When the U.S. power grid fails, the reasons vary: extreme weather, software bugs, ill-placed equipment, and natural disasters. Power outages can last for days, weeks, or longer, and these incidents have caused blackouts from Ohio to Texas. How can you prepare for the next unexpected power outage?
What to do if the U.S. power grid goes down: Prioritize securing clean water, with a recommended daily gallon per person. Emergency preparedness means stockpiling food before you need it, prepare for temperature extremes, use Solar-battery-powered radios for updates, maintain sanitation, and heed official advisories.
The history of U.S. blackouts reveals power outages from powerful storms can easily last up to 25 hours, with even short ones recorded at 13 hours. But how about a week or more without power? This article provides guidelines on how to cope during such power grid failures.
Why You Should Always Prepare for a Power Blackout
Recommended Reading: What Happens if the American Power Grid Goes Down? and Long-Term Power Blackout Coming Soon.
Let us illustrate the importance of preparing for a power grid failure with an interesting example. In February 2017. Strong winds downed multiple power lines in the Wyoming area, which led to an immediate blackout. The combination of heavy snow and frozen ground made restoration challenging, leaving the area without power for a week.
For a portion of this outage, essential services like sewage and water depended on generator power. However, these generators only had a three-day capacity. After this time, Wyoming residents were left in the dark with no backup. To prevent contamination from backed-up waste, authorities had to halt the water supply.
This blackout was an unprecedented event for the locale. Residents unprepared for such a situation, struggled with unheated homes, a lack of water, waste management challenges, and food shortages due to absent refrigeration.
Natural events like strong winds, hurricanes, and severe winters can lead to power grid failures. In the 21st century, we must also consider the potential of cyberattacks disrupting the grid. If New York City were to experience a power outage, residents might manage for a few hours. But envision the consequences if the city went dark for a week.
Another illustrative incident occurred in Japan. In 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a powerful tsunami shutdown backup generators and disrupted power lines in the country. While a power line disruption alone could have been managed, the simultaneous loss of backup generators left Japan powerless.
Consequently, when the cooling systems in the country’s Fukushima nuclear reactor lost power, they failed, exposing the populace to significant radiation. Out of 40 Japanese nuclear power plants, 11 were shutdown. This incident raised grave concerns about food and water safety.
5.27 million households lost power and 220,000 were still without power 11 days after the earthquake.
The lessons from these episodes are clear: It’s imperative to prepare for unexpected power grid failures and blackouts and the cascading effects they might start. The possibility of being without power for weeks, months, or even a year is not beyond the realm of reality.
A List of Things That Will Happen When Power Goes Off
Our modern world is deeply intertwined with electricity. Without it, the very fabric of our daily lives is disrupted.
Here’s a detailed look at what you might encounter during a long-term power outage of 3 days (36 hours) or more:
- Water Supply: Faucets will run dry, depriving you of tap water.
- Sanitation: Toilets won’t flush, creating hygiene concerns.
- Basic Utilities: The most obvious–there will be no electricity.
- Lighting: Once the sun sets, areas without backup lighting will be plunged into darkness.
- Electronics: Devices such as phones and laptops will be rendered useless once their batteries are depleted.
- Cooking: Those relying on electric cookers or even gas will face challenges preparing meals.
- Food Preservation: Perishables in the fridge will spoil.
- Fast Food: Even giants like McDonald’s will halt operations.
- Dining Out: With many restaurants unable to function, grabbing a quick meal outside becomes impossible.
- Supply Chains: Transport disruptions mean grocery and retail stores can’t receive food or stock and make deliveries.
- Grocery Stores: Expect a shortage or complete absence of fresh produce and meats.
- Communication: Without electronic means, conversations will be limited to face-to-face interactions.
- Banking: Digital banking services, ATMs, and even in-person bank functions will be inaccessible.
- Public Order: The absence of power may instigate unrest, leading some individuals to create chaos on the streets.
- Home Security: Alarm systems will be offline, compromising safety.
- Health Services: Many doctors will shut their offices, and routine appointments will be canceled.
- Emergency Medical Services: Hospitals, especially those without backup generators, might struggle to handle emergencies.
Surviving Without Power at Home
Recommended Reading: Power Grid Failures and Their Causes and Potential Outcomes if the American Power Grid Goes Down.
In our technologically driven era, a power outage can feel like stepping back in time, presenting challenges most of us rarely consider. While our modern lifestyles are punctuated by the conveniences electricity affords, it’s vital to understand the basics of survival when plunged into an unexpected blackout.
It’s a fundamental need, often overshadowed by the modern comforts we’re used to. In the event of a power outage, one of the primary concerns becomes securing a consistent supply of clean water. While food is often the first thing on people’s minds during such crises, research highlights that an individual can go without food for three weeks, but lacking water for just three days can be fatal.
Storing sufficient water to last a few weeks is a prudent strategy. If long-term storage isn’t feasible, it’s vital to have a plan for replenishing your supply if it runs out before power returns.
A basic measure is to ensure at least two cases of bottled water are available in the home, ensuring a basic level of hydration for your family. Naturally, larger families will require more water.
The logistics of water storage can vary based on your residence. Those with extensive property, such as large farms, can utilize cisterns and elevated tanks for storage.
However, this stored water will need purification before consumption. And for those with swimming pools? While not suitable for drinking, they offer a means to cool down during sweltering conditions.
In the absence of power, automated sanitation systems come to a halt, turning something as routine as a bathroom trip into a luxury. Yet, maintaining hygiene remains crucial even during outages.
For those with private land, consider setting up an outdoor toilet. While walls aren’t essential, privacy remains paramount for such personal matters. A simple setup can be a bucket with a hole at the bottom, positioned over a shallow sinkhole, serving as a makeshift toilet seat. Once it fills up, cover the used hole and dig a new one.
Regular handwashing is essential to prevent the spread of germs. To conserve water, consider using a large bowl, minimizing wastage from spillage. While sharing handwashing water isn’t ideal, options may be limited under such circumstances.
Lessons from the pandemic showed innovative ways to dispense water in small volumes from compact containers. Sanitizer bottles, for example, can be repurposed for this need during power outages.
Reverting to traditional methods, dishes can be cleaned using water collected in large basins, reminiscent of the pre-dishwasher era. After removing food residues, immerse the dishes in soapy water and scrub them gently with a cloth, followed by a rinse.
Limited water supplies might necessitate sponge baths. For safety, it’s recommended to purify the water before it touches your skin to avoid potential skin issues.
Waste will inevitably accumulate from various activities. Heavy-duty garbage bags will prove essential. Regularly removing these bags from your living space is crucial to prevent infestations from flies or maggots attracted to decomposing food.
Going Beyond Basic – Preparing for Two Weeks or More
In prolonged power outages, adopting advanced preparedness measures becomes essential. Whether the cause is natural or man-made, the following strategies can enhance your chances of coping effectively:
- Water and Food: Store enough food and water for every member of your family 30 days minimum. 6 months to one year is best.
- Heed Authorities: Always pay close attention to official updates, especially if the blackout is a result of a natural calamity or disaster. At times, temporary relocation might be advised until the situation stabilizes and the area is declared safe.
- Lighting Solutions: The absence of alternative power sources means that securing lighting should be a top priority. This can be achieved by stocking up on items such as candles or LED flashlights. Furthermore, maintaining an ample supply of batteries ensures a consistent source of light, which is especially important during times when security might be compromised due to increased vulnerability.
- Cooling Strategies: During sweltering summers, the lack of air conditioning can become stifling. Battery-operated fans can provide much-needed relief. For optimal cooling, place a fan near an open window. Another cooling strategy, especially when the heat becomes unbearable, is to stay low, mimicking the behavior of dogs who instinctively understand that lower positions are cooler.
- Staying Informed: In our interconnected world, staying informed during a blackout becomes paramount. A battery-powered FM radio not only serves as an information source but also provides a semblance of normalcy in the absence of television or the internet.
- Alternative Cooking and Heating: An outdoor charcoal grill can serve dual purposes: it’s a versatile cooking tool and, during cold evenings, a source of warmth.
- Secure Important Documents: It’s crucial to safeguard essential papers. Replacing them can be time-consuming, potentially hindering your post-outage return to normalcy. Secure storage solutions will ensure your documents remain intact and accessible.
Power outages often strike without warning. Given the country’s history of blackouts, preparedness is paramount. Whether during the heat of summer or the chill of winter, both extreme seasons require specific provisions: cooling supplies for the former and warming essentials for the latter.
Moreover, maintaining a consistent supply of clean water is crucial. The Red Cross recommends a daily allocation of a gallon per person. In the event of a blackout, water takes precedence, closely followed by food. All other supplies serve to support and sustain you until power is restored.
- HBR: Preparing for the Cyberattack That Will Knock Out U.S. Power Grids
- MedicineNet: How Long Does It Take to Die If You Don’t Eat?
- NBC News: How to Prepare for a Power Outage, According to a Professional Prepper
- Ready.gov: Power Outages
- World Nuclear Association: Fukushima Daiichi Accident