Survival Basics: Preparing for a Grid Down Power Outage

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Recent storms in my own area reminded me that power outages resulting in a grid down can happen anytime, to anybody, anywhere.  Some outages are planned, some are the result of mother nature kicking up a storm, and some are the unexpected result of a natural or man-made crisis.  Whatever the reason, there are various measures you should take now to insure your comfort and safety when the power blows.

lightining Friday Harbor (Custom)

Some of the basic items you need to have on hand to get through a power outage are quite simple and are things you probably have on hand:


This is a very short list, relatively speaking and unless you have been living in a cocoon in Siberia, chances are that these items have already been set aside so that they will be readily available when the lights blink off.  And for a three or four hour outage, you will be just fine with these items.

But what if the power is lost for a longer period of time – for whatever reason – how will you cook your food?  How will you keep warm?  How will you insure your safety in dark?  These are just a few of the issues you will face if there is an extended power outage.  Add infants, the elderly or the infirm to the mix and you have a big problem on your hands.

Preparing in advance for a power outage

Today I want to get back to survival basics and offer some suggestions and ideas for preparing your household for an extended power outage.  My goal is to get those wheels cranking (in your brain, that is) and to provide you with a starter checklist of suggestions that can be implemented in stages as your needs and budget allow.

canned food1.  Store foods that require very little of no warming or cooking.  These foods should b items that your family normally eats.  Suggestions?  Canned meats, cold cereals, peanut butter, crackers, canned fruits and veggies.  If you are a coffee drinker, include some instant coffee as well. The list is endless but let me caution you:  if you gag at the thought of cold ravioli out of a can now, you will also gag if you have to eat it in an emergency, power out situation.  Don’t be silly – store foods that are meant to be eaten cold or at room temperature. And don’t forget the manual can opener and some disposable plates and utensils.

2.  Acquire one or more alternate cooking sources such a fire pit, charcoal barbeque or camp stove.  We are lucky that we have a propane cook top in our kitchen that can easily be lit with a match.  In addition, we have Volcano II Collapsible Stove, and EcoZoom rocket stove that burns biomass,  Patina Cast Iron Fire Pit that is set up for cooking, a couple of butane stoves, and a gas grill.

Gaye's Coleman Lantern3.  Have at least one lantern that will cast a wide beam that is large enough to fill a room with brightness when the sun goes down.  We have both a Coleman propane lantern and a Coleman battery driven lantern.  Coleman’s are a timeless choice because they last forever and replacement parts – even for older models, are readily available.

4.  Store fuel for your chosen energy device.  This could be wood for the fire pit, propane cylinders for the gas grill, or 100 pounds of charcoal.  It could also be large bucket of pinecones or twigs to use as biomass in your rocket stove.  The point is to store fuel – you are going to need it.  One more point:  educate yourself on the proper storage of fuel.  All of the food in the world will not help you one bit if you blow yourself to bits.

5.  Blankets are good but a nice toasty sleeping bag or down comforter is better.  And a heavy jacket, plus socks are good, too.  It is easy to strip down when the temperatures soar – not that that is the optimal way to keep cool – but when you are cold, you need to bundle up and stay warm.

6.  Invest in a generator.  We recently invested in a 10 kw whole house generator that will automatically power our home during the frequent outages on our island.  Think it won’t happen to you?  A few years back, the city of Seattle was dark for almost a week.  It happens.

A portable generator can be purchased for as little as $500 or $600 and the sky is the limit after that.    Just keep in mind that the installation by a qualified electrician is probably going to cost as much as the generator itself.  Also, make sure you test the installation!  I can not stress this too much.  In my own recent experience I was caught with no refrigerator power during a short term outage because I stupidly trusted the electrician to get things right.  Wrong.  The wiring from the refrigerator to the master panel was not connected.  So whatever you do, test and test again every few months or so.

7.  If you have the proper sun exposure, the budget and the space, consider solar power as a backup to your local power grid.  Many local utilities, states, and yes, even the federal government offer financial incentives and policies that promote renewable energy.  It is worth checking in to.

8.  Fill empty milk or juice jugs with water then store them in your freezer so that all of the spare nooks and crannies are filled.  This will serve a variety of purposes:  the freezer will operate more efficiently because it is full, plus, if there is an outage, the frozen jugs of ice will hold the contents cool for a longer period of time.  You can even move some of the jugs of ice to your refrigerator to keep things cold for a short term following an unexpected outage.

Note:  the water stored in this manner, when thawed, can be used for cleaning or flushing but not for drinking unless it is purified or filtered.

Other useful stuff

Okay.  So we have covered basic power needs.  But what are some of the other essentials that you will want to have on hand during a power outage?

How about the following:

  • Battery operated or hand crank radio.  Remember, without power, there may be no way to use your computers plus your DSL or cable service is likely to be kaput at well.
  • Solar battery charger.  Very handy for charging cell phones although many hand crank radios can also charge cell phones.
  • Chemical light sticks.
  • Amusements.  Books, games and playing cards.  My favorite?  A couple of decks of Canasta cards .
  • The Spirit of Adventure.  Okay, I had to throw that in.  Let’s face it, a positive attitude plus your emergency preps will help you soldier through an extended power outage.

The Final Word

I hope these ideas will start you on the road to thinking about a power outage and how you can prepare to keep yourself warm, light, and well during a power outage.  And once you are prepared, I suggest you pop up a big pot of popcorn and get yourself a copy of the movie “The Trigger Effect ”.  I saw this film when it first came out and still find it chilling.  Here a synopsis:

“Do yourself a favor and buy some canned goods, a flashlight, and a radio before you watch this film. Unfairly dismissed by the critics and missed by the public, this pre-Y2K suspense film is a chilling, sobering experience that will turn any practical person into a paranoid, apocalyptic loon. When the power goes out in the big city and society starts to break down, husband and wife Matthew and Annie find out that not even suburbia is safe.”

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


Bargain Bin: Getting the goods you need to in place to be comfortable during a power outage when the grid is down can be daunting when you are just getting started.  Always, start with food then branch out from their.  Here is a list of some gear to help you along the way.

Ambient Weather Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio: This is becoming a popular choice with Backdoor Survival readers. This unit is a Digital AM/FM NOAA Weather Alert Radio and a powerful 3 LED flashlight, with smart charger, all in one portable package.

AA and AAA Solar Battery Charger: Another popular item. This unit will charge up to 2 pairs of AA or 1 pair of AAA batteries via USB or solar power.

EcoZoom Versa Rocket Stove: Burning twigs and pinecones, this stove will cook a big pot of rice in under 20 minutes. The stove is solidly built and will burn charcoal as well. There is also a version that only burns biomass for slightly less money.

Coleman Rugged Battery Powered Lantern: This sturdy Coleman has a runtime of up to 28 hours on the low setting and 18 hours on the high setting but does require D cell batteries. Personally, I have both a battery operated and propane lantern. Of course by now you know that I like redundancy with my preps.

Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite The Sunday Survival Buzz   Volume 22: Don’t let the $20 price lead you to think this wireless flood light is wimpy. I have two of these (so far) and feel that these lights are worth double the price.

Chemical Lighting aka Light Sticks: These are inexpensive, portable and easy to use.  These come in a number of colors so take your pick.

This month Emergency Essentials is featuring a great deal on their freeze dried fruit combo.

Now I eat a lot of fruit (usually three whole fruits a night as a bedtime snack) and in a SHTF situation, fruits will be something I really miss, When I saw the fruit combo on sale at Emergency Essentials, I jumped on it. Combined with some home-made yogurt – well, the thought sounds simply divine!

The selection includes Apple Dices, Bananas, Peaches, Pineapple Dices, Blueberries and Strawberries.

The fruit combo is now 24% off for $109.99 instead of the normal price of $144.25.  Click here for the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials.

Shop Amazon Tactical – Great Selection of Optics, Knives, Cases, Equipment

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Survival Basics: Preparing for a Grid Down Power Outage — 13 Comments

  1. That chicken combo sale would be a great deal, but I can’t find it on their site. Maybe a long gone deal?

    Enjoy your writing, thanks.


  2. Generators are a good idea… as long as you have fuel! But what do you do when both electricity fail and your out of fuel for your generator?

    We got a Sun Oven. That’s a neat idea and it really works! All you need is a little sunshine and you’re good to go. It even works on cloudy days. Hot enough to cook beef stew and biscuits!

    • The SunOven is awesome, I’ve cooked a number of casseroles in mine on partly cloudy days here in MA. But for folks without the budget for it, there are a number of DIY solar ovens that just need a box, some aluminum foil and either some glass or other transparent covering. Things might not get as hot as a commercial product like the SunOven, but heating up canned foods and stews should be easy enough. I actually have enough stuff to make a few DIY units at home in case of a longer term disaster, since just one SunOven isn’t enough for a larger group.

      On the generator front, solar panels can be quite useful as a fallback. I have a standby generator piped into natural gas from the utility company, but that can get disrupted, so it’s good to have other options. You can go full size with inverters and battery banks, or keep it simple and get a solar battery charger for AA batteries so small battery powered devices will still work during an extended outage, at least as long as you have enough sunny days. I got the C.Crane units for my AA batteries, but I also got a SunJack so I can charge up the included battery packs which can then charge my Kindle and/or iPhone.

  3. I have made and hacked or modified several flashlights. Here are just two of them. I modified a lantern type (6 volt “lantern battery) with 3 leds that had a run time of 65 hours. I added a resistor which was an improvent to the original design because the original flashlight was over driving the leds with too much current. The end result is a 360 hour flashlight for 5 dollars.

    I also made a few super capacitor flashlights. This one has a run time of about 6 hours and according to the specs for the capacitor, It can be charged and discharged 500,000 times.

    Here are my two micro-solar setups:

    I have back up components and flashlights in my faraday cage because I am getting prepped for this:


  4. I have had a 10kw natural gas powered generator (generac) for 10 years. my only complaint is that the housing is finished in powder coat rather than real paint, and it is rusting out.

    We have had several outages here in NJ, some for several days. Rather than run the generator continuously, which might annoy the neighbors and/or attract thieves, I have bought inverters and deep cycle batteries that I use to run the refrigerator and heat system (natural gas hot water) over night. One size 24 battery can last all night.
    The refrigerator merely plugs into an extension cord that is readily accessible, and then to the wall outlet behind the fridge. I just unplug it and connect it to the inverter.
    On the heating system, I replaced the emergency power shutoff switch with a double pole, double throw center off switch, and connected a power cord to the one throw and the power input to the other throw, the center contacts going to the boiler power connections.
    Now I can plug the cord into the inverter and throw the switch, and run the circulator pump and zone valves, etc. off the inverter.

    Additionally I have bought a 4000W portable generator, which is housed in an unused van, as an additional source to charge the batteries. The van masks the sound pretty well and provides a secure lockable place for the gen. and spare gas cans

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