What Happens When the Lights Go Out for Good?

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Have you put some thought into what would happen if your world went dark for a week?  I mean really thought about it, starting with day one and going out a week, a month or even longer?

I don’t know about you, but when I first started prepping, I heeded the warnings from NASA and considered the possibility of an EMP caused by solar flares, a coronal mass ejection, or even a meteor strike.  These days, the concern is as much for a human-induced attack on the grid as it is for a natural phenomena.

What Happens When the Lights Go Out for Good | Backdoor Survival

It would be an understatement to say that I prep, first and foremost, for the possibility of an extended grid-down power outage.  Such an outage would affect every aspect of life as we know it including water, food, sanitation, and health care. Businesses would close and jobs would be lost. Chaos would become the norm, and for those living in heavily populated areas, civil unrest the likes of which we have never experienced, will erupt.

Today I am going to breakdown the sequence of events during the first week of a grid-down power outage, and give you a small taste of what will happen in the weeks after that.  Yes, I am preaching the choir.  But even so, if there is a message that needs to be broadcast, it is one of preparedness.

If you ever feel your efforts are not worth it, return to this article, and think again.

Day One: Cities are Hit the Hardest

Thousands are trapped in elevators

All electrical appliances are shut down and inoperative, including refrigerators, freezers, heating units, air conditioners

Water faucets run dry

Because there is not water, toilets no longer flush

ATM machines are inoperative

Banks and other businesses are shuttered

Emergency generators provide pockets of power and light but, for the most part, there is profound darkness everywhere

Battery-powered radios and cell phones still operate but there is no word as to the cause or scale of the power outage

Gas stations without generators cannot pump fuel

Day Two:  Confusion Reigns

Drugstores and supermarkets have been stripped clean of all goods

Law enforcement personnel are overwhelmed by medical emergencies and scattered outbreaks of looting

Batteries on laptops and cell phones are dying

Radio updates offer conflicting descriptions of the outage and there is no credible news relative to the expected duration

Officials disagree as to whether residents should find shelter or evacuate (but to where?)

Bridges and tunnels are backed up for hours

Day Three:  No Gas, No Water, and No Food

All gas stations have run out of fuel

Water is at a premium

FEMA has provided emergency generators to pump water and keep sewage systems operational, but supplies are limited

Millions of “Meals Ready to Eat” have been distributed.

Backup food and water supplies do not exist

End of Week One:  You are Own Your Own

Emergency rations have been depleted

Hundreds of the elderly and infirm have died

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have migrated to areas where there still is power

Unequipped to house or feed them, some states have instituted plans to keep the refugees out

Only the military can maintain a semblance of order and there are not enough troops to go around

Millions of people are, essentially, on their own

Week Two and Beyond: Board Up the Windows and Protect Yourself from Looters and Thugs

With no end in sight, hiding and defending your goods is a full time job and a number one priority

Law enforcement personnel are abandoning their post in order to secure their own families

Like-minded neighbors band together to inventory resources and exchange goods via barter

Neighbors canvass each other for skills that can be put to good use for the collective good

Stockpiled food is rationed to the minimum amount needed to maintain necessary caloric levels

Hunting, fishing and foraging for food begins and stored goods begin to dwindle

FEMA is nowhere to be found

Electronic Armageddon?

A while back NatGeo put out a documentary that deals with both a natural and a nuclear EMP.  You can watch it on YouTube (below) or get the DVD.

The Final Word

The aftermath of a wide-rage, long-term power outage has been written about and discussed by many.  For some, an introduction to such an event came from fiction, such as One Second After or, in the extreme of a nuclear winter, The Road.  On the other hand, the probability has been poo-poo’d by many.  Clearly, those naysayers will not be ready and most likely will become predators when they learn that help from the government is not forthcoming.

As Ted Koppel stated in his book, Light’s Out, there is no federal plan for a widespread power outage lasting more than a week.  That does not mean that we can’t be prepared.

Additional Reading:  Q&A With Ted Koppel in Prepper Book Festival 10: Lights Out.

When you think about, beyond preparing for a localized natural disaster, we need to be thinking about the consequences of a disruptive event of a much larger magnitude. And with that thought in mind, know that being prepared is the best thing you can do for yourself and your family.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Bargain Bin:  Here are a selection of items related to this article.  Note that it is my belief that everyone should have some basic solar devices, including a portable panel for charging electronic gizmos and rechargeable batteries.

Sunferno Flintstone Portable Solar Panel with Rechargeable Battery Pack:  This sturdy solar power pack is lightweight and small enough to be used in an EDC kit.  I especially like that it has 2 USB ports.

RAVPower 15W Solar Charger with Dual USB Ports: This compact, three panel, solar charger will charge two devices at once, including tablets, smartphones, Kindles, and even AA/AAA battery chargers.  Value priced at about $50.  For more information, read: Gear Review: RAVPower 15W Solar Charger with Dual USB Ports.

Solar Charger for Standard Batteries:  This Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Power Pack , coupled with the Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel is what I use to charge up AA and AAA batteries as well as my electronic devices. I purchased mine as a kit from Amazon.

Panasonic eneloop AA New 2100 Cycle Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries:  These days, I try to use eneloops as much as possible.  They hold a charge forever, or so it seems, and work well in flashlights and small electronics.   Note:  I also use the Amazon Basics brand and will purchase those if the price is less.  I have done a lot of reading and to the best of my knowledge, they are an eneloop twin, branded by Amazon.  They charge up fine in my Maximal Power battery charger.

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath:  The hallmark book, by award winning journalist Ted Koppel, will hopefully educate the sheeple and motivate them to embrace the message of preparedness.  For the rest of us, there is much to learn about the state of preparedness, or lack thereof, at the highest levels of our government.  Read more:  Prepper Book Festival 10: Lights Out by Ted Koppel.

One Second After:  For many, the novel “One Second After” was a game changer that convinced them of the need to be prepared. It is a story in which one man struggles to save his family and his small North Carolina town after America loses a war based upon an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) used as a weapon.  It could happen.  If you have not read this book, you really should.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy:  A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other. If you have not read the book (or seen the movie) please do.  Highly recommended!


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9 Best Essential Oils for Your Survival Kit | Backdoor Survival


What Happens When the Lights Go Out for Good? — 20 Comments

  1. Good article, but I think you are a bit optimistic that FEMA will begin distributing MRE’s by day 3. They are, after all, one of the most incompetent of all federal bureaucracies. Importantly, FEMA will have the same problem obtaining fuel that everyone else will have. No fuel = no delivery of whatever emergency supplies they have. Within the first few hours there will be widespread rioting and looting. I don’t visualize a FEMA driver with the courage to enter the flaming sector of any city without military back-up.

    Unless you have your own well with wind power, solar or a back-up generator, there will be no water for drinking, cooking or flushing toilets within 12 hours – probably even less than that in cities.

    If you are a city dweller, don’t look for any welcoming committees along your evacuation route. You should, instead, expect to find road blocks and armed barricades in front of communities that are trying to protect their own.

    • You are correct. Wasn’t it FEMA that couldn’t get supplies to the victims after Hurricane Sandy? I believe it was citizen volunteers who actually got people some water and such.

    • FEMA used to be much better, but that was before DHS swallowed them up and basically gutted them, although when Bush’s campaign director (who had no emergency management experience) was made the FEMA director he started the trimming process before 9/11. After 9/11 and with the creation of DHS in 2003 the gutting of FEMA accelerated because we had to protect everyone from those nasty terrorists, despite the relative risks of terrorism. Only 3066 Americans have been killed by terrorists between 9/11/01 and 12/31/2014, while during that same period over 16,000 Americans were murdered every year from 2001 to 2014, and over 8000 people died due to extreme weather (most because of Katrina and Sandy, but a fairly steady number in the other years from 333 to 567, with exceptions in 2011 of 1,096 and 1,451 in 2005!) Sorry for the mini-rant, the obsession with terrorism without regard to actual risk drives me a bit crazy.
      Back to the point, FEMA will probably get distributing MREs to a handful of cities within 3 days, but there aren’t enough to go around. In Lights Out by Ted Koppel he throws around the number 25 Million MREs for New York City, which means basically 3 MREs per person in the city then that’s it…so nobody should count on the government coming to feed their family during any widespread grid down event.

    • You can bet that FEMA has been tasked with a part in the COG/COOP plans for the Government. The upper levels of the Government WILL take care of themselves (shelter, water, food, security, etc.)since they are SOOO important to the U.S., even if it is at the expense of us peons.

  2. It would be interesting to know what preps nuclear sites have made for this. While we get our candles and solar panels in order, the clock will be ticking until nuclear meltdown. While they have generators, they will at some point run out of stored fuel to run the generators. Fuel will not be able to be pumped or delivered to them. I don’t know if that will be Week 1 or 2.

    • It’s not so much the cores melting down that we need to worry about, it’s the cooling ponds. Without pumps to add fresh water to the ponds the used fuel rods will boil the ponds dry and then we risk a fire with radioactive particles in the smoke. The cores can be made safe fairly quickly after the grid goes down, but the cooling ponds need fresh water for months at a minimum and maybe a year or more depending on when the last spent fuel rods were moved into the ponds. Ideally if we had a national nuclear waste storage facility, then the cooling ponds would be unnecessary as spent fuel would be sent off to a location that can’t catch fire and mess up the local environment for decades or centuries….
      Of course until then it’s a good idea to have a civil defense meter and some dosimeters so you can at least tell when there is radiation around! I keep mine in a faraday cage in case the grid goes down due to EMP rather than hacking or solar CME.

      • Without fuel for the cooling pond pumps and water for the ponds, I’m pretty sure there will be some melting going on. If this happens, we won’t need our survival supplies for long.

  3. I think you are optimistic on a number of things. Not only will FEMA not get you food and water, but why do you think radio stations will work. How many do you think have backup generators to keep broadcasting information and if they do, for how long? I think all your emergency generator power will be directed to hospitals, police, and other emergency operations – as long as it lasts. Your cell phone might work, but you will be cut off except for emergency calls. Most likely cell towers will not work – no power. Where I live we had a short term power outage that also took out the towers, rural of course. If your laptop survives, don’t you think your local cable distributor or satellite dish will have been fried? “They” may have hardened some internet servers, but again those connections that survive will be taken over, rightly, for emergency connections only. And people are highly stupid. They will call emergency services because their ac won’t work, but can’t imagine opening a window in their house. I could go on and on, but I think you are highly optimistic.

    • Without diesel fuel, a generator is nothing more than a lump of inert metal. Refineries depend upon electricity for production. No power = no fuel. The strategic petroleum reserve does not have the capacity to pump oil to refineries that would meet the requirements of a national emergency. There are congressional studies that detail this situation. See especially the “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.”

  4. 1) The phony baloney “law enforcement personnel” will be the first ones to “bail out” when the SHTF, and everyone knows it. All they do now is “stand down” anyway.

    2) If you’re into schadenfreude, within a week the progressive liberal Numbskulls and Company, will begin to be eaten, in earnest, by their pet hordes of miscreants, cretins and goblins.

  5. The article mentions neighbors discussing rationing of resources, but the preppers would be better off not mentioning what they have since the unprepared mob will force “democracy” upon them by demanding an equal share of their stash.
    If a prepper has 6 months food prior to the event, he will be reduced to 6 days once his hungry, greedy and unprepared neighbors find out.
    Tell your neighbors NOTHING!

  6. Mil pattern rifles & lots of ammo to feed them will be worth as much as food.
    The unarmed liberal types will be raped & murdered within a month.

  7. Life during such an event would essentially be like what living in Detroit is like today.(Well, maybe it wouldn’t be THAT bad….)

  8. The PLAGUE begins. Rotting carcasses in nursing homes MAY entice rats and then infectious diseases MAY spread like wildfire into the surrounding communities. Or, maybe not.

    Actually, the problem of disposing of the dead bodies (from any and all causes) will be overwhelming in the cities and WHO will feel safe doing this gruesome task? Consider, if you were in charge of the morgue, and you had no electricity to operate under…or if you were an embalmer and had no electricity for the pumps, or if you were an emergency responder and you had no electricity…how effective could you be?

    It’s bad enough if you live in the countryside and the power goes out for an extended period of time…you’ll have deaths from those relying on dialysis, or reliance upon refrigerated medications (insulin), and consider all that food stored in meat lockers and refrigerators will go bad in a hurry…think the flies are bad now? Just wait.

    If you’re in a city, consider bugging out IMMEDIATELY until the threat of disease and pandemic has diminished (probably 30-90 days). Sure, the city has lots of “cool” stuff you could use, but it will all be looted within days to a week and will become an extremely dangerous place to be (especially if you have a family to defend) within just a few days. A pretty realistic film “Blackout Britain” (currently available on U-Tube) is probably the most realistic indicator of the way things will roll once people realize the power isn’t coming back on any time soon.

    There MAY be martial law imposed in the cities, but don’t be too hopeful that things will improve. Once the National (or regional) Guard realizes that (just maybe) their own families may now be in some kind of danger, we might expect some desertions?. Don’t think so? Consider, “What would I do in their circumstances?” The novel (Going Home) by “A. American” sounded pretty realistic to me.

    If you’re going to stay put, get (trade or buy) some plywood, MDF, particle board, or whatever to board up your windows to withstand the assaults of the “unprepared” on your abode. That includes fasteners. Plan for how you’ll defend your place…i.e., a camouflaged spider hole in the front yard manned with guns 24/7, or collaboration with prepared neighbors, or whatever works for you and yours.

    Stock up now on PLENTY of ammo to protect your food stash.

    DO NOT VENTURE forth any more than absolutely necessary…or you’ll be shot for “looting” very quickly.

  9. A pdf of a good short report by Lloyd’s Insurance called “Solar Storm Risk To The North American Electric Grid” is available here:


    Lloyd’s suggests that the aftermath of a CME is unlikely to be the worst case scenario of “One Second After”s EMP attack, but it would be plenty bad. especially along the Eastern seaboard and parts of the Midwest. Interestingly, they predict geographically spotty outages (there is a map), lasting anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years, depending on severity of the storm.

    At 18 pages long, I think it is an absolute MUST read.

    Another good one is the UK government’s “Space Weather Preparedness Strategy” report. Here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/449593/BIS-15-457-space-weather-preparedness-strategy.pdf

    Among other things, it suggests that the UK would better weather a CME than would the US because, being a much smaller country, their long distance transmission lines are much shorter than ours. That means they would collect less power, and less likely to burn out.

    There is also the US EMP commission report: http://www.empcommission.org/reports.php

    These are all important to read. They are also quite useful for demonstrating to doubters that EMP and CME are not products of the tinfoil thinking cap brigade: This is the real thing, and they are extremely dangerous.

    Lloyd’s point: A massive CME is 100% guaranteed to occur. 100%. The only question is when: Next year, 150 years from now? They don’t know, but they are clear that it is a 100% probability. One or more well-designed EMP devices might well be worse, but those are not guaranteed to happen. A CME is.

  10. If it’s this bad now, how bad will it be when there is a major power failure? There is a wealth of information at the top of the Backdoor Survival page. It wouldn’t hurt to look through it for a refresher.

    Dozens Shot Over Memorial Day Weekend As The Collapse Of Chicago Accelerates
    Chaos and violence threaten to spiral out of control in America’s third largest city, and nobody seems to have any idea how to solve the problem.

  11. Gaye I have a friend who lives about 25 miles from a nuclear plant, if there were an EMP or power outage for a number of weeks what should her family’s plan be? Thanks!

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