In honor of National Preparedness Month, here’s a look back at a popular NatGeo special from 2013.
When it first aired in 2013, NatGeo’s survival show, American Blackout, was a hot topic around the country. It definitely caught the attention of non-preppers from coast to coast. More recently, Ted Koppell wrote about the strong possibility of cyberterrorism taking out our power grid in his book, Lights Out. In our current fragile economy with unrest in so many different sectors, the last thing we need is a long-term, widespread blackout.
You may have read One Second After or Light’s Out, the novel by David Crawford, and had more than one or two panic attacks, but what have you done to prepare for this worst-case scenario and are your survival priorities in their proper order? How about getting started with these tips for preparing for a winter power outage:
- With winter coming, a heat source that will keep you and your family warm enough to survive should be a top concern. This heater is highly rated and runs on propane.
- Even on the coldest nights, you’ll need some ventilation if you’re burning wood in something other than a fireplace or wood-burning stove. You must have ventilation such as a window cracked a couple of inches if you’re using propane, kerosene,and butane.
- Know your fuel’s dangers and limitations and have plenty stored. Butane, for example, freezes and can’t be used when temps dip below the freezing point. Wood requires several months, at least, to season. Propane is an excellent choice as a safe and can be stored very long-term.
- Just as important as multiple heat sources is closing off the entire house except for the one or two rooms you’ll be living in. When the grid is down, it’s not feasible or reasonable to expect that you’ll be heating (or cooling, when summer comes) an entire house. Plan on living in the kitchen, if it’s large enough, or maybe the kitchen and a single adjoining room. Put up tarps and blankets in doorways to keep out as much cold air as possible. Putting up a tent for sleeping in is another smart idea for coping with very cold temperatures.
- You’ll need sources of ambient and focused light. It’s easy to say that you’ll just wake up with the roosters and go to sleep when the sun goes down, but that will probably not be very practical. You do need light sources. This is the perfect time to stock up on high quality small solar chargers, solar batteries, and the lanterns and flashlights that use them. Also check out the Paqlite for an ambient light that doesn’t require batteries, ever. I have a few and keep them in the car, my purse, and in Bug Out Bags.
- Once you have a plan to stay warm and have light sources, water is another very critical element. If you live in a cold part of the country, consider storing larger containers of water indoors to avoid freezing. Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, making even a 10-gallon container mighty hard to move once it’s in place. Have a reliable water filter like this one if your water source becomes tainted or you must use rainfall or water from lakes or streams.
- Might sound crazy, but if you have small livestock and you’ll be living in sub-zero temps, you just might have to move them indoors if they are to survive the winter. And, if they don’t survive, you may not survive if you’re counting on them as a food source.
- Food storage is a given and is usually the easiest piece to put into place, either for a power grid failure or a winter storm. Do store your food indoors, unless you want to end up with frozen cans and jars of food that may crack when frozen. This resource page will provide details for getting food storage in place.
- Once the living area is warm enough, there’s a bit of light, and everyone has had a bit to eat and drink, then what? Store anything and everything that provide entertainment. I’m thinking really thick books with great story lines,such as those written by J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens, and dozens of other classics. Lots and lots of writing/drawing paper, pencils, “How to Draw” books, and hours of music in whatever format is easy to store and can be shielded from the effects of EMP with a simple Faraday cage.
Top priorities? Warmth, light, water, food, entertainment, and a form of communication. We are so used to getting information as it happens, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which we might not know what’s happening across town, much less hundreds of miles away.
A few more points from this movie (wish it was still online and available, but the lessons are good to remember):
- There will always be more of “them” than of you. Whether we call them zombies, the Golden Hoard, feral humans, whatever — they outnumber those of us who are prepared, by a long shot. With that in mind, you’re left with 3 choices when faced with these people:
- Hide and hope they won’t find you. In “American Blackout” (AB), it seemed to be the first instinct of most to venture out into the streets to find out what was going on. In reality, the mob scenes are going to be far worse than was depicted, making hunkering down, a pretty smart choice.
- Run. The prepper father figures out quickly what has happened, its implications, and immediately has the family leave town.
- Fight back. If there are more of them than of you, your only chance for survival is to band together with many like-minded folks, but the chances of locating each other and forming a cohesive, defensive plan in a short period of time is small. You’re better off either running or hiding at this point.
- I’ve been advising people to always have cash on hand. When the power goes out, banks shut and lock their doors and ATM machines no longer work. You’ll be unable to make purchases with a debit/credit card. You may need to have enough cash for sizable bribes, so in my opinion, there’s no such thing as having too much cash on hand, unless it’s all in $100s.
- In this movie, the blackout was caused by cyber terrorism. Vehicles of all kinds were still operational but traffic was quickly gridlocked. Transportation is an area of preparedness that isn’t talked about all that much, other than discussions about pimped out Bug Out Vehicles on survival forums.
- Not knowing where loved ones are might be the most terrifying aspect of an event like this one. AB did an effective job of portraying this from the little girl wondering when her daddy will get home to the teenage boy who hasn’t seen his mom since the first night of the blackout.
- If you can’t defend it, you don’t own it. The prepper family had some great plans in place as well as plenty of supplies. However, when their fenced property was breached, there was nothing else in place for protection, other than a few guns. Their only option was to either fight numerous neighbors or head to their bunker. They should have thought to have a second, more defend-able fenced perimeter.
- The prepper family was not portrayed in a sympathetic light, but maybe that’s somewhat deserved. There are preppers and survivalists out there who are looking forward to the end of the world, thinking they will reign supreme from their fully loaded bunkers. The prepper dad was a jerk in spite of being well-intentioned.
- Basic supplies are easily acquirable and affordable, and there’s no excuse for not having several light sources, food, and bottled water. However, AB is very realistic in showing the masses of people who did not have even a few basics on hand.
- Everyone has to carry his or her own weight. For some reason, the Prepper Dad only had his son doing night patrol duty. Wife and daughter could have stepped in and taken on this responsibility as well.
- AB portrayed the importance of having layers of supplies. When the dad of the pregnant wife goes off to find food, he’s only carrying a baseball bat. Now, many people have been bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, but that was all this guy had! If you’re thinking personal and home defense, go with the bat by all means, but have a shotgun and a handgun at least, and know how to use them.
- You never know where you might find yourself in a true SHTF scenario, which makes everyday carry items even more important. Four college kids were stuck in an elevator but were able to combine resources and had their smartphones as flashlights, duct tape, and a well-equipped Swiss army knife.
- Ingenuity trumps state-of-the-art “survival” supplies. The college kids fashioned a harness made of duct tape, belts, and some rope. Smart thinking.
- An open flame should be watched at all times. It really doesn’t take all that much for emergency workers to become overwhelmed. If you store candles, have a plan for burning them safely and keep them away from kids and pets.
- Helplessness is a horrible feeling, and reason enough to be prepared.
- If nothing else, have a water BOB or two — one for each bathtub in the house. I’ve been comfortable with the amount of water we have stored, but after watching AB decided to make this additional, inexpensive purchase.
- As one character points out, the upside to a grid failure is that bill collector won’t be calling anymore! Even in a worst-case scenario, there’s always a silver lining.
- When the banks shut down and people are unable to purchase anything electronically, what will they use for currency instead? AB took place over just 10 days, and other than showing stores taking “cash only”, there wasn’t any mention of barter or the use of precious metals.
When, or if, the grid goes down, cell phone service and landlines will follow, along with TV and radio. It’s possible that some old-school HAM radios may be operational before anything else. For sure, reliable information will become as valuable as gold.
Helpful resources for you:
- Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack — download and read the entire, official report
- Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms by Arthur T. Bradley
- Kindle or other e-reader — Load that baby up with hundreds of books!
- One Second After by William Forstchen
- Survival Mom: How to prepare your family for everyday disasters and worst case scenarios by Lisa Bedford
- Surviving EMP by Rob Hanus
- Thrive Life freeze dried food