How to Prepare for Short Term Power Outages and Long Term Blackouts

Due to the ever-changing climate, massive power failures are expected to increase in the coming years due to the higher level of storms. I work for an electrical corporation and I know how complicated the electrical grid is and also how fragile. Where I’m from, we never used to have hurricanes, but in 2014 a category one made landfall. More and more storms are going to affect the power grid, and we have to prepare ourselves for a long-term blackout.  In this article, we will be talking about the best ways to prepare for a short and long-term power outage.

When we face a long-term power failure, there will undoubtedly be massive looting from an unprepared population. Everyone will be rushing to grocery stores to find food, and water and this can make for a hazardous situation if you’re outside with your family.

We are so dependent on electricity that most people panic when the power is out for only a few hours. They don’t panic because they will have a lack of food or water, they panic because they will miss an episode of a television show. Do you now understand why the western world would be screwed if we were facing a long-term blackout? A massive power outage would be a devastating event to our population.

We can prepare ourselves for an imminent power failure by following the steps I will lay out. If you follow these tips, you should have no problem staying home and surviving a power outage that might last for weeks. Many people often think that this type of event will never happen, but are we all forgetting about the massive blackout that left 50 million people in northern USA and parts of Canada without power? The power was out for approximately 23 hours and left 11 people DEAD! More on that story to follow.

Even though the USA is considered a superpower, our electrical grid resembles something from a third world country. The grid is vulnerable, and we never know when the next blackout will be.




The Primary Causes of Power Outages

Many things can affect the power grid. These causes can be small and only affect a limited amount of people, and other causes can be lead to a widespread blackout.

  • Animals: Animals are one of the leading cause of isolated power outages. Small animals like squirrels can efficiently run on the lines without being electrocuted.  They will, however, be electrocuted and cause a power outage if they come into contact with specific electrical equipment. Some electrical companies apply different types of barriers to prevent this from happening, but it does not always work. The Washington Post cited in an article that squirrels and their partners in crime can cause from 10-20% of all power outages.
  • Automobile Accidents: There are many instances where a power outage occurs from an automobile accident when a car collides with a utility pole.  If the pole breaks and falls it will bring the power lines with it and cause damage resulting to a power outage.
  • Severe Weather Related Blackouts: The most common and widespread blackout situation would result from storms such as hurricanes and tropical storms. Lighting storms are also a primary culprit of power outages. As the climate is steadily changing, we can expect stronger storms that can leave a trail of devastating damage.
  • Ice and Snow: This, of course, is another weather-related event; but I find it necessary to place this one on its own because, in places where the winter is met with snow and ice, the results can be devastating. Just a small amount of freezing rain can cause trees to break and fall on the lines. The utility poles will easily snap in half like twigs. Storms like this can last a couple of hours and leave a lot of people in the dark of days. I know because I’ve been there!

Immediate Consequences of a Power Outage We Can Expect

Even if we most commonly experience a power outage for a short length of time,  that doesn’t mean we should not prepare for a time where the lights will just not come back on. When the lights go off, the first things we usually experience is concern over when the power will come back online so we can resume with our daily chores and entertainment. Here is a short list of what you can expect within the first 24 hours.

  • Lights out, everything in our home stops working, and you soon realize how dependent you are on electricity.
  • You might still have phones for a short while, but you most likely will not have internet access thus closing the door to the outside world.
  • Being able to see the stars for the people that live in dense urban populations.
  • Other than buses that depend on gasoline, all additional electricity dependent public transportation will cease.
  • Food shortage due to lack of distribution and people clearing shelves in panic.
  • You won’t be able to have access to physical cash because the ATM’s will no longer be functional. Electronic payment methods will be down as well. This is the reason why you should have a small reserve of cash in case something like this happens.
  • Some people will die due to their medical equipment not working correctly without the necessary amount of electricity.
  • Panik begins. Yes, on the first day, the first-hour people will start to panic and if you go outdoors, you will most likely see this happening like in 2003’s massive blackout.

Satelite Image Taken During the 2003 Blackout

August 14, 2003 – First Massive Blackout In History

We never think that a blackout that would last only 23 hours would have such devastating effect on our population’s way of living and economy. As a result of the 23-hour outage, 50 million were out of power, 11 people died, and the cost to the economy was over 6 Billion dollars. All that in less than a day!

The problem began in Ohio where a set of human and operational errors set the stage for the blackout. A down power line went unnoticed because the alarm system failed at a local company called “First Energy.”

A technician from “The Regional Service Operator Midwest ISO” had turned off the monitoring system while performing repairs. This monitoring system signals an alerts of a grid problem. He forgot to turn it back before going on his lunch break. A simple human error was the cause of this terrible event.

As a result of the alert system failing to alert the power utility of a downed power line, Ohio’s electrical grid became unstable. With too much voltage flowing through the power lines, power plants began shutting down. The shutdowns created a cascading effect from Ohio through Ontario Canada and all the way to New York.

Over 100 power plants were shut down for 23 hours causing mayhem in New York City and elsewhere. Watch this 10 minute documentary from The New York Times below for the full story of this historical Blackout.

How to Prepare For Long-Term Power Outages

When preparing yourself for an eventual long-term power outage, it’s necessary to have a 72-hour emergency food supply; With enough food to feed you and your family.

We also need to anticipate that elevators and garage doors will not be able to function after a power loss. I recommend you figure out how to disengage the garage manually before there’s a power outage. Learning this will allow you the ability to take out your vehicle if you need to bugout real quick.

7 Factors You Should Take Into Account For Copping With An Electrical Failure;
  • Stay Calm; Staying calm and not getting yourself into a full-on panic is one of the most important things you can do to stay safe. When the blackout of 2003 happened, New York City was dealing with mass panic that was the cause of many injuries and death. A power outage doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.  Stay calm and stay safe.
  • Emergency Lighting such as a crank or solar flashlight. Having your standard flashlights are crucial, but it is also essential to have the type of lighting that does not require batteries. It’s not a bad idea to have candles, but you should only use candles as a last resort due to its fire hazard. A crank LED light will serve you much better than any candles would.
  • An Auxiliary Power Supply can be critical if the power is out for an extended period. You don’t need a generator capable of producing energy for an entire house. All you need is enough power capacity to charge your devices and to give you the ability to cook food and stay warm in colder climates.
  • Heating; Being able to keep yourself warm in cold weather can be essential in surviving through a long-term blackout. Means of heat is also necessary for cooking and boiling water.
  • Food and Water: It is essential to have enough food and water to last at least 72 hours. 72 hours is how much time it can take for things to come back to normal. It can also take up to 72 hours for the government to set up emergency shelters for people in need of assistance.
  • Means of Communication:; Having the ability to communicate with people is also crucial in these situations. Communication does not necessarily mean picking up your cell phone and calling for help; it can also mean having a radio to listen for instructions and updates.
  • Sanitation; Some people forget to add proper hygiene on their checklist; but this is an essential part of staying healthy. If you do not have the means to stay clean and bacteria free, you could become ill. Becoming ill when there is no help in sight can turn an ordinary situation into something much more deadly.




Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting is important because you never how many nights you’ll be in the dark. My preferred emergency light is a crank LED light. Those are true emergency lights because you don’t have to rely on batteries. Click here for my full review on the emergency crank and solar light I use, and the best thing is that it’s under $20! At that price, you can easily have one stashed in every room in your house! Click here for the Amazon link.

As I mentioned above, you should only use candles as a last resort because of the apparent risk of fire. Especially in this day an age when we have cheap and reliable lighting technologies to substitute candles. It’s still not a bad idea to have a box of candles in your house in case the blackout turns out to be a long-term grid-down scenario.

Remember one fact; when people are in full panic mode like in 2003, it doesn’t have to be a long-term blackout to have desperate people roaming the streets. That’s the reason having all the lights on in your home might not be such a good idea because you might attract some uninvited visitors. Only use the lighting that you need so you’re not attracting the crazies!

Emergency Power Supply

These days, there are many different options to opt for regarding emergency back up power supplies. You also do not necessarily have to spend thousands of dollars on a generator. Having the means to recharge your cell phone can be essential if you’re in this type of situation for a few days.

You can buy a Compact Portable Battery Power Bank (Amazon Link) that can charge multiple devices. The best thing about these is that they are inexpensive for what it can accomplish. Another great thing is they are smaller than an iPhone 6, so you can bring it with you if you decide to bug out of your home.

If you require more energy, you can opt for a generator. Generators can be loud and prove dangerous if the surrounding population is becoming increasingly desperate. I would suggest getting an inverter generator, they are more expensive, but they are also much quieter.

You can even build yourself a DIY generator quiet box by following this link. A suitable generator for this type of situation is the Honda EU2200i 2200-Watt 120-Volt Super Quiet Portable Inverter Generator. This generator has gone down in price since it came out and is the best bang for your bucks regarding reliability and quietness. Click here for current Amazon price.

Emergency Water and Food Supply

Prepare emergency water and food supply to last at least 72-hours. However, I recommend a two week supply. Regarding food, we prefer canned foods that are pre-cooked and can consume either cold or warm. Don’t forget to also stock up on raw vegetables canned corn (I know, it’s a grain), peas and carrots, etc.. and even fruits (canned fruit salads, peaches, pears, etc.).

The first foods to consume will be those that have a short shelf life. You should start with the frozen products because they will begin to thaw rapidly. Only open your refrigerator and freezer in case of absolute necessity to keep the internal temperature as low as possible.

Transfer Ice cube trays from your freezer to the refrigerator, which will help keep food cold for longer. If a thick layer of frost has formed in your freezer, do not hesitate to scrape it and put it in the vegetable tray of your refrigerator as well.

A conventional refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours. After this time, it will start to rise to room temperature. When the blackout takes place in the winter, and your kitchen is closed off from the rest of the house, do not hesitate to open a window and let the cold air in to bring the room temperature down.

A freezer that stays closed keeps food frozen for 12 to 20 hours depending on the outdoor temperature. The colder the room, the longer it will keep food at a lower temperature.

Means of Generating Heat

Indoor-safe propane heater.

If you’re stuck without electricity for an extended period in colder climates, you will need to be able to produce sufficient heat to survive.

Gas and oil heaters have the advantage of not depending on the power grid to operate and are excellent for heating in the event of a power outage. Propane heaters are uncommon these days since the arrival of electric heating in homes. These types of heating systems are very effective for heating entire rooms.

The best heaters to have for these types of crisis are the Indoor-Safe Portable Propane Radiant Heaters (Amazon Link). Heaters like this one can be fueled by a regular size propane tank or a 1 lb. Liquid propane cylinder. It’s always prudent to have a few 1lb propane cylinders in stock for when you need them.

The small propane cylinders can come in handy if you have a little propane stove like a Coleman Classic Propane Stove from Amazon. Small stoves like these are perfect for cooking during a blackout. It uses the same size propane cylinders (1 lb) as the heaters so you won’t have to buy different sizes. Portable stoves are best in case you have to pack up and leave.

Communication

Without power, you will not be able to inform yourself of the current situation from your television so having a battery-powered radio is essential. Better yet, a crank radio is best in case your batteries run out prematurely. I reviewed an emergency crank/solar radio and flashlight combo from AmazonCheck out the article here. The one In my review is a bargain at around twenty dollars from Amazon.

What’s great about this particular crank radio is that it can also be used as a power bank to charge your cell phone. Having the ability to charge your phone by even 1% can be life-saving. Cell phone use would become harder as time went on and the initial power outage turned into a longterm grid down situation.




Sanitation

Multi-Purpose Wipes in form of tablets.

Proper sanitation is important, especially if medicine become scarce in a long-term crisis. I’ve always reminded people to stock up on hand sanitizer. Liquid hand sanitizer is affordable and has a long shelf life.

I also recommend you have some baby wipes/sanitary wipes on hand. They are a bit more expensive and can take up space if you live in a small house or apartment.

Having a stock of toilet paper is also not a bad idea BUT what I like the best are the sanitary wipes in the form of a tablet (looks exactly like a white peppermint). They are wonderful, and Im still baffled as to why they are not advertised. All you have to do is add a few drops of water on them, and they magically transform into something similar to a baby wipe. They are rugged enough to wash with and also to wipe your butt. Click here for the Amazon link.  You can also click here for my full review of this product.

Conclusion

As we increase our dependence on the power grid, we are developing a growing need to prepare for a massive and longterm power outage. It has happened before and it will happen again someday and next time it might last much longer than 23 hours. That’s why you need to prepare yourself and your family.

A power outage might not seem as dangerous as hurricanes or tornadoes but after watching the 2003 documentary above, you realize that the effects can be just as devastating. The cost doesn’t have to be high, set yourself a monthly budget for prepping and start from there. It doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate, it just has to be enough for you and your loved ones to survive.

Thank You for reading my article, I hope you found it educational. I certainly had as much fun researching it as I did writing it! Please leave a comment below if you have anything to add that would prove helpful. Don’t forget to share this article with anyone that would benefit from this information.

 

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