Just ten years ago, in August 2003, the largest Blackout in US history occurred. On August 14, 2003, the Northeast Blackout left about 50 million people without power. This far-reaching grid-down loss affected the northeastern and midwestern United States, as well as the Ontario Province in Canada.
Whether a disruption in electrical power occurs from severe weather or from some type of malfunction or destruction of the power grid, basic electric services will be unavailable to many people for an unknown, unspecified amount of time.
Know that the electric grid can be disrupted at any time. And a grid-down scenario knows no boundaries — it will follow the path of the networked power lines and affect everyone. Even those who are living off-grid will be affected by a grid-down scenario because the world around them is plugged-in and will be involved in a chaotic Blackout. A Blackout means that there is no easy means of travel or transportation of supplies and services. A Blackout means that communication will be interrupted for the majority of people. A Blackout means all plans are thwarted with people being stranded, even stuck, and they cannot escape to a safe place or to their homes. A Blackout means that some medicine and foods become spoiled in a short amount of time. A Blackout means that nothing electronic will work — including gasoline fuel pumps, cash registers, traffic lights, and [gasp!] computers.
Yes, a Blackout strips us of our conveniences and forces us into a more primitive, simple way until the power is restored. For most people, dealing with an extended loss of electric power can be a bad situation. So being prepared for a Blackout is important and even local and national government agencies have numerous tips on how to become prepared for a power loss.
If you are directly affected by a long-term power loss, a Blackout, it is prudent to think carefully about your present location and the situation you are in. Learn the FEMA ‘checklist’ for disaster victims and remember the 3 most important concerns for people involved in any type of a disaster. These concerns apply to a long-term loss of electric power, since many disastrous situations involve a loss of electric power.
FEMA’s checklist, the 3 most important concerns are:
- Sanitary surroundings/environment
Of utmost importance are your safety and security. As well, clean and sanitary conditions are very important to your safety and survival. In essence, the 3 most important concerns for your survival are interconnected.
During a power loss, a quick assessment can be taken where ever you happen to be when the grid-down situation occurred. If you are at home or in town or inside a skyscraper in an urban setting, make a fast mental check of the Three S’s to assess your predicament. By doing this, you will quickly realize whether you must make an immediate decision for your safety or not. If you are not safe, or do not feel safe (or sanitary or secure), you need to determine how to meet those conditions first. These are your first goals: Safety is your Number 1 goal.
Depending upon where you are, you may or may not need assistance. Since there are so many variables if you are not at home when the grid goes down, the purpose of this post is to focus only on the home and household.
For a long-term Blackout phase, anywhere from several days to a very lengthy time period, your home and household will be forced to adapt to a very different lifestyle without electricity. Unless you have provided for alternate energy, or planned well by having redundant systems or equipment in place, ready to switch-over to, everything in your home will be forced into manual operation or will be completely shut off.
Are you prepared for this? Are you prepared for a long term Blackout? Perhaps you are beginning to prepare for a situation where there is no electricity. The steps to prepare for a grid-down scenario can be overwhelming so the best way to approach this is through methodology that will both organize and prioritize your household’s needs.
Preparing your home for grid-down scenarios
Within your own home, there are a number of steps you can take to prepare your home for a long power loss. Certain issues become critical with a long power loss and if you are in the beginning stages to protect your household during a grid-down situation, start with the most important necessities:
- Security & Safety
- Alternate Energy
Every household will have needs for water, food, adequate shelter, their safety, the home’s security, and replacement energy resources. Some of these necessities will vary, depending upon the household, so it is important that you make determinations based upon your own household.
Water is absolutely critical for our survival. While most homes have a steady stream of water at their fingertips, water requires some form of energy to pipe it to those fingertips. The average household has a reliable running water supply that can be accessed at a kitchen sink, a bathroom toilet, a bathroom sink, a bathroom shower/tub, a hot water tank, a washing machine, and a washroom sink.
In most households, water is brought into the home with a plumbing system and those systems require electricity. Living in a region where your water is supplied by a municipality, water must travel through a central plumbing system that requires pressure to force the water to travel from the water storage and treatment facility into your home.
Even if you are living in a rural location and you are on a well, your running water is supplied to your household by a well pump which forces underground water up and into a plumbing system to your home. Often times, these systems require additional electric equipment such as a pressure tank, filters, and treatment systems.
Without having some form of energy to move water through a plumbing system, water cannot be piped into your house to be used. So if your home is without electricity, you will be without running water. This means there is no tap water to drink, cook with, or wash with. This also means there is no water to flush the toilets.
Some households are planned for off-grid living and they utilize some type of a gravity-fed water tank or spring-fed plumbing system. Or they rely on an alternate energy source to provide their running water.
There are other households that have established rainwater catchment systems and these systems can be converted into a gravity-fed water tank for some household usage such as flushing toilets. But for the average household across America, if there is no electricity, there is no steady stream of water.
Water Preparation: When there is no electricity, water requirements can be met with stored water. Water can be purchased or stored with reusable plastic containers and your own tap water. Individual servings of bottled water and gallon jugs of water can be purchased ahead of time and kept for an emergency such as a Blackout.
If you are a DIY type, prepare your own water storage with discarded plastic bottles and jugs. And if you already store water in large rain barrels, be sure to purchase some type of a filtration and treatment system so that your stored rainwater can be filtered and sanitized for personal use if an emergency should arise. For more information, read my posts entitled Got Water and Harvesting Rainwater.
For times when there is no electricity, sponge baths become the norm. In warm seasons or tropical climates, outside showers can be rigged up for a small gravity-fed shower system. In cold weather or regions with a colder climate, water can be heated on an alternate heat source like a wood stove or an outside fire ring, then hauled inside for an old-fashioned tub bath.
We need food. And most of us like food, too. Depending upon our activity level, age, size, and metabolism, we need the nourishment and energy that food provides us. And during periods of time when there is no electricity and we are reliant on more manual systems, good nutritious food is important. Please keep this in mind when thinking of food to store for an emergency situation.
Food Storage: Every household should have extra food stored in a cupboard or pantry. At a minimum, keep enough food to feed your household for 3 days, although 7 days is a much smarter amount of food to store. If you have a food pantry, your household may be well-stocked for a month or more. This is a goal worth achieving!
The types of food that should be stored are canned goods, dry foods, even dehydrated foods that have a long shelf-life. Foods like canned sardines, canned tuna, beans, crackers, soups, instant oatmeal, or home-canned jars of foods can be eaten without much food preparation. Foods that are stored for emergencies should require minimal cooking, perhaps just reheating the contents. Unless your household is prepared with an alternate heat source, limit your emergency foods to those that are shelf-ready or heat-and-serve types of foods.
Remember to store foods that your household will eat. There’s no point in having foods that no one wants, so be sure to stock your foods accordingly.
Store foods that do not require extensive cooking times unless you have the means to cook without electricity. If you have the ability to boil water without electricity, perhaps your household should store foods that are dehydrated and ready to be reconstituted with boiling water. There are many instant foods on the supermarket shelves and camping stores and all of these foods can be reconstituted with boiling water. (Note: Many of these foods contain a high sodium content.)
If you have canned goods in your food pantry, learn what you must do to prepare a meal with those foods — do they require cooking or could they be eaten as-is?
Food Preparation: With a long-term power loss, be ready to prepare a meal without relying on electricity to cook it. Do you have a way to cook food without electric power? Perhaps you have a wood cook stove, or a wood stove. Perhaps you have a volcano stove, a grill, an outdoor campfire ring, a cob oven, or even a solar box-oven. When your household is operating with no electricity, any of these cooking methods will be relied upon for hot meals.
Food Refrigeration: Without electricity, foods that were previously refrigerated or frozen will become rotten in a short amount of time. If you do not have a backup gas or diesel generator to operate the refrigerator or freezer, you will need to eat and/or preserve those foods as quickly as possible. Without electricity, do you have the ability to preserve your frozen foods?
Back up refrigeration can be provided with a root cellar, outdoor storage in cool or cold weather, or clay pot or “pot in a pot” refrigeration. The Zeer pot is a rudimentary electricity-free form of refrigeration and is very easy to make.
Food For Animals: Whether your household includes pets or livestock, be sure to always stock at least a week’s worth of food for each animal. While a domesticated cat or dog can usually eat table food, livestock can’t always do this. Consider the dietary requirements and water requirements of the animals you care for and keep an adequate supply on hand.
With the loss of electricity, our homes become even more important as a shelter. Often, the loss of electricity is due to a weather-related storm, perhaps even a disaster, and having no electric power forces us into making immediate household changes.
First, we usually notice that our lights go out. And if we have electronically-controlled equipment running such as a computer or a TV, we will hear warning beeps from the UPS (uninterrupted power supply battery box) or we will see a TV screen go black. But when our lights go out and stay out, forcing a Blackout upon us, we begin to realize that our shelter — our home — is a form of protection, even if that protection has become rudimentary. There is always some level of comfort with four walls and a roof.
So when the lights go out, we will eventually realize that our electric homes have lost the ability to function normally. We will lose the ability to access tap water and flush a toilet. We will lose our chilled and frozen foods because our refrigerators and freezers are no longer running. We will lose the ability to cook a meal if we have an electric stove. We will even lose most of our communication through the TV or internet.
Most of us depend upon electricity to do a variety of tasks and when we are faced with no electricity, our lifestyles must change temporarily to accommodate that power loss. Our big electric appliances will not operate without electricity and even with a back-up system, these large appliances drain the energy source. The air conditioning unit, the home heating system, the hot water tank, the electric clothes dryer, refrigerators, freezers, and the dishwasher are the energy hogs in most homes. Without having a major backup system ready to be placed into service, these appliances will be non-functional without electricity.
Shelter Preparation: Preparing your home for emergencies and disasters is wise. While most of our homes operate with the use of electricity, a long-term power outage changes our household operations and can create difficult, even ruinous, problems.
Consider the most basic issues that will not operate with electricity during a Blackout:
- Running water
- Heating and/or cooling
- Security system
During cold weather, a Blackout can prevent many homeowners from heating their homes if they operate electric furnaces or heat pumps. During frigid Winter weather in the northern States, an unheated home can cause frozen pipes — and pipes that have not been drained or treated will burst. Preparing your household for a long-term Blackout during cold Winter weather should begin with some type of a heat source for backup. A backup heat source should, at a minimum, warm your home to prevent frozen water pipes.
By having a fireplace, wood stove, or wood cookstove, a home will be equipped with a non-electric source of heat and a house can be heated with wood, coal, or wood pellets. A well-insulated home can help to retain any for of heat that is generated in a house. An adequate supply of warm clothing, quilts/blankets, and even thermal curtains all contribute towards keeping warm in cold weather.
In hot weather, remaining cool and comfortable becomes a challenge. Most labor should be done in the cool mornings and evenings. Hot weather also requires more water consumption to prevent dehydration, so remember this when stocking your household drinking water.
Homes that have been equipped with a small alternate energy source might have enough power to operate a fan or two during hot weather. Perhaps the household as even prepared well enough in advance to have some type of an evaporative cooler.
No matter what time of year, a home with no electricity can have its issues with everyday living. Lamps will not work to illuminate your home. The toaster will not work. Does your household have backup, manual appliances that can be used when there is no electricity? Can you make a pot of coffee without electricity? During a Blackout, a manual can opener will be a treasured tool — without one, those cans of food will not open unless you use hand tools.
When there is no electricity, the lights will go out. Unless there are backup lights that use alternate energy, your home and your surroundings will be very dark in a Blackout. Lanterns, flashlights, and lamps that operate with alternate energy will be most appreciated in your household. Even candles, especially candles with long burn-times, will illuminate your home. Oil and kerosene lamps and lanterns, solar-powered lights, lanterns, and battery-powered flashlights are all valuable sources of light during a Blackout. Prepare your household by having some of these lights on hand. Be sure to have the adequate energy necessary to keep the lights burning, too. A kerosene lantern without kerosene cannot provide light.
And where there is a non-electric source of heat, be it a wood cookstove, a grill, or a volcano stove, each provides the ability of heating both foods and water. A hot meal and warm water to wash with is a creature comfort, even a small luxury at times, when there is no electricity.
Some households have prepared for Blackout situations by purchasing a generator. If possible, obtain a generator that can be powered with gasoline or diesel, then store an adequate supply of the fuel to run the generator for a week or more. A properly-sized generator can provide enough energy to your home to keep the vital systems running. With the right generator and a sufficient amount of fuel, a household can continue to run a refrigerator, freezer, and even an electric well-pump.
Security & Safety
Depending upon your location, a Blackout might jeopardize your safety and security. Rural settings are generally safer than urban and suburban settings. During a Blackout, crime increases in the populated regions of the U.S. For those living in populated areas, your home needs to be safe and secure at all times. If, during a Blackout, there is a weather-related storm and conditions are difficult to travel in, do not assume that any emergency services will be readily available during a time of need. When 911 is non-responsive, your household’s safety falls on you and other family members.
A home’s security can be improved with a number of protective measures. Your location and home’s situation is very personal and your household’s security can be improved by planning ahead.
Many homes have added security systems to monitor their perimeters and any unexpected break-ins or questionable activity on the surrounding property. During a Blackout, some security systems have backup power supplies. Assess your situation and determine if a security system and an alternate backup power source is warranted.
Man’s best friend, the dog, has been a standard security system for a long time. Often, a dog can sense danger or an intruder, and will provide some warning to a homeowner. Sometimes, dogs are so protective that they will growl in warning and even strike to bite an intruder. Protective dogs are a valuable asset to homeowners.
Many homeowners believe that the best way to protect a home from criminal elements is with a firearm. Statistics do prove this, but owning a firearm for personal protection is a responsibility that involves some knowledge and preparation. If owning a firearm is not for your household, consider a strong bear-spray device, a pepper spray device, baseball bats or other striking implements. Or begin a self-defense course. Learn what criminal elements you might be up against and make an educated decision on self-protection. Your life may well depend upon your choices here.
Safety and security are increased with good outside communication. Communication is important during a grid-down situation because we become better informed on a local and a regional scale. A small battery-powered or solar-powered radio will be very helpful for updates on weather and current news-worthy events. Telephones may or may not be working, regardless of whether the phones are on land lines or cellular/satellite systems. And internet connectivity will have the same reliability issues, depending upon the severity of the Blackout and the power sources to operate computers and internet provider servers. At a minimum, consider a radio that can operate on alternate energy.
Security and Safety Preparations:
Keep alert to the situation around you and your home. Be very cautious of unidentified persons, stray animals, and individuals who might approach your home with ulterior motives. Be especially cautious of persons who claim to represent some business or agency and offer repairs or help. Don’t hesitate to ask for valid credentials, or better yet, do not answer the door if a stranger knocks. Be a disaster survivor, not a victim.
Having a good home security system is important at all times, but during chaotic situations like a Blackout, a secure home is peace-of-mind. To increase your home’s security, consider the following:
- Acquire dogs that bark or actually guard and protect
- Fence the property’s perimeter
- Install steel doors with dead bolts, door jams, and a frame reinforcement system (to prevent invasive door kick-ins)
- Windows with good locking mechanisms; added security on ground-floor windows or sliding glass doors (bars, frame reinforcement system)
- Add security lights using solar power or other alternate energy
- Install an alarm system (with alternate energy backups)
- Own, understand, and train with firearms
- Initiate family discussions on Blackout scenarios
- Experiment with a self-imposed non-electric period of time
Along with a home’s security and a household safety, consider the household’s health and medically-related issues. If anyone in the household is dependent upon medical equipment or medications, these needs should be given a top priority.
Medications that require refrigeration will need to have a back-up plan so that the medications stay chilled. Equipment that runs on electricity will require some type of an alternate energy back-up power source to keep the equipment functioning.
Health-related preparations include back-up prescription drugs or any implements that are necessary for the members of your household. Make a standard practice of having a week’s worth of prescription drugs (or more, if possible) on hand.
Currently, we have a nice choice of alternate energy to choose from. Appliances and equipment that operate on propane, solar, wind, steam, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, natural gas, hydro-power, or even batteries (both single use and rechargable) will provide a household with some convenient equipment during a grid-down situation. Even good old-fashioned manual labor is an energy source, but the equipment must match the type of energy to operate it.
Alternate energy provides a household with the means to operate equipment without having to rely on electricity. This can provide us with a back-up, redundant method or it can be the only means to operate some type of equipment. The worst arrangement during a Blackout is an all-electric home with every appliance and tool dependent upon electricity. An improvement to this would be a household with a variety of energy sources so that some equipment will remain functional in a grid-down situation.
Alternate Energy Preparations: If forced to go without electricity, we will need to use some form(s) of energy during our daily routines, even if it’s just our own energy. Some of us have already cut back or eliminated our dependency on electricity, so we are aware of our choices. And thankfully, there are choices for us. Given that there are a number of alternate energy resources available for our use, we must determine which of those alternate energy resources are efficient and affordable to us and to our households.
For most of us, our lifestyles have conveniences factored in. Most of us appreciate and rely on electric appliances and equipment to make many of our household tasks easier and less time-consuming. During a Blackout, we are forced to go without these conveniences and it is helpful to prepare for such a time — do we have backup equipment or tools that can be used that don’t require electricity? Do we have equipment that already runs on alternate energy?
A household that uses alternate energy like propane, solar/wind, steam, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, natural gas, hydro-power, or even batteries has established a way around the electric grid system already. Any household appliance or equipment that is off the electric grid will be an asset during a Blackout. But be prepared with adequate fuel for the equipment running on alternate energy. If you are depending upon a gas generator to see you through an extended Blackout, by all means, have a sufficient amount of treated gasoline stored.
Does your home use any alternate energy at this time? Does your household have appliances that are not powered by electricity? If not, perhaps your household is ready to make a few changes to be better prepared for a long-term power outage.
The best way to determine which alternate energy resources we might use is to analyze our current lifestyle and the equipment plus labor load that depends upon electricity. And to do this type of an assessment, it would be prudent to also identify the equipment and labor that is currently using alternate energy right now.
A comprehensive list of the equipment, appliances, and tools that require electricity will help inventory the household’s equipment. Similarly, a different list of household items that are currently running on some form of alternate energy can be used to compare what household functions could be met without electricity. By making an assessment on the importance of each piece of equipment, the list of electricity-dependent equipment can now be viewed as a possible shopping list for backup equipment or alternate energy requirements. For example, an electric stove is inoperable in a Blackout but a stove that operates on Propane is unaffected (unless there are electronic components built in). If a cook stove is important in your household, perhaps this is an appliance that can be replaced in the future.
Are you prepared? Could your household make do with no electricity?
This post is by no means all-encompassing, but hopefully there is enough to spawn an idea or help a household become better prepared for the ever-increasing dilemma of a long term loss of electricity. No one wants to live in a grid-down situation for a long period of time because our lives have become molded around electricity.
If a Blackout occurred in your region, how well would your household function with no electricity? Could you handle a Blackout lasting a week? A month?