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.
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.
1. 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.
3. 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.”
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