Most people never stop to consider their emotional attachment to the electrical grid, but I think it’s safe to say that we are in love with it. It’s not fleeting like the way you love that new song, rather it’s a lot deeper than that. We LOVE that million miles of tangled wires, poles, and all of the power plants that feed it. Maybe that’s why we get so emotionally distraught when the lights go out. Our love has left us and we feel spurned! This situation may happen when a summer storm knocks out the neighborhood distribution lines or to an entire region when a disaster strikes. If you live in a rural area, it may even happen on a sunny afternoon.
Either way, you’ve got to figure out what to do with your giant freezer full of melting ice cream and thawing TV dinners. You’ve also got to come to terms with reality. Unless you’re hooked up to an electrically powered machine that’s keeping you alive, you don’t need power to live. Power is a luxury. I know that’s not a lifestyle concept that the average modern push-button person wants to explore because it rubs their nose in the fact that we are spoiled rotten by electricity. But there you have it, you (probably) don’t need electricity to live, and I’m going to prove it to you! Or at the very least, make it bearable.
Pre-Game Before The Lights Go Out
A lot of preppers are worried about an EMP taking out the power. You’ve probably already had the unsettling realization that an event like that could happen in any season, day or night. Similarly, hackers and solar flares could knock out our power at any time. While these threats are on the radar, we also need to focus on natural disasters as they’re the most likely to take down the grid. All major weather events can kill the power, but for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the Atlantic hurricane season (June-November) and tornado seasons (spring and summer). Before or at the start of these seasons, it’s a smart move to make a plan for when the warm glow of electricity is cut off.
The most dramatic way that we know the electricity is gone is when being unexpectedly plunged into darkness. If a storm takes out your power at night, you won’t be very effective stumbling around in the dark. Place flashlights or headlamps throughout your home and make sure you have some in the vehicles too.
Candles are sexier, but you know what’s not sexy? How about burning down your house after the structure successfully survived a hurricane or tornado? Skip the mood lighting. Go for non-flame light sources. Grab a few chem light sticks as back up for your battery powered lighting.
Pack Your Pantry, Not Your Freezer
So many people lose their food in a power outage. The average fridge and freezer is packed with items that need to be kept cold or frozen in order to be safely stored. Instead of stuffing your freezer and refrigerator with cold stuff as the weather gets warmer, you’ll in be better shape to focus on shelf stable foods and beverages.
I recommend that the main item in every freezer should be plastic containers of solid ice. Just pour tap water into plastic tubs and set them in your freezer to become ice blocks. These can be moved to the top shelf of your refrigerator during an outage to turn it into an old fashioned ice box. Leave the ice in the tubs and once it’s melted, you’ll even have some safe drinking water. It’ll be funny tasting but safe.
Assemble the Basics
When the power’s down most stores probably won’t open their doors, and they definitely won’t be processing credit card sales. Instead of wandering through the land with a wad of cash, why not get everything you might need BEFORE mayhem strikes? Buy a weather radio, jugs of water, no-cook foods, lights, and all the other typical disaster supplies to prepare for power outages and so many other scenarios.
One frequently forgotten thing to have in a power outage event is a way to charge your cell phone besides the wall outlet. Solar chargers are a nice investment. AA battery cell phone chargers are cheaper and more commonly available than solar. You could use a car charger for devices for as long as the gas holds out in your vehicle. A larger solar panel, about briefcase sized, will charge devices like phones and iPads though maybe not laptops.
Assemble the basics and do it now while the sun is still shining. You owe it to yourself and your family to take this seriously before the storms hit.
Weigh the Pros and Cons
Yes, you could buy a generator powered by a noisy gas engine or strap some very obvious solar PV panels on your roof. These will certainly allow you to provide your own power in an outage, but there’s a catch. These items, along with the fact that your house is lit up at night, will advertise to the whole community that you have a major power source. As desperate people become more frantic, they’ll begin to wonder what else is in your home if you’re prudent enough to have the equipment to make power.
I’m not saying don’t have self-reliant power, I’m simply reminding you of the age-old strife between the haves and have-nots. You’ll need to determine whether it makes sense to even have power when your neighbors don’t have it. If you decide the answer is yes, consider if that power should come from a high profile source like that loud generator. In my mind, low profile is better than something attention grabbing.
Prioritize Your Power Failure
Once the electricity is out, it’s time for you to make thoughtful choices and follow a practical plan of action.
Hopeful that the power will return soon, work your way through the house unplugging appliances and equipment powered by electricity. This includes your electric range, refrigerator, computer, TV, sound systems, etc. Doing this will protect them from an electrical surge which may occur when the power is restored.
Check your phone or listen to your battery-powered radio for local and regional news pertaining to the disaster. Plan a meal from your most perishable foods such as fresh meat, cut vegetables, and so forth. Have an epic dessert after the meal with all of your ice cream, popsicles, and other frozen treats.
Keep the fridge and freezer closed as much as possible to keep them cool. Get creative with your menu as long as it keeps food safety in mind. Cook your frozen pizzas outside on a propane grill or make a big pot of stew in your Dutch oven with charcoal briquettes as fuel. Plan additional meals that use up all of your remaining fresh foods quickly.
As the hours tick by, periodically move some of the ice blocks you made in your freezer onto the top shelf inside your fridge to keep things cool. Place a thermometer in the fridge so you can keep track of the interior temperature. Try to keep it around 40F if possible, adding more ice as needed.
If you have municipal water for your home, fill up as many buckets, plastic bins, and jugs as you can. There’s no telling when the water will stop flowing. In rural areas your well pump stopped running with the power, so you’ll have to provide your own household water once the pressure tank, the pipes, and the water heater have been drained. I’m on a private well and so are most Americans. I keep several 5 gallon water cooler jugs on hand to kick start my water supply, and have several back-up plans for water procurement and disinfection. You should too.
Your family should have polished off everything in the fridge and freezer by now. Dry goods, canned goods, and other staple foods should be the main ingredients for meals along with any food grown on your own property. Throw away any questionable fresh foods that have a funny odor, off color, or odd texture at this point.
The municipal water tower may be empty. Without generators running the pumps to refill it, you’ll have to source your own water as your cousins will do in the country. If the outage is localized and severe, you may consider leaving the area for a destination that hasn’t been affected. If it’s regional and severe, you may not be able to escape your fate.
Fuel is likely to be running low in your propane grill, so it might be time to figure out alternative cooking methods. The average household will also be running out of food, candles, batteries, and sanity by now. Hopefully you’re better prepared than them.
Desperate neighbors will be banging on your door because they’re out of food and not sure how to take care of basic needs. You’ll have tough decisions to make as to who you’ll help and who you won’t. The people you refuse to help won’t forget it. The people you do help probably won’t keep their mouth shut about it.
Most people will spend all of their time trying to beg, borrow, barter, or steal food and bottled water. Aid may have come in from other areas by now, but it will be slow to reach smaller communities and spread too thin in larger communities. However, you don’t need to go stand in line for care packages. You’re sitting on top of several weeks or months’ worth of food and supplies. Your main concern will be the behavior of the people around you who were woefully unprepared. Will they try to take what you have carefully put aside? When and how will things take a turn from civility to bedlam?
This is a much darker and more nebulous issue than picking which water filter to buy or deciding how many sacks of rice to get. You need to plan for this grim issue as well as for all other aspects of self-reliance. Hopefully you’ve built a group of trained and motivated individuals and families. You’ve all kept your mouths shut about your preparations and rallied at the most defensible home. This will make you much better off than the lone wolf prepper who has bragged to all the neighbors about all of his supplies and food stockpile.
Adjust to the “New Normal”
Once the electricity is out, it’s time for you to make thoughtful choices and follow a practical plan of action.
After a few days of involuntarily living off-the-grid, you’ll probably have your system of self-reliant chores down to a routine. Your neighbors will either start catching up to you or they’ll be a total wreck. I fear that most people will fall into the latter category. They’ll be sick from eating bad food. They’ll be dangerously dehydrated from going without water. They’ll have filled their toilets up with piss and shit, then started crapping on the floor since they don’t know what else to do.
You’ll definitely have to protect your family and team from people who are desperate, off their meds, or just plain evil. You’ll also be able to see who’s getting their act together and figuring out how to live with the new normal. They’ll be fishing in the local creek and carrying buckets of water back to their houses. They’ll be setting up fire pits in their backyards and burning wood to cook their meals.
The people who knew how to go camping or just paid attention in history class will be putting the pieces together. Maybe you can help them figure out the parts that they’ve missed, rebuild your community, and get strength in numbers in the process.
In summation, you don’t have to grow a ZZ Top beard and try to infiltrate the Amish to live without electrical power. You simply need to gather the tools and supplies to provide for your family. It’s good to gather together with some like-minded people, and live like they did 150 years ago until the lights come back on. Or they don’t. That’s it.
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