How To Be Prepared For Blackouts

How To Prepare For A Blackout, Brownout or Power Outage

Have you thought about how you’ll be able to complete important tasks during power blackouts? You’ll need to eat, drink, stay warm, sleep and even entertain yourself. It’s easy to take these simple things for granted when you have electricity, but you need to be prepared to do them without power.

Blackouts can occur at anytime and in any place. You should always carry a small, powerful flashlight like the LED flashlights by Fenix.

Blackouts were in recent news after a minor one occurred during Super Bowl XLVII causing a delay in the game of over 30 minutes.

Super Bowl XLVII Blackout
Power outage darkened Superdome, unnerving fans, disrupting momentum
February 4th, 2013

A power outage darkened the Superdome in the third quarter of the Super Bowl on Sunday night, an unnerving experience for a stadium that had been the refuge of last resort for many when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

The 34-minute outage seemed to halt the Ravens’ momentum, coming almost immediately after Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff for a touchdown to start the second half. The Ravens had led 28-6, but the previously sluggish San Francisco 49ers went on to score two touchdowns and a field goal in the third quarter.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, among the thousands of Ravens fans here to watch the team, was baffled that a power outage could befall such a major event so long in the planning.”How could this happen?” he said. “You think they would have tested it repeatedly.”

Ulman had just left the deafening Mercedes-Benz Superdome to call his wife back home so they could enjoy the Jones touchdown together, and she knew more about the outage than he did. “I was facing away from the building, and she’s like, ‘Everything’s dark in the stadium, the game’s off,'” he said.

“They locked the doors, which was fine with me,” said Ulman, leery of being in a darkened stadium with tens of thousands of people and recalling conversations he just had about the hurricane. “We were talking about Katrina and infrastructure and the things no one is paying attention to until they break.”

For some spectators, the incident recalled the week that people were trapped in the Superdome with no power for a week. The storm sent 30,000 residents to the dome, where they sweltered in fetid conditions when the stadium’s roof was damaged and the electricity went out.

In the stadium, spectators were left in the dark, literally, as announcements simply repeated that play would resume “momentarily.”

Power officials with Entergy and the Superdome’s management company said in a joint statement that equipment designed to monitor electrical load sensed an “abnormality” in the system and caused power to be partially cut to isolate the issue. Officials continued to investigate the “root cause” of the abnormality.

Another famous and recent blackout was the Northeast Blackout of 2003.

Northeast Blackout of 2003
Northeast Blackout of 2003

The Northeast blackout of 2003 was a widespread power outage that occurred throughout parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario on Thursday, August 14, 2003, just before 4:10 p.m. EDT (UTC−04). While some power was restored by 11 p.m., many did not get power back until two days later. At the time, it was the second most widespread blackout in history, after the 1999 Southern Brazil blackout. The blackout affected an estimated 10 million people in Ontario and 45 million people in eight U.S. states.

The blackout’s primary cause was a software bug in the alarm system at a control room of the FirstEnergy Corporation in Ohio. Operators were unaware of the need to re-distribute power after overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage. What would have been a manageable local blackout cascaded into widespread distress on the electric grid.

Here’s how to prepare for blackouts:

Turn Your Car Into a Generator

A power inverter, which turns DC current from your vehicle into AC current for electric gadgets, is the next best thing to a generator.

An inverter to power a tablet or laptop will cost you roughly $25, but there are much bigger models ($100 and up) that can run power tools and appliances such as heaters.

Have Cash On Hand

In a blackout, cash is king! Some stores may stay open, but they probably won’t be able to process credit card purchases.

And all the cash machines will be on strike. Lessons learned can be found during the 2003 Blackout in Canada to Hurricane Katrina.

Always keep an emergency cash stash on hand!

Conserve Batteries with LEDs

During a power outage, LED flashlights and lanterns have a huge advantage over incandescent models.

They allow batteries to last much longer (typically about six to ten times as long). And LED technology isn’t just for flashlights you can have lanterns or the round “puck” LED lights that can easily be placed in cabinets, bathrooms and other high traffic area’s of your home or office for when the power goes off.

Candle‘s are also a low-cost, must have power outage item!

Fill The Tub

When the power grid goes down, your city water system or well-pump may soon follow.

So fill up buckets and bottles for washing, flushing and drinking. But the biggest reservoir in any home is the bathtub (followed by your water heater).

A tip regarding filling your bathtub is to ducktape the bathtub drain to prevent any precious water from seeping away over the course of the blackout.

Fill Your Grill Propane Tanks

A blackout limits many of life’s little pleasures (such as microwave ovens) but you can still enjoy a hot meal if you have a gas grill and a full tank or two, or four.

There is many things you can cook on a propane gas grill!

Have a Backup Plan

If a blackout lasts long enough, even a well-prepared family will want to give up and get out.

So make just-in-case arrangement with friends or relatives who are willing to take you in, and also make sure you are available to your family and close friends.

If you wait, you might find that phone and internet connection becomes a lot more difficult as cellular lines become overwhelmed by other mobile users.

Ice Saves Food

A couple of days without power in the summer can cost you a few hundred bucks as food spoils in refrigerators and freezers (unless you have a well stocked freezer chest).

You could try and buy a few bags of ice (along with everyone else) after the power goes out. But one of the better ideas is to fill locking freezer bags (or water bottles) with water and keep them in the freezer.

During a blackout, they’ll help the freezer stay cold longer. Or you can transfer them to the fridge or a cooler. When they thaw, you will also have clean drinking water – excellent for an extended emergency!

Gas Up!

Even if you don’t plan to go anywhere, your car is a critical part of your survival kit.

It is your emergency transport, your charging system for cell phones and maybe even the only heated space you’ll have.

So don’t wait until the blackout hits. We recommend to always fill your tank when you reach or near the half tank mark.

Remember without power, gas stations can’t pump gas from their tanks into yours.

Have a Radio on Hand

If phone and internet systems go down along with the power grid, a battery-powered radio may be your only source of weather and emergency information.

You could listen in your car, but a portable radio lets you listen anywhere. Battery-powered radios cost as little as $20 at discount stores.

Store Wool Blankets

If your only heating source is an electrical heating system, you won’t be able to warm yourself if a blackout occurs during the winter. One way to guard against losing body heat is to store wool blankets, which retain more body heat than other blankets available. Cotton blankets don’t store heat well, and won’t dry in cold weather if they get wet. If you can’t afford to buy (or can’t find) a 100% wool blanket, at least buy a wool blend.

Buy an Emergency Backup Generator

You won’t have to worry about blackouts as much if you have a generator. However, it may not be a viable (or legal) option for you if you live in an apartment or an urban area.

If you can use an emergency backup generator, it’s a good idea to buy one for blackouts. These require gas, diesel, propane or solar power to operate, and provide you with electricity when your power company can’t. You can buy a temporary, portable generator or get a licensed electrician to install a regular one directly into your home’s electrical system.

Useful Tips For After The Power Goes Out

  • Unplug everything! As the grid finally sputters back to life, it may create power surges that can destroy electronics. Leave one light switched on so you know when power has returned.
  • Bring solar landscaping lights inside for added light. Don’t forget to put them back outside in the morning so you can recharge them in case power does not return.
  • Keep the fridge closed. The less you open the fridge and freezer doors, the longer your food will stay cold.
  • Tap your water heater. It’s your built-in emergency water supply. Let the water cool before you open the drain valve.

Additional Information

A more in depth write up about long-term power failure can be found here.

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