Offgrid Survival What If You’re Caught in an Indefinite Blackout?
What would you do if youâre suddenly thrust into a situation...
In This Article
As world leaders continue to scratch their heads about the best way forward and activists demand immediate solutions to very complex societal issues, we can easily expect more knee-jerk political responses to future disasters. The collateral damage caused by legislation that’s lacking in forethought and scientific evidence only serves to complicate and aggravate an existing situation. Those of you who’ve been hit hard financially by punitive COVID-19 mandates know far too well what we’re talking about. Why wouldn’t that same haphazard approach be applied again to other areas where the government needs to “do something” instantly to solve a problem? After all, the salary, safety, and living conditions of those who create these laws always manages to remain unaffected.
So, let’s turn our attention to what the future might look like when it comes to energy conservation and increasing pressure to heavily limit industries powered by fossil fuels. The whisper campaign has already begun about various industries going completely “green” by a certain date, along with bans on gas-powered vehicles in major cities, and delusions that the country’s fossil fuel infrastructure could be completely overhauled within a decade or two. Ask yourself how authoritarian sanctions and mandated rationing could create a domino effect of other problems that impact daily life in an average American city. Today, we take a look at how the power supply might possibly be affected by heavy-handed restrictions to life as we know it.
Situation Type: At Home
Your Crew: You, Your Spouse, and Your Children
Location: Witchita, Kansas
Weather: Snowy; High of 28 Degrees F, Low of 8 Degrees F.
The Setup: Due to unmitigated population growth and growing concerns about global climate change, the U.S. government has recently started mandating rolling blackouts for all fossil fuel-based energy providers. Politicians claim this will reduce America’s environmental footprint and motivate utility companies to immediately invest in renewable, “green” energy sources. These blackouts are common during hotter months; sometimes they last a few hours, other times they last for days. They’re supposed to happen according to schedules posted on local municipal websites, but they’re rarely accurate, consistent, and predictable enough to prepare for with any advanced notice. And if your home doesn’t use natural gas, you’ve got one less alternative to depend on. The bottom line is, this new form of energy conservation is going to continue for the foreseeable future, since politicians’ pie-in-the-sky green energy plans will take time to implement (if they ever get implemented).
These blackouts are primarily focused on high-density living areas and major cities, but also affect the outlying suburbs. Because of complaints regarding noise and pollution, codes have also been passed to limit the hours in which gas-operated generators can be used. This has put many in the precarious situation of having to modify their home’s existing solar power system to supply as much juice to the house as long as possible. Others who have no such setup simply must go without power altogether.
The Complication: This has created the collateral damage of increasing civil unrest. Everything from petty theft to violent home invasions during blackout hours has skyrocketed. Fuel theft from parked cars has become common. Hospital admissions for temperature-related health conditions have also increased. Even water pressure has dropped in many areas as a side effect of the blackouts. There’s increasing demand for canned and sustainable food, since refrigeration is a luxury. For this What If?, how do you adapt your lifestyle to these conditions and consider things like food storage, health, self-defense, communications, and powering modern conveniences without a reliable supply of electricity? We asked survival advocate Rogue and former U.S. Army scout/sniper Alexander Crown to weigh in on the situation.
It’s not surprising that the government is holding our electricity hostage. Electricity has been relied upon for less than 100 years, but it’s become something people don’t know how to live without. Most people think they can handle being without power for a few hours. A day, at the most. More than that and people start to get cranky, restless, and potentially violent, especially when they’re without modern conveniences such as the internet or a cold beer.
We learned long ago not to rely on a third-party source for our needs, and this includes our electricity needs. We invested in a full solar power setup, one that isn’t connected to the power company at all. We have our own panels, batteries, charger, and inverter. As long as we keep it maintained, it can power all of our needs. Our most important needs are hot water, freezer, and fridge. We have energy-efficient lights, but in general, lighting can come from a variety of sources including candles and oil lamps.
During a blackout, however, we wouldn’t want to be particularly noticed among the neighbors to have a house full of lights, so we’d stick to candles, flashlights, and oil lamps to visibly match the rest of the neighborhood. Just because we have the capability to turn on every light in our house, doesn’t mean we should, as that would make us a target during a blackout. Sure, people can see that we have solar panels on our home, but we’re not the only ones in the neighborhood with solar, and they can’t be sure how much energy our panels actually produce.
Our solar setup allows us to keep our communication devices charged, including phones and ham radios. Cell reception wouldn’t immediately go down when there’s åbe overloaded with more usage than normal, as everyone is trying to communicate with loved ones. In general, we try to keep transmission at a minimum and listen the best that we can, only transmitting when we absolutely have to.
Ham radio is our main source for intel. We can listen and transmit as needed. Keeping the phone charged is mostly for emergency calls or texts, or to watch any downloaded movies or play offline games when we have time for that luxury.
We’ve been storing food and water for just such instances. We have months’ worth of food to keep us afloat. Storing food for blackout purposes is important because it may not be safe to go out for a variety of reasons. The supply chain may be slowed because trucks may be unable to reach stores due to unrest, and grocery stores may not have a good backup energy supply — they only hold about three days’ worth of groceries at a time anyway. In addition, there may be chaos and stores being ransacked.
While water may be running for a short time when the power goes out, over time it could run out of pressure and eventually stop. This is one of the main reasons to store water. If you’re not on an alternative energy source such as solar, wind, or even hydro, when the lights go out, fill up every container that you can find with water. That includes sinks and bathtubs. Water can also be sourced from a water heater; depending on your home’s size, you could have 50 to 80 gallons worth of water just sitting there. If you flush your water heater yearly, as is recommended, the water should be reasonably clean.
Leaving your home to get water isn’t ideal. Once you leave your home for any reason, especially during times of unrest such as rolling blackouts when people are agitated, you put yourself at greater risk than if you were to stay home. We store as much water as possible. We even have a rain catchment system setup. If we ever did have to leave for water, we know where the nearest water sources are, and could acquire a little at a time (a backpack’s worth) to not draw attention to ourselves.
Getting to know your neighbors and general neighborhood could be an asset. You never have to mention that you’re a prepper, but everyone could help to maintain a sense of community, and help each other out through various means, including security. We have created strong relationships with our neighbors and we rely on each other regularly. We’d certainly do so during a crisis.
Our children are probably the least affected by blackouts as they enjoy playing by flashlight or candlelight. It also provides a lot of quality time playing board games and generally being together. They still get to play with their toys and watch any movies that we’ve downloaded on their iPads.
Since it’s winter, heat is our biggest concern. While most people in my area have a fireplace or woodstove, we still have to be aware of its usage. If other people in the neighborhood aren’t able to use their fireplace or woodstove because they are low on resources, we wouldn’t want to be the only ones advertising that we have heat. In addition to our fireplace, we have a buddy heater. It runs on propane, but we’ve planned for this. During the day, we stay bundled up. At night, we congregate in one room where we all sleep. This way we can heat that one room instead of the whole house. In addition, we use our zero-degree bags to keep us extra toasty, so we don’t have to have the heat on 24/7, which helps to manage our resources better.
While all of this is well and good, there’s still unrest. People are feeling wronged by these rolling blackouts, and for good reason. Eventually, those who are unprepared will turn to anyone who they think might have more than they have. Even if you do everything right by keeping quiet and blending in with the rest of the neighborhood, you could still become a target. Anyone can become a target at any time for any reason.
We make ourselves a hard target. If someone wants to come after us for our goods or lives, we aren’t going to make it easy on them. We have fortified our home with battery-powered cameras and a kick plate on the main door, covered all windows and screen door with blackout curtains, and installed security bars on windows and the screen door. We also have two dogs that are great alarms for any disturbances in the force.
If the crisis continues on for an extended period of time and we feel we may run out of food within a month or so, we’ll start to grow small bits of food in containers — microgreens and sprouts. We wouldn’t wait until our food is gone to start acquiring more food. If we have some space that can be hidden from spying eyes, we might grow out into the yard as well. We’d catch squirrels and other small game with traps or a .22 rifle. I may even start collecting bugs and fry them up, depending on the scenario.
Blackouts seem harmless, and we all expect the lights to flicker back on any minute, any hour, any day. However, when someone else is in control of your needs, whether it’s energy or food or whatever, they have full control over how you live. Don’t allow them to have that kind of control. If you’re prepared for an extended blackout, then you’re prepared for almost anything that comes your way.
Winter weather conditions present many obstacles on a normal day, let alone during times of civil unrest and blackouts. Preparation for winter should start in spring where lessons learned can be immediately applied. My approach to this scenario will come from my current situation in Boise, Idaho. Boise and Wichita share similar weather and population sizes.
This is a multi-phase approach to address different aspects of this scenario. First, winter preparations in general. Take advantage of the warm summer months that are great for growing your own food or frequenting local farmers’ markets, and ready that food for canning and other forms of preservation. My family takes the “half” approach when harvesting our summer bounty — we eat half of the fresh foods, and the other half gets preserved. This helps stock up the pantry while also nourishing us. Incorporating food storage into your weekly or monthly grocery bill will also help you store the basics in larger quantities. Ten to 20 bucks can buy a lot of dried beans, canned goods, or pastas. Focusing on high-carbohydrate, high-fat, and protein-rich foods will help give your body what it needs when the temperature drops. Try to buy things you and your family eat regularly, and provide variety. Don’t forget things like spices, condiments, sweeteners, and supplements like vitamins and protein powder. Most people will develop a small vitamin D deficiency in winter due to less exposure to sunlight. Supplements can help strengthen your immune system in preparation for winter colds and flus. Build a one-winter supply of food as quickly as you can, and store it in the pantry or a closet, away from light, moisture, and prying eyes.
Food preparation also includes water storage. Water should be rotated every six or so months unless treated with a water storage chemical. Having different-sized water storage containers ensures it can be taken around the house as needed. Our approach is a 50-gallon rainwater collection barrel, a 15-gallon storage barrel, two 5-gallon jugs, and numerous recycled 2-liter soda bottles. The trickle-down approach (pun intended) is that the larger containers can be used to fill the smaller ones, making the water more portable. Be sure to have at least two methods of water treatment available and know how to use them safely and efficiently. This can be any combination of bleach, a Berkey, gravity filtration, droplets, tablets, or hand pumps. The market offers plenty of choices to fit your budget and needs.
This is also a good time to get to know your neighbors, if you don’t already. If civil unrest breaks out, you’ll all have a common goal: to keep your families and properties safe. If appropriate, organize a neighborhood watch, and identify weak points in your security and in the neighborhood in general. Find out who else gardens or hunts and be prepared to exchange supplies as needed. You cannot survive alone, so building these relationships early is paramount. If riots or similar forms of mass chaos have happened in your area, study those events to learn what the enemy’s methods were. You may be able to counteract this before it happens in your neighborhood. Are your neighbors armed or viciously anti-gun? Maybe they’re somewhere in between. Just knowing these things will help you know how to deal with these people in a time of need. Encouraging them to have their own food and water storage preparations will help them not become a real problem when you need it the least.
For blackouts of an undetermined amount of time, having multiple sources of electricity and heat are key. Prepare your home by checking the windows and doors for gaps where cold air can come in. Also, check that all locks are working, and deadbolts have at least 2-inch screws securing them. Be sure pipes and spigots are insulated before first freeze.
Energy sources in the form of generators are great if you can keep fuel on hand. The noise ordnance limits when you can use them, but it’s still a good idea to have one. Gas generators are common, and gasoline can be stored with Sta-bil. A propane generator may also fit the bill since propane has a long shelf life. Have the necessary fittings to use your propane supply with your grill or a small camping stove. The ability to boil water will help with cleaning, food prep, and even getting ready for bedtime by putting a bottle of hot water under your covers. Generators can be wired into the home to power specific areas, such as the refrigerator or deep freezer. Keeping these appliances fuller will help them maintain temperature. These generators could also be used to power a small heater, but only during the times you can run them. With any of these options, be sure you have fire extinguishers nearby and check that they are full.
The obvious choice here is to have a solar energy option. The Renogy 200-Watt 12 Volt Solar Premium Kit will run you less than a Glock 19 and can be used to charge deep-cycle batteries that can then power small appliances, all while being silent. Affixing the two 100-watt panels to plywood stands will allow you to bring them inside at night and turn them as needed for maximum sun exposure. Smaller solar panels can be used to charge cell phones, tablets, and ham radio for communications and entertainment. Solar banks can also help charge your 18- or 20-volt tool batteries.
Clean up your garage so you can park inside to limit unwanted access to your vehicles. If a garage isn’t present, look for alternate solutions. Can you park in your backyard or pull your car up close to your home? Don’t keep anything valuable in your vehicle if it cannot be secured. Organizing your space will also help you stay sane while looking for any items you may need. If possible, keep hand tools available and also any nuts, bolts, and screws for repair jobs.
Night temperatures will drop, so designating a sleep area can help keep everyone warm. Create a smaller space within your home using mattresses and blankets. Don’t completely seal yourself off so you have proper ventilation. A heated blanket plugged into your solar-charged battery will make everyone more comfortable going to sleep. Having individual, below zero-rated sleeping bags will also aid in a good night’s sleep. Keeping everyone together or at least close by helps with security. If the threat is particularly bad, establish a communications plan with the neighbors and alternate night watch. Be sure everyone has access to a flashlight or headlamp.
Solar power is your friend in this situation. Modern panels can still be somewhat effective even during cloudy days; they’re silent and can be moved as needed. Using different-sized panels and having small batteries will help you rotate out power supplies as needed. Multiple options are, of course, also important — the old “two is one” mantra. Propane and gas are good options, but the noise and mandated use times can be problematic. Establish priorities for your family’s needs. Lifesaving machines like oxygen, CPAPs, or medicines that require temperature control must be factored into your preparations. To minimize energy needs in other areas, have candles on hand, a backyard firepit with extra wood, and alternatives to power for lighting and cooking.
Without any knowledge of when power will be restored, the best you can do is to have as much supply on hand and limit your power needs to the most necessary items. Gas and propane will eventually run out, making solar even more important. Food will run scarce, especially if local infrastructure is failing. Identify nearest resupply areas, grocery stores, and even convenience stores. Be physically prepared to walk to these locations in inclement weather for resupplies you’ll carry on your back. Have a portable solar or hand-crank radio — local radio stations may be airing important updates, and music will help with morale. If you’re a HAM operator, be sure you have identified repeaters in your area and any local HAM clubs that may have updates from other areas. This communications method has been proven in recent catastrophes. Even if you don’t have a license, have a radio programmed that’ll let you listen in and get updates.
This event is only one of the many possibilities you should be prepared for. Having long-term food/water storage established will give you a greater edge in this event and limit your stress. Preparing your children for a no-electronics life may be one of the more difficult aspects here. Have entertainment ready and on standby to keep you all sane. Crayons, coloring books, board games, and other small toys will help them cope. Making them part of the process will keep them involved and let them feel like they’re helping. Make sure hygiene isn’t neglected either — keep extra toothpaste and brushes as well as soap. Does your wife have sanitation supplies to last six months or longer? Your water isn’t just for drinking either, so prioritize it. Will you be able to melt snow for cleaning and cooking or get water from a nearby stream or river? Practice these things ahead of time so you’re ready for a blackout that may last a day or much longer. Preparedness can be an exercise in your own imagination, so think about obstacles ahead of time in order to overcome them when they rear their ugly heads.
When it comes to political pandering in response to hot-button topics, usually the legislation put into effect has more to do with someone taking credit for reacting quickly than it does with actually solving problems. Could the aforementioned situation become a reality? Over 2.5-million homes were without power recently in Texas due to excessive cold, causing demand to greatly exceed generating capacity. If electricity is easily disrupted by weather, it can certainly be disrupted by other factors. With a little planning, a level-headed approach, and the right supplies on hand, you’ll be in a much better place to deal with a situation like this when there’s a run on food, the lights you take for granted don’t work, and toilet paper is once again a luxury item.
Alexander Crown is a former U.S. Army Paratrooper who spent time in a scout/sniper platoon in OIF. He has extensive experience in firearms, particularly silencers. Alexander spends his time exploring Idaho hunting, fishing, and camping. He’s a lifelong practitioner of preparedness emphasizing self-reliance and organic gardening. Alexander is also a regular contributor to RECOIL and RECOIL OFFGRID.
Morgan “Rogue” lives on 40 acres of land with her husband, two daughters, two dogs, cats, and chickens. She’s the owner and founder of Rogue Preparedness, a website dedicated to emergency preparedness and survival skills. Visit her at roguepreparedness.com.