Offgrid Preparation How to Prepare for a Long-Term Power Outage
Doctor Joe Alton discuses several methods of water purification,...
In This Article
This article was originally published in Issue 1 of our magazine.
Our society depends so much on electrical power. Every aspect of our homes and workplaces run on electricity. We expect that when we flip the switch, the lights turn on. But, what happens if they don’t? What if Mother Nature throws a massive tornado or a sudden blizzard at you? Or some other crisis breaks out? What about an EMP attack?
Time is the single biggest factor. What kind of time are we talking about? A few hours or possibly more than 30 days? The correct response is, it doesn’t matter. Depending on the event, there might not be a need to evacuate, but rather hunker down. It’s just a matter of how we prep our dwellings to deal with such an emergency.
Obviously, there will be different plans for different homes in different regions. So, there’s no “one size fits all” blackout plan. This is why it’s important to already have preparations in place. These preparations start with your basic needs: food, water, and the type of shelter you have. You’ll also need to consider heating and cooling, hygiene and sanitation, and first aid and medicines. You’ll need to plan how to meet these basic needs when you don’t have electricity and how you’ll modify your plans based on your type of residence.
H20 is one of the most important basic needs in any circumstance, so water storage must be part of your blackout plan. The first step is to know your source. How does your building or house receive its water? Do you have your own well, or are you connected to city water? Is it pumped or gravity-fed?
How much water do we need in a power outage? A common answer is at least 1 gallon a day. But, you’ll also need half a gallon to a gallon for cooking … and then there’s the issue of sanitation and hygiene. Now, let’s assume that the electricity has been cut for 30 days. That calls for quite a bit of water stored in your little apartment. So, what are some alternatives?
Get to know your surroundings. Does your building have an emergency backup generator system? How reliable is the system, and has it ever failed? If you live in a building that has more than two stories, then water can be obtained via gravity. Most buildings, by code, have one or more purge valves that enable the complete draining of the entire pipe infrastructure.
Next, get to know your neighbors. That community cooperative really plays a big part. Have the superintendent show the designated folks where the central drain valves are; normally they’re located in the basement at the lowest point. Drain all of the individual units by turning on the faucets, grab empty jugs or large pots, and head to the basement. By using gravity and reversing the flow, the building now has thousands of gallons of clean potable drinking water, which was previously trapped within the pipes.
Above: A tub-liner bag placed in a standard bathtub can be used to store almost 100 gallons of water.
If you have roof access to your building, you can implement natural rain catches with buckets, tarps, and so on. You can also purchase tub-liner bags. They are food-grade plastic and perfectly safe for holding water. You simply line the tub with this enormous plastic bag and, at the onset of a storm, but before SHTF, fill it with water. With the standard bathtub, you will get almost 100 gallons of water.
In colder climates, snow is another source of emergency water—but there is a process. Never eat snow. Melt it first. Why? First, eating snow will lower your core temperature, thus increasing the risk of hypothermia. Second, it will actually dehydrate you. The body will use twice as much water in the process of melting the snow to absorb it. So, don’t eat snow, especially not yellow snow—it’s not lemon flavor. Remember, just like any other rule of foraging, be mindful of the environment it came from and hope it’s free of any pollution or toxins.
Common sense tells us to keep nonperishable items around. Make sure what you’ve stored is quality. When you need to keep warm, proper caloric intake is crucial.
Another thing to keep in mind: What kind of stove do you have? Is it electric or gas? If it’s gas, you’re in good shape. Think about food that doesn’t require a stove. However, be mindful of these “survival” or “emergency” dehydrated foods. They usually have very large amounts of sodium. These types of MREs were originally designed for soldiers who needed to replenish electrolytes and calories expended under intense physical activity. This may not be ideal as a long-term sustainable food.
Above: For cooking, gas stoves will still work in the event of a power outage. However, since you’re dealing with gas, turning on the gas oven and stovetop to heat the apartment is not a good idea.
Next time you go shopping, buy at least one or two extra items that you know you will put aside for blackouts. This will help stretch out the workload in terms of your prepping.
If a power outage occurs during the wintertime, layered clothes will play a significant role. Silk and wool should become your best friends. Even when wet, they still provide insulation—unlike cotton, which can actually increase the chance of hypothermia when wet.
For example, the electricity in my apartment was out for more than two weeks. It was also in the dead of winter. So, I layered up as if I were outside camping. I started with 100-percent silk long underwear, a long-sleeve shirt, and bottoms. Next was a layer of 100-percent wool long underwear, wool socks, and a wool hat. Then, I continued with standard street clothes and a jacket.
If you have the ability to heat up water, sip on hot water. I like to add chunks of ginger to hot water. Ginger is a wonderful root that helps heat the core temperature. Stay away from caffeine. It dehydrates you, thus keeping you colder than necessary.
Another trick is making a secondary shelter within your home, like “playing fort” when you were a kid. Lean a mattress and box spring against each other like an A-frame tent. Take couch cushions and stuff the ends. Then layer all the blankets and comforters on top of everything. Make your shelter small and low, because it’ll trap your body heat and warm the air. For those people who live in cities, pay attention to the masters of urban survival: the homeless. Observe the way they make their shelters, the materials they used, and the manner in which they use those materials.
On the flip side, avoid dangerous techniques for keeping warm, such as turning your gas oven and stovetop on full blast to heat the apartment. It’s not a good idea, since you’re dealing with gas. Also, don’t light small fires inside of steel pots in the middle of your living room. Don’t laugh. People have done this—with tragic results.
Above: Pulling the shades down or putting up white sheets in front of the windows will help reflect the sun away from the interior.
Staying cool in the summer is just as important as staying warm in the winter. Once again, layering comes into play. While cotton can kill in the winter, it’s actually preferred in the summer because it helps keep your body cool. If needed, dispense with clothes all together and strip down to your birthday suit.
There are also little tricks you can try. Make a simple hand fan like the good old days, spritz yourself with water, and fan away. You can also rip up a bandana and soak it in cold water. Take the strips of the cloth and loosely tie it around your pulse points, around each ankle and wrist, and around the neck. Remember to tie it loosely.
Be sure to keep the sun out. Pull the shades down or put up white sheets in front of the windows. This will help reflect the sun away from the interior.
Tip: Don’t drink ice water to keep you cool. Like eating snow, the body will have to work twice as hard to heat the water up to absorb it. Instead, try one of my favorite recipes: Get room-temperature water from a countertop jug, then add slices of cucumber, freshly squeezed lemon, and crushed mint.
When it comes to hygiene, nothing changes. Keep yourself clean, as you always do. Just be mindful about the amount of water that you’re using. Some people resort to conserving by giving themselves the old sponge bath or go without it for a few days.
Sanitation is also an essential factor, when dealing with water. If you have a standard toilet with a water tank, then this isn’t so bad at all. However, you may have to alter the practice a little bit. An old phrase goes like this, “If it’s pee, then let it be.” If you have to do No. 2, then put water in the back tank, do your business, and then flush.
It goes without saying that you should have a first aid kit, your prescriptions, and things like eye glasses stored safely in your home. But, what about others? Another important reason to know your neighbors is for the simple support system that can help during a crisis like this. Are you aware of the elderly in the building? How about the disabled folks who can’t leave without the use of an elevator? How many folks need medical attention or prescriptions?
It’s up to their neighbors to bring back extra food, water, resources, and medicines to those who can’t leave their homes. I have known cases where people have left the building, removed their car batteries, and brought them in to help power medical machines.
Just because the power’s out doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Thanks to modern technology, we now have things called generators—solar generators and kinetic chargers.
There are multi-fuel portable generators, standard gasoline generators, and diesel generators. Regardless of the fuel, these types of machines are to be used outdoors. You have the option of running the cord from the generator into the house and plugging in the refrigerator and a couple other essential items. However, if you own a home and if it’s feasible, get a professional to hardwire an appropriate generator for your home. Do the research, find a pro, and do it right.
Portable generators such as the Yamaha EF6300iSDE are created for quiet back-up power. Designed as a backup energy source for homes, the EF6300iSDE has dual 120/240 volt output and is powerful enough to run most residential well pumps. It can power a freezer and electric water heater for more than 10.5 hours, depending on load, on a single tank of gas. Portable generators are a practical tool for possible power outages due to ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other infrastructure failures.
Yamaha EF6300iSDE Specs
Maximum AC Output
Rated AC Output
13.3 hrs at 1⁄4 rated load
58 ~ 64 dBA
30.7L x 24.3W x 27.2H in
Solar panels have come a long way. If you’re a homeowner, you can install these things on the roof. If you live in a high-rise, consider small portable panels with large-capacity backup batteries, which make for a great alternative. Some of these devices allow you to charge your laptops and cell phones while powering your refrigerator. These types of devices come in all shapes and sizes. Again, do the research and determine the best unit for your needs.
Finally, I want to share with you a little idea I call “community crisis connecting.” If you’re like me, you’ll stop for anyone who might need help; that’s just how I roll. But, what about your neighbors? Are they prepared to help? As mentioned, having a group, neighborhood, or building collective can be an effective force for good.
Does your community have an emergency plan? If so, what kind? How often do you guys get together and discuss or practice it? Is there a doctor around? Do you have first aid and CPR training? Why would it matter during a blackout?
Above: Having a group, neighborhood, or building collective can be an effective force for good. Get together on a regular basis to discuss or practice an emergency plan.
The more people in your community, the higher the chance of people needing help in an emergency. But, it’s better to know these things than not, no matter the situation. If you’re set up with all of your preparations, then during a blackout, you’ll have more time to help others. This is what it means to have a community. A real community. Make a plan.
Just because we build homes, bridges, and infrastructure doesn’t mean that Mother Nature is going to comply with our designs. She is going to do what she has done for thousands and thousands of years. So, get over it and make the best of the situation.
RECOIL OFFGRID Tidbit: The biggest blackout in U.S. history happened on August 14, 2003, when more than 50 million people over a span of eight States and a Canadian Province were affected by a poorly maintained electrical system. Blackouts can happen at any time. Be prepared.
For more tips, see FEMA’s website at www.ready.gov.