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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask the Builder: Will you be prepared when disaster strikes?

Eight inches of snow was predicted. Do you think I would have been able to get out and get gas if I needed it for my snowblower?  (Tim Carter)
Eight inches of snow was predicted. Do you think I would have been able to get out and get gas if I needed it for my snowblower? (Tim Carter)
By Tim Carter Tribune Content Agency

In mid-December, I spent four days digging out from Winter Storm Gail. While it appeared to millions to be just an ordinary winter snowstorm, Gail unleashed her full wrath on a narrow band of New Hampshire, dumping up to 48 inches of snow in just 12 hours. Much of the water Gail gulped and slurped from Nantucket Sound, she spewed on my roof, my driveway and and 8 frozen feet of it on my front porch. You can read all about my saga at

I know, you might be dealing with 39 inches of sunlight today, and you might wear flip flops in January on the beach. Or maybe your typical winter is a light jacket, and once every five years you get a dusting of snow. Perhaps you only see snow from a distance coating the tops of mountains near your home. But trust me, this column has your name written all over it. It’s going to save you agony as well as copious amounts of money in the future. It might also save your life or that of a loved one.

I’m going to do my best to convince you in this space I have that you need to prepare for the unexpected and become a disciple of self-sufficiency. You might be one of the tens of millions of homeowners who are fumbling around in the fog of complacency.

In a nutshell, when the storm hit, all I really needed was two gallons of gasoline for my snowblowers. Fortunately, I purchased this invaluable liquid while Gail was getting her panties in a frumple 800 miles southeast of New Hampshire.

But what about you? What is that tool or product you will wish you had, or the job you will wish you had done, when the you-know-what hits the fan? I’ve seen a deeply disturbing trend develop over the past 15 or 20 years, and you might have been sucked into this vortex of coddling and comfort.

You might be a person who thinks nothing of calling 911 when something goes sideways. You might be one who thinks nothing of calling your contractor friend when you need this or that. What happens when 10, 100 or 1,000 people call 911 or that contractor all at the same time?

Stop. Think. What happens when that monster storm, wildfire, earthquake or pandemic hits, and you can’t get what you need? What are you going to do? Are you going to curl up in a ball?

Or are you going to be like some in your neighborhood who react and protect themselves and their property with a few simple tools and materials they need to survive until such time as things get back to relative normal.

Here’s an example. When I was a small lad, I used to help my mom rinse and fill empty white Clorox bottles with clean water. This was decades before bottled water was sold in stores. We had about 15 of them stored on our basement floor.

It became a running joke, and my mother endured all sorts of teasing about these bottles of water until that cold winter day when the water main outside our house broke, and we had no water. That 15 gallons of water saved the day. God bless my mom!

Do you own a simple and affordable pipe wrench? Do you know how to turn off the valve at your gas meter? Do you even know where your gas meter is? Do you know what the shutoff valve looks like?

The same is true for your water shutoff valve. Do you know how to prevent your home from being flooded with thousands of gallons of water if a pipe should burst?

Do you have the skills, tools and materials on hand, even a simple fiberglass tarp, to make emergency roof or window repairs? Is there a person in your neighborhood who has these skills in case you don’t?

Do you charge your cellphone each night? Do you have storage batteries that will allow you to charge your phone multiple times if you lose power for days?

Do you keep your car or truck gas tank filled all the time allowing you to travel 300+ miles nonstop? What happens if you need to evacuate, and the gas stations are clogged with frantic people, and the station runs out of gas because the tanker trucks can’t refill the station?

The list of simple tools you need to survive and help yourself is not that big. The skills you need to survive are not insurmountable. There are hundreds of YouTube videos you can watch now before your cable line is taken down by a tree limb.

Now is the time to have a simple neighborhood meeting to see who has what skills. One of my neighbors is an ER doctor. Do you have a doctor who lives near you? Make an inventory of who has what tools and who can do what.

Remember, when disaster strikes, your house might be the least important thing in your community. Your first responders will be busy saving community assets, not your house that no one but you cares about, if we’re being honest.

This is the paramount reason why you need to learn to help yourself. It’s that simple.

Subscribe to Tim Carter’s free newsletter and listen to his new podcasts at

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