recharge your devices:  How to Keep Electronics Going with No Power.

11) Speaking of electronics…Our cable and internet were down for a week. The cell service in our residential area was spotty to say the least. Many cell towers were knocked out because of the storm. A friend commented that he would compose several emails in his house and then walk to the end of his driveway, the only place he could find a working signal, and send all his emails at once. Expect cell signals to be weak in residential areas and stronger in retail areas.

12) Expect to have no access to internet or cable around your home. Download multiple games, stories and shows in advance. I had one show on my iPad before this storm. And there is a limit to the amount of times anyone can watch the same Dora the Explorer episode over and over again. If you need recommendations for some great apps to keep your kids occupied, we have some 😉 I did indeed have lots of great apps for the kids!

13) Buy a battery or hand crank powered radio.  No electricity, no tv and no internet means no news.  A radio is a must have to stay on top of the weather!

14) Always have back up activities for the kids. Once the power goes out, and they are home for over a week with no school, you need to start getting creative. Going outside is not an option when it is freezing, and there are trees and power lines down everywhere. A trip to an open library or play space is a great way to fill up some time. In our house, we love crafts of any kind. Our home office doubles as the kids’ art room. Every day they are in here drawing pictures, taping and gluing. I had hidden away a few craft projects that we pulled out and used during a couple of long afternoons.

Some examples:

1) Salon day – nail polish is a treat at our house that we save for special occasions. Day 6 was a special occasion in my book! I collected every nail polish in the house and lip glosses. Put on some music and invited all little kids for a salon appointment
2) Plain old posterboard and a new batch of Crayola Washable Kid’s Paint. Add in a few paint brushes and let the kids be creative. I find giving them posterboard instead of paper turns an ordinary painting activity into something much larger in their minds!
3) Sand Art: should kill about an hour for older kids. Keep the little ones away!
4) Mosaics: My kids love doing these and keep asking for more.
5) Lanyard (a.k.a. gimp), bead kits or friendship bracelets: We did these all the time as kids, and a power outage is the perfect time to pass on the tradition to your own children!
6) Painting, Stamping, Coloring kits: some of our favorites come from Melissa and Doug. Melissa & Doug Wooden Heart Chest and Melissa & Doug Friendship Stamp Set
7) Actual books! Have some new ones put away in advance of a storm. Let me know if you need age appropriate recommendations. Consider this a great time to encourage your children to read.
8) Board Games and Puzzles: again, consider buying one or two new ones before a big storm.

Most importantly, treat this as an adventure and keep a sense of humor. Try not to let your kids see you anxious or afraid. Teach them about the importance of preparing and staying safe in an age appropriate manner. If they are nervous, consider doing a slumber party with all willing family members in the same room. Try to keep a sense of normalcy and routine in the days that follow until full power is restored.

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