If you’re new to preparedness, you may be reading some of the excellent and informative websites out there and feeling quite quite overwhelmed. While many sites recommend a one year supply of food, manual tools, and a bug out lodge in the forest, it’s vital to realize that is a long-term goal, not a starting point.
A great starting point for someone who is just getting started on a preparedness journey is prepping specifically for a two-week power outage. If you can comfortably survive for two weeks without electricity, you will be in a far better position than most of the people in North America.
Even if you aren’t convinced that hardcore preparedness is for you, it would still be difficult to argue against the possibility of a disaster lasting for a couple of weeks. Major natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy down to lesser (but still damaging) weather events like the derecho in the Metro DC area are incontestable – storms happen and all you can do is be ready to weather them. As well, shortages are a concern. A couple of years back, a large western US power company recently announced that they did not foresee the ability to keep up with electrical demand and were considering instituting rolling blackouts to cope with it. But here’s the best part: if you are prepared for two weeks without power, you are prepared for a wide range of short-term emergencies, including quarantines, interruptions of income, or civil unrest.
But here’s the best part: if you are prepared for two weeks without power, you are prepared for a wide range of short-term emergencies, including quarantines, interruptions of income, or civil unrest.
To prepare for a two-week emergency, think about what you would need if the power went out and you couldn’t leave your home for 14 days. Once you begin creating your plan, you may be surprised and discover that you already have most of what you need to batten down the hatches for a couple of weeks. It’s just a matter of organizing it so you can see what you need.
Use the following information to create your personal 2-week preparedness plan. Modify the suggestions to adapt them to your particular home, family, and climate.
Everyone knows that clean drinking water is something you can’t live without. In the event of a disaster, the water may not run from the taps, and if it does, it might not be safe to drink, depending on the situation. If there is a boil order in place, remember that if the power is out, boiling your water may not be as easy as turning on your stove.
Each family should store a two week supply of water. The rule of thumb for drinking water is 1 gallon per day, per person. Don’t forget to stock water for your pets, also.
You can create your water supply very inexpensively. Many people use clean 2-liter soda pop bottles to store tap water. Others purchase the large 5-gallon jugs of filtered water from the grocery store and use them with a top-loading water dispenser. Consider a gravity fed water filtration device and water purification tablets as well.
There are two schools of thought regarding food during a power outage. One: you need a cooking method that does not require the grid to be functioning. Two: you can store food that doesn’t require cooking.
If you opt for a secondary cooking method, be sure that you have enough fuel for two weeks. Store foods that do not require long cooking times – for example, dried beans would use a great deal of fuel, but canned beans could be warmed up, or even eaten cold.
If your power outage takes place in the winter and you live in a colder climate, heat is another necessity. During the first 24 hours after a power outage, you can stay fairly warm if you block off one room of the house for everyone to group together in. Keep the door closed and keep a towel or blanket folded along the bottom of the door to conserve warmth. You can safely burn a couple of candles also, and in the enclosed space, your body heat will keep it relatively warm. As well, dress in layers and keep everything covered – wear a hat, gloves (fingerless ones allow you to still function), and a scarf.
However, after about 48 hours, that’s not going to be enough in very cold weather. You will require backup heat at this point in certain climates. If you’re lucky enough to have a source of heat like a fireplace or woodstove, you’ll be just fine as long as you have a supply of wood.
Consider a portable propane heater (and propane) or an oil heater. You have to be very careful choosing the type of backup heat you plan on using, as many of them can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used in a poorly ventilated area. Also, invest in a CO2 alarm that is not grid-dependent.
A common cause of illness, and even death, during a down-grid situation is lack of sanitation. We’ve discussed the importance of clean drinking water, but you won’t want to use your drinking water to keep things clean or to flush the toilet.
For cleaning, reduce your need to wash things. Stock up on paper plates, paper towels, and disposable cups and flatware. Keep some disinfecting cleaning wipes and sprays (I don’t recommend using antibacterial products on a regular basis, however in the event of an emergency they can help to keep you healthy.) Use hand sanitizer after using the bathroom and before handing food or beverages – there may be a lot more germs afoot in a disaster.
Look at your options for sanitation. Does your toilet still flush when the electricity is out? Many people discovered the hard way that the toilets didn’t work when the sewage backed up in the highrises in New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. At our cabin, the toilet won’t flush without power because the pump is electric.
If you are on a septic system, with no risk of the toilet backing up into the house, simply store some water for flushing in the bathroom. (At the first sign of a storm, we always fill the bathtub for this purpose.) Add the water to the tank so that you can flush.
If this is not an option, another solution is to stock up on extremely heavy duty garbage bags (like the kind that contractors use at construction sites) and kitty litter. Place a bag either in your drained toilet or in a bucket. Sprinkle some kitty litter in the bottom of the bag. Each time someone uses the bathroom, add another handful of litter. Be very careful that the bag doesn’t get too heavy for you to handle it. Tie it up very securely and store it outside until services are restored.
Lighting is absolutely vital, especially if there are children in the house. Nothing is more frightening than being completely in the dark during a stressful situation. Fortunately, it’s one of the easiest things to plan for, as well as one of the least expensive.
Some lighting solutions are:
Some basic items will make your life much easier during an emergency. Here are some things that are essential in the event of a power outage:
It’s important to have a basic first aid kit on hand at all times, but particularly in the event of an emergency. Your kit should include basic wound care items like bandages, antibiotic ointments, and sprays. As well, if you use them, keep on hand a supply of basic over-the-counter medications, like pain relief capsules, cold medicine, cough syrup, anti-nausea pills, and allergy medication. Particularly important if sanitation is a problem are anti-diarrheal medications.
This is something that will be unique to every family. Consider the things that are needed on a daily basis in your household. It might be prescription medications, diapers, or special foods. If you have pets, you’ll need supplies for them too. The best way to figure out what you need is to jot things down as you use them over the course of a week or so.
You can start right now – this very minute – all you have to do is grab a pad of paper and a pen.
The peace of mind that comes from being prepared for a disaster before it happens cannot be measured. You won’t have to fight the crowds or be faced with empty store shelves. You won’t have to sit there, cold and miserable, in the dark. You won’t be hungry or thirsty. You will be able to face the event with the serenity that readiness brings, and this will also make it less traumatic for your children when they see that you aren’t afraid.
Looking for a fun way to spend the hottest week of the summer thus far?
I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that spending it without a working refrigerator is NOT it.
Last Wednesday I was out for the day. I got home and opened the fridge and grabbed a drink. I though, “Hmm….that isn’t very cold.”
And indeed it was not, because my refrigerator had stopped working properly sometime earlier that day. Because of the 4th of July weekend, I wasn’t able to get anyone to come and repair it until Monday. Then, after it was diagnosed, a part had to be ordered which will not arrive until tomorrow. So there you have it…a solid week in 90+ weather with no fridge.
In a power outage situation, this is not an unlikely scenario at all. So in the spirit of making this a “chance-to-practice-preps” experience instead of a “dad-gum-it- I-had-to-throw-out-a-bunch-of-groceries” experience, here’s what I learned.
I was absolutely loathe to throw away groceries, but after having a recent bout of food poisoning after a dinner out, I wasn’t will to take any chances. The dog thoroughly enjoyed her bowl of roast beef with potatoes and carrots though.
FoodSafety.gov offers these guidelines:
Is food in the refrigerator safe during a power outage? It should be safe as long as power is out no more than 4 hours. Keep the door closed as much as possible. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 40 °F for over 2 hours.
Never taste food to determine its safety! You can’t rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe.
Note: Always discard any items in the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
You will have to evaluate each item separately. Use this chart as a guide.
Food Categories Specific Foods Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes Discard Thawing meat or poultry Discard Salads: Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken, or egg salad Discard Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard Pizza – with any topping Discard Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Discard Canned meats and fish, opened Discard Casseroles, soups, stews Discard CHEESE Soft Cheeses: blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco Discard Hard Cheeses: Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Safe Processed Cheeses Safe Shredded Cheeses Discard Low-fat Cheeses Discard Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar) Safe DAIRY Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk Discard Butter, margarine Safe Baby formula, opened Discard EGGS Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard Custards and puddings, quiche Discard FRUITS Fresh fruits, cut Discard Fruit juices, opened Safe Canned fruits, opened Safe Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs. Peanut butter Safe Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, hoisin sauces Safe Fish sauces, oyster sauce Discard Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe Opened creamy-based dressings Discard Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas Safe Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough Discard Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard Fresh pasta Discard Cheesecake Discard Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe PIES, PASTRY Pastries, cream filled Discard Pies – custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche Discard Pies, fruit Safe VEGETABLES Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices Safe Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard Vegetables, raw Safe Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard Vegetable juice, opened Discard Baked potatoes Discard Commercial garlic in oil Discard Potato salad Discard Casseroles, soups, stews
The one guideline I felt comfortable not following was the eggs. Mine came straight from the chicken that day, and since they could have been sitting under a hen for another 10-12 hours, I was willing to take the risk. The rest of the items had to go, unfortunately.
Had I been home and realized there was a problem in time, I would have immediately canned, cooked, or otherwise preserved the food in my refrigerator.
Since this is not an area-wide power outage, I have access to ice. The freezer works somewhat so I am able to make more ice. I’m keeping delicate items in the freezer, like milk, mayonnaise, and meat. (I have been buying about 2 days’ worth of fresh items at a time for the past week.)
Basically, a refrigerator that doesn’t work can be used like a large, standing cooler. If you keep replenishing the ice, you can keep things at a moderate temperature. Here is a picture of my fridge. You can see the large blocks of ice on the sturdy bottom shelf, and bowls of ice on the other two shelves.
Unfortunately, it still isn’t that cold, so I’m using it for drinks, butter, veggies, fruit, hard cheese, and my beloved chocolate.
Here’s the ambient temperature in the fridge after having the door open for a moment to get this photo. This is with all of the ice in it.
In a grid-down situation, things would be different. I am able to use my freezer sort of like a cranky refrigerator as long as I don’t mind things potentially getting partially frozen. As well, I have easy access to ice as near as the closest gas station.
For keeping your food safe during a power outage, take these steps to be prepared:
When in doubt, throw it out. Food poisoning is horrible, and can even be deadly. It’s just not worth it.
In a long-term scenario, it would be an entirely different ballgame. We’d begin to rely on the methods our ancestors used: we would cook only amounts that could be immediately consumed or items that did not require refrigeration of the leftovers. As well, we’d eat more fruits and vegetables in hot weather.
As for me, a part has been ordered and I should have a working refrigerator by tomorrow afternoon. It has been a little extra work, what with shuffling ice back and forth between the fridge and freezer, but, in the grand scheme of things, this has only been a blip on the radar, aside from the loss of some food. However, I’m definitely going to freeze some jugs of ice as soon as things are working again!
When the mercury is climbing…and staying there, way up at the top of the thermometer, but running an air conditioner at full blast to combat the heat is not an option, what is a family with no air conditioning to do?
Many of the things that we do without thinking are unconsciously adding 5-10 degrees of heat to an already uncomfortably warm house. In the hottest part of the year, I avoid running certain appliances. Some folks say to run those heat-creating appliances at night, but I depend on the cool night time temperatures to bring my home down to a comfortable level the next day.
In the summer, avoid or limit your use of the following:
Air conditioning is a fairly recent invention. It is only in the past few decades that most people decided that air conditioning was a “necessity.” Unfortunately now, most houses are built without consideration for natural cooling. If a new home is being built, chances are, it will have central air conditioning. While this is a nice perk, it’s important to note that in the midst of a power outage, these houses with stunning floor to ceiling windows are going to be hotter than blue blazes. Older homes have a lot of advantages over their newer counterparts when it comes to cooling them without air conditioning.
I used to live in a sweet little 100+-year-old Victorian house that is perfectly comfortable in all but the very hottest of weather. The windows were placed across from one another throughout the house, for optimum cooling and cross-breezes.
Here’s the technique that kept our home pleasant when the mercury climbs into the 90s:
Here’s the thing – we have basically evolved ourselves right out of being able to cool down without the aid of an air conditioner. We go from an air-conditioned home to an air conditioned car and have lunch at an air-conditioned restaurant. Then we drive our air conditioned car back home, suffer through perhaps 20-30 minutes of necessary outdoor work, and then go in, gasping for air, to cool off in front of another air conditioner.
Our bodies no longer know how to cool themselves because they never have to do so. We suffer far more in the heat than previous generations ever did. That’s why this year, my family is eschewing the air conditioner. What is going to happen in a long term grid-down scenario? I’ll tell you what – people will drop like flies of heat-related illnesses. But you can train your body to tolerate heat again.
A good friend of mine lives in the desert and has no air conditioning. It regularly gets to 110 degrees in his home and he is barely affected. That’s because his body’s cooling system is efficient – he uses it on a regular basis
I’m not suggesting that you go run a marathon in the midst of a heatwave, but perhaps people need to stop being so uncomfortable with sweat. Sweat is the human body’s evaporative cooling system. Here’s the rundown on how the human body cools itself from an article called “The Physics of Sweating“:
When we sweat, our skin and clothing become covered with water. If the atmospheric humidity is low, this water evaporates easily. The heat energy needed to evaporate the water comes from our bodies. So this evaporation cools our bodies, which have too much heat. For the same reason splashing water on ourselves when it is hot feels good. Being wet during cold weather, however can excessively chill us because of this same evaporation effect.
Sweating is therefore the human body’s primary cooling mechanism. Because this mechanism uses water, we need to replace lost fluids by drinking more fluids in hot weather. This is especially true after exercising or working in hot weather.
When it is very humid, our sweat does not evaporate as easily. With the body’s primary cooling process not working efficiently, we feel hotter. That is why a hot humid day is more uncomfortable than a hot dry day.
As the air near our bodies absorbs evaporating sweat, the humidity very close to our skin increases, so our sweat does not evaporate as easily. If there is a breeze or wind, the air near our bodies is replaced by dryer air that can continue to absorb evaporating sweat. Hence a breeze on a hot day has a pleasant cooling effect. On a cold day it produces a wind chill effect making it seem much colder than it actually is.
Despite the fact that sweating can make us feel unpleasantly sticky, the principles of thermal physics make sweating a very important mechanism for cooling the body in hot weather.
By allowing yourself to get hot and letting your body cool itself, you can build up a tolerance to the heat. By avoiding heat and sticking to chilly air-conditioned rooms, you will be far more uncomfortable in a situation in which air conditioning is not available.
The situation that comes to mind is the Derecho storms that struck metro DC a few years back. The power was out for a week in the midst of a terrible heatwave and people died from heat-related ailments. Many others were sick, suffering from heat exhaustion and heat strokes, and others were miserably uncomfortable. As mentioned above, homes really aren’t built to be cooled without air conditioning anymore, and humans aren’t used to letting their bodies cool themselves.
Here are some strategies to help you cool off when you can’t run fans or air conditioners:
Depending on where you live, a winter power outage can quickly become a life-threatening emergency.
Winter storms with heavy snowfalls, high winds, and a coating of ice are a threat to our vulnerable power grid. Making winter even more of a threat recently is the current economic upheaval. In economically depressed places like Detroit, many residents have had their utilities shut off due to an inability to pay their bills. With temperatures in the negatives, people could quite literally freeze to death in their homes. You don’t have to be a prepper to realize that secondary heating systems, some specialized skills, and a frigid weather plan could be vital to your survival in the winter.
No matter how you heat your home, it’s vital to have a back-up method. Even if you have a non-grid reliant method as your primary heat source, things can happen. Chimney fires occur, wood gets wet, furnaces of all types malfunction…while these scenarios could be unlikely, you have to remember, “Two is one, one is none.”
Here are some options for heat that doesn’t come from a thermostat on the wall..
Sometimes things happen before we get our preps in order. If you don’t have a secondary heating method, you can still stay relatively warm for at least a couple of days if you are strategic. Even if you do have a secondary heat source, in many cases it’s important to conserve your fuel as much as possible.
If you have no additional heat at all, you can usually keep one room tolerable for 2-3 days. If the cold is relentless and the outage lasts longer than that, you may need to seek other shelter. Watch your temperatures. If the daytime temperature in the house dips below 40 degrees, the night time temperature will be even colder, and it won’t be safe to stay there, especially if you have children or family members who are more susceptible to illness.
These methods can help you stay cozier during a storm.
Not only do we need to be concerned about a power outage due to the weather, but we also need to realize that utility bills could be extraordinarily high this year due to rising prices and an increased need for heat as temperatures plummet. When we lived in our drafty cabin up North, we had to take extra steps to keep warm. Here are some things we learned that will help out in either circumstance.
What if you’re not at home when a winter storm strikes? In a previous article about preparing your vehicle for winter, I brought up a couple of situations that occurred last year.
During one scenario, a freak snowstorm struck the Atlanta, Georgia area. Because weather like this is such a rarity, the area was completely unprepared, officials didn’t have the experience or equipment needed to deal with it, and traffic gridlocked almost immediately. Hundreds of people were stranded as the freeway turned into a scene reminiscent of The Walking Dead, with bumper-to-bumper vehicles at a standstill. Those without food and water in their vehicles went hungry, and many people ran out of gas as they tried to keep warm. No matter how comfortable you are with winter driving, in a situation like this, you are at the mercy of others who may not be so experienced.
Regardless of why you’re stranded somewhere besides your cozy home, you should have supplies in your vehicle to fend off frostbite (or even death) due to frigid conditions.
Include things like:
Unless you think the entire process of weather forecasting is some sort of insane voodoo, then it’s pretty undeniable that a big storm is coming. Winters in America have been setting records for bone-numbing, snot-freezing cold for the last couple of years, and it appears that this winter will be no different.
While some folks aren’t quite ready to plunge whole-heartedly into prepping, it’s hard to deny the common sense factor of preparing for a likely scenario. You should have at the minimum, a two-week supply of food and other necessities. Before the power goes out, develop a plan to keep your family warm, even while the mercury outside reaches near-Arctic depths.
How important is light? Never underestimate how vital a role illumination plays in any situation. Beyond the practical matter of not being completely blinded in the absence of it is the security that comes from even a hint of light.
Any person who has ever moved from the city to the country can agree, there is no darkness quite like that of being in a place where there are no streetlights, no neon signs, no car headlights, and no light from nearby houses.
When we first moved far away from the city to our little cabin in the woods, the darkness there was of an entirely different variety from city darkness. I’ll never forget the first evening when the moon was hiding. It was a cloudy night that also hid the stars and the blackness was almost palpable. I had stepped outside to take the dog out for her last walk of the evening, and even she was disconcerted by the thick darkness. You literally couldn’t see your fingers waving in front of your face. I like the night – the stillness of it, the rustling music of the nocturnal world going about its business – but when you suddenly become essentially blind, it can make you feel a little panicked or afraid. You can’t see, but you wonder what is out there that can see you.
Multiply that feeling greatly if you are in a situation that is already dangerous or unfamiliar, and then you can start to contemplate how vitally important to your psyche a reliable source of emergency lighting will be in a crisis scenario. While fear can be a very important survival mechanism, you don’t want it to overwhelm you to the point that it becomes debilitating.
This was the kind of darkness experienced more than a year ago when Hurricane Sandy took out the power in New York City. The city that never sleeps was suddenly cast into the same kind of pitch blackness as you would find in the middle of a forest on an overcast night.
The extreme darkness wrought psychological havoc on many people. Not only were children afraid, but adults found the complete blackness of the nights to be unsettling, at the very least. Crime went up when people realized they had the complete cover of a pitch black night. Instead of being a restful time, night became something to endure until the sun came up. Small tasks were difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish once the sun went down. For those who had a few flashlights or candles on hand, those light sources soon ran out as the crisis extended into yet another day without power. Add the darkness to the lack of power, heat, and sanitation facilities, and it made a terrible situation even harder to withstand for many who were not prepared with emergency lighting sources.
Psychologically speaking, emergency lighting should be near the top of your list for preps. Although most adults would be loathe to admit it, nearly everyone is unsettled in complete darkness.
This fear is not necessarily irrational. It may be somewhat ingrained in our DNA, as many predators are nocturnal.
It isn’t always so much a fear of the darkness itself, but more a fear of the unexpected: you can’t see what is out there in the blackness with you. You have lost one of the senses that you rely on the most to assess impending danger – your vision.
You should have several different sources of light included in your preparedness supplies. Some of the sources should be easily renewable, in the event that a situation exceeds your supply of replacement batteries.
Here is a list of a few alternative light sources to consider adding to your preps:
Emergency lighting for children can pose some very real concerns. You don’t want to give them a light they might accidentally leave on as they fall asleep, using up valuable battery life, nor would most parents want to leave a child in the room with a candle or oil lamp because of the risk of fire.
Here are a couple of safe options for kids:
Some complimentary supplies to keep on hand along with your alternative lighting sources:
Be sure to keep your supplies where they are easy to find in the dark. We don’t always have a warning before a power outage occurs, although when a bad storm blows up you might want to consider having your alternative light sources at the ready.
When my daughter and I spent a winter in a little cabin in the north woods of Canada, we lost power so frequently that we kept candles and a box of matches out as part of the “decor” in every room in the house. We also had flashlights in the top drawers of our end tables. It was a quick thing to immediately be able to supply light when the electricity failed. As well, several lovely old kerosene lamps were scattered around the cabin.
Depending on the situation, you might not want your home to be the only one in the neighborhood that is well-lit. Consider having supplies to cover your windows so that your home is not a beacon to those who are less prepared. Blackout curtains or heavy duty garbage bags duct-taped to the windows can keep most of the light contained.
Proper lighting is one of the most psychologically vital preps that you can make. Being scared of the dark isn’t just for kids.