We all have experienced this before. We are sitting at home while a thunderstorm rages outside. Suddenly, everything goes pitch black. Generally, we regain power within a few minutes, or even seconds. After a particularly severe storm, we may lose power for several days, while crews from all over the state work to repair power lines and restore electricity.
The prospect of more frequent or longer lasting power outages continues to increase as we rely on an increasingly antiquated infrastructure to support ever increasing demands for energy. The power grid also faces increased threats from foreign attacks. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), "The U.S. electric grid faces significant cybersecurity risks—that is, threats, vulnerabilities, and impacts—and grid owners and operators face significant challenges in addressing these risks. Threat actors are becoming increasingly capable of carrying out attacks on the grid. At the same time, the grid is becoming more vulnerable to attacks." The new world of the COVID pandemic presents new and unique challenges as increased civil unrest and a decreased workforce could reduce response time to power outages. Additionally, our power grid could become more vulnerable to looting, vandalism, or terrorism if unrest continues for a prolonged period.
If you do not already have a backup generator now, it will be too late to get one when you lose power. If you do not have a plan for backup power, you will need a plan for lighting, food preparation, and temperature control.
Lighting: This will be the first and most obvious effect of a power loss. Keep flashlights or battery powered lanterns and batteries on hand in a designated location where you can easily find them in the dark. You do not want to have to search for a flashlight in the dark. You can temporarily use the flashlight function on your cell phone to get to these flashlights. Place glow in the dark tape in hallways, corners, and stairways beforehand to help you navigate in the dark. Keep spare batteries with your flashlight, as you do not want to have to search for those in the dark, either. Once you have light available, take some time to assess your situation. Ensure you can account for everyone in your household. Unplug all electronics in case of a power surge when the power comes back on. Check on your neighbors to find out if they have lost power as well, or if they need help. Finally, bring your pets inside, and lock your doors. Criminals may use the opportunity of a power outage to try to break into your home. Make your home a hard target.
In case of longer term power outages, you will need a plan for lighting. Keep candles available for power outages. Use candles as stationary lighting in rooms, and use flashlights for moving around. Use a refillable oil lamp to light an entire room. You can refill these lamps with odorless, smokeless parafin oil, or even vegetable oil. You can make your own easy oil lamp, as seen in the video below.
Food Preparation: When the power goes out, the countdown starts on how long your refrigerator will stay cold. The fridge will stay cold for about four hours following a power outage, while the freezer should remain frozen for about two days. Resist the urge to open the fridge, as every time you open it, you decrease how long your food will remain cold. When you do open the refrigerator, quickly grab everything you will need for that meal, and close the door. Start with your dairy products and fish, then move on to your hardier foods. Do not eat canned or shelf-stable foods until after you have finished with your perishable foods. If your milk has gotten to room temperature for a few hours, you can sterilize it by boiling it. As food in your freezer thaws, make sure you cook it well before eating. Immediately after losing power, make sure you fill all bathtubs and containers with as much water as possible. Running water will be drinkable immediately following a power outage, but if the outage is widespread, it could affect the water sanitation system. In that case, you will need to prepare for a water supply disruption too.
If you rely on electricity for cooking, you will need to find an alternate method. If you have a grill outside, you may plan on having cookouts for the next few days. Keep a portable gas camping stove available for emergency cooking. One advantage of a portable gas stove is you can pack it in your trunk if you need to bug out. If you don't have a grill or gas stove available, you can build a fire, and cook your food as humans have done for countless generations. Please note, if you build a fire, you must do it outdoors and away from your windows due to possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Check out the video below for simple instructions on how to build and grow a fire.
As part of preparing for power shortages, make sure to keep shelf stable foods available. Keep canned and dried foods ready in case power outages last for weeks or even months. Keep an extra supply of almond milk or shelf stable milk available. Both of these options will last for months on your shelf without requiring refrigeration. Finally, keep your family, friends, and neighbors in mind when you plan ahead. You may be able to help them with food they need, and they may have things you need.
Temperature Control: A power outage could turn into a life-threatening situation in the heat of summer, or the cold of winter. If you lose power in the winter, close off doors to unused rooms, and keep your family together as much as possible. Body heat from everyone together can reduce a drop in temperature. Keep a supply of hand warmers available. In spite of their name, their best use is not for warming your hands. Keep them close to your body to warm your core, and throw a couple of them in your blanket or sleeping bag at night. Alternately, fill bottles with hot water, and keep those in your bedding at night. Do not light a fire indoors or use the heat from a gas stove to keep warm.
If you lose power during the heat of summer, you will need to be proactive to keep your core body temperature down. Reduce your activity level during the day, getting most of your work done at night or early in the morning. Constantly drink water, as that is your body's best method of keeping cool. Keep your bathtub filled with water, where you can use a washcloth to wet your body regularly. Keep your family, friends, and neighbors in mind, especially those who are very old or very young, as they will be most susceptible to extreme temperatures.
Power failures can happen at any time, and for an unforeseeable duration. You must be prepared for these inevitable disruptions to remain resilient. The world will not stop because the power is out, and likewise, you must not let disruptions stop you. By being prepared for power outages ahead of time, you will be ready to continue working and help others who may be in need. For more tips on what to do before, during, or after a power outage, check out ready.gov.