We flip a switch and it’s there. Electricity.
Most people take it for granted and mistakenly assume it will always be available to them. But, what happens when a storm knocks out power transformers in your location?
You find yourself sitting in the dark. Your television, the computer and everything else you have become dependent upon is useless. Your cell phone might continue to work… but, for how long? Eventually you’ll need to recharge its battery. What about that food you have in the refrigerator? Will your food keep until the power is turned back on?
You’re probably familiar with short-term power outages that last only a few minutes, but what if they don’t get the power back on for more than a few hours, maybe days or even weeks?
Do you have a plan B for your power?
This is one of those preparedness issues everyone really needs to address high on their priority since it’s likely you’ll experience them at some time.
Under certain conditions, a network component shutting down can cause current fluctuations in neighboring segments of the network leading to a cascading failure of a larger section of the network. This may range from a building, to a block, to an entire city, to an entire electrical grid.
Power outages can disrupt communications, water, and transportation. Those people dependent on some medical devices could find themselves without the use of that equipment. Contact your water and power companies to get on a “priority reconnection service” list of power-dependent customers if you rely on electrical medical equipment. Some immediate disruptions to a power outage could close retail businesses, grocery stores, gas stations, ATMs, banks, and other services. More prolonged outages can cause food spoilage and water contamination.
While the basics of preparing for power outages apply year round, there are special considerations in winter due to heavy snow, sleet, and freezing rain. You may need a safe alternative heat source. There are so many things that can cause a power outage: lightning, high winds, winter storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, tree limbs, earthquakes, equipment failure, faults at power stations, grid overload, an EMP, or even animals that contact the lines. Increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and there is the fear terrorists can attack our nation’s power grid.
Don’t be left in the dark.
If you lose power at night, it can be very uncomfortable sitting in the dark. There is something about light that soothes the nerves.
Besides having some emergency candles available, you should also have a supply of battery-powered flashlights or area lights along with a supply of spare batteries to brighten up your darkened room. I like keeping one of these Tasco XR7 Focus Beam Tactical LED Flashlights within easy reach in every room of my house. These are really bright lights powered by three AA batteries. You’d be surprised how bright a room gets when these lights are pointed at the ceiling and allowed to bounce its light down across a medium sized room. I also keep a supply of alkaline AA batteries and some rechargeable AA batteries.
Speaking of rechargeable batteries, I’ve been very happy with the Panasonic BK-3MCCA eneloop AA 2100 Cycle Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries that maintain up to 70% of their charge after 10 years (when not it use). It can certainly be frustrating to discover your rechargeable batteries are dead when you need them most.
To keep my eneloop batteries charged, I use the Panasonic K-KJ17MCA Advanced Individual Cell Battery Charger Pack. This is a “smart” charger that allows me to recharge individual batteries if needed. Many chargers only work when loaded with two or four batteries.
Portable Battery Pack
My goto power source to recharge my cell phone when I don’t have access to AC power comes by using a small rechargeable Lithium Ion battery pack.
Besides being able to recharge my cell phone several times, these portable power banks can also be used to get power to my handheld ham radio. It can also recharge batteries for a flashlight or other small device that uses rechargeable AA or AAA batteries. Simply connect a charging cable and device to the USB ports.
It’s also helpful if your battery backup has some sort of LED display indicating the remaining charge of the battery pack. I keep this battery in a Case Logic External Hard Drive Case along with the micro-USB battery charging cable and cable to charge my IPhone.
There are a multitude of these devices available for you. I recommend you have more than one and those that have a higher power rating measured in milliamperes (mAh). Needless to say, the larger the battery in a mobile charger, the more you’ll be able to juice your mobile devices. But larger batteries weigh more and cost more, so you’ll have to factor those considerations into your decision.
Battery Powered Radio
It is recommended that soon after you experience a power outage that you turn to your battery-powered radio and monitor the news or weather channels to see if the outage is more widespread. It would be useful to have that situational awareness in case you might need to take additional steps to deal with a longer term power outage. Every community has an emergency broadcast station. Learn its frequency and then tune your radio to it and monitor the power out repair process and weather conditions.
NOAA Weather Radio
NOAA weather radios are the best way to receive warnings from the National Weather Service. By using a NOAA weather radio, you can receive continuous updates on all the weather conditions in your area. The range of these radios depends on where you live, but the average range is 40 miles. The National Weather Service recommends buying a radio with a battery backup and a tone-alert feature that automatically sounds when a weather watch or warning is issued.
I keep a Kaito Voyager Pro KA600 radio in my home that is connected to AC power that keeps the internal battery charged. When the AC power is out I can use the radio for several hours on its internal battery. And, in case of a longer term outage, it is possible to operate the radio on its integrated solar panel or its dynamo hand crank charger. Hand-crank capability is good because a 60-count crank charge can keep the radio going for over 30 minutes. This radio also has a USB port that allows me to recharge the battery in my cell phone if necessary.
Uninterruptible Power Supply
Computers are particularly finicky about power losses. A sudden power loss can cause damage to your computer and you can lose your data. To protect your computer systems against this, the use of an uninterruptible power supply or ‘UPS’ can provide a constant flow of electricity if a primary power supply becomes unavailable for a short period of time. Having my computer on a UPS has saved me numerous times.
A UPS can also become very helpful to keep your WiFi router on-line for a period of time. Having internet access available throughout your home with WiFi is pretty commonplace. If you lose power, you’ll also lose that WiFi signal, unless you have a plan B to keep it powered. I also have my ham radio gear on a UPS that allows me to stay on the air for a period of time in case of a power loss and to properly shut down.
In the event of a longer term power outage, you’ll need something more robust to keep power flowing to you.
Another handy tool to have in case of power outage is a gas-powered generator. If you have ever experienced a days-long blackout, you understand why we are thankful for home generators. When Puerto Rico experienced a year-long blackout, they survived by relying on generators. Let’s add a word of caution when using these. Do your internet research on the brand. Some have a history of recalls and starting home fires.
Again, your power requirements will help determine the size generator you need.
Being on a pretty limited budget, I chose the Tailgator 2 Cycle Gas Portable Generator because of it’s low price and portability. You can pick these up for under $100 at Harbor Freight. While it’s not really capable of powering my whole house, it will allow me to recharge other battery sources. It will even allow me to run my refrigerator for a limited time. I can even toss it into the back of my Jeep in case I need to bug out. While popular with many preppers, the downside to a gas-powered generator is that it required gasoline to run. And, in case of a widespread power outage you may not be able to get gas from the pump.
For that extended power outage, you might consider a solar-powered battery backup system. Depending on what you need to power, it might require many solar panels and big batteries. Simply determine your power needs and set up a solar power battery system to cover your immediate needs.
While it’s not going to power much, I picked up a Thunderbolt Magnum 13 Watt Briefcase Solar Charger from Harbor Freight that will at least allow me to recharge some batteries and run some limited power devices for a short time. I have plans to increase my solar capabilities to perhaps 100 watt in a future fairly small solar panel installation.
Do you see my overall strategy here? I’m not preparing for some apocalypse type event or even a long term grid down scenario. My preparations at this point is for a shorter term power outage that is much more likely to occur. And, indeed has occurred on numerous occasions.