How to Prepare for a Power Outage [The Definitive Guide]
by Lorenzo Poe
Survival seems to be the current hot topic. Everywhere you look self-proclaimed experts are willing to tell you all you need to survive the upcoming apocalypse of whatever scenario they can imagine. Most of their tips are tied to more and better equipment.
I do think that it is important to prepare for the future, but knowing what to prepare for and how to start are always tricky. I am no fortune-teller just an old country boy who has been around several blocks in my day. I grew up in an area often hit by hurricanes and lived through one of the most active periods on record. While serving in the US Army I lived in the northeast through several winters. I have slept out in tents in 10-degree weather, in tents in 110-degree weather, sandstorms, lightning storms and some disasters of a man-made nature.
I grew up in a rural area as the son of parents who lived through the Great Depression. As such we already lived to maximize the things that we had but whenever a storm approached we had certain things that we had to do in case of power loss. Hopefully, you will find this plan an easy way to prepare.
Most survival guides try to talk you through surviving major apocalyptic events from financial system meltdown to electromagnetic pulse. This guide will attempt to help you make a plan for any disaster you may face.
The most common scenario most of us will face is a 3-day local power disruption.
Whenever there is an indication that something could disrupt power don’t just run out to buy milk and bread. There are several things that you can do at home to help you prepare and make your life better.
I tend to use ‘Hurricane’ as the general cause of short-term power outages but this can be adapted to any anticipated event of short-term duration.
Secure an adequate water supply
You will need a gallon of water per person per day. This is as easy as buying a case of water per person sheltering with you. This is drinking water only for people who are not performing manual labor. Persons performing manual labor will need 1-2 quarts of water per hour in the heat and 1 quart per hour in the cold. This is just water for drinking only; it does not take into account water for cooking or personal hygiene.
Fill your bathtub with water. This water will be used to flush the toilet. Conserve water by flushing only when necessary. Remember “yellow let it mellow, brown flush it down”.
Toilets in America are flushed by siphon. The goose-neck in the toilet keeps gas and odor from coming into the house. Pouring water into the toilet bowl raises the level of the water above the goose-neck and will cause a siphon action to drain the bowl.
You can understand how the siphon works by trying two experiments with your toilet. First, take a cup of water and pour it into the bowl. You will find that almost nothing happens. What’s even more interesting is that you can pour multiple cups of water into a toilet bowl, one at a time, and still, nothing will happen.
That is, no matter how many cups of water you pour in, the level of the water in the bowl never rises. When you pour the cup of water in, the water level in the bowl rises, but the extra water immediately spills over the edge of the siphon tube and drains away.
Now, take a bucket of water and pour it into the bowl. You will find that pouring in a certain amount of water at the precise speed causes the bowl to flush. That is, almost all of the water is sucked out of the bowl, and the bowl makes the recognizable “flush” sound and all of the water goes down the pipe.
What’s happened is this: You’ve poured enough water into the bowl fast enough to fill the siphon tube. And once the tube was filled, the rest was automatic. The siphon sucked the water out of the bowl and down the pipe. As soon as the bowl emptied, air entered the siphon tube, producing that distinctive flushing sound and stopping the siphoning action.
You can see that even with water service cut off you could still flush your toilet. All you need is a bucket containing a couple of gallons of water. It is not an exact science and you should practice prior to any event so you can do it with a minimum of water and maximum of achievement.
Use care because a spill from the toilet onto the floor will waste more water for a necessary clean-up. (Father Fenton, our priest in Afghanistan, lived through Hurricane Katrina just north of Biloxi, Mississippi and told us how several retired priests moved in with him because his house was still habitable.
As luck would have it, his small inflatable pool survived and was available to furnish water for toilet flushing. He said that his home suffered more water damage from errant flushing than from the storm.)
And yes you could simply remove the cover of the tank and pour the water into the tank so that you can use the toilet like normal. There are two reasons I recommend not doing that. First, the cover of your toilet is fragile and can be broken very easily and second, water conservation. Everyone’s instinct will be to automatically flush when finished.
Worse than a ‘slop’ over’ from an over-enthusiastic flush, will be a drain clog. Paper products should not be put in the toilet but into a plastic garbage bag for disposal.
Hand cleansing should be accomplished with hand sanitizer.
Fill plastic bottles with tap water and cram them into your freezer. The more full your freezer is the longer it will stay cold. Block ice will also last longer than cubed ice in an ice chest. A stand alone freezer will keep food frozen for up to 3 days if you leave the door closed. A freezer compartment above your refrigerator will not last that long. Avoid opening the door as long as you can.
After thawing, these bottles of water will be available for drinking.
Gather your food supplies
Once a Hurricane Warning has been issued, its time to prepare your food. Any food items in your refrigerator needing cooking should be cooked now and returned to the refrigerator or placed in an ice chest. Boil your eggs, bake your potatoes, fry your steak.
Leftovers that are in your refrigerator can be placed in an ice chest with ice so that you can keep your refrigerator closed.
The ideal food for short duration power outages are foods that take little or no preparation. Peanut butter sandwiches, spam, deviled ham, and other canned items that are tasty cold straight from the can. And that is how they should be eaten, straight from the can without a plate or bowl.
Water conservation is still the key so avoid dirtying anything that needs washing. Spoons and forks can be licked clean and wiped off then washed later. You could use paper plates and bowls with disposable utensils but chances are that your garbage service will be off schedule so try to minimize your waste.
Providing three meals a day for even short durations will not give you a large variety to choose from when picking foods that can be eaten cold, straight from the can but by adding seasoning and small snacks such as trail mixes and cans of fruit they don’t have to be unpleasant.
As an alternative, military-style meals, MREs, have a device that heats the meals by simply adding water to a heater pack. These meals can be expensive, have a shelf life that is limited to a few years and in my personal opinion, the main meal portions taste terrible cold.
When you know in advance that a storm/event will likely put you out of power, wash all your dirty underwear. Clothes can and should be worn more than once in these situations but for health and well being change your underwear daily when possible.
The proper clothing for a short duration power outage will simply be your normal seasonal clothing. Keep in mind that in any season you may be spending more time outside so add a season-appropriate hat and sunscreen to your normal wear. Winter or summer you will need Chapstick, Blistex, something. (see Poo Poo Broussard on youtube)
Make sure that you have good quality rain gear including boots for all members of the family.
There are gloves for all purposes and all purpose gloves. My personal choice is leather working gloves for general work, welder’s gloves for work around a fire and good quality wool inserts for my leather gloves for winter work.
A shelter is key to survival
In most cases during power disruptions of short duration, the best choice is to shelter in place. This can be comfortably accomplished in any season with a little planning.
If your power-out event occurs in the summer opening all the windows and doors of your home that have screens will get you by in the same comfort our ancestors had. An alternative would be to set up a screen tent or canopy in the backyard. I also keep several different sprays that kill mosquitoes as well as the Deet types that repel them.
Winter events can likewise be handled by moving everyone into a single room, sealing it from all drafts, and setting up a tent. Insulate the tent floor with blankets and additional blankets can cover the top and sides of the tent. Good quality sleeping bags and comforters can keep you warm to zero degrees. Sharing a sleeping bag or comforter can increase the body heat available to warm the sleeping bag/comforter.
Do not use open flames in or near a tent. A good quality lantern/ oil lamp kept lit while everyone is awake can help warm a small, draft-free room but warm foods, high in calories can warm you from the inside. If you do use a lantern/oil lamp be sure to have a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector.
The trick to sleeping warm in winter is to use the bathroom prior to climbing in your sleeping bag, eating a small, high-calorie snack and dressing correctly.
The correct way to dress for sleeping in a sleeping bag is to strip down to shorts and a t-shirt. Sleeping bags are warmed by body heat. Clothes such as sweats or pajamas trap your body heat close to your body and don’t allow your sleeping bag to function as designed.
Additional things to help are, pick a temperature appropriate bag, wear a knit cap, cover your face with a towel or t-shirt and do not exhale into your sleeping bag. If your feet do not reach the bottom of your sleeping bag, fold the bottom under so you don’t heat that portion of the bag.
Wear warm socks if you suffer from cold feet. I have a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and a clean pair of socks that I keep in my bag. I put them on just before getting into my bag at nights.
Clean clothes and a clean sleeping bag are warmer than dirty ones. A sleeping bag liner can add up to 15* of warmth to your bag. Simply adding a sheet or insulating the bag from the ground can add another 10*. For additional warmth, place a wool blanket or comforter on top of your sleeping bag.
Three to five-day disruptions of power are not insurmountable challenges. With a little planning and almost no skill, anyone can do it. Plan and prepare so that you can do it with as much comfort as possible.