There are many factors that determine what you will need to stay safe and comfortable during a blackout. These include the cause of the blackout and how long it is expected to last, the time of year and your region’s climate, and any special circumstances that might apply to you. The key is to be prepared for the worst-case scenario before a blackout occurs.
How to prepare for a blackout. Because it’s impossible to predict what will cause a blackout or how long one will last if it does occur, the best approach is to do everything you can to prepare in advance. If you’re prepared to survive a blackout for up to a week at any time of the year, you should have more than enough to get you through.
Losing power for an evening because a car crashed into a utility pole is no more than an inconvenience for most of us. But what if your home lost power for several days due to a more serious problem? What if is 105°F when the power goes out? What if it’s -32°F? It’s important to prepare for all of the possibilities that apply to your home. Read on to find out how.
Preparing for a Blackout
When the power goes out at your home, you probably won’t know for certain what caused it. At that moment, there are two things that you will need to know. The first is how to find out as much information as possible about what caused the outage – without electricity to use in the process. The second is that you’ve prepared your home and your family to ride out the blackout for as long as it lasts in as much safety and comfort as possible.
Don’t Get Left in the Dark
It’s a good idea to have multiple flashlights stashed in strategic spots throughout your home. You never know where you’ll be when a blackout hits, so be sure you can shed some light on the subject without feeling your way through the whole house. Make sure bedrooms have some available, so everybody in the house is covered if the power goes in the middle of the night.
Keep Devices Charged
It’s also a good idea to keep cellphones and laptops charged and keep an auxiliary cellphone charger powered up and available. A battery-powered or hand-crank radio is also a good idea. These items will help you gather information about the blackout if the cause isn’t identifiable when you survey your home and property. Phone lines might be clogged with calls.
Once you have everyone in your home safe and together, you can focus on figuring out what caused the blackout. Information is the key to knowing what you need to do next. If you know that everyone is safe and you know that you have everything you need – no matter how bad the situation is – then all you have to worry about is putting your plan into action.
Stay Calm and Assess the Situation
The first thing to do once you know that everybody in your home is safe is to try to figure out the cause of the blackout. Sometimes the root cause will be obvious, as in the case of natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes. Sometimes it will require some investigation on your part. Remember to stay calm and proceed with caution.
If you’re experiencing a thunderstorm with heavy rain, high winds, and lightning strikes – you’ll have a pretty good idea what caused the blackout. Even so, you’ll want to know whether a branch took out the line to your home or a lightning strike took out a transformer affecting the whole neighborhood.
But what if it’s the middle of a calm, mid-summer day when the power goes out? Did you trip a circuit breaker in your home, or has there been a disruption in the grid that’s going to leave several states in the dark for days?
The reality is that any of these scenarios and too many more to even imagine can be the cause of the blackout at your home. Until you know as much as possible about what caused it, you won’t know the best way to respond.
When you have as much information as you can get, then it’s time to put a plan together and put it into action.
Don’t Do Anything That Will Make the Situation Worse
We already discussed how important it is to proceed with caution while you’re assessing the situation around your home. Finding out everything you can is important, but you have to weigh that against the risks. Going out into a lightning storm and stepping on a downed power line will only turn an inconvenience into an emergency.
Not everything that you need to avoid during the initial phase of a blackout is so obvious. It’s tempting to say that you just need to use common sense, but at the same time, you’ve got to remember that “it seemed like a good idea at the time” is a common refrain for bad ideas.
The main thing is to stay calm and take things one step at a time.
This will be easier to do if you know that you’ve put together a kit and a plan that will take care of you and your family for days or even weeks if need be. When you’ve considered anything that the weather can throw at you and any special needs that members of the family have—you’ll be ready to ride it out.
Must-Have’s During a Blackout
Since there are so many different potential causes for blackouts, there’s no way to know ahead of time how long one is going to last when it hits. What you need to get through it will differ depending on whether the temperatures are moderate, extremely hot, or extremely cold.
It’s important to know that you’ll have the basics covered, no matter what. Food, water, and shelter should be your top priorities. After that, you’ll want to know that you’ve got life-essentials like medications taken care of. Then you can focus on the things that will make you and your family more comfortable during the blackout.
For the remainder of this article, we’ll look at a dozen categories that you should consider when you’re preparing for a blackout. What you need to do to take care of yourself and your loved ones, as well as what you’re able to do for each category, will depend on your situation.
Giving some consideration to each category should help you prepare – the best that you can – for the worst-case scenario.
#1 – Light
Of course, it’s important to have easy access to flashlights during the initial phase of a blackout. They’re easy to stash in spots around the house to make sure that you can get to one from wherever you are whenever you find yourself in need. But do you really want to get through an entire night – perhaps several in a row – with no source of light other than a flashlight?
There is a range of options available to you when you’re putting together your blackout preparedness kit. When it comes to something as important as light, it’s a good idea to build redundancy and multiple options into your kit.
Some people like the idea of using candles during a blackout because they’re inexpensive and last forever in storage. But candles don’t provide a lot of light compared to a battery-powered lantern or a single LED panel. Let practicality be your guide when it comes to selecting the sources of illumination that will make it into your blackout kit.
Also, be sure to include the items that you will need to make those light sources work in your kit. If you’re going to rely on candles, make sure you have matches or lighters. If you’ve got several different battery-powered options, make sure you have back-up batteries for each of them.
Something Else to Consider
Your kit should include enough sources of light to make sure that you and your family can get through the dark hours during a blackout—even if it lasts for several days. But it’s also important to think about the lights in your home while the power is out.
Experts recommend that you turn off all of the lights in your home except for one on the inside and one on the outside. These will serve as a signal to you and to the power company that your power has been restored.
The reason to turn off all of your other lights has to do with reducing the draw on the grid when the power comes back on and protecting your home against surges. You may also want to take the step of unplugging appliances and electronic devices.
#2 – Communication
If you can’t find a cause for the blackout by surveying your home, property, or neighborhood—you’re going to need some way to communicate with the outside world if you want to find out what’s going on. If you have a back-up generator, then you can just flip on the television and tune in to the local news. If that’s not an option, there are some things you can do to help.
- A battery-powered radio with a store of back-up batteries is a great idea for your blackout kit. You might also want to consider a hand-crank model so that you don’t have to worry about batteries going bad in storage. Tuning in to local radio stations will give you information on what is going on if the blackout is widespread enough to be newsworthy.
- It’s a good idea to keep cell phones charged and keep auxiliary chargers on-hand and fully charged. Cell phones will be essential if you need to check-in with family members who aren’t home. Smartphones can also let you surf the web to gather more information about what caused the blackout and how long it is expected to last.
- Until you know how long you can expect to be without power, conserve the batteries and back-ups for your communication devices. Your cell phone might be your only way to summon help in an emergency. If you used up the battery on social media apps, you’ll be in a tight spot.
Something Else to Consider
Nowadays it’s not uncommon for homes to go without a land telephone line. But you might want to reconsider this choice as part of your blackout preparations. Keeping a hard-wired telephone in your blackout kit will give you a way to communicate with the outside world.
Landlines generally work during a power outage because the power is sent to the phones through the telephone lines. Backup batteries and backup generators should keep these lines powered. So, unless the blackout is caused by downed lines, an old-school phone will come in handy. But a wireless home phone won’t do you any good at all.
#3 – Food
Depending on the time of day that a blackout occurs, you might find yourself forced to deal with preparing a meal without power within a few hours of losing power. For an outage that only lasts a little while, this can be a good excuse to raid the snack drawer. For an outage that is only affecting your neighborhood, you’ve always got the option of ordering a pizza.
Your blackout kit should prepare you for the worst and not count on being able to order-in or just scrape by on whatever is in the pantry. Take the time to build up a store of food that you can prepare without power. Make sure that you have enough to feed everyone in the family for at least 5 to 7 days.
If you want to make things easy on yourself, you can visit a local camping supply or Army-Navy surplus store and purchase MRE’s or other prepackaged meals. You could also opt for canned soups, canned meats, crackers, noodles, and other foods that are non-perishable and easy to prepare. Don’t forget to include a manual can opener in your blackout kit.
Something Else to Consider
If the power is out for a while, you not only have to consider what you will eat but also what to do about all of the food in your refrigerator and freezer. If the power remains off long enough to let food in your freezer thaw, you might be dealing with a big loss and a big mess. But unless you have a reliable source of ice during the blackout, you might be out of options.
As a general rule of thumb, the fuller your freezer or fridge is when the power goes out, the longer it will stay cold enough internally. You can help things stay cold as long as possible by not opening the doors unless it’s absolutely necessary.
If you have an outdoor grill, you might want to make grilling a part of your cooking plan. This will help you keep food that is thawing in your freezer from going to waste and add some welcomed variety to the staples from your blackout kit.
If you have access to ice, you can always pack coolers to keep things cold until the power comes on. But if your source of ice is affected by the blackout, then you’ll run out of time for your frozen food eventually. All you can do is prepare for the worst and then do the best that you can with what you have to work with.
#4 – Cooking
Having an outdoor grill can go a long way toward making several days without power less miserable than they would otherwise be. If you have a propane grill, you might want to consider keeping a back-up bottle of gas on your property to make sure you don’t run out when there aren’t any stores open to sell you a replacement.
You can also consider adding a small disposable charcoal grill to your blackout kit along with enough charcoal to cook several meals. It can be worth the extra space for the value that it will add to meal times when the power is out. This is especially true if you think you might have food from the freezer that will need to be used up before it goes bad.
Either way, you shouldn’t depend on a grill alone to get you through the blackout. Your blackout kit should include a small propane single-burner stove or some other means of boiling water and performing other simple cooking tasks. These options will be much more efficient and can get you through for longer than relying on a grill alone.
No matter what, make sure that you do not use cooking stoves or grills inside the house or in other poorly ventilated areas. Never use any of these options for heating if the power goes out during the winter.
#5 – Heating and Cooling
It’s worth giving some thought to what you’ll do about heating and cooling to keep everyone comfortable while the power is out. Your options will be limited, but if you live in an area of the country that experiences temperatures at one extreme or the other – or both – you’ll need to plan ahead in order to be prepared to do what you can.
Extreme heat and extreme cold are especially important to plan for if you have people in your house who are very young, very old, or who suffer from illnesses that could be affected by an extended period without climate control.
If your home is heated by gas, you should be okay so long as the pilot light doesn’t go out. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, then that’s another good option. Adding layers and cuddling up under blankets should be enough to get you through even the coldest winter nights without electricity. Don’t forget to let the taps run to prevent pipes from freezing.
When it comes to keeping cool, things are a bit tougher. Without central air, window units, fans, or even a reliable source for ice in your drinks—protecting against extreme heat when the power is out can get tricky. Be sure everyone stays hydrated and watch for signs of heat-related illnesses.
#6 – Water
If you live in a rural area and your home is supplied with well water, you’ve already thought of this one. Once the electric pump is without power, your faucets and taps will be dry.
Most people don’t have to worry about well water. But what is worth considering is the possibility that your city or town’s water treatment plant will go offline when the power goes down. This could mean that your tap water is unsafe for drinking. Boiling tap water should be an option in any event, but even so, it’s a good idea to keep some bottled water on hand.
Water is actually the most important thing to consider when it comes to preparing for an emergency. When it comes to making do with what you’ve got, people can get by for a lot longer without food, light, or information than they can without water. A few days without water can be fatal.
With the possible exceptions of extreme heat and extreme cold, a lack of drinking water is the most serious and potentially fatal threat you need to account for in your blackout plan.
#7 – First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is an essential part of any emergency preparedness kit. Remember, your blackout kit is supposed to prepare you for the worst-case scenario.
At a minimum, your first aid kit should include items that will allow you to stop the bleeding and clean and bandage any minor cuts or abrasions. It should also include painkillers and anti-inflammatories as well as an eye-wash kit.
Depending on your level of skill and knowledge in first aid, it can be worth your while to put together a more extensive kit. Anything is better than nothing, and any kit that will allow you to treat the most common injuries will be good enough.
#8 – Disaster Plan
If you live in an area of the country that is prone to major events like earthquakes, wildfires, or hurricanes, then you probably already have a plan for what to do if you can’t shelter in place and wait for help to arrive or things to go back to normal.
We would recommend that everybody have a plan like that in place for a worst-case scenario. As a family, knowing how to get in touch with one another, where to rendezvous, and what you’ll do from there can mean the difference between getting out of danger of being caught up in it.
#9 – Special Circumstances
Every family could have something that is absolutely essential to their well-being that most others wouldn’t need to worry about. It’s important to account for anything like this in your blackout preparedness kit if you can.
Some good examples are medications, special food requirements, or other special needs. It’s more likely that you’ll have something like this on your list if your family includes infants, an elderly person, someone with diabetes, or someone with heart problems.
#10 – Cash
If the power outage is widespread, most stores will probably close. If you’re lucky enough to find a store that is open, you won’t be able to use a debit or credit card because the card readers won’t be working. It’s a good idea to keep some cash on hand that you can use if you find yourself in that situation.
#11 – Travel
If you’re caught in a widespread blackout for an extended period of time, your best bet is to stay off of the roads as much as possible. But if you absolutely have to venture out, there are some things to keep in mind.
- Gas pumps won’t be working because they run off electricity. The fuel that you have is all you’re going to have until the power comes back on.
- Most stores and businesses will be closed due to the power outage – are you headed someplace just to find out you have to return empty-handed?
- Traffic control devices that run on electricity might be out of operation. This could make driving a bigger challenge than you anticipated.
#12 – Bells and Whistles
Not everyone has the space, the living arrangements or the budget to make the items in this category practical or even possible. But if your situation allows for them there are some next-level items that you can add to your blackout preparations to make things a little bit more pleasant for you and your family.
A backup generator is a great way to keep things running normally at your home during a blackout. It might make you a bit more popular with the neighbors than you’d prefer, but you’re on your own there. If you’re going to get one, be sure to keep it fueled and have some extra fuel on hand.
A foldable, portable solar panel is another great way to make sure that you’ll have access to a little bit more than you would otherwise during a blackout. They can be a great way to keep cellphones and other electronic devices charged.
Some of the items on our list might have you chuckling to yourself and wondering whether we’re actually closet doomsday preppers. We get it; the list definitely errs on the side of over-prepared. But remember, the key is to be prepared for anything. That way, anything less than a worst-case scenario will be a piece of cake.
Even with everything that we put on our list, there might be some things that we forgot. If you think of something that we didn’t, you should definitely add it to your kit.
We know that most blackouts will be short-lived and localized events. You typically won’t have to go more than a few hours – a day at the longest. But it’s the events that you don’t expect to happen that can leave you in a tight spot.
Better to be over-prepared and not need it than under-prepared and in need!