Joyce Clark, Executive Director of Saint Ann Retirement Center in Oklahoma City.

Story by Joyce Clark, Executive Director – Saint Ann Retirement Center

Winter is here. Sometimes that means power outages. Tornadoes and other events during the year can also impact utilities, travel, and access to needed items. Take steps now to ensure you have the knowledge, fuel, and supplies to stay warm and thrive without electricity. Pooling resources and gathering with others is an economical way to have access to more supplies and assistance. An added benefit is that more people in a small space helps generate heat. Outlined below is a sample list of things you may want to maintain in your home at all times.

Backup power for the most important needs. A generator, backup battery bank, charging station, or inverter can be incredibly helpful during a power outage. If you have critical medical equipment, it may be a necessity. Solar options come in various sizes and qualities.
Lighting – Items such as glow in the dark sticks, solar lights, flashlights, headlamp, or an old-fashioned oil lantern. Outdoor solar walkway lights are an affordable & easy light source. Just place them outside or in a sunny window during the day & use by night.

  • Extra batteries. Rechargeable batteries with charger.
    Bottled water
    Hand, foot, & body warmers
    Back-up supply of essential medications & personal care products
    Extra oxygen tanks &/or battery power
    Extra blankets &/or zero-degree sleeping bag. Wool & down blankets are the warmest.
    Cot or blow-up mattress
    First aid manual & supplies
    Cooking source. Outdoor grill or camping stove, special designed indoor cook stove.
    Hand held radio or communication tool
    Solar, rechargeable, or battery operated radio
    Non-perishable food that does not require cooking or refrigeration
    If you have a cooking source, items like canned soups, chili, stews, & instant noodles are easy hot meals to keep in stock. Beverages such as decaffeinated coffee, tea, cocoa, hot lemonade, hot Tang, & apple cider will help keep you warm & hydrated. Avoid caffeine & alcohol because they can have an adverse effect.
    Manual can opener
    Power banks to charge phones & smaller items
    Layered clothing. Gloves & head covering. Down or wool coat.
    Heat activated fan to blow warm air from fireplace or alternative heat source. This helps keep the room warm & less heat rising to the ceiling.
    Emergency heating used properly. Fireplace & stocked wood, candles, terra cotta clay pot / tea candle heater. Mr. Buddy indoor propane heater. Be sure to keep a working carbon monoxide detector and fire extinguisher nearby.
    Propane or appropriate fuel. Wood for fireplace.
    Fire extinguisher, smoke detector, & carbon monoxide detector
    Matches & lighters
    Self-protection. This can be as simple as a can of wasp spray that can be used from 12 feet away. Sprayed into a person’s eyes, wasp spray can be very painful & stop or slow down an attacker.
    Small 2-3 person tent or a larger one if your emergency plan includes more people.
    Tarps, plastic sheeting, sheets, cardboard, towels, wide painter’s tape, or items to stop window & door drafts.
    Puzzles, games, & things to do
    If water or the well pump is not working, a 5-gallon bucket with plastic trash bags can be used for a toilet. Purchase a seat in advance or make one by cutting a slit in a pool noodle & sliding it on the bucket rim.
    Tools to turn off water if pipes freeze
    If the refrigerator is not working, put ice or snow in a clothes washing machine with your refrigerated or frozen food. The ice will conveniently drain away as it melts.



  • Dressing in layers is one of the best ways to stay warm. Wear items that can be easily taken off or on as the temperature changes. It is important to be comfortably warm, but not sweat. Moisture can wick heat away from your body.
  • Protect your extremities. Keep your hands and feet covered and warm. The human body responds to cold by drawing the warm blood supply back into its core as a survival mechanism. This puts your hands and feet at risk for frostbite.
  • Cover your head. Keep your head covered to prevent precious heat from escaping out the top.
  • Dress warmly from the start. It is easier to stay warm than to get warm once you are cold.

If there is potential the power will be off for an extended time, take action to keep the cold out and retain heat inside of your home.

  • Block entry points for cold air. Take a look around and identify places where cold air enters your home. Block cold airflow by rolling up towels or blankets and stuffing under doors. Use wide painter’s tape to seal leaks around doors and windows. Avoid duct tape, which can damage paint. Common cold air entry points include:
    Gaps around doors & windows
    Kitchen exhaust fan
    Dryer vent
    External wall outlets & switches
    Furnace, water heater vents, & cold air returns
    Fireplace flue damper or chimney
    Cover windows. Insulating windows can make a tremendous difference in your home’s inner temperature. Start by closing curtains and blinds. Further insulate by taping plastic sheeting over the window, cutting cardboard to place against the window, or even draping an extra blanket over the top of the curtain rod.


  • If the cold is potentially dangerous, you can make a small warmer area to stay in until power is restored.
    Confine activity to one selected living area. A smart approach is to condense living and sleeping to one general area of the home. This enables you to use alternative heat sources in a smaller area and conserve fuel. Choose a space that makes the most sense. Is there a room with a wood burning stove, fireplace, or even a south facing window that can provide radiant heat during the daytime? A room on the south side of the home is often warmer than a room on the north side. Basements will be warmer than the main floor during the winter. Shut all the doors or block off areas by hanging blankets, sheets, or plastic. Confine alternative heating to this one space. Be sure to maintain a working carbon monoxide detector. If anyone starts to feel headachy or sick, stop using alternative heating immediately and get fresh air.
  • Set up an indoor tent. Putting up a small tent inside your designated living area will help create additional warmth. A tent provides some extra insulation to retain heat. You can create a makeshift tent by placing blankets over the top of a table or bunk bed. Body heat and any source of warmth is more contained and effective in a small area like a tent. Protect your pet and generate more warmth by keeping it in your warm spot with you.

Drinking warm liquids can be comforting and help the body maintain temperature. Hydration is important to preventing hypothermia and your body needs calories to create heat. Always keep the pantry stocked with bottled water and easy-to-prepare shelf stable foods and beverages.
Cooking during a power outage can be accomplished with the correct equipment and/or back-up power source. Be very careful not to create deadly carbon monoxide or start a fire. Outdoor grills and camping stoves are a safe way to prepare meals and boil water outside. Be sure to keep a fire extinguisher and sufficient propane or fuel in supply.

Two people keep a space warmer than one. Three is even better. Pooling resources and having company during a power outage can be advantageous. Shared supplies and a helping hand could be life-saving. Spending time interacting with others and playing games helps keep spirits up and time pass faster.

Moving around will help you stay warmer. Twenty minutes of mild exercise can keep a person warm for an hour. It is important to exercise moderately and not break a sweat. Sweating will wick the heat way from your body and cool you.

It is best to prepare alternative heat sources in advance and have them on hand if needed. Potential sources of heat are all around. Huddle up with friends, family, or pets under a blanket to stay warmer.

  • Dry rock or brick warmer. High density objects such as rock, concrete, brick, and tile can be used as thermal mass. Put the item near a heat source and it will retain the heat after the heater has been turned off. Cooler items are great for tucking in bed to keep you warm. Make sure any rock is completely dry before heating or it could explode.
  • Hand, foot, and body warmers. Options include rechargeable, butane, and disposable warmers. They all provide instant warmth. Many will last for 8 to 12 hours.
  • Hot water bottle warmers. To create a small water heater, simply heat water and fill a container. You can use a traditional hot water bottle or any water-tight container like a mason jar.
  • Rice bag warmer. These are helpful if you can use a microwave powered by a backup generator or other source. Make flannel bags filled with dry rice or corn. Heat them in the microwave and then use them as a hand, body, or bed warmer. Your pets will love them too.
  • Indoor emergency space heating. There is a significant risk of carbon monoxide poisoning with some backup heat sources. It is important to use one that is rated for indoor use. Mr. Buddy Propane Heater is a popular choice. The VESTA Self-Powered Indoor Space Heater & Stove is another helpful and affordable devise. It is powered by canned heat or Safe Heat and can be used as a heater or cooker. Candles can be used for warmth, light, and even cooking. A terracotta pot heater made with a tea candle and clay pot is a simple system that many people recommend.

Joyce Clark is the Executive Director of Saint Ann Assisted and Independent Living in
Oklahoma City. Saint Ann is an affordable and fun community that has new levels of care, including short-term respite stay. The home is a ministry of The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and people of all faiths love living at Saint Ann. Call Lisa at (405) 721-0747 Ext. #322 for more information about assisted or independent living