Oct102010

29 Comments

INSTANT SURVIVAL TIP: How Will you Cope When the Power Goes Down?

image by kevindooley

Yesterday, when I was teaching a “Cooking Off the Grid,” class, it occurred to me just how many emergencies involve a power outage.  Earthquakes, severe winter weather, flooding, tornadoes, heatwaves, hurricanes, and more are all likely to cause a disruption in your electrical service.  When you consider how vulnerable our power connections are and how reliant we’ve become on the ready and steady supply of energy, suddenly having to do without is a scary prospect.

To begin making contingency plans for the next power outage in your area, make a master list of everything you routinely do that relies on electricity.  Here’s a partial list from my home.

  • hot water for showers and washing dishes
  • cooking on an electric stove
  • refrigerator/freezer
  • washer
  • dryer
  • a computer for banking, blogging, and entertainment
  • the laptop for use in homeschooling
  • lighting during the day and at night
  • ceiling fans
  • air conditioning and heating
  • entertainment: music, TV
  • the “automatic” garage door opener!
  • a security system, aka burglar alarm

Once you have your own list, take each item and brainstorm to come up with ways to cope if electricity was out of commission for more than just a few hours.  How might you heat water?  How would you deal with all the food in your refrigerator and freezer?  Do you have alternative ways of washing and drying clothing?  How will you stay warm this winter?  Is anyone in your family dependent on medical equipment that requires power?

Life without electricity, whether for a few days or a few weeks, is a sobering thought.  We’re used to power companies rushing to make repairs and insure that power is restored, but the fact is, in a massive crisis you would be on your own and help might be very slow in coming.  Put your SurvivalMom hat on and begin making lists that would help your family cope in a power-down situation.  Begin with the most critical need (medical equipment?  a heating source?) and work down from there.  My kids Wii is nowhere on my list!

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 5 years. Come join me on my journey to becoming more prepared to handle everyday emergencies and worst case scenarios.

(29) Readers Comments

  1. An ice storm power outage is how I got into preparedness as I was made to appreciate the dual-usages of camping gear that I fortunately had on hand. Afterward, I greatly accelerated the acquisition of camping gear, with preparedness in mind.

    Cooking: gas grill, campstoves or cast iron camp Dutch Ovens (Lodge brand) and charcoal briquettes
    Hot water: the above gear or Kelly Kettle and Thermette "volcano kettles" which run on twigs or dung
    Light: 6" pillar candles and candle lanterns. Headlamps and flashlights (I keep lots of batteries on hand)
    Warmth: below-zero down sleeping bags, long underwear, ski socks, boots, gloves, fleece galore and winter coats.
    Cooling: not-so-iced tea and water
    Refrigeration: short term I have three Coleman x-treme 5-day coolers. Long term, SOL if its not January.
    Security alarm system: dog
    Entertainment: books, cards, board games and friends

    This is a great mental exercise as power outage is the most common preparedness situation and a common denominator in nearly every natural or manmade disaster scenario.

  2. Great post. You're right; almost every type of disaster will bring down the electric grid. Here in Southeastern Virginia, it's usually hurricanes in the summer and fall, and nor'easters and ice storms in the winter. After Isabel in 2003 we bought a good contractor-grade generator, and we've needed it several times but mostly for less than 48 hours each time so far. During Isabel, however, our power was out almost 6 days, and we were the lucky ones. Many of my coworkers didn't have power for over two weeks. Our generator is only 4300 watts because we sized it for what was *critical* (mostly refrigerator, freezers, and fans) so we could run it much longer for the same amount of gasoline. Something to think about. And for the winter storms, I replaced my decorative fireplace insert with a vent-less propane gas log that is also UL rated as a supplemental home heater.

    One warning about candles, or any other open-flame lighting source: do you have children in the house? I inherited from my mom some very nice decorative oil lamps with tall, thin-walled glass chimneys, but I gave them away in favor of some Kirkman #2 lanterns with wide, sturdy bases and fully-caged thick-walled glass chimneys. Maybe your kids are much more coordinated, obedient, and un-curious than mine are, but I wouldn't count on it! And no matter what, be sure to have lots of fire extinguishers around. How long will the fire trucks take to get to your house when the roads are all blocked by flood waters and/or downed trees?

    • If you're referring to me: no children. My pillar candles and "emergency" candles go in various size candle lanterns (glass and metal construction).

      I have fire extinguishers and live in the middle of Washington, D.C.

      • Great! That's safer than most people who burn candles in just a dining-room table type of candlestick holder. We had fires locally during the November Nor'easter last year, and I bet y'all did, too. Oh, and for summertime power outages, if you live in one of the older homes in DC (like my wife's cousin does) many of these homes were designed and built before A/C so they have very good ventilation patterns if you use the windows the right way. Our 1980-built house isn't awful in this regard, but it could be a lot better.

  3. I live in a condo that is all electric. Two years ago after severe winds I lost power for a week. I was lucky enough to have a friend that did not lose power who lives 6 miles away. Lately I have been concerned enough to start to prepare for another power outage. We are not allowed to have gas or charcoal grills due to fire codes but I have recently bought a Volcano II grill for cooking and heating water for emergencies. Your post is right on target, power outages are probably the biggest problem most face.

  4. I have found the most fabulous piece of equipment for cooking. Its called a cobb oven I'm in Australia but if you go to http://www.cobbamerica.com you can check it out online. You can do all your cooking and roasting, frying whatever. We take it out bush all the time and instead of relying on gas or the sun you just need bricketts I think thats what you call them. I store a huge container with about a years worth of these bricks and it doesnt take up alot of space but at least i know I can cook for my family. I use it to roast our dinners once a week at home now and I cook scones and bread on it regularly as well. It's light and portable and very easy to use. I highly recommend this piece of equipment.

  5. I don't mind power outages all that much. It makes some things more work, to be sure, but if it never came back on I would survive well. It's everybody else out there that worries me. Good grief, the nuts out there who can't cope! During an outage last year most of my neighbors came by to ask why I had lights and they didn't. Even three complete strangers driving down the street stopped! it was only oil lamps, for goodness sake, and some of them were angry at me for it! Two people from down the street got rather vile at me because I had no lamps nor candles to share with them! This wasn't region-wide, and they could have gone to an out-of-neighborhood store and bought their own.
    The sweet Great Grandma next door to me came over to offer hand made tortillas, in case we were hungry. She showed me the ingenious brick and mud oven she'd built in the back yard. Something she'd learned living most of her long life without electricity and plumbing.

    • Go, Grandma!

    • Just think: they were upset over some oil lamps. What do you think they'll do when it's food? What lows do you think they'll stoop to when they smell food cooking and they've been hungry for a couple of days?

      It could go from a few words to them getting violent, trampling your garden (or raiding it) or even a riot. I've been thinking about this a lot. People expect to get what ever they want whenever they want it and they will go nuts if they don't get it. We're stocking up on ammo and fire extinguishers. We're also planning on cooking indoors with indoor safe fuels. Hide whatever table scraps you have left, including food containers. You may want to save cans and bottles anyway, as you can make darn near anything out of them.

    • Barbara, what an experience! I'm never had anything like that, but I have thought about it and made a plan. I live in a ranch-style house with a long L-shaped hallway. It's narrow, but we could sleep there if we needed to. The great thing about it is that when all the bedroom/bathroom doors are closed, no light would escape. This hall will definitely be my hole-up spot if I ever need to hide.

  6. Barbara, you sure hit the nail on the head. I don't know why other people get so angry especially in these short outages. If it was a long term situation and people were starving or freezing it would be expected, but when they could have driven a few miles for candles, lanterns, etc. why not just do it. I think people are really mad at themselves for not being smarter and take it out on people like you who are.

    Kathryn, thanks for the link about the Cobb ovens. I had never heard of those and have just visited the site. I was impressed. We have grills, gas and charcoal, camp stoves and supplies for all of these for cooking, but this little Cobb would definitely have a place for another cooking source. It appears it can be used indoors and the other cooking methods we have wouldn't cook pizzas and such. I had thought my only indoor cooking option would be my sterno oven and sterno warmer but this could add another. This is what I love about this site, I can always learn something new.

    Thanks Lisa!!

  7. I am probably one of the nuts who couldnt survive. lol Actually I am renting and everything but the furnace is electric. But wait! My furnace, even though it is gas, wont fire without electricity and it is our only heat source. And my water wont run without electricity so there wont be any running water, hot or cold. My landlord has prohibited kerosene heaters but I am considering getting a radiant one just in case. The danger here in the midwest is if you lose power you can literally freeze to death. I am wanting to get an led base for my Berkey water filter and we have kerosene lamps and camping lights. The other bad thing is that the stove is electric so we will be eating cold food out of cans. lol Thanks for the post about the cob oven. I am seriously going to check that out. I have a Coleman camping stove but it would be nice to have another option. Here in the midwest the time you generally lose power is in the winter when the ice brings the lines down. At least refrigerated foods arent a prob;em, set them outside and they are good till spring. Unless animals get into them. And I would keep a low profile. Angry neighbors could escalate during a long outage. I am considerng getting black out material to make emergency curtains out of. No light can get through them.

    • Kandi, black-out shades are a good idea for a number of reasons. Stay warm this winter!

  8. Kandi, I bought a small fold out sterno stove at Dick's Sporting Goods in the camping section. It was about $6.00, I buy cases of the sterno cans at Sam's. I can't remember exactly how much they are but about 14.00 for a good many. The stove will basically heat one can at a time, so it would be good to heat a can of soup or vegetables or to heat water for instant coffee or cocoa. You may want to look for one, since the cost is so low.
    We also bought a Mr. Buddy propane heater, they sell them at Lowe's, Academy Sports and other places. You use the small (camping size) propane tanks and they require batteries. They burn for quite awhile and are made for indoor use. They cost between 80.00 and 120.00 depending on the size you get. Best wishes, stay warm!!

  9. Kandi,
    I dont know how much black out material costs, but i had purchased some yard sale vinyl back drapes and stictched them together(back to back) lined them with contractor black trash bags! black out curtains on the cheap and they keep the heat in in the winter and the sun out in the summer (makes living room easier to cool)

    I have also taken left over runs of wall insulation and put it down in black contractor grade trashbag. slid a spring loaded cafe rod through and hung this in the window for keeping the windows from freezing us to death at 0 degrees. it works wonderfully and you can not see light outside at night this way either. just hang your regular drapes over this and pretty on the inside too.

  10. The threat of power outages is reason enough to keep your automobile fuel tanks filled up, too.

    The gas stations run on electricity.

    • I found this out when the grid went down in one of the big storms this past July.

  11. Good point Dagny!

  12. Aloha All
    Thank you for this great website! I am so happy that it is "risk-free" meaning that there seems to be no "dumb" questions! We are all learning together. I especially appreciated the conversation about alternate cooking means and wondered if anyone had an opinion about the Thermette cooker
    http://www.thermette.com/thermette_whycopper.htm
    Thank you!

    • I have a Thermette. Haven't used it but have researched it thoroughly on forums and it gets great reviews as to the Kelly and Eydon. The Thermette downsides seem to be the thin wire handles that bring your knuckles perilously close to the kettle sides. And there are concerns (build quality) that it is now made in China instead of NZ. Many prefer copper over the aluminum found in other "storm kettles" such as the Kelly and Eydon.

      Seems the question of which kettle is "best" comes down to personal preferences, including aesthetic and water capacity. They all run on twigs or dung and take 8 minutes or so to boil water.

      I just received a stainless steel Kelly Kettle last week. I'm keeping the stainless Kelly in my car, an aluminum Kelly in my teardrop trailer and the Thermette at home.

    • I just wrote someone recently bemoaning the fact that most places that sell things (brick and morter or online) focus on guy-centric stuff and really aren't places I'm comfortable being, online much less in person, and this is one of the few places you can go and find a comfortable place to get emergency prep information that is family focused, not Survival Dudes R Us focused.

  13. Wow! You guys are a clever bunch! I like the idea of the trash bag/insulation windows. We almost froze last winter during those -30 degrees times.

    • Another good way to insulate, and keep out prying eyes, is to cover the windows with thick aluminum foil. It reflects heat; in this case, your combined body heat. Just think of wrapping up the Thanksgiving turkey! I have a roll in the car in case I get stuck in an icy situation and have to stay in the car.

  14. I buy plumbers candles and store some in the freezer. They last longer when cold and cost .60. I love my Mr Buddy, and refill tanks are under $3. Canned sterno is great, but the soot they produce , well, I guess would be the least of my worries!
    BTW, this is my favorite web site, even though we're all preparing for something big, I get a real sense of calmness here. :) It keeps me brave.

    • Bets, that is the nicest thing that has ever been said of my blog. I hear kind words every day, but it's so gratifying that this blog is an island of sanity and calm amidst everything else out there. Thank you!

  15. I agree with Bets'. This blog is helping me to stay brave and calm. It gives me a sense of purpose, direction, and confidence. I have made a plan to do at least 2 things for preparedness every weekend. The more I read, the more I am learning how to be a better Survival Mom! We have great "mentors" on this blog.
    Thank you!

  16. No Wii???

    I joke about it — as you do. But seriously, don't forget the coziness that you mention in your Starschmucks posting. We can ALL handle much more stress, for much longer — if our spirits are up!

    So, PLAN for some sort of entertainment options when the power goes off. Remember all those games WE played as kids? (Before Wii, before Xbox and PS3, before cell phones, before personal computers, etc.) Board games like Monopoly. Cards, Uno, solitare (with cards, not computers,) rummy, etc. Checkers, chess and backgammon. JIGSAW PUZZLES!!! Twister? Battleship? soccer? hop-scotch? roller blading? Or, more recent games like Jenga, Pictonary, etc. Sure, for YOUR sanity, you might want to keep a stash of rechargeable AA batteries at-the-ready (and a solar-charger to replenish them daily for hand-held video games?) But, don't overlook the need to PLAN for some sort of entertainment options (even during a blackout.)

    We live in coastal Florida, and have blackouts regularly (due to coastal storms.) REGULARLY!!! We have installed battery-backup systems throughout the house, and we use laptop computers instead of desktop PCs (because laptops have batteries in them.) Our TVs, stereo systems, cable modem and WiFi router, floor/table lamps — most EVERYTHING is plugged-in to the battery backup systems (the ones they use for computers at businesses.) These systems see us through "unexpected" power outages. As a matter of fact, the only way I know that the power actually went out — is because some of the systems have small chirping "alarms" built-in to them. I hear them start chirping, and casually say to my wife, "the power's out" — as we continue with life as usual.

    We have TWO generators (one gasoline, one diesel.) So, if power is going to be out for an extended period of time, we could fire-up one of the Jennies.

    We also have several camp stoves (and the BBQ grill.) We use our BBQ grill regularly, so stepping out to use it to cook a meal isn't any sort of inconvenience/stretch.

    We have three types of Coleman stoves in our garage:
    1.) backpack-style, single-burner MULTI-FUEL stove. <– This one will burn almost any type of fuel. We mainly put Coleman "white fuel" in it. But, it will also burn gasoline, too! (Or kerosene.)

    2.) Two-burner, multi-fuel Coleman camp stove. (Same as above, bit two-burner model — with larger fuel tank.) This is for family-size camping, or as needed for blackouts.

    3.) Two-burner propane Coleman camp stove. As I mentioned above, we have a propane BBQ grill at home. I have one propane canister under the BBQ grill, and two others always on stand-by in the garage. (Plus about 60 gallons of stabilized gasoline, and about a half-dozen gallons of Coleman white fuel.) For the propane canisters, I also purchased a "valve tree." This allows me to not-only hook-up camp-style propane stoves to my BBQ_style propane bottle, but ALSO hook-up more than one at a time. The "tree" means that it's also a "hangar" for a propane lantern.

    In addition to the stoves, we have Coleman multi-fuel lanterns, Coleman propane lanterns, and some LED lanterns.

    If the temps get too hot/cold at our house, we simply retreat to our trawler boat in the backyard. It's essentially equivalent to a self-contained ocean-going houseboat (two bedrooms, two bathrooms.) it's got twin diesel engines and a diesel generator (and 500 gallons of diesel fuel; and 200 gallons of freshwater aboard.) It has has dual AC (which also function as dual heat-pump heaters.) It has a three-burner 110-volt stove PLUS oven. It has dual-voltage 110/12v refrigerator and freezer. So, we just retreat to the boat if necessary.

    An RV would serve a similar role/purpose (if it had it's own HVAC and genset) — like the big Class-A motorhomes, or the self-contained 5th-wheel trailers?

    Peace.

    Fla SD.

    • Sounds like you have a great back-up to your back-up systems. Most Americans become completely befuddled when their power goes out, and very few have even one back-up plan. It comes down to recognizing the need, becoming educated, and then taking proactive steps. You have some great advice here. I'm glad you found my blog!

  17. I’ve been looking at your blog for hours now and just thought of something about using plastic botles for drinking water and adding a drop of bleach, which some people were concerned about. We used to have a boat and had to use something in the water tanks to store over the cold NH winters. We started out with potable marine anti-freeze which we had to use several gallons of but we had to flush gallons upon gallons of water through the system to get the terrible taste out, but a friend suggested a much less costly fix… A real cheap Vodka! All you had to do in the spring was drain the system of the vodka and then we just had to flush out the systems with much less water. I know this is a totally different situation, but could you use a little vodka instead of the bleach?

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