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Ice storm leads to life of preparedness

Staff writer

In the dead of a Kansas winter, an ice storm knocked out power to Russell Groves boyhood home in rural McPherson, leaving his family without a working heater, water pump, and most of the comforts of home for 10 days.

Now going on 60, preparedness enthusiast Groves was 17 at the time, and the experience left an impression.

“It showed me how dependent we were on outside resources,” he said. “Even a low-level natural event can upend everything we think of as normal life.”

During those ten days, Groves said a helpful neighbor, Jake Daum, did his family and other neighbors a much-needed kindness.

Daum traveled from home-to-home with a gas-powered generator in his pickup, providing families with a few hours of electricity and a short interval of normalcy each day.

“We could run the heater and water pump,” Groves said. “A little bit of light inside changes a house.”

Since then, Groves began preparing for the unexpected. In the past, Groves covered bad weather, fires, explosions, and other unexpected events as a broadcast reporter for the Associated Press in New York.

“Bad things happen when people don’t expect them to,” he said. “I’m not the crazy hide-in-the-bunker type. I just want to have a fighting chance and not be a victim in the event of an emergency situation.”

Although being prepared does involve some secrecy for Groves, he is open about his preparedness training.

He has certifications in incident command and hazardous event communications from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He has training from the National Weather Service for whom he volunteers as a Sky Warn storm spotter.

Groves also works closely with Marion County emergency management director Randy Frank.

“Russell is a good example of someone who is prepared,” Frank said. “He’s in the right mind set.”

For Groves, preparedness started as a mental exercise and became a way of life.

“Preparedness begins with little steps, like buying an extra can of beans or a flat of water when you go to the store,” he said. “It grows from there. But you can never be 100 percent prepared.”

He isn’t a survivalist prepared for a specific doomsday calamity. Rather, he is equipped to live “off the grid” should a random misfortune such as an extended power outage, food shortage, or natural disaster occur.

“I will occasionally walk out to the power pole and flip the switch,” Groves said. “We live off the grid for awhile and it allows us to check our backup systems.”

He and his wife, Jeanne, have a full backup power system. They keep alternative power sources like a diesel generator, solar panels, and solar-charged batteries.

They have alternative water sources including a cistern, wells sporting solar pumps, and water purification capabilities.

As for food, they tend a garden, raise livestock and have put up stores of canned and frozen goods. They use propane as a means to heat their house and cook their food.

He also keeps fishing equipment and guns for hunting and protection.

Groves likens such provisions to a savings account.

“It’s amazing what you can live off of when you have a finite supply,” he said. “When you start disrupting your safety net, you begin living within your means and you learn to make do without spending your resources.”

With a tangible backup strategy for turmoil in place, Groves believes they could remain almost entirely self-sufficient if needed, but being prepared for him does not involve being a guarded hermit.

“No one is an island unto themselves,” Groves said. “We are all interdependent.”

Groves said preparedness involves being ready not only for yourself, but also for your family, and your neighbors, and having a means of communication during an emergency is vital.

Groves and his wife are licensed ham radio operators. They regularly use radio frequencies allotted by the FCC for amateur users to communicate with the National Weather Service when there is unusual weather.

Their radio experience would also afford them a global communication alternative should cell towers and landlines go down, and their power backup systems would provide power to transmit should electricity go out.

They practice their radio skills throughout the year at different events. Groves will present information about Ham radio operation Saturday in Hillsboro, at the Preparedness Fair.

Last modified Sept. 24, 2014

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