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Good neighbor/bad neighbor and Emergency preps, cont’d.

It’s weird living in a neighborhood for the first time in so many years.

In the desert, the nearest neighbor was at least 1/2 mile away. But you knew everybody in a five-mile radius. When I lived in Cabin Sweet Cabin, there were no neighbors in sight, yet I knew everybody who lived on my road.

Here? Although I’ve spotted my next-door neighbor twice in three months, I wouldn’t know her if I ran into her off the block (and I have reasons not to want to know her). I’ve exchanged hellos and compared notes with a couple of dog walkers. And that’s about it. Partly it’s a matter of cultural or language barriers. This is an immigrant neighborhood. Women mostly smile at me shyly as we pass on the street but say nothing; men, especially the young ones, often look away when I say hello, as if that were the polite thing to do.

But mostly, it’s that I’m not going out of my way to make friends in the neighborhood and nobody’s going out of their way to make friends with me. It’s not like in the country, where you need to know each other. I’m acquainted with plenty of people in the town: animal rescue volunteers, local artists, merchants & such. The guys at the hardware store and I got on a quick first-name basis with each other.

Anyhow, I had my first “helpful neighbor” encounter this morning. One of the women I often see pushing a stroller along the street stopped me and asked, “Were you in your car at 5:00 this morning? Because the overhead light was on, and it was off a few minutes later. The windows were so frosted I couldn’t tell if anybody was inside. But I thought I should say something.”

I thanked her for the heads up. Told her I was definitely not in the car then. But the Xterra’s been having weird electrical problems and maybe this is a new manifestation of them. Said I’d check, though, to see if anything had been stolen or damaged. (Nothing had; back to the autoshop next week.)

I was grateful for the lookout from a lady who has up to now been too shy to speak to me. So that’s one point in the good-neighbor column. OTOH, the reason she was on the street at 5:00 a.m. is that she had just noticed she was completely out of baby formula. How on earth would she handle an emergency? So good neighbor or potential liability? You tell me.


Her lack of preparedness goosed me into doing some emergency preps I’ve been lollygagging about. In some ways, I’m starting from scratch after having to leave some of my supplies in the desert. I’m focusing right now on the short term — specifically on preparing the garret room upstairs as an emergency retreat.

I’m figuring that the most likely short-term emergency here (beyond your basic storm-with-power-outage) is a flood — thus the upstairs retreat. But that room also has a large closet with storage shelves, so it’s just a convenient spot for staging many things prep-related. And the room is a good size to be comfortably heated with my backup (propane) heaters if the electric power goes out.

I’m still leaving duplicate stocks of everything downstairs, just in case I can’t get upstairs or the emergency isn’t one that requires a retreat.

During the October canned-food sale one of the local grocery stores, I bought several cases of foods that can either be easily prepared or eaten straight out of the can if need be (refries, canned fruit, milk). I put that up there. Now I’m in the process of moving up things like can openers, spare plates and utensils, paper towels, water, dog food (and dog crates in case I need to crate the dogs for an evacuation), etc. I have cots, a sleeping bag, blankets, flashlights, and other comfort items up there already.

Two important things I still need to get and stash upstairs: an emergency toilet and a fire-escape ladder.

I used to have a little chemical porta-potty that would be good for a few days — the sort of thing you might find in an RV. But it’s one of the left-behind-in-the-desert items. Now I want something cheaper, but still well beyond a mere bucket that would quickly become unendurable in close quarters. I’ll start looking online, but suggestions and links are welcome. Particularly from anybody who has actually had to use an emergency potty and knows from experience what works and what doesn’t.

The fire-escape ladder is another tricky item. Never having had a second story, it’s not something I’ve dealt with. But I’ve always heard that you want an emergency ladder that has short legs attached to the rungs so the legs press against the side of the house. That way the floppy roll-up ladder doesn’t just wave in the air or the rungs don’t press tightly against the wall and try to eject you as you climb down.

But that won’t work here. Those are mostly for climbing out of a window and going straight down a wall.

If I had to exit the upstairs in an emergency, first I’d go out the dormer window. That would put me on a short, but very steep and often rain-slick, section of roof. Then I’d have to drop to the ground from a part of the roof that has such a broad eave that no emergency ladder would have a chance of bracing itself against the side of the house. (Is that making sense?)

Every option I’ve considered that would give me both safe passage across the roof and a not-too-perilous drop to the ground is very expensive and/or difficult to maneuver in an emergency. (E.g. a fancy third-story ladder, regular extension ladder, or one of those multi-folding 12-foot ladders.)

Sure, in a really dire emergency, I could just jump and hope for the best. (Most likely I’ll have to toss dogs and cats off the roof, and if they can handle it, I guess I can.) But really … I’d rather not.

Thoughts? Again, voices of experience or special technical knowledge especially welcome.


  1. Big Wooly
    Big Wooly November 28, 2010 3:57 pm

    Sometimes the best answers are the simplest. I’d have a simple hefty rope, knotted every few feet, with an anchor (perhaps just a loop) to tie to some solid support at the window (or just a bed), and enough length to reach the ground. Simple, cheap, and effective. Loop it up and stash it in the closet. You’ll never need it, it won’t tie up much money, but you’ll be darned glad it’s there just in case.

  2. Beth
    Beth November 28, 2010 4:31 pm

    Hi Claire. I have recently found the Reliance Fold to Go Portable Toilet a good solid piece of equipment. It has three legs and uses the Double Doodie two-layered chemical bags for waste. I have been using it daily for a couple of weeks now in a camper van, and it’s a good product.

    Be sure to follow the instructions carefully when unfolding and refolding the unit, though. It’s a sturdy item, but the legs and base are of brittle plastic and you want to make sure you don’t crack anything in haste.

    I found both the toilet and the bags at a WalMart (sigh), but then found in further travels that **not all WalMarts stock either item**, grf. You can buy both via Amazon and other online outlets, though.

    The bags are QUITE expensive, but I find that two trash compactor bags (just to be sure!) work just fine also, then I just tie and toss out the inner one and replace when needed. Also, Cabela’s recently had the Double Doodie bags in a larger box for a much lower price per bag than WM. I haven’t looked at online prices yet.

    And getting back to a comment I left on your pellet post, I’ve been using pressed-sawdust kitty litter in the porta-toilet bags to extend their useful life a bit, and lessen the risk of, er, liquid leaks. ;^)

    Hope this helps.

  3. Standard Mischief
    Standard Mischief November 28, 2010 5:40 pm

    A 5 gallon bucket with a lid and some clumping kitty litter for the #2. Put a layer on the bottom of the bucket and sprinkle a bit more on top after use. Then cover with the lid. You could line the inside with a large paper bag if you foresee using this a lot and an outhouse is convenient, though it’s a lot of mass to toss into a hiking trail outhouse. Pitch the bag and the litter, not the bucket.

    I guess a funnel and maybe a hose to put #1 in some screwtop plastic jugs. I dunno, I’m male.

  4. Beth
    Beth November 28, 2010 6:21 pm

    I wanted to add a couple more things I neglected to mention:

    The Reliance folding toilet I mentioned will run you $26-30 or so. The bags at WM (IIRC they were the in-house brand name, Ozark Trail) were about $10 for a box of 6. I thought I saw them cheaper at a Cabela’s, but seems online they’re asking $14.99 for 6 of the Reliance brand.

    These bags are a good way to go if you can afford them. They have an inner black bag that folds under the seat which holds the whole bag in place. Then the thick, tough silver outer bag rests on the floor. When you change the bag, you fold down the top of the black bag into the silver outer bag, and then it zip-locks closed.

    You will probably be surprised how much volume of waste just one person can produce in a day or so (and of course the litter, tissue, etc. add to that). So as with all preps, have more bags and litter on hand than you expect to need.

    Again, hope this is useful info.

  5. Pat
    Pat November 28, 2010 6:24 pm

    The rope that Big Wooly suggested is an excellent idea.

    Make sure the wide eave can hold you. Some have little support and give way easily. It might help to shore it up underneath; you can use the supports to hang planters.

    Does the eave face onto a walkway or other useful area? If not, you could place a sliding board or trampoline under the eave if you have to jump. (The animals might like that, even with no emergency.) Or plant a few soft, thick bushes where you will be jumping.

    Or you could run a zipline to the nearest tree. šŸ™‚

  6. Fred
    Fred November 28, 2010 6:37 pm

    If this is to be used only in dire emergencies, I think the most cost effective solution is a 5 or 6 gallon plastic bucket with an air tight lid. Get a bucket opening tool from the hardware store and some sort of absorbent material such as kitty litter. It should get you through a couple of days or more. If you anticipate needing it more frequently then perhaps something more costly from a camping store would be a better choice. I like to do things on the cheap wherever possible and this seems like one of those things where it makes sense to do so.

  7. Claire
    Claire November 28, 2010 6:58 pm

    Thanks for all the creative suggestions, guys.

    Beth, you sound as if you’re having some serious adventures. šŸ™‚ I hope life’s treating you well.

    I Amazoned your Reliance Fold-to-Go and other Reliance products. I especially liked this one: Reliance Products Hassock Portable Lightweight Self-Contained Toilet.

    Years ago, I had one like this: Reliance Products Luggable Loo Portable 5 Gallon Toilet. It does the job (you’ll pardon the expression). But was a bit unstable.

    I’d really rather not just have a seatless bucket — though it would certainly work in a pinch and be an inexpensive alternative. I’d skip the expensive bags since I’m thinking only of short-term emergency use. (Clever concept, though; those Double Doodie bags.) I’d probably use a combo of kitchen trash bags and kitty litter. (Good suggestion on kitty litter, Fred.)

    As to the knotted rope for a fire-escape ladder … I dunno, Big Wooly. It would be an inexpensive option, that’s for sure. And in dire circumstances, I’d be glad to have it (especially if I’d created a secure anchor for it in advance). But ya know … I really think my Tarzan days are over. If they were ever here to begin with.

    And trampolines? LOL! The zip-line thing though … Hmmmm …

  8. Scott
    Scott November 29, 2010 10:17 am

    As to Why The Light Stays On in your car-it may be something as simple as the little switch that controls it is loose-it’s usually around the frame of the doors somewhere(I have a Nissan, and it looks like a little rubber accordion at the bottom of the door). Tightening it up is usually simple,and brings the switch forward so the door can shut it(It’s a normally closed momentary contact switch). You might be able to save yourself a trip to the shop.

  9. Claire
    Claire November 29, 2010 11:04 am

    Thanks, Scott. I appreciate any ideas. But in this case, the Xterra’s problems are more complex than that. The main problem — the one I’ve had it in the shop for — is that the alarm system goes off at random — and continues to do so even after the auto shop swore they disconnected the thing. And the overhead light doesn’t actually stay on. It seems to function normally. It’s just that, that morning, the neighbor reported it coming on, then going off, apparently by itself. I haven’t observed that happening, but if she’s correct, the problem may be connected to larger electrical system malfunctions.

    Would that it were as simple as a loose switch. But the Xterra has had weird little electrical glitches since I got it. Gotta get to the bottom of them.

  10. Scott
    Scott November 29, 2010 2:44 pm

    This may sound weird, but does weather affect it? Especially a cold rain/snow? Some engine computers/alarms are “potted” in epoxy,and,if the epoxy cracks, water can get in. Temperature can affect the size of the cracks,and whether water gets in or not,or to what extent. I used to have to chase down intermittents as part of my last job,and, yeah, it can be a pain. Any info you can give the shop will help them..

  11. Claire
    Claire November 29, 2010 3:37 pm

    Scott, not weird at all. It’s a good question. I have only a partial answer. Every time the alarm has gone off, it’s been on a wet day. But then … it’s always wet around here, and sometimes it doesn’t go off on wet days. Crazy-making, trying to pin it down. Also, nearly every time it’s happened, I’ve just driven on a muddy logging road. I was thinking that was A Clue — then it happened right outside my house. Definitely crazy-making, trying to pin it down.

    But I’ll mention the possible connection with water and/or mud when I take the Xterra back to the shop tomorrow. I really appreciate the help.

  12. Ellendra
    Ellendra November 29, 2010 9:16 pm

    The knotted rope idea might work best for getting across that roof safely, but for the drop-off at the edge of the roof it would be difficult to climb down with a dog in tow. What about tying a pulley to the part of that rope where it would reach the eave, so you could lower doggy safely before climbing down yourself?

  13. naturegirl
    naturegirl November 30, 2010 1:06 am

    I too will be starting from scratch on all the preps once I settle down into another place…..At the beginning of the chain of events that put me in my current situation, was a flood; and I thought I should mention a thought I had while watching the water rise: an inflatable raft would have been nice to have… you might want to add that to your list of what’s up in the garret room – should that be the case to evacuate, it helps eliminate some of the “more animals than arms” problems encountered as well…..

    It’s been a while since I’ve lived in a two story house, but when I did we had “multi layers” from the top down, with the lowest being the roof of a porch & it had a drop-type ladder hidden right under the gutters (no one knew, it was in a wooden box tucked under the eves)…..depending on the style of house you’re in, it’s possible to hide all kinds of steps down the sides by having plants/nick knacks sit on the wood (like shelves) or by adding a wider (to get a foothold) top board on a window…..just be sure it’s anchored firmly to the structure, and cleverly disguised/hidden so a thief doesn’t take advantage of it……

    Ellendra’s pulley idea sounds easier/safer when it comes to bigger animals….my cat evacuated in a pillowcase, LOL…..

  14. Tom
    Tom November 30, 2010 7:54 am

    The unprepared neighbor, really you’re going to have to make an effort to become friends and get her thinking more long term.

  15. Claire
    Claire November 30, 2010 8:25 am

    True, Tom. But boy, how many more around here are just like her?

    This is one of the poorest neighborhoods in town. I don’t know for sure whether that compounds the problem of unpreparedness, but I suspect it does — both due to a lack of resources and the possible lack of foresight.

  16. Claire
    Claire November 30, 2010 8:31 am

    The pulley idea is great, Ellendra — though with three large dogs and a cat to evacuate, I’m not sure there’d be time to winch each animal from the second story in a dire emergency like a fire. Still, I do need to prepare some exit plan for the animals.

    naturegirl … I like the inflatable boat idea. Kind of expensive. But your voice of experience counts a lot. OMG, though, you should tell the whole story of that flood and its impact, sometime. If you’re comfortable doing that.

    I’ve definitely worried about what would happen to my animals in an evacuation caused by a widespread disaster. I’ve got crates for all of them, but they’re not tiny (either critters or crates) and I fear that any “official” rescue operation might refuse to take them.

    In that case, I would also refuse the rescue — unless it were possible to leave the animals safely in the house with ample food and water until I could return.

    Mostly, I hope never to have to evacuate. Yet another reason for being as well-prepared as possible for a “bug-in.”

  17. naturegirll
    naturegirll November 30, 2010 2:37 pm

    LOL, that’s gonna open up a bottle of complaints on FEMA and all the other bull* that arrived with the flood waters…’s its own novel…..

    “Official evacuators” won’t take animals, however if you do have a neighbor who’s actually really a help, they usually will take them along…..and where they take you to, which is usually a local school or some public building, THEY don’t accept animals either – and the pets get sent to a local shelter or some unknown animal lovers home, depending on the disaster size and scope……finding them afterwards is a big challenge too, since chaos doesn’t always lend itself to good record keeping….

    The cat and I rode it out, since it appeared to be a better situation there than to deal with the insanity outside….can’t say that’s a smart move for everyone, but it turned out ok for us…..

    I’m assuming if it was a fire or some such (singular) event, I doubt you’d be upstairs anyway and all of you would be heading out the nearest door in seconds…..if anything, to determine the extent from your yard; once outside I hope you have an area to contain the critters because they can panic and run…..

    One thing I like to bring up when it comes to talking about floods, that people usually don’t think about, is that those waters are always contaminated….it doesn’t take long for sewer type stuff and contents of peoples’ garages to get mixed in with the water – most people think it’s just muddy (which is its own mess, no doubt)….and after it recedes it doesn’t always “wash away” with the water, either, it sinks IN YOUR YARD and it dries out and flys around in the air……So if people and animals can avoid getting into the water, please do whatever it takes to stay dry…..

    Another thing I like to mention about structure disasters, is that in the event your house seems to have survived, it doesn’t mean that down the line problems won’t come up….things like settling, cracking, doors and windows suddenly not opening or closing properly, smoke smell coming from parts not cleaned properly, if one side is damaged you can bet the opposite side will have something go wrong, too….be very careful about signing off on any insurance claims too soon…..

    Sudden situations are really best to be dealt with yourself, your plans on handling it will be faster and more thorough than anyone else’s….sometimes “help” doesn’t come along for too long of a time, and if it does it doesn’t always have your best interests in mind – just “hurry and do this”…..if you bug in, during a larger type of disaster, be prepared to have to argue with just about everyone who shows up “to help” because they are usually single minded in their mission to get you out of there……

    Whenever your home is in danger and you might have to at least get outside, I don’t know if this is a woman thing or a general reaction, but the initial urge is to save as much as possible – forget that and grab the living things and GO!

    P.S. to this, is if you have a fire and there’s ammo inside that isn’t in an appropriate safe storage, the firemen won’t go into the structure – it will burn down…..

  18. WITWCT
    WITWCT November 30, 2010 6:44 pm


    Sounds like a tough situation – most people are not prepared at all that is why things will / have turned into such a mess. M.D. Creekmore wrote a great post on his blog “Finding Like-Minded Survivalist Friends” at this link hope it helps.

  19. DrillSgtK
    DrillSgtK November 30, 2010 11:01 pm

    Floods as a hazard should get you to add one more thing upstairs: a small hatchet or ax. many of the deaths in New Orleans were from people trapped in the attic or second floor with no way to get on the roof. If you get trapped in the house by a flood the water can rise quickly, and it is easier to get on a roof by cutting a hole in it than sliding along a slick ledge.

    Besides it is a handy tool in general.

  20. DrillSgtK
    DrillSgtK November 30, 2010 11:05 pm

    PS, getting in touch with other “survivalist” (or the less paranoid image conferring “preppers”) a good site is “” They have a nice forum filled with advice and regional groups.

  21. Claire
    Claire December 1, 2010 7:20 am

    Thanks, DrillSgtK. The chopping tool is a great idea, in general, and an excellent post-Katrina observation. In my case, an ax won’t be the biggest priority — because I have a great big window up there. And someday (when I can afford to add a bathroom in the remaining attic space), I’ll also have an openable skylight.

  22. Desertrat
    Desertrat December 9, 2010 10:18 pm

    I once had a chain ladder for second-story exit. Two broad hooks go over the window sill. Light-but-adequate chain, somewhat tubular steps. About 12′ long. If need be, use two.

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