How to Prepare for Power Outage in Emergencies 7

We kicked off the new year with an impressive wind storm. Luckily, we didn’t have much physical damage here, but the power lines around us looked like a slinky that had a run-in with a two-year-old. The utility damage, we were told, rivaled that of Hurricane Iselle’s wrath seen on the southern part of the island. We were without power for nearly a week. Let me tell you this: If you’re not ready, now’s the time to prepare for power outage. You’ll be glad you did.

Nearly a week without power -- could you do it? We did. Here's what worked (and what didn't) when our power grid went down.

Day one: Waiting, waiting, waiting for power to return. We have work to do! (My son and I both work from home, via the Internet.) Wonder why our (new-to-us) solar hot water heater isn’t putting out hot water. Too cloudy?

Day two: Still no idea when power will be restored, but we head outside. Might as well accomplish some yard work. Drive to coffee shop to handle a couple of work deadlines that couldn’t be put off. Feel thankful that we opted for a gas stove in the as-yet unfinished kitchen. After cooking outside on a single burner camp stove, cooking inside with multiple burners feels absolutely luxurious. The boys pull out the chess board and begin to strategize.

Day three: Get up first thing in the morning and head outside. Spend most of the day weeding, clearing, cleaning, and enjoying the sunshine. Hear from power company that it might be as long as two weeks until power is restored. Discover that the solar hot water heater actually requires an electric pump to circulate the water. Immediately, everyone feels the desperate need to shower.

Day four: Sun is shining so more yard work. Prepped and planted a garden bed with some cool weather seeds. Realize just how many times a day we count on the Internet to look something up. Hand wash a small load of lightly soiled laundry and hang to dry.

Day five: Boiling water for “bathing” is becoming tedious. Work deadline is looming. Yard work and chess games continue, as do some great conversations without the distraction of the Internet. Begin to see signs of utility workers in our area. Applaud worker on power pole when electricity is restored after dark. Blink like a gopher because lights are so bright. Turn on electric override on hot water heater so we can all have a hot shower.

Here’s the thing. Except for the need to connect to the Internet for work obligations, being without power for an extended period was a mere inconvenience. And I’d take it a step further and say that being without power was a great reminder about being judicious in our use of the Internet. I’m just as guilty as the rest of you when it comes to getting distracted by the “need” to be online. If I’m honest with myself, I could be a lot more efficient with my time on the computer. Focus on the work, get it done, and get outside. <<– That’s the new plan.

The outage also gave us a bit of insight as to just how prepared we are for more long-term emergencies. While we’re no doomsday preppers, there is always the chance of a grid collapse or long-term interruption in services, especially living on an island that is dependent upon barged-in diesel for power.

What worked

  • After our Hurricane Iselle experience we invested in several solar lighting options that made maneuvering in the dark easy. (This solar lantern was particularly impressive.)
  • We never worried about water. Our municipal water continued flowing, but if it had been necessary, our catchment tank would provide plenty.
  • We didn’t once worry about food. We had plenty on hand and a method for preparing it. (Before the gas kitchen stove was installed we used a single burner camp stove similar to this one for emergencies.)
  • We don’t use an electric can opener so we had a manual opener at the ready.

What we need to prepare for power outage in the future

  • While it’s not critical, access to hot water for washing dishes and showering would greatly improve morale. We’d also use less propane if we didn’t need to heat water. (Something like this is one solution for emergency power outages and the outdoor shower we’ve discussed.)
  • Access to the internet would have allowed us to be in contact with family as well as stay abreast of the situation. Adding a couple of these power sticks to out emergency kit would allow us to maintain connection for a bit longer. A simple car charger for USB devices would be another way to extend connection.
  • We are in an area remote enough that cell phone service is spotty at best. While I didn’t miss the ringing of the telephone or endless robocalls, it would probably be a good idea to have an old-fashioned corded telephone on hand.
  • Our first aid kit is in desperate need of restocking (whether the power is on or not).
  • Reading after dark was difficult — flashlights and headlamps were too bright and I felt like I was wasting light. While not essential for survival, a solar book light would make reading once the sun goes down more doable.

Nearly a week without power -- could you do it? We did. Here's what worked (and what didn't) when our power grid went down.

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7 thoughts on “How to Prepare for Power Outage in Emergencies

  • Melissa

    Good for you for being so prepared! We were without power for a few hours a couple of weeks ago and my mind ran wild! You know, we think, “Oh, I could do it, no biggie!” but we are so conditioned to have all of our conveniences, hot water included, that I imagine it really does wear on you pretty quickly. So, it’s definitely time for us to get more prepared for any potential power outage! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • Angi @ SchneiderPeeps

    Your can opener comment made me chuckle. I once had a friend tell me she had never met anyone that didn’t have an electric can opener. I’m so glad that I could show her the new-fangled manual can opener gadget ;-).

    Our big issue with losing electricity is our water well. We really need to either put up some solar panels for it, get a generator or install a hand pump.

    • Kris Bordessa Post author

      I’d like to know what can opener you use/love. I’m looking for a quality replacement. And yes – when we had a well, that was always a concern. Our water catchment tank is above ground. There wouldn’t be much *pressure, but we can access it easily.

      • KC

        I’ve tried lots of can openers that just stopping working after awhile, lots of name brands. The one I have now continues to work and is over two years old, it’s from Target by Giada de Laurentis.

        Overhead college kids in the grocery store and they were selecting the pop top cans because none of them knew how to use a manual opener! Help!

        • Kris Bordessa Post author

          Thanks for the recommendation. I have such a hard time with can openers. And *crazy about those college kids!

  • jan pelmulder

    I liked your suggestions but laughed about the manual can opener. I’m of the older generation that hasn’t moved on to the electric can opener, so no problem. We were living in the center of the 1994 earthquake in Northridge and didn’t have power or water for over a week. We had plenty of stored water and a camp stove to cook on but it was a wake-up call to buy a generator. That may not be compatible with your philosophy but we moved it over with us and have used it several times. I can easily live without lights and the computer but hate to loose food in the refrigerator and freezer.

  • cindl

    I learned to cope with the loss of modern conveniences while living in a hurricane prone area, motorcycling and traveling in a VW bus. I always kept a black trash bag at hand for heating water. I would fill it halfway, put it in the sun and I’d have hot water within the hour. I could get in the bag, drawing it up around me and wash myself and my clothes in semi-privacy. Remember, there is no such thing as a “hot water heater”; they heat cold water.