Snowstorms, torrential rains, and heat waves may be terrible, but they all typically come with warnings. Power outages, on the other hand, can take you by total surprise, with causes ranging from damaged relay stations to downed electrical poles, high winds, and a slew of other circumstances no one could ever see coming.
As with any disaster, your best course of action here is to be prepared to deal with the circumstances in the safest, most efficient manner you can. Here are some tips for tackling the darkness head-on and brightening your blackout experience.
If you happen to have a gas stove, you’ll already be in better shape than those with an electric one. But cooking in the dark is not only challenging, it can also be incredibly dangerous. For that reason alone, you’ll want to stock up on food that doesn’t need to be cooked like energy bars, canned fish and poultry, dried fruits, nuts, and even some stress-relieving snacks like cookies and chips.
In some cases, power outages can last for days on end, so you may also want to invest in a small camp stove. You can cook real food using regular pots and pans on these, and you’ll have something to take on your picnics and camping trips when everything’s blown over. For quick hot food, stock up on dehydrated products that turn into easily palatable meals just by adding water.
Water is more essential to survival than food. While some power outages don’t affect water supplies, you should always be prepared in case they do. You can always stockpile bottled water purchased at retail stores, but you can avoid that cost by bottling your own water ahead of time. Use plastic milk, vinegar, or water bottles that have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with bleach, storing filled ones in a cool dry place free of direct light. Heavy-duty black lawn or trash bags will work well for this, as will a footlocker or other sturdy container that blocks light.
Votive and pillar candles cast a nice glow right after a power outage, but after an hour or so, you’ll probably find you need real light to safely navigate your home and locate your emergency supplies. Keep a collection of flashlights handy with extra fresh batteries on hand (at least one flashlight for every person in your household). There are also a ton of affordable battery lamps out there, but even these should be kept in easy-to-access places with plenty of fresh back-up batteries on hand.
Rechargeable batteries are excellent during emergencies, but you have to remember to keep them charged and easy to find in the dark. If the weather is mild, consider building a fire in a kettle barbecue for natural light, warmth, and to create a soothing ambiance.
Every home should have a first aid kit handy, but make sure yours has more than adhesive bandages, adhesive tape, and gauze in it. The kit should also include OTC painkillers, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic and alcohol wipes, hydrogen peroxide, elastic, splints, and a manual on how to treat traumatic injuries. Other essentials include soap, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, sharp scissors, safety pins, disposable instant cold packs, calamine lotion, a thermometer, plastic non-latex gloves, and a mouthpiece for giving CPR (available at your local Red Cross). This may seem like overkill for a power outage, but darkness can lead to all sorts of falls and injuries, and it’s always better to be prepared.
No matter what the source of the power outage is, you need to stay informed. Keep an extra cell phone on hand that’s always charged for emergencies. An older model without all the bells and whistles is fine as long as it is powerful enough to get a strong signal and receive emergency updates. You should also make sure that the phones of everyone in your household have the same emergency contacts saved, including that of your apartment manager/landlord, family physician, closest family members, and utility update hotlines. Knowing exactly what is going on gives everyone peace of mind and prepares them for what comes next.
Of course, the best back-up source during a power outage is a generator, but not everyone can afford or has the room to store one. Other options to power small appliances, including notebooks, laptops, and small televisions, include a 400 or 800-watt DC-to-AC power inverter, which in turn can be hooked up to a car battery or a deep cycle marine battery. A single 100-amp hour deep cycle marine battery can make a short-term power outage quite tolerable — and save your car battery, as the inverter may make it unusable after the power outage is over. And don’t overlook old-fashioned devices like battery-operated radios and boomboxes. In a real emergency, any source of information is comforting.
Power outages can last from a few minutes to several days or even a week. Being prepared makes the situation less stressful. Above all else, always resist the temptation to try and remedy the situation yourself. Electrical problems should always be solved by professionals.