The best laid plans of mice… (learn from my fail)

As part of a project I’ve been working on for a while, with the end goal to have a house that can be self-sufficient for somewhat long periods of time without electricity, water, or road access.

TL;DR – several stories of I had a good plan until it encountered the enemy.

2020 saw a tornado that downed my work for 12 days, derecho winds that took out power and access to my neighborhood, flood level rains, a pandemic, hoarding everything, AT&T building being bombed and all communications grinding to a halt in Nashville, a couple of good old fashion riots, looting, a crime rate increase in my area, loss of water for several hours, and a host of other things (today an ice storm.)

I’ve been out with a chainsaw in a couple of them clearing streets, and attempted to help salvage people’s groceries when they were without power, and generally prepare for the worst and hope for the best and see if any of my prepping can help the neighbors and neighborhood out in any way.

Here are some stories. Learn from my fail.


Internet backup

At work we’ve got AT&T fiber and a couple of cell backups in case that goes out (one being AT&T,) well it went out when we had the Christmas Day Bombing in front of the AT&T hub in Nashville. What I did not expect was how overloaded the cell networks would immediately become, downing all communications effectively, and internet specifically.

T-Mobile/Sprint, at least on what I could see, dropped to 1 bar and no data as everyone started trying to use them for data.

911 services were interrupted, phones were down, data gone for 5 days. My neighbors let me use their WiFi as for once Comcast was not the issue.

Internet internet backup backup

So one of the problems we have with using the neighbor’s WiFi is their AP is on the other side of their house. Trying to go through a brick house then aluminum siding to eventually reach an old Apple WiFi AP, the results were… ok with my TP-Link USB WiFi dongle from 8-10 years ago, but not incredibly great. So I got this little baby with some antennas.

I ordered this January 5th in case we ever lost AT&T again, and February 13th we lost AT&T for 7 hours due to a local piece of equipment dying. I’ll tell the long story of that customer service/no service at some point.

I tested the thing on January 10th, determined that I was getting about 800% faster speeds on the neighbor’s WiFi, and put the unit away. On the 13th I asked the neighbors if I could borrow a cup of WiFi and they were cool with that. Plugged the month and a week old USB WiFi in and bam, fast speeds. Awwww yeaaa… no… it disconnected at 5 minutes and the USB stick disappeared.

Unplugged and plugged it back and awww yeaaaaaa…. nope, this time 2-3 minutes and the thing disappeared. Plug in old dongle, download drivers, install mfg drivers, plug it back in and awwww yeaa…. nope… slap on other computer, nope… thing dies at 3-5 minutes… I believe I’d tested it before for a longer period than that but the unit was defective. 3 APs, 2 computers, one result.

Trying to get warranty replacement now.

Power time

I’m going to stress this here, I am not particularly power-insecure (except today, we’re going to lose power later, lines are already drooping and we’ve got hours more freezing rain.) However, if I have no power for more than about an hour I start to lose income and my kids freak out like we’re going to be killed. Not sure what I think about this power dependency of theirs but whatever.

Also as the head of a neighborhood association there have been times I’ve had to rent a generator for bouncy houses and arrange one for events. I’ve also had plenty of friends bring over their loads of food to salvage after their power has been out for a long time.

Several years ago I picked up a very good generator, it worked, I was happy, flood happened and damaged it, a handyman group came to haul it to be repaired, ended up stealing the thing. Long fun story. After it was stolen I needed it about 8 more times for various events, friends being without power, etc.

Costco had a kickass sale on a Firman 3-fuel generator recently, for my particular needs this seemed great. I had gasoline, propane, and natural gas at the house. In theory I could power things however I wanted for as long as I wanted (assuming the natural gas didn’t cut out for some reason,) and it was something that if I had to haul it somewhere I could just fire it up and run power cords to freezers.

I went a little further than just having a generator as part of the plan for it project, and that was to add the ability to power the house off of the generator, and also to run a gas line outside so that I can power it off of natural gas and keep my house, and the neighbor’s powered. There’s also a solar angle for the wiring, but that’s coming.

Neighbors have a newborn, I’ve got 2 younglings, I’m a landlord as well with a few houses that I don’t want tenants to be frozen out by, seemed a decent investment.

Every two weeks or so I take the generator out, fire it up, do a quick test that it works on natural gas and gasoline. Pull some power from it with an AC or space heaters. Disconnect it and put it back in its storage place in my basement. Sometimes I hook it up to a battery tender as well.

Welcome to Ice Storm 2021. The place where I can safely put the generator is up a 20 degree incline. In normal times this involves me slightly grunting and pushing or pulling the 250 pound generator up a slight incline. Today there’s a solid sheet of ice and a huge drift up against the house. 2 inches above the bottom lip of the door. The ice does not break. I do not leave footprints in the ice. There is no de-icer in this state.

Even if the ice broke, there’s a solid sheet of ice. I walked it. I should say I skated it and then had to crawl to get back up the slight incline. There are very few ways I can think to get this generator out, however my neighbor is going to be standing by with a rope.

Remote reboot remote reboot you know you need remote reboot

I control a *lot* of equipment. As part of my day job I’m providing IT support in an office building that rents out space (and me,) to clients. This means I don’t get to choose a lot of the equipment we use so yeah. I get calls from remote workers asking me to reboot their Sonicwall quite often, I get calls frequently that an AP needs reset, etc.

When all of this was set up I was in the building every day, Covid-19 changed that. I’m there when in person school is, and that’s about that. I’ll drag a couple of kids in if need be but I’m remote while the kids are out (all this week probably due to ice.)

So I set up a couple of smart power switches in the office. Tenant A says they need their sonicwall rebooted, pop out my phone, turn it off and on again remotely. Network switches we have acting up after being on 6 months straight? Pop out phone, turn it off and on again.

With some inexpensive IoT I’ve saved about 700 miles of driving and 11 hours of my life on the road.

It all worked great until either I, or a tenant, moved the internet main router for my work to a different plug. I discovered it was possible to turn the internet off remotely. Head desk.

Food/supply security

I’ve been a Costco member for a long long time. Slightly before we had the kids we started making plans for a few things. Food security was one (2010 we had issues after the Nashville flood, I didn’t want to worry about my kiddos, friends or neighbors being without.) We were bad at it however. Really bad. Finding three year expired food bad.

It took until mid 2019 to figure out why we were so bad at food cycling, and that was a combo of being exhausted from kids which was causing memory problems for both of us, and not being able to see the food. We had an aftermarket pantry and the best 1970’s kitchen shelving had to offer, but all that did was showcase the 10 items up front and hide literally everything else on every single shelf.

Enter the Home Depot HDX plastic shelf special and the idea I would create an area in the basement with everything sorted and having a place. The shelving would be able to be walked around and accessed from all sides, lit from front and the back using the latest in light bulb tech.

We’d have the stuff we needed on a regular basis showcased on our shelving in the kitchen, use the back of the cabinets for other storage. But the bulk of the food would be in the basement.

What I did not anticipate is that a shelf that’s supposed to be able to handle 150 pounds per shelf would start bowing at 80 pounds causing balancing issues… ok, break out some string, make crude ties to walls, and move all the heavy stuff down. Lesson learned, go for the $100 shelves and not the plastic ones.

Internet out? Kiss my fancy light setup goodbye.

House gets built literally spitting distance from mine and water intrusion starts? Yeah… great. Grab a canoe for a can of beans.

That said, other than the lighting and strings this wasn’t so much of a fail as a learning experience. We’re now wasting very little in comparison. The only thing we’ve had to learn is to put everything where we can see it.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts