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How Can Engineering Skills Help in Emergency Preparedness? Twitter Facebook Print E-mail
Written by David Hale   
Monday, 21 April 2008

I was inspired by a presentation of a small alcohol stove that was built using two paint cans and fueled with denatured alcohol at a recent preparedness fair at church. A few days later I decided to try to build it from memory with my own "custom air vents" to make sure that the fire would get enough oxygen. I placed this on top of my kitchen stove and lit it to see how long it would take to boil a small pot of water. It was working even better than I had supposed, but then it really started going! I ended up with two-feet-high flames licking the bottom of our stove vent hood! My wife rushed to get the fire extinguisher to save her kitchen cabinets, but I held her back for a moment because I thought that I could still get the flames under control. I used kitchen tongs to put the lid of the paint can back on the smaller can to limit how much air the fire could get. Luckily the flames died down quickly enough for me to carry the whole ensemble out the back door to the patio. I should probably not mention that last year I was a Boy Scout leader, teaching 11-year-old boys about Scouting basics, including fire safety. Probably not the best example, right? Rather, it was more like the bad example of young Scouts playing with fire when the Scout leaders aren’t looking!

Since I want to stay on my wife’s good side and to not burn up our kitchen, I have done some more research on the subject:

I found the Base Camp Trail Stove , showing exactly how I should have built the paint can stove (above), including a warning to not try to light this stove in the house. Too bad I didn’t read that earlier!

I found several other small stoves that I’m anxious to try out, built from two aluminum cans. The first, Penny Alcohol Backpacking Stove , has gone through a series of engineering refinements for the optimal stove design, fuel type, and boil time, each of which is well documented with graphs for comparisons. The flames for this small stove go only a few inches high, a much more reasonable height than the two-feet flames I had with my own version, and the stove is light enough to carry in a backpack. There are a lot of variations on the penny stove, one of which is by LaMar Kirby and includes a better stand than the original (young children will be less likely to get impaled on the stand supports if they get too close.) Here is yet another variation on the penny stove, with step-by-step instructions (including a short video).

This alcohol stove project is just one small way in which good engineers can use their professional skills in emergency preparedness. If you are looking for something more, I would strongly recommend that you consider getting certified as a HAM radio operator (yes, they still use those, and no, you don’t have to know Morse code anymore). A HAM radio is an excellent tool for preparedness, especially if you get involved in CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). CERT certification can be received by anyone with a willingness to sit through the training classes and to perform the exercises as part of the class. I have personally passed both certifications, and I wouldn’t consider myself a hard-core preparedness person.

Let me know in the forum and comments if you have come across any other interesting technology helps for emergency preparation or food storage (like this food storage calculator , even if the recommendations are a bit dated).

David Hale is a Java engineer for the Church.



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