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How To Prepare For A Power Outage or Blackout

Updated on June 24, 2013

Introduction

The reason I am writing this hub, is because last night, I had a revelation. OK, not really, but the power did go out and being a new apartment, I was not prepared for it. Luckily, my parents live not too far from here, and I was able to pawn some supplies of off them to survive the night. While the blackout that happened last night certainly was not the largest, it is the largest one I personally remember being involved in, with almost all buildings being out of power ranging from Lompoc, CA up through San Luis Obispo and up to Atascadero, CA, about an 80 mile range.

Let's face it, blackouts and power outages do happen, in fact the entire electrical grid in the United States is quite old, and as it ages, issues are prone to happen. Not knowing when and where they strike can be an issue, especially if they happen at night. While the usually are quite temporary, and only last a few minutes or even a couple hours, you never know when they can go on for days, even weeks, and it is important that you are prepared in the event.

There are a few things we are going to talk about here, including what supplies you should have on hand, what actions you should take, and a couple ways to keep everybody calm during the situation.

Lighting

Dynamic Collections Unscented 12 Hour Votive Candles, 1.4" x 1.8" (30/Pkg) - White
Dynamic Collections Unscented 12 Hour Votive Candles, 1.4" x 1.8" (30/Pkg) - White

Plenty of long lasting candles that will easily get you through a few nights if necessary

 
Maglite XL200 LED 3-Cell AAA Flashlight, Black
Maglite XL200 LED 3-Cell AAA Flashlight, Black

Maglite is the only brand of flashlight used by police departments and other government agencies

 
Ambient Weather WR-089 Compact Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio, Flashlight, Smart Phone Charger with Cables
Ambient Weather WR-089 Compact Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio, Flashlight, Smart Phone Charger with Cables

A crank radio can be useful to find out what caused the power outage from your local news station

 
Energizer Max Premium AA Batteries, Alkaline Double A Battery (24 Count) E91BP-24
Energizer Max Premium AA Batteries, Alkaline Double A Battery (24 Count) E91BP-24

You should always keep spare batteries on hand, for any emergency

 

Candles, Matches, and Flashlights

The first and most obvious thing to have in case of a blackout or power outage, is an alternate source of light (unless you are lucky enough to have a backup generator, which we will talk about further down the page). You can get decent sized, non-scented candles for extremely cheap, and they are extremely helpful to have during an outage, especially if you or someone in your household is afraid of the dark. Keep on hand a few boxes of matches or a couple good lighters as well, as you will need something to light them with.

Flashlights are great as well, the only thing to be cautious about is the battery life. They are great for if you need to go outside though, for instance if you think the power outage may just be a popped circuit breaker, and you need to go outside to reset the switch. If you do store a couple flashlights in case of emergency, I recommend a high-quality LED flashlight, as the battery will last much longer because LED bulbs use much less energy. Also be sure to keep extra batteries on hand in case the power outage last longer than a couple days (in a worst-case scenario), and in this case, name brand batteries do make a difference over cheap batteries. Lithium batteries are very high quality, but also very expensive, so your standard Duracell or Energizer alkaline batteries will do just fine.

Another possible alternative to a battery-powered flashlight in which you may have seen before, would be a crank operated flashlight. They have a crank on the side which generates power, and you can even get cranked operated radios as well. You simply crank the device for a few minutes, and you have a decent supply of energy which will power the flashlight or radio. I mention the radio, of course, because it will come in handy if you would like to see if anything on the news will reveal why the power went out or about how long you can expect it to last.

You should keep these items together, for instance in a kitchen drawer, or someplace where everybody in your household knows where to find them and has easy access to.

First Aid Kits

Johnson & Johnson All Purpose First Aid Kit
Johnson & Johnson All Purpose First Aid Kit

A basic, cost-effective first aid kit that will treat minor injuries

 
The Complete First Aid Kit Ansi First Aid Kit, White
The Complete First Aid Kit Ansi First Aid Kit, White

A great first aid kit that includes CPR products and even first aid for tooth injuries

 
First Aid Emergency Kit
First Aid Emergency Kit

One of the highest quality first aid kits you can buy, certified from the American Red Cross association

 

First Aid Kits

There are people who think every household should have a first aid kit, and other people who think they can get by on a box of band-aids. The truth is though, during a power outage or blackout, the lighting is limited and someone may accidentally trip over something, bump into something, or take a spill down a step or stairs inside the house. This is why it I am recommending that a first aid kits should be readily accessible in your household.

A proper first aid kit will include at least the following: bandages in various sizes, a roll of gauze, medical tape, scissors, hydrogen peroxide or some other antiseptic, an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin, and pain medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen. You can buy first aid kits in all sorts of varieties, and some will include many more items like self-heating or -cooling pads, burn ointments, etc.

First aid kits should be kept out of reach of small children, because of some of the chemicals and sharp objects they may include, but accessible enough so that older children and teenagers have access to it in case of emergency.

Nutrient and Water Supply

Emergency Drinking Water Storage by AquaPodKit - Made in America (65 Gallons)
Emergency Drinking Water Storage by AquaPodKit - Made in America (65 Gallons)

Store a week+ worth of water with these useful tub liner containers

 
55 Gallon Water Preserver Concentrate 5 Year Emergency Disaster Preparedness, Survival Kits, Emergency Water Storage, Earthquake, Hurricane, Safety
55 Gallon Water Preserver Concentrate 5 Year Emergency Disaster Preparedness, Survival Kits, Emergency Water Storage, Earthquake, Hurricane, Safety

A water preserver concentrate will make water drinkable if you are concerned about what is coming out of the faucet

 

Non-Perishable Foods, Water, And A Gas Grill

Now if it just a short-term outage, which in most cases it is, these items may not be necessary, although they are still useful items to keep on hand in case of an emergency. On the other hand, if the blackout will stretch on for a full day or even longer, you will need some backup food, and a source to cook it with (if you have an electric stove, that is).

By non-perishable foods, we generally mean canned and boxed foods you would typically find in a pantry. Canned items can include soups, beans, other canned vegetables and canned fruits, and more. Boxed items can be things such as macaroni-and-cheese, pastas, rices, etc.

You should also have a few gallons of water on hand, for general drinking use, and in case you need it to cook some of your non-perishable foods. You can pick up a few gallon containers from the grocery store, or you can keep a 5-gallon jug or two on hand in which you can fill from any local dispenser for very cheap.
*TIP* If you have a case or more of water bottles on hand, you can fill up the extra space in your freezer or refrigerator to help keep the items cold for a longer amount of time. The water will act as an insulator, because they take longer to change temperature than the empty airspace does.

If you do happen to have an electric stove, it is a good idea to keep a small, portable gas stove such as one you would use while camping, so you have a means of cooking.

Keeping The Children Sane Without Electricity

One of the toughest things about a power outage might be keeping the kids calm and entertained while there is no power in your house. That is why it is a good idea to keep a few games your family can play, such as Monopoly, Sorry, etc. They may also find entertainment in a handheld video game system, such as Sony's PSP or newer PS Vita, or Nintendo's DS and 3DS line. The battery on these devices will last at least a few hours if they are fully charged, and may be just what your child needs to get through the outage.

The Best Preparation For A Blackout

The ultimate way to stay prepared for a blackout is to not lose electricity. But how can you do that? You've seen portable generators like those used in RVs and on camping trips, but there are also companies who specialize in backup generators for household use, in case of power outages. How do you think places like banks, or police stations and hospitals are able to maintain power during outages?

While they are a more expensive route to take, they can be quite useful in case of emergencies. You wouldn't lose power to your refrigerator and have to worry about food, you can still use your electric stove to prepare food, and best of all, you don't lose lighting! Not only do you get to keep your necessities, you can also maintain the power to your computers, TVs, wireless network, and so on. So while they may not be for everyone, you can decide for yourself how much your power is worth to you in case of a blackout or other emergency situation.

Blackout Preparedness

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Actions To Take During A Blackout

The first thing you should do in case of a blackout when it is after dark, is to setup your sources of lighting. Put a candle in each room of the house, but make sure it is in a proper container and not around anything the can catch on fire. Also, make sure everyone is alright and nobody got hurt bumping into anything. You should also call any relatives nearby that may have been affected, to make sure everybody is doing alright and has the necessary supplies.

While some people will recommend to call the police department or electric company, I advise against it, because if the outage is affecting more than just your own house, their telephone lines will already be flooded with other callers who are wanting to know what happened.

I hate to take it to this scenario, but the facts show that in a mass power outage, crime rates go up while the power is out. Avoid going outside if you can, and while inside, make sure you have some sort of protection with you. This can be a weapon you are licensed to carry, or even a baseball bat or something similar. I would avoid going out driving at all, because it will be very dark with no street lights, leaving driver's vulnerable to vandalism or car theft, and leaving pedestrian's vulnerable of not being seen.

You may be able to check the news from a battery- or crank-operated radio, or your smart phone, but remember that if the power goes out, you have no way to charge your cell phone so use it wisely. Also, if you have a home wireless network, it will be down also so if you have a laptop, you won't have access to the internet unless you have a data card or hotspot with a cell phone service provider.

I know and admit that I was not prepared for our blackout here on California's central coast last night, but luckily it only lasted a couple hours. By the amount of people that were affected by it though, I would not have been surprised had it lasted longer than that.

The items shown in this article are not only helpful for blackouts, but will prove useful in case of any emergency or natural disaster situation. So ask yourself and think about it, how prepared are you for a lengthy power outage or any other disaster if one were to occur?

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    • eugbug profile image

      Eugene Brennan 4 years ago from Ireland

      Luckily where I live we almost never get blackouts. If power is being cut due to scheduled maintenance, we are notified by mail a couple of weeks in advance. On average once a year or maybe every two years, power may be cut for less than an hour if a fault occurs. The only item I would be worried about is the freezer, but power is never off more than about 4 or 5 hours so its never become an issue on how to power it.