I continue to be intrigued by the relationships between emergency preparedness, sustainability, & self reliance.

Emergency Preparedness

An emergency is something you have not prepared for.  So what is emergency preparedness besides an oxymoron?

  1. In a mild/economic emergency (job loss, etc.), you want emergency reserves like food & money.  
  2. In a temporary emergency (natural event), you want to survive (ideally: comfortably) until services can be restored. I’ve never been in an event that also lost us water & gas, but most storms/hurricanes knock out power & communications, and the potability of the water is in question.  You want water, food & fuel storage (a 72hr kit should get you most of the way there), shelter from the elements (including warmth in the winter), and easy access to emergency documents (currently, all of mine are on my computer… not easily accessible in an emergency) like first-aid instructions, gas shutoff procedures, etc.  
  3. In a major disaster or a situation where services are not likely to be restored for some time, you need more than storage.  You want water filters, a year-round garden, knowledge of how to forage/hunt for food, other low-tech knowledge that any pre-industrial era farmer would know, and a shelter that can protect you from weather extremes without mechanical systems.  
So here’s the pop quiz: what one home item can help you with ALL of these types emergencies as well as during non-emergency times?


A [solar] photovoltaic panel (even just one or two), a geothermal or ground source heat system, or a solar radiant heat system (even in just one south-facing room) will give you free, off the grid power in every emergency situation.

PV Caveats

  • A working PV system (like any supplemental system) will operate invisibly:  you won't be able to tell if it's working or not, because you are also using power from the grid.  It will be equally invisible if it is not working.  Any supplemental system should be commissioned & monitored so you know you're getting your money's worth.  It’s a performance system, not a belief system (like all HVAC). All performance systems should be commissioned and monitored, especially green high tech.
  • A hurricane or high winds can put anything out of commission, including your whole house; yes, it’s possible to have a tree fall on your panels or your generator and you are deprived of power, but that's no reason not to prepare.
  • Batteries have to be maintained if you want power at night when the sun is down.  When the grid is operational, batteries are unnecessary.  If you don't have batteries, you can still use the power during the day, but there's no way to store it for night or overcast day conditions. 
  • Solar panel awning on radio station.
    Image courtesy of Dave Dugdale via Flickr
  • Yeah, I know: they're ugly.  If my mama actually read this blog, she'd probably give me an interminable earful about exactly how ugly her neighbor's array is.  Manufacturers are working on it.  Google "building integrated photovoltaics" and you'll see what I mean. And remember, for the purposes of emergency preparedness, we're talking about a couple of panels, not a Net-Zero goal.  Consider installing them as an awning or a shelter.
  • Unfortunately, NONE OF THIS WOULD WORK in the real world if you're connected to the grid! In power outages, PV systems are not allowed to produce connected power because the electricity might harm those working to repair the grid.  And no one has created a solution to this yet.  Sigh.

Those Relationships

Which brings me back to relationships.

Sustainability is about living in a way that could continue for generations with no cumulative negative impacts like water & air pollution and excessive or hazardous waste.  

Self Reliance is about limiting consumerism to reduce waste and having the skills to support ourselves and others.  There's an element of "buy local" in here, too.  

We cannot prepare for every emergency.  But when emergencies come, we hopefully have a sustainable, somewhat self-reliant lifestyle that doesn't leave us desperate after one day without a trip to the grocery.


Image courtesy of NREL: