On August 14, 2003, in just three minutes, 21 power plants shut down knocking out power to 50 million people in the Eastern United States and Canada. The blackout stopped trains and disrupted cell phone service, the cities’ water service, traffic lights, airports, and hospitals. From mid-July to the end of September all of the United States has the threat of suffering from black outs. Bad weather, overworked power grids, and rolling black outs are all a consequence of the hottest months of the year.
Blackouts can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days and preparing for the loss of electricity is just like being prepared for any other emergency, you will need food, water, a way to heat food, lights, and batteries. However, during the summer months, there are extra precautions you should take. It is important to stay as cool as possible and hydrated. To read more about dealing with 100-degree temperatures, read our blog Extreme Heat Survival.
The first thing you should do when the lights go out, besides grabbing your flashlight, is to go inside, secure the doors and windows, and then turn off everything you had turned on except for one light. When the power is restored, it will take a surge to turn everything back on, which could cause the power company further problems. The one light will let you know when power had returned.
When preparing for an emergency, experts generally say to stock up on supplies that will last you three days. For example, you will need one gallon of water per person per day. If you have a family of four you will need 21 gallons. During the hottest months, I suggest making that at least two gallons of water per person per day. When it is so hot, you need to stay hydrated and drink water even when you are not thirsty. Further, applying cold compresses to your forehead and neck will also cool you down.
When the power goes out, obviously so does the fridge, so stock up on non-perishable foods. I like canned items. They store well, are cheap to buy, and easy to heat up. Plus, you don’t have to add anything to them like pasta and rice boxed dinners. The Canned Food Alliance says that the minimum amount of food you need is two cans of food per person per day. Personally, I keep three cans a day for myself. For three days, that is only nine cans of food. I take advantage of my local grocery store’s 10 for $10 deals. Alternatively, you may choose to store MRE and MRE-style meals for such an emergency.
One of my biggest pet peeves in a power outage is the loss of my refrigerated items. If the power is out for less than two hours, your refrigerated foods will be fine. Just make sure to keep the fridge door closed as much as possible. Keep your ice trays full and have a bag of back-up ice in the freezer all the time. Instead of a bag of ice, you can fill up plastic jugs with water and keep them in the freezer. If your freezer is full, the food inside will stay good for two days. If it is only half-full, the food will be good for 24 hours. As with the refrigerator door, keep the freezer door shut as much as possible.
You will also need a way to heat up your food. A camp stove, a BBQ grill, or any type of emergency stove will work. You cannot use charcoal or gas camping stoves indoors, however any emergency stove that uses Sterno is safe for indoor use.
Sitting on the front porch finishing off the beer when the lights go out by candlelight is relaxing—until the beer runs out. It is next to impossible for me to sleep without AC in the hot summer, so the nights can be long without electricity. Besides candles being a fire hazard, they really don’t give off much more than mood lighting. I keep a variety of lights in my house in case of a black out. I have a D-cell Maglite on the bedside table, a keychain light in the living room, and a keychain light in the kitchen. These little lights shine bright enough to allow me to get to my camping equipment where I have a camp stove, fuel (such as propane or butane), and a lantern. The brightness of a lantern allows me to read, write, and play games. Remember to check your flashlights periodically to make sure the batteries are still good and always have plenty of back up batteries.
Other Items to Consider
I keep books, cards, and board games, not just because I like them, but also because they provide entertainment when the lights go out. Some people, especially if you have children, will want to keep a battery operated portable DVD player so that the kids can watch movies. Also, always keep your laptop plugged into the wall if possible, so you will still have a few hours of battery life when the lights go out.
Texsport makes a battery-operated fan for under $20 which will help keep you cool. Frogg Toggs makes a chilly pad that you simply get wet. As it dries, it cools itself. To chill out, wrap around your head or neck.
You will also want to have a stash of cash someone in case you need to get out and pay for something. ATMs might not work in a power outage. Gas pumps may not either. Even though it is best to keep your car half full of gas at all times, I know that it is not always feasible, so keep a gas can full of gas for backup.
An emergency radio is essential for any type of emergency. Regardless of the outage being due to bad weather, rolling black outs, or a terrorist attack, the Kaito Dynamo and solar powered radio with NOAA weather alerts also charges your cell phone, has two different lights, and a USB port. The Kaito Dynamo will work on batteries, rechargeable batteries, solar power, crank power, or will charge via USB to your laptop.
Children, the elderly, or any ill dependents will need special consideration, as they are particularly vulnerable to the extreme temperatures. If there are medications that require refrigeration, check with your doctor to see how long they will stay good in the fridge. If you have a family member or someone you take care of that is dependent on electrical medical equipment discuss a back-up power plan with your provider or you may take the person to a hospital. Hospitals will have back-up sources for electricity.
My favorite piece of advice though is to stay connected to friends and family when the power goes out. By chance, their area may still have electricity. A hot shower, a warm meal, a temperature controlled sleeping environment, and few nights hanging out with your loved ones beats sweltering in the dark any day.