Editor’s Note: This resource has been combined and updated for 2018!
With winter comes the wind, the snow, the ice and the extreme cold. And, more likely than not, winter will also bring the occasional power outage.
Have you asked yourself what you would do if the power went out for a day or two or for even a week? What would you do? Could you fend for yourself? Could you keep yourself warm in the winter and cool in the summer? What about food? Would your refrigerated and frozen items spoil? And yikes! What would you do about money if credit cards and ATMs no longer worked? Did I mention that in all likelihood you would not have internet access either?
Today I would like to provide 15 tips for getting through short-term power outages. These are the power outages that occur during winter storms or when a vehicle hits a power pole. (Longer term, apocalypse type outages are a subject for another time.) Now if you have a good memory, you will recall we discussed this subject back in July. That was summer. And now, with the cold months ahead of us, it would not hurt to have a refresher course.
We count on electricity for heat, food, medical, communication and financial needs. Our appliances and work-saving devices rely upon a source of electricity for operation and even many gas-powered appliances such as furnaces and hot water heaters need electricity to run. The worst thing about it is that when the power goes out, it is likely to be the result of some other emergency such as a hurricane, tornado, or winter storm. This means that the folks that are supposed to fix the problem may be spread wide and spread thin and it may be days before the lights are back on.
A power outage is not something that just might happen. I can pretty much guarantee that it will happen. The more you can do to prepare, the greater the likelihood that you will be comfortable and that will only suffer an inconvenience when the lights go out.
15 Tips to Start Prepping
1. Have flashlights ready in multiple, easily accessible locations around your home. Be sure to also have plenty of fresh, spare batteries. You need one really great flashlight but it is also nice to have a bunch of small, handheld LED handheld flashlights.
2. Have emergency candles plus matches available as well a candle lantern, oil lamp, or propane lantern. Be sure to include some longer, fireplace type matches or a butane wand for lighting fires in your fireplace or outdoors in a fire pit,
3. Have either a battery-operated radio, solar radio or hand crank radio so that you can stay in touch with the world. Make sure your radio is in working condition by testing it at least once a year.
4. Learn how to cook over an open fire, using charcoal or wood or even biomass.
5 Make sure you have a manual can opener for opening cans of food. If you are a coffee drinker, also have a French press available as well as pre-ground coffee,
6. Fill the empty space in your freezer with containers of water. Frozen water will displace air and keep food cold longer if the power goes out. Remember to leave space in containers for ice to expand. Empty milk cartons can be repurposed in this manner.
7. If you use a landline, have at least one phone with a handset cord in your home. Many cordless phones will not work in a power outage. Cell phone users should keep their cell phones charged and at the very least, pick up a cell phone car chargerso you can charge the cell in your car if it runs down.
8. If you have an automatic garage door opener, learn how to use the manual release to open your garage door manually. Keep the instructions handy – perhaps taped to the inside of a closet door – so you don’t have to search for them when the time comes.
9. Keep your automobile’s fuel tank at least half full. Many gas stations will not be in operation during a power outage. And please – fill up your tank if a major storm is predicted.
10. Once the power goes out, unplug sensitive electrical equipment such as computers, printers, televisions, and audio equipment. When the power comes back on, there may be power spikes that can damage delicate electronics. I know, it has happened to me. Keeping these items plugged in to surge protector helps but it is still best to unplug these items from the wall completely.
11. Do not open refrigerators or freezers any more than necessary. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for approximately 4 hours, an unopened freezer will keep food frozen for approximately 24 hours and even longer if it is located in a cold garage. You will need to throw away any food items that become warmer than 41 degrees. No testing, no tasting. To the garbage it goes. Sorry, that is just the way it is.
12. Keep a supply of books, board games, playing cards and other items available to keep you entertained and amused during a power outage. A bit of chocolate and a bottle or two of wine or whiskey would also help in the amusement area.
13. Be wary of the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is caused from exposure to odorless fumes created by charcoal grills, camping stoves or generators that are operated inside a home or garage. Never, ever burn charcoal or use gasoline or propane-powered equipment inside your home. Don’t even do it in your garage or on your porch. Use such equipment only when you’re completely outdoors.
14. Notify your power company in advance if you use special healthcare equipment like oxygen generators or dialysis equipment that require power. Most power companies have the ability to note this in their records and will prioritize the response to your home.
15. If your budget allows, acquire a portable generator. Learn to safely use your generator and test it monthly. And don’t forget to store enough fuel to run the generator for up to a week. Alternately, you can look into solar generator options which are becoming increasingly reliable. Remember, your portable generator does not have to run full time. Your refrigerator will be just fine without power over night when it is not being opened and closed repeatedly.
Other Recommended Preps for Power Outages
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?
The following items will help you to sail through a power outage:
- Solar battery charger. Very handy for charging batteries to power flashlights and other battery powered devices.
- Stock supplies for bundling up. Blankets are good, but a nice toasty sleeping bag or down comforter is better. A heavy jacket and socks are good, too. Plan to add layers for staying warm in a grid down scenario. Long johns, covered by clothing and topped with a jacket will serve you well. Don’t forget hats, scarves, and fingerless gloves, so that you can stay warm and still function.
- Store foods that require very little in terms of warming or cooking. These foods should be items that your family normally eats. Suggestions? Canned meats, peanut butter, crackers, canned fruits and veggies granola bars, and cold cereals. If you are a coffee drinker, include some instant coffee as well.
- Chemical light sticks. They more versatile than you might expect. (Here are 10 reasons you need them in your emergency kit.)
- 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.
How to Survive a Long Term Power Outage Grid Failure
Okay, so the short-term power outage is now a long term – grid down – failure. What now?
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
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
A word about generators: Using a properly connected whole house generator of adequate size during a power outage will reduce or almost eliminate the impact a power outage has on your life. Before you buy such a generator, talk to an electrician about the size and type you need as well as the installation costs.
Think about what you want your generator to run. For the basics, a generator can be used to keep food cool, provide lights and electricity for stovetops, computers, telephones and television, and to power furnace blowers and pumps. Less important is power for washing machines, dishwashers, and ovens.
The best way to use a generator is to connect it to your home using a transfer switch installed by a licensed electrician. This will keep the power from overloading the wiring in your home. It will also keep the power from your generator from traveling back into the power lines, which could seriously injure or kill people working on power lines. Alternately, you can connect equipment directly to the outlets on the generator. If that is your method of choice, be sure that any extension cords are of the proper length and gauge to handle the power requirements of the connected equipment.
Just remember, Mark Twain said, “Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get.” A power outage is inevitable. There is really no excuse not be prepared.
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Bargain Bin: Here are some useful items to have on hand when the power is out.
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.
Coleman Candle Lantern: When the lights go out, there is nothing like a Coleman. They last forever because spare parts are always available. A candle lantern will not give out the bright light of say, a propane or kerosene lantern. On the other hand, candles are likely to be available when other fuels are not.
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: 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.
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.
Chemical Lighting aka Light Sticks: These are inexpensive, portable and easy to use. These come in a number of colors so take your pick.
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.
Bicycle Canasta Games Playing Cards: Heck, you need something to keep yourself entertained!
100 Hour Plus Emergency Candle Clear Mist: My number one choice for emergency candles. This liquid paraffin candle will burn for over 100 hours. t is also odorless and smokeless, making it a great emergency light source that can be extinguished and re-lit as often as needed. Very safe to use.