When the lights go out

Due to the recent destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, millions of people found themselves without power. There are reports of 6 hour gas lines, people knifing each other to get food and supplies, people rummaging through dumpsters for food, defecating in hallways, and more. Authorities say it could be late November before all power is restored. There are places in New York, such as Staten Island, right in what would seem to be the middle of Federal power, where people have waited for days for FEMA assistance. (Meanwhile, in an entirely unrelated note, President Obama had a grand time campaigning in Las Vegas – good to know he’s got his priorities straight!)

Sure, this is a unique event, a hurricane, that isn’t likely to be repeated anytime soon. When things get back to normal they should stay normal for the foreseeable future – at least until another hurricane comes. That’s the common perception, until one starts to realize just how vulnerable our power grid is. In 2011 over 5 million people lost power in Southern California and Arizona because of, according to the agencies that investigated the failures, “unpredictable weather and the unreliability of the grid.” Today the average transformer, built with a 40-50 year lifespan, is over 42 years old.  According to Clinton’s former secretary of energy, Bill Richardson, America is a “superpower with a third-world grid.”

So this all begs the question: If things are THIS bad in the Northeast after a few days without power, right in the middle of the ‘belly of the beast,’ where there’s a bureaucrat on every floor of every building and a cop on at least every street corner, how bad could it get where you live? Sure, in a massive nationwide disaster scenario one would expect the cities to fare far worse, but in this localized disaster, when the resources of the nation should be at their disposal, there are still crazy, apocalyptic goings-on.

Our challenge to our readers, to ourselves, in the wake of this hurricane, is to examine what life would be like without power for a day, for two days, for a week, for a month, for longer…

If the electricity went out in the middle of the winter, what would you do for heat? How would you light your home? If it lasted more than a couple of days, would you be able to keep your freezer running? If it lasted for a week, do you have enough food in your pantry? How would you cook it? If it lasted for a month, how would your food situation be then, because in a power outage that long, the grocery store shelves in your area will be empty and, if the situation in the Northeast is any indicator, help WON’T be on the way. In any of these scenarios, do you have the capacity to defend yourself and your loved ones?

Unless you have unlimited resources it’s almost impossible to be fully prepared for everything, but being ready to deal with one week without power is certainly better than nothing at all. When I was a teenager a snowstorm knocked our power out for two weeks. Fortunately, we had a wood stove and lots of food and propane for cooking. Last week, here in Tennessee, the forecast called for some upper elevation snow, but high winds that could have easily knocked the power out. Our power hasn’t been out for more than a few hours in the entire 10 years we’ve lived in this town, but last week’s forecast combined with the news from the Northeast encouraged me to really assess where we were from a preparedness standpoint. I realized that we were focusing on some things to the detriment of others. The next step was to make the purchases to shore up those deficiencies. We aren’t anywhere near where we’d like to be, but we are a bit closer, and better able to deal with things when/if the lights go out.


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  1. Jim says

    I live on Long Island. Hit bad in most places and REALLY bad in others by Sandy. I am still without power, and writing this from my office that just got it back. I can’t stress enough that preparedness is crucial. I have been on a genny for the week, I have hot water, heat (oil burner and wood stove) and enough food, but its getting cold, and most of my neighbors moved out temporarily. Some of their homes are inhabitable.

    Last night, the neighbors that have been prepped and I had a meeting, because a lot of unsavory characters are beginning to scout the vacant homes. Out come the 12 gauges…many are doing the same.

    I can’t agree with your story more. DO NOT RELY ON GOV. They just simply tell you what you want to hear, (to keep the masses calm for a moment), and do nothing.

  2. carrie says

    My Mother and I have be pondering this question way before Sandy. We have lots of canned goods stored, and Im getting more propane so i can cook on my grill if I need to. But for heat we are unsure what to do. She is in her 80s and my father in law will be 90. They just cant deal with the cold. What do you all use and can it be hooked up to a mobile home as we live in a retirement community? Mom was wondering about battery operated heaters, but I dont think there is such a beast. Any thoughts?


  3. Lux says

    I have made and hacked or modified several flashlights. Here are just two of them. I modified a lantern type (6 volt “lantern battery) with 3 leds that had a run time of 65 hours. I added a resistor which was an improvent to the original design because the original flashlight was over driving the leds with too much current. The end result is a 360 hour flashlight for 5 dollars.


    I also made a few super capacitor flashlights. This one has a run time of about 6 hours and according to the specs for the capacitor, It can be charged and discharged 500,000 times.


    Here are my two micro-solar setups:


    I have back up components and flashlights in my faraday cage because I am getting prepped for this:



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