Notes from Hurricane Frances (and Charley and Jeanne)
This is compiled from notes that I took during and after the hurricanes that went through here in 2004. Since it was written in a diary format, some conclusions in the first part are changed by the time we get to the end. Be sure to read all the way through.
Hurricane Frances came through last weekend. Today is Friday September 10, 2004, and power was restored here today at 5:15 pm. Hurricane Charley had come through just before this, and power was only out about one day. This is from notes that I made over the past week, and it applies to my own particular circumstances – your situation will almost certainly be different, but perhaps you can find something here to help.
Keep in mind that although being without electricity and air conditioning is a major problem for us, this is how most of the rest of the world lives every day. The problem is that we are not used to it and they are. The goal here is to make the transition as smooth as possible so that we can get adjusted to life without electricity until it is restored.
Frances was a slow moving storm. High winds started here on Saturday afternoon. The highest winds were on Sunday, with rain bands and high gusts continuing into Monday. This location is surrounded by large oaks which serve as a wind screen – unless they are blown over. The highest gust measured at 30 feet here was only 46 MPH, but it was obvious from the movement of the oaks, that the winds were much higher above the trees. On Sunday, a tornado touched down a couple hundred yards from here. I could not see it, but I heard it. A tornado sounds just like what it is described as – the sound of a freight train, only without the “clacking” of the rails. When I first heard it, my thought was “why in the world would they be running a train in the middle of a hurricane?” It took a few seconds for it to sink in that it was a tornado. After the storm had passed, I saw how it had shredded huge oaks and destroyed the utility lines. The road was completely blocked, and I could not see the house that I knew was behind the debris.
Before the storm
In addition to the usual stuff, turn the air conditioning down as low as you can to cool the house down. If you’re careful, and you have a shady location, you can keep the house reasonably comfortable for quite a while with the windows closed. Keep the shades drawn, cook outdoors, and keep things as dry as possible.
If your air conditioner fan unit is not very well protected from wind by the way it is positioned, be sure to anchor it down. They look like they are rock solid, but they are actually very light weight. If it gets blown from its position, it takes the coolant lines with it. Very expensive to repair, and you are without air conditioning for a whole lot longer than it takes to get the power restored.
In the movie “The Matrix”, Neo is asked what he needs. He replies “Guns. Lots of guns.” After something like this, the reply would be “Water. Lots of water.” Having an abundant supply of clean water can make a huge difference in comfort. Having a minimum supply of clean water is critical. Lots of water means you can take a bath or shower, and that means more than most folks will ever understand until they have been in steaming hot weather with no air conditioning while doing heavy physical work to clear debris and make repairs. You MUST have water, and lots of it.
I learned that when my well pump is without power for a while it will lose its prime. That’s a scary feeling. Fortunately, I also learned how to prime the pump. Remember that you have to have water to prime a pump (it may take several gallons), so don’t wait until you’re out of water to crank up the pump. I’m pretty sure the well can be fixed so that it doesn’t lose prime like that, but that’s another subject. Also, know that when the water goes down, and interior parts of the pump and well are exposed to air, rust will form very quickly. When I pumped water after losing prime, the water was a rust brown for a while.
I have a hand pump well that I need to pay more attention to so that it is always in good working order. That’s something easy to put off, but very important.
Everyone knows that you need to fill up your bathtub with water. The problem is that most modern tubs have built-in stoppers that are OK for keeping the water in if you’re taking a bath. They will NOT, however, keep water in for the long term. If you trust the built-in stopper, you’re likely to have an empty tub the next day. Remove the metal stopper and replace it with an old-fashioned rubber stopper from the hardware store. They come in different sizes, so make sure you get the right size. You can replace the fancy metal one after things return to normal.
A big Igloo water cooler filled with ice water is extremely handy and keeps you from having to go into the refrigerator or into an ice chest for cold water. I wish I could find one. My sister used one for her family, and it worked great. It’s on my list of things to get.
Another water container that I will try to find for next time is a 5 gallon container that has a valve that can be turned on and left on like a water spigot. Most water containers have a spring-type valve that you have to keep holding to get water. I want something to set at the bathroom and kitchen sinks so that I can have running water when needed. Again, it’s on my list.
Gas grills and cookers vary a lot in how much heat they put out, and some can be slower than cooking on an electric stove. A lot slower. Take that into consideration when planning. I imagine most folks already knew that, but I didn’t.
Those little “George Foreman Grilling Machines” work great if you have a generator. Try to use it outside so you don’t heat up the house any more than necessary.
The first night without power, I grilled a steak. It was one of the best I’ve ever had. I had planned to do that before the storm hit, and picked up some potatoes to go with it. Try to cook some really good meals like that once in a while. It’s a real morale booster. Besides, you’ll need the red meat for all the work that follows the storm. If you’ve got them in the freezer, now is the time to use them. (Also, taking that steak out of the freezer and sticking it under my shirt to thaw out was a great way to cool down.)
When I tried cooking with a liquid fuel backpacking stove, I found that something had gotten gummed up, and it would just barely keep a flame going. Forget about cooking on it. I took it apart and cleaned it. It fired right up and boiled a cup of water in just about one minute. Can’t ask for better than that.
Unless you are trying to ride out a major storm in a mobile home, or you are in a storm surge or flood area, the most serious hazards are after the storm has passed. Chief among the hazards is the mixture of working, non-working, and sort-of-working traffic signals. Many people don’t know to treat non-working traffic lights as a 4-way stop, and they barrel right on through. Others come to a sort-of-working traffic light and treat it as a 4-way stop. They stop, then when it’s clear, they go through the intersection. I did that one time only to discover that I had just come to a stop and then proceeded right through a red light. Big time stupid, and almost big time fatal. There is also the hazards of trees and utility poles in the roads, or hanging just above the road at windshield-level. Flooded streets can hide all sorts of debris under water, so cross water with caution.
Judging from what I saw and heard while buying some last-minute supplies, there are a lot of people trying to wire generators who are accidents waiting to happen. There are also a lot of people buying chain saws who hope to learn how to use one while stressed about that tree fallen on their house. Bad time to learn. I also never saw any of the chain saw buyers getting any safety equipment at the same time. I never use mine without a helmet-hearing-protection-face-shield combination, along with leather gloves and heavy pants. Again – accidents waiting to happen.
Be careful of ordinary hazards also. I tripped over a support cable from a solar panel that I had taken down to protect from wind damage. I just ended up with a sore arm, but could just as easily have ended up with a fracture or nasty cut if things had been slightly different. That’s the last thing you want to have to deal with at a time like this. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure during normal times, it’s worth a ton of cure during bad times. Be careful!
After two nights to get used to it, sleeping in even the hottest weather can be reasonably comfortable if you can cool off with a shower just before going to bed, and if you have a fan running. I was able to run a fan with the battery/inverter combination (described later), and it worked very well.
My plan had originally been to sleep on my screened-in-porch, but I didn’t consider the fact that the floor would be flooded. I ordered a cot from Cabela’s, and it arrived on Friday – the day power was restored. It will come in handy the next time.
When there is no power, one quickly gets into the habit of going to bed shortly after dark, and then waking up at dawn. Sleep patterns can change pretty quickly under these circumstances.
Without air conditioning, and working outside all day long, allergies can act up and make sleeping even harder than it already is. Nasal decongestant spray or Benadryl in your first aid kit will make it easier to sleep.
Showers and washing
I started to build an outdoor shower, but power was restored before it was completed. I found a sprayer in the garden section of Lowes that will be the main part of it. It is basically an adjustable shower head attached to a pipe with a garden hose connector on one end and a gate valve in the middle. I had planned to run the generator to pump water, and then use it on the garden hose. Some 8’ posts planted in the ground with some 4’ wide black plastic would provide privacy. I bought some 12” square patio pavers and laid them down to form a 2’ x 6’ floor so I wasn’t standing in mud. I think it will work out well the next time. Yes, I could just as easily shower inside, but without air conditioning, you end up with 100% humidity in the bathroom. The key is to keep anything that produces heat and moisture out of the house as much as possible.
For general face-washing type stuff, a regular dish pan works great. Next time, I’ll have two of them so that one can be for clean water to rinse with. They work much better than using the sink. If you’re short on water, use the water for flushing toilets after you’re finished washing up.
Shaving is a real pain if you insist on hot water. I gave up and just shaved using cold water. It worked OK.
A surplus sun helmet (pith helmet) worked very well to keep the sun off while working outside; I’ve used them for years. It also worked well to keep the rain off when I had to go out during the storm to lower an antenna to keep it from being destroyed when a branch threatened to fall on it. It finally fell about an hour after I lowered the antenna. I used a rain suit with the pith helmet, and it allowed me to go out in the middle the hurricane, do some work, and remain relatively dry. Carhart work pants aren’t very cool, but I’ll take the added heat for the protection they offer from cuts and scrapes when clearing debris. Leather gloves are an absolute necessity. Plain cotton gloves are cooler, and can be used for some things, but leather is the best way to go most of the time. A sweat band will make it a lot less miserable working outside. Sunglasses are a must – especially when working around brush where the possibility of getting poked in the eye is pretty high.
I used a Honda generator (4500 watts rated, 5000 watts max), and it performed flawlessly. It will run approximately 8.5 hours on a tank of fuel with enough left over to make sure the tank is not run dry. In the time the power was off, I went through approximately 26 gallons of gasoline. At today’s prices, that’s just a bit over $50 worth. If I had it to do over again, I would not run the refrigerator, and maybe not the freezer either. It takes far more power to keep them cool than I had estimated. Even running the generator all day long and shutting it down at night left the refrigerator just barely cool the next morning. I would probably go with a large ice chest and hope that I could find ice. Eat up whatever you can from the refrigerator and toss the rest out. A good chest freezer will hold the temperature pretty well, but if power isn’t restored quickly, you’ll have to decide what to do about that food. Frozen food isn’t cheap, but neither is gasoline. I would probably save the generator just to run the well pump and I wouldn’t scrimp on the water (Remember: Water. Lots of water.)
In addition to my generator, I have an inverter connected to two large 12 volt batteries that used to back up a cell phone tower (they are replaced regularly, and if you can locate a source of those that have been rotated out, they are an excellent bargain). If the sun is out, this is charged with three 64-watt solar panels. Since I was running the generator anyway, I just charged them using a regular battery charger. At night, I disconnected the generator from the house, and connected the inverter. I turned off everything except where I would be running a fan. One fan running all night would draw the batteries down to 85% – 90% of full charge, which is quite acceptable for a deep discharge battery. This worked out very well.
While generators were scarce at some points, there was usually some place they could be found. I didn’t hear of anyone this time who wanted one but couldn’t find one with a little looking and driving. What could NOT be found though, was cable and connectors if you wanted to do anything other than just plug in an appliance directly to the generator. The 30 amp twist lock connectors and the flexible 10 gauge cable to go with them was in very short supply or was non-existent. Don’t try to use Romex or other solid wire. It doesn’t work with a connector that is designed for stranded wire. Be sure you have the needed connectors and pre-wiring well before it will be needed. If you are back-feeding your house, be sure to talk to an electrician friend first so you’ll know how to do it safely. It can be done safely if you do it right. If you do it wrong, you can kill or seriously injure someone. There is no excuse for back feeding into the utility lines – always disconnect from the utility line, and then put a padlock on the panel so that no one but you can open it. Never unlock it until after the generator has been shut down and disconnected. [NOTE: At this point, I would not only not recommend what I did, but I would strongly advise DO NOT try to backfeed your house. I now have a transfer switch, installed by an electrician.]
When South Florida evacuated, they went through here and sucked up all the gas. The storm came along and knocked out the electricity needed to pump gas if there was any left to pump. People were using generators that need gasoline. When the storm was over, evacuees came back through again, only this time there wasn’t any gas left. Not a good situation. Gas containers were non-existent in any of the stores at any price. If they appeared on a truck, they were gone within a few minutes. Be sure you have a good supply of gas containers (the 6 gallon Rubbermaid containers I use work very well). If you’ve got a safe place to store them when full of gas, be sure to have a good supply on hand. If you don’t have a good place for regular storage, at least have the cans so you can improvise when the situation calls for it. Never store gasoline in your garage or anything attached to or close to your house. Also, if gas is really scarce, it’s nice to have a way to lock up your stored gasoline.
Always use a good fuel stabilizer in any fuel that is not going directly into your vehicle gas tank. I have been using PRI-G for years, and I’ve never had any fuel related problems.
Be sure to use sunscreen and/or wear a hat and clothing that protects you from sunburn. If you think trying to sleep without air conditioning is miserable, imagine what it’s like when you add a painful sunburn to the situation. I know someone who felt so good soaking in a pool to cool off, that they ended up with a nasty sunburn. Others got pretty red while cleaning up debris and working on repairs.
Keeping things dry
Without air conditioning, little spills and puddles just stay there. Keep an old towel handy in the bathroom to clean up excess water. There will be plenty of it around as you fill the toilet tank with buckets of water scooped out of the bathtub. Also, without air conditioning, a house with carpeting can start to smell bad pretty quickly.
As I talked to the folks who live along the same dirt road that I do, I found that no one knew all of the other neighbors. I carried around a pad of paper and asked each family to write down their name, address, phone, cell phone, email, or whatever of that they felt comfortable with. I then compiled it all into a half sheet size, printed them out on heavy card stock, and distributed the list to all who are on the list. That’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but this hurricane gave me a good reason to do so without anyone having to wonder why it would ever be needed.
If you have a generator and can pump water, and you have a neighbor who doesn’t, you can supply their house with water by running a garden hose from your water spigot to theirs. You will need a double-female adapter (pick one up from a hardware or garden supply store). You will also need to make sure that the neighbor does not have any kind of anti-backflow valve on the spigot. Following Hurricane Charley, two of us in the neighborhood supplied others with water. This time, only one was needed because my neighbor bought a generator. I’ve seen it work over a pretty long distance if you’ve got enough garden hose.
With generators in short supply, and the fact that you can’t hide a noisy generator, theft is always a possibility – even in a rural area. I kept my generator padlock and chained to the house at all times. I also kept the front gate padlocked so that no one could drive down to the house to load things up.
If you normally carry a concealed weapon, working where you end up soaked with sweat means you have to make a choice. I chose to leave mine at home locked up in the safe; going into town was another matter. It depends on your circumstances.
I quickly learned to pace myself when clearing debris and making repairs. For a guy who is used to sitting in an air conditioned office while writing software, hard labor outside in the heat of the day can be really draining. I had to force myself to move slowly, carry smaller loads, and take more frequent breaks. Know your limits and don’t exceed them. Decide right at the beginning what needs to be done immediately, and what can wait until later. Clearing the road needs to be done now. Clearing the yard can wait.
One of the advantages of not having power is that you end up going to bed shortly after the sun goes down, and then getting up at dawn. I tried to do most of my work in the early morning and late evening. Yes, I know that’s common sense, but I still needed to remind myself of that.
I tried to carry around a small Thermos filled with ice water. That worked OK for a while, but it didn’t hold anywhere near enough. It was too tempting to just drink that and be done with it. I was sweating away a whole lot of water, and a little Thermos of ice water just didn’t cut it. Next time, I want to have at least a half gallon container of ice water with me when I’m outside. Even better – a half and half mixture of Gatorade and water. Going inside for water is not a good plan. You need it outside where you are working. With no air conditioning, there is little incentive to head inside for a break, so you end up resting in the shade of a tree. That’s where you want to keep the cold water. (Remember – Water. Lots of water.)
After the hurricane, the county had a number of aid stations where the gave out some “must have” essential items. They gave out ice, food (military MRE’s), sand bags, and mosquito repellent. Mosquito repellent is NOT an optional item when working outside after a hurricane. In the early morning and late evening – the coolest time of day when you want to be working outside – huge clouds of mosquitoes would appear. I guess that all that new standing water tells the mosquitoes that it’s time to breed, and they don’t waste any time doing so.
Two new items on my list are a can or two of mosquito repellant, and Gatorade. Lots and lots of Gatorade.
One of the handiest things through this whole time without power was the little Gerber “Infinity” flashlight that I carry with me at all times. I keep it on a lanyard (I use the lanyard from my Surefire lights, since it is a lot better than the el cheapo lanyard that comes with the Infinity light) and it is looped around my belt with the light hanging in my pocket. It is quick and easy to get to, and was in constant use. Infinity lights are powered by a single AA battery, and use a very bright LED. I use a Lithium AA battery in mine for slightly more power, longer life, and lighter weight. They use a twist on/off switch with an O-ring seal, and are practically bomb-proof. Highly recommended!
For general lighting, I used a Coleman camp lantern with two fluorescent bulbs and 6 D-cells. I’ve had this for years, and it has always performed very well.
Organization and Information
I was constantly referring to my “Preparedness Organizer” during this time. It has lists of how many amps different appliances use, what circuit breakers control what, generator information, contact phone numbers, how much bleach to add to purify water, radio frequencies and codes, and a ton of other useful information. It also has a notes section where I write down things I need to change for next time. Many folks have that information available, but not all organized in one place.
I need to get a better radio for something like this. I keep a small short wave radio in a pack in my car, and I’ve got my ham radio gear, but I’ve got nothing in between. My brother in law has a nice battery powered table top multi-band radio that worked great. It was just the right size, and the batteries lasted long enough to be perfect for listening to the news in the evening. That’s on my list of things to get.
As with the last storm (Hurricane Charley), cell phones were useless for several days after the storm. For some reason, even with all the lines down, my land-line phone continued to function (most of the time anyway, but none of my neighbors had working phones). Cell phones were great just before the storm when I found a hard-to-get item at Home Depot and wanted to call friends and family and see if they wanted me to pick up something for them. Same thing after the storm if you were lucky enough to be in an area where the cell towers were still working. Remember that if your land-line phone requires power to work, then the phone won’t work either. Older cheaper phones always seem to work. You can usually find an unused phone jack in the house to keep one plugged into for times like this.
(This section written by Jim W.)
Pools come in very handy when the power is out. Besides the obvious advantage of being able to cool off and wash up, I discovered you can take your sweaty grimy shirt and socks into the pool with you and let them sink to the bottom while you cool off. Hang them out to dry and you have a clean smelling shirt and pair of socks ready to go again without having to fire up the washer. Our pool became kind of a community meeting and cooling off place during the power outage. I was told that without the filter running that to keep it from going green to add half of a jug of chlorine every other day. I never had a problem. The water from the pool can be used to flush toilets and if worst comes to worst as a source of drinking water. One more tip – I lived in my bathing suit the whole time. Then cleaning my shirt and socks as described above meant that I used zero laundry during the entire five days.
Be sure to remove the backup batteries from things like your alarm clock, weather alert radio, answering machine, etc. They are meant for very brief power outages of a minute or so. They may hold up for many hours, but not for the length of something like this. Remove the batteries and set them aside until the utility power is restored – then remember to put the batteries back in. You’ll need to reprogram them later.
If you have one or more large ice chests to use during something like this, don’t think of them as wasted space the rest of the time. Aside from coming in handy for traveling, camping, etc., they make excellent storage containers for all sorts of preparedness items.
Follow up as Hurricane Jeanne approaches (09/24/2004)
Radio – I bought a Super Sangean 909 from RadioLabs. I’m still learning how to use it, but so far it looks like it’s every bit as good as the reviews I read of it. The only down side is that it’s not very intuitive to use – you have to study the manual a bit. (Yes, I know – “When all else fails, read the instructions…”)
Ice chests and coolers – I settled on Igloo “MaxCold” ice chests and 5 gallon water cooler. From what I could learn, they are the most heavily insulated coolers commonly available. At least they were commonly available. Right after Frances, Walmart had plenty of them and I got what I wanted. With Jeanne due to come through here in less than 48 hours, they are again no longer available around here. Lesson: buy what you need NOW. Don’t wait until the last minute.
Ice – I bought four 20-pound bags of ice and put them in the chest freezer. In addition, I bought a bunch of those cheap semi-disposable food containers at Walmart and used them to make blocks of ice. They hold 4 cups, and I filled them all with exactly 3 cups of water to allow for expansion. Be sure to get the square containers – they pack better than the round ones. When the power goes out, the ice will go into the ice chests along with anything in the refrigerator. Food in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator will go into the chest freezer. I will monitor the thermometer in the chest freezer and keep the temperature below 30 degrees. I will probably try to insulate the freezer when it’s not running by using old blankets or other insulation.
Fuel storage tanks – It’s been two weeks since Frances came through, and there are still no fuel tanks available anywhere around here.
Generators – I have decided to get a Honda EU-2000i 2KW generator to run the chest freezer and fans. That will use about 1/3 to 1/4 the fuel that my 5KW generator uses. The 5KW is needed to run the water pump, but I can get by with just running that a few minutes a day. The Honda EU-2000i is not available anywhere in the Southeast that I can find. Maybe in another month or two.
… and more follow up after Hurricane Jeanne (09/28/2004)
Power was only out for 2 1/2 days this time. Long enough to test out ideas but short enough to not be too much of a pain.
Freezer – This time I tried to just keep the freezer cold, and didn’t worry about the refrigerator. I got a freezer thermometer and tied it to a cord that was attached to a wire basket that sets at the top of the chest freezer. That lets me open the lid just a few inches, grab the cord with the thermometer on it, then close the lid with the thermometer outside the freezer. I can then read the temperature without the lid being open. I monitored the temperature of the freezer, and only ran the generator when it got above 20 degrees. I could run it for a couple hours in the evening, and it was still below 20 in the morning. Careful temperature monitoring allowed me to get by with only minimal generator usage. When I get the 2KW generator, the fuel usage will be between 1/3 to 1/4 of what it is now. I decided against trying to use blankets to insulate the freezer – it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth.
Ice – I bought too much ice. Next time, I’ll get two 20-pound bags and that will be plenty. One bag will go in the water cooler, and the other will go in one ice chest. The other ice chest won’t be used. I didn’t use it this time, and I didn’t miss it. One key was to cut back on what was in the refrigerator to a bare minimum. The ice chest held two cartons of orange juice and a bunch of Gatorade. Granted, that was just a luxury, but it sure was nice to have, and if there had been a lot of damage, the cold Gatorade would probably have shifted from luxury to necessity.
Food – I need to prepare some kind of menu ahead of time based on several criteria: Meals that can be prepared inside, meals that must be prepared outside (gas grill), meals that include something from the refrigerator (use immediately), meals that include something from the freezer (use up ASAP), and meals that use storage food (use at any time). I guess this comes naturally to some folks, but I just didn’t want to have to think about it, so I kept putting it off until I was forced to throw something together to eat. Next time, I’ll have that part organized.
Shower – I finished and used the outdoor shower that I started on after Hurricane Frances. It worked very well, and a shower sure felt good. It has its own built-in water conservation – cold showers tend to be quick showers. I have probably secured my title as the neighborhood’s version of the Beverly Hillbillies, but that’s OK – at least I got a shower.
Fuel storage containers – there are still no fuel containers available in any of the stores, although gasoline was not as tight as it was after Frances. For the first day or two, there was simply no gasoline available, but they managed to re-supply very quickly this time. I’ve ordered four surplus military fuel containers to replace some of the plastic ones that are starting to have problems (after 6 years). If they work out well, I’ll order more.
Generator strategy – There are two different approaches to running a generator – economic and logistical. The economic approach looks at the cost per gallon of fuel and the cost of the generator compared to the cost of food in the refrigerator and freezer plus the availability of water, fans, lights, etc. The logistical approach looks at the availability of food, water, and fuel, with cost being only a secondary consideration. Almost everyone will use some combination of these. I now tend heavily toward the logistical approach by asking the question “will fuel be available” rather than assuming that it will and asking “how much will it cost”. For that reason, I have modified my approach to generator usage.
I currently have one 5KW generator that will run the water pump, freezer, refrigerator, fans, lights, microwave oven, etc., but not all at the same time. The water pump is the heaviest power consumer, and that’s what determines the size of the generator. The problem is that the water pump is only actually needed for a few minutes each day (maybe 30 minutes if you include a shower), yet that same large generator is being run when only a small load such as freezer or lights may be needed. Even if gasoline were free and price were not a consideration, in many situations where a generator is needed, fuel may well be unavailable at any price. That means that the system must be set up to squeeze the greatest use out of each gallon of fuel.
My answer to this is to purchase a second, smaller generator more suited to smaller loads, and one that uses far less fuel when supplying those smaller loads. I will be buying a 2KW generator for use with everything except the water pump. This smaller generator will still require careful load management in order to get the most efficient use from it. Only switching on one major appliance at a time (the chest freezer or amateur radio station, for example), plus possibly some other small loads such as a light and fan, will meet the needs and be an efficient use of the available fuel. There is simply no way that buying the second smaller generator can be justified by the cost. It can only be justified by the choice of electricity or no electricity. Choose wisely.
Fuel Storage – Another part of this strategy will be to store a large amount of fuel in a safe storage area. An alternative is to store empty fuel containers with the idea of getting them filled just prior to the need. Unfortunately, the need isn’t always predictable, so this is really a poor second choice but one that may be unavoidable for some people. Any stored fuel should always be treated with a good fuel stabilizer.
I have been using the 6-gallon fuel containers from Rubbermaid. These have held up well for the past 6 years, but some of the vent caps have been breaking, and Rubbermaid does not sell replacement parts. I am now switching over to the Israeli NATO fuel cans. These are 5-gallon steel tanks with a cam-type clamp-down lid. They appear to be very rugged, and there are no plastic parts to break. They can be found at surplus places such as Cheaper Than Dirt. Price is about $15 each. The nozzle is interchangeable, so one nozzle (plus a spare) is all you need no matter how many fuel containers you have.
OK, here’s an update on the NATO fuel containers – The containers are excellent, but the nozzles are junk – a complete waste of money. I have, instead, gotten a heavy-duty funnel (heavy black plastic, called “Super Funnel”, about $2 each) from an auto parts store and will use that for pouring into either the vehicle fuel tank or the generator fuel tank. Simple is better, and it doesn’t get much simpler than a funnel. Make sure that it is made to fit into the little hole that fuel tanks have so that only the narrow unleaded gas pump nozzles fit. Also, a little bit of wheel bearing grease on the cam-locking part of the fuel containers will make them work a lot more smoothly. That will also probably help keep raw metal from being exposed to potential rust problems.
Food strategy – The ideal would be to not have anything that required refrigeration or freezing, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Still more work to do in that area.