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What to do During a Summer Blackout

Updated on November 21, 2012
Night is night during a blackout
Night is night during a blackout | Source

by Christopher Peruzzi

We as a people have grown spoiled.

We are addicted to the comforts that are brought by electricity. There is no time that this fact is more apparent than when your city or town has a power outage. When this happens you become painfully aware of how the local government and utility companies have you in their (forgive the pun) power.

I am a home owner. I own a house. When blackouts happen in New Jersey either due to weather, excessive power use, or any local natural disaster, you need to know what you’re going to do without the power to run the things you’ve grown addicted to.

There are a few suggestions I’m going to make now before I get into the typical power outage scenarios. The first recommendation I’m going to make for any home owner is to buy a portable generator and have gas safely stored in your garage. I will also say that as much as I’m recommending that you purchase a portable generator, I do not own one.

However, I will buy one soon. In the four years I’ve owned this house, I’ve had at least six occasions for needing a generator. I’ve been through two summer blackouts, two severe storms that have knocked *out power sources to the house and two blizzards that have made doing anything without electricity practically impossible.

So that’s on my “to do” list.

This article, though, is about the things you should do, even if you don’t have a generator. They range from critically important to “that’s a good idea”.

What You Absolutely Have To Do

Summer time is a bad time to have a power outage. By a sheer coincidence, the worst ones I’ve had to endure have all happened in July and August. These are the hottest months. Without power in your house, you can’t run an electric fan, let alone an air condition unit.

So your first priorities are the health, comfort and welfare of the elderly, your children, and your pets.

If you have an elderly person living in your house who needs specialized equipment (like oxygen generating devices), either get them to a hospital or get them and their machine to a place that does have electricity. I recommend the former rather than the latter as hospitals almost always have backup electrical generators onsite to power emergency equipment. They will also have tanks of oxygen for people with breathing problems. Also, most reputable hospitals will have some kind of air condition on premise. Remember, heat, humidity, and the elderly don’t mix well. Get them to a safe place first.

Next you should worry about your children and pets. Most kids won’t have a problem surviving without air condition. If you keep them hydrated and get them to a shower or bath, they should be okay. However, if you have animals – especially dogs – keep them indoors and with plenty of water until they need to be walked. It’s hard for dogs to endure the heat especially if they have thick coats. You may even wish to soak them down with a hose to keep them cool. But, above all, keep them hydrated.

Should you have a person who really can’t take the heat, depending on the circumstances, you can either take them to the hospital, put them in the car and turn on the AC, or get the entire family together and drive everyone to a hotel (provided that the hotels have power).

If you have a cell phone, keep your talking to a minimum. Remember those things need to keep their charge. I would invest in a car charger for your phone. If you can’t charge your phone through your house, you can charge it through your car’s battery and alternator.

The temptation to use your smart phone to gather local news on the blackout is almost too great to resist. Instead of using that, get your hands on a portable radio. They use very little power and will operate on batteries. You’ll want to keep tuned to the local stations to see where there is power and what facilities are not available.

Once again, all of this depends on the circumstances. Should you be part of a power outage that is the result of a violent storm, you may not be able to move from your house. And trust me, in times like those, the road is the worst place to be.

The Things You'll Need

Let’s make this easy. Preparedness is the name of the game – so let’s make a survival kit.

Here’s things you can get ready in advance:

  • Cash (Most credit card machines won’t work in your neighborhood if the power’s out)
  • Batteries – All the popular sizes: AAA, AA, C, D, and 9 volt.
  • A portable battery operated radio
  • Candles and glow sticks
  • Flashlights
  • Matches
  • Books (See how well your Kindle works without power – paper books don’t require any)
  • A land line phone (NOT a cordless – those require electricity)
  • A cell phone (with car charger)
  • Bottled water
  • A cooler
  • First Aid Kit (includes bandages, bandaids, cotton, burn salves, alcohol, non-aspirin tablets, aspirin tablets, and antacid)

I have just a few notes on these items as they may not seem intuitive. You can still buy land line phones. Provided that your phone line is not run through your cable provider (ergo through your electric powered cable modem), you can plug your phone into a phone jack and it should give you a healthy dial tone. Phone lines run on an alternative power source. My experience with this came from the New York City blackout of 2003. While we couldn’t run our lights or PC’s, we could make phone calls off of our phone lines.

Depending on the circumstances, having a first aid kit where you can get to it is important. All houses should have one of these regardless of the emergency.

While a flashlight is great to move around with outside to check things when it gets dark, batteries will die if they are not used sparingly. If you need light at night, use candles while you’re awake. Before everyone goes to bed, replace candles with chemical glow sticks to avoid the possibility of a fire.

Here’s the stuff you’ll have to buy immediately:

  • Ice
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • Water (if you’re out)

There is no way you can get the amount of ice you’ll need without purchasing it immediately. Go out and get at least five large bags of ice and dump them into a large cooler. This cooler will be a life line during the hot weather.

If you have children that need to keep cool, nothing works better than ice water in these circumstances. Ice water can also be used to cool the head of small children (infants) and keep body temperatures down.

Keep the cooler closed and only open it briefly. I have ice last for two days in the summer heat.

Practical Advice

Guess what went out with the electricity – Your refrigerator.

While meat will last in your refrigerator for a few hours, if there is a chance that the blackout will go longer than a day, you may wish to have yourself a cookout. If the meat is going to go bad, you may need to cook it immediately before it does. Even worse, if it defrosts and then refrosts you’ll get meat that tastes of freezer burn.

If you have a grill, it’s time for a barbeque. Charcoal briquettes, lighter fluid, and a grill do not need electricity and it makes the best of a bad situation.

Your television, computer, and stereo went out with the electricity as well. Now is the time to think about having some fun. During the day, if it’s not too hot, spend some time being active. If you have access to a pool or lake, swimming is a great way to keep cool and have fun. If you don’t have access to a pool or lake, take a shower. You’ll probably need to before you go to sleep.

If it’s too hot to be outside, you can still have fun playing board games like Chess, Checkers, Othello, and Monopoly. You can do this day or night with the help of candles.

Do you know what else is good to do? Read. Read a book. You will never have an opportunity to have as much silence in the house and you’ll get some good learning out of it.

If you feel like being productive, why not clean the house? You won’t be able to work the vacuum cleaner, but the broom still works and so does the Windex. You may be without power. It may be hot. But you can still have a clean house.

Oh and by the way, unless you have an electric powered toilet, don’t worry about your crapper. The basic toilet model works on physics. So long as your plumbing is good, you should have no problem with your throne.

Emergency Adjustment

How long do you think you could go without electricity?

See results

Final Words

We are spoiled.

I know that the year is 2012 and that kids nowadays are hardwired into the internet and their video games. However, the thing to remember is that we have alternatives to doing things without electricity. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. It was a different world back then and we needed to create our own fun.

I mention having fun and doing things without electricity because half of the battle is keeping yourself busy with either chores to keep things going within the house or to distract people who can’t cope without electricity.

I’m writing this hub a few hours after we got our power back from a terrible storm that took the power out of the township, as well as the ones adjacent to us. I’d been through this on some level one way or another and I remembered that while it was bad, there were things I could do to keep myself preoccupied.

There is always the first priority of keeping safe. Have all of the things that will keep you and your loved ones healthy and hydrated. If there’s any doubt of safety, move. Go to someplace safer. If you can’t move (in which there was an instance we went through where we were literally trapped in our homes powerless for three days) then you’ll need to make the best of the situation with what you have.

There is one thing you will need to remember. Heat and times without air condition existed a hundred years ago. Our forefathers and ancestors managed to survive those times. What we’re saying now is that we’re a bunch of weenies that can’t.

When you put everything in that perspective you may be able to find it within yourself to bite the bullet and realize that a few days of heat in the right circumstances probably won’t kill you.

The trick is to be prepared and use some much needed common sense.

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    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      When Hurricane Katrina came inland as far as Jackson, Mississippi (where I live), it caused loss of power for a week. I rushed to Lowe's and bought the last mid-size generator in stock. It kept the refrigerator/freezer going, as well as a couple of lamps and fans. The biggest problem was finding gas to power it. All of the gas station pumps in the area were down, too. (They're electric powered!) When I did drive far enough away to get two large cans of gas (and refill the car from all that driving), everyone else was there as well. That meant a wait in line at the gas station for at least an hour! I'm glad I have that generator, though, because it's not rare to get "fall-out" from a hurricane that hits south Louisiana or the Gulf Coast.

      There was another hurricane that same season that caused a blackout here (Hurricane Rita), so the generator got used twice in fairly quick succession. It was definitely worth the cost to keep food from spoiling, have some light and at least fans.

      The electricity goes off a couple of times during the summer when we have thunderstorms when a nearby electric pole transistor is hit by lightning. This nearly always happens at dusk or nighttime and takes several hours for the electric company crews to repair. Have you ever read a book by candlelight?

      The worst part of being without electricity for just a few hours when it's hot and humid (and, in central Mississippi, it's hot and humid 9 months out of the year) is being without air conditioning. Miserable!

    • cperuzzi profile image
      Author

      Christopher Peruzzi 5 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      Ironically, we were in the middle of a tornado last night in Freehold. We currently have no power.

      I used this article as a check list.

    • cperuzzi profile image
      Author

      Christopher Peruzzi 5 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      The first really bad one we had at our house was for 3 days... in July. Two large trees had come down in the middle of a violent storm - both were blocking the exit points for our street.

      We couldn't leave and we were in the middle of a 90 degree heat wave.

      While my wife and I were tolerating this, we were really worried about our two dogs. It's not good weather for a Pomeranian.

      The secret to all of it is safety and hydration. Other than that, keep busy.

    • CassyLu1981 profile image

      CassyLu1981 5 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      This hub will come in very handy for our next blackout. We used to get them a lot in Italy, some would last a couple hours others a whole day. In Cali we went over 2 days without power! I couldn't imagine being without it for longer then that. I now have a list of this stuff printed and hung by my computer. Lots of stuff you don't want to be without if the power does go out! Voted up and Shared!

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Great advice in this Hub! Being prepared for a power outage makes life a lot easier. Thanks for sharing these important tips.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks for a great article. When we bought our house in Florida, it came with an emergency generator. I suspect neighbors will drop by at the next hurricane!

      One other tip: If you expect that a blackout might be coming, unplug computers and other sensitive electronics. If you miss that, unplug them during the blackout. When the power goes down - and back up - there are often power surges. One fried the electronics of our air conditioning system and cost us about $300 in repairs. Glad we didn't lose the computers!

      I try to enjoy life without electricity every day - reading, walking, and certain fun private activities couples engage in - so there won't be a big lifestyle change when the power goes out. (By the way, there was a surge of births 9 months after the NYC blackout back in the 1960s - alternative recreation!

    • cperuzzi profile image
      Author

      Christopher Peruzzi 5 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      Buy a generator that will suit your needs. My next door neighbor went so far as to have an electrician install an outlet that he can switch from the main electrical source to the generator (as a plug in).

      While he didn't power up his entire house, he certainly had enough to get some fans working and to run some gadgets.

      I would keep the generator for things that you need to have running - like the oxygen machine for an elderly person. As far as lights go, candles are cheaper for your waking hours. Glow sticks are good to keep in your bathroom at night after everyone had gone to bed.

      But I digress.

      Don't be afraid to check online for a good generator. Amazon actually has some deals, plus there's always Home Depot and Lowes. Figure out what your needs would be and buy just a little above those - you never know. Expect to pay between $200 and $350 for a portable generator that will power your house.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran 5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Good solid advice in this Hub. I too have been thinking about a portable generator - for years. Like you I think I'm going to get one, although prices will probably be better in the fall.

    • KrystalD profile image

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Helpful ans quite timely! Thanks for sharing :)