Emergency Planning: Preparing for Power Blackouts

Barbara Pleasant explains emergency planning and preparing for power blackouts in the winter months.

| February/March 2004

  • When emergency planning, you may begin winter power blackouts with water, but if you don't have backup heat, your pipes might freeze and burst, creating a major repair expense.
    Photo by Fotolia/Renate Micallef
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends having an emergency water supply of 2 quarts per person per day for drinking water, and 2 quarts per person per day for washing, flushing toilets and other purposes.
    Photo by Fotolia/phoopanotpics
  • Barbara Pleasant knows firsthand the importance of assembling an emergency kit to use during power blackouts.
    Photo courtesy Barbara Pleasant
  • This handy emergency essentials checklist will walk you through some basic emergency kit must-haves.
    Illustration coutesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • To slow pipes from freezing, turn both hot and cold water faucets to a trickle; the continuous water flow will delay freezing.
    Illustration courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

Emergency Planning: Preparing for Power Blackouts

Most of us have experienced short-term power outages and have learned we can get through a day without power. Even most of the 50 million people in the northeast United States and southeast Canada who lost power during last summer's historic grid collapse found their lights back on within a day or so.

But imagine a blackout that lasts several days, a week, two weeks or even a month. Such prolonged power outages are a real possibility after a serious hurricane or winter storm — especially for rural folks who often are last in line to get their power restored. And given the fragility of our overworked utility grid, urban dwellers likely won't be exempt from extended blackouts. After all, it doesn't take much to bring the grid crashing down: In the summer of 1996, a tree fell on a power line in Idaho, setting in motion a blackout that affected 15 Western states. This time of year, an inch of ice may be all it takes to make your home powerless and potentially unsafe, sending your family to an emergency shelter at the high school gym or community center.

I'm still trying to forget nine powerless days my family endured a few years ago: the smell of un-flushed toilets, the power plays for batteries between father and daughter, cold cereal with no milk and the gas-station chicken fingers we had for Christmas dinner.

Since then, I've moved. Now I live far out in the country in North Carolina. My neighbors tell me they once went 13 days without power after a winter storm. Knowing it will happen again, and dreading a stint in a shelter, I decided to get ready. Last fall I devoted a week to preparing a simple and inexpensive emergency kit that will help my family ride out 14 days without electricity. This kit gives me peace of mind because now I know the next blackout won't be a nightmare. Life might even be pretty close to normal.

Saving Safe Water

I began my emergency kit with water. In rural areas, blackouts always shut down wells. After my driveway ices over, I'm stranded, and even if I could get to a store, I probably wouldn't find any water — bottled water quickly disappears just before or during emergencies. Those on a municipal water supply also should stock up — just because the faucet flows doesn't mean the water is safe to drink. If backup power fails at water-treatment plants, a boil order will be issued. But if you don't have a reliable, non-electric heating method, you won't want to drink or wash your face with contaminated water. The solution is to store enough water for drinking and for sanitation purposes, too.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends having 2 quarts per person per day for drinking water, and 2 quarts per person per day for washing, flushing toilets (keep reading) and other purposes. And don't forget the water needs of your animals. My 60-pound dog drinks at least half a gallon a day.

2/20/2014 6:06:36 PM

These are great tips and help for preparing for any sort of disaster. I have been building up a supply of emergency survival kits that I get from http://www.survivalkit.com/. I keep them in my home and in my car at all times.

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