How to Survive a Catastrophic Power Outage

How to Survive a Catastrophic Power Outage

Thankfully, we live in a first-world society where consistent power supply is the norm. But what happens when the said power supply is destabilized, and everybody goes into survival mode?

We are going to be immersed in the same chaos, you and me. We’ll struggle for one thing – survive at all costs. But that would be limited because you see, after in-depth research and digging, I’ve been able to find a decent survival solution in the event of troubling times like a catastrophic power outage.

So how do you survive a catastrophic power outage? Well, the short answer to that essential question is – plan for it, expect it and live ready. Be prepared for such a troublesome event by having enough supplies to last you for up to a month when such a disaster comes knocking. Supplies aren’t the only things you’ll need to survive. You’ll want an alternative power source, a secondary means of communication and a lot of other essentials.

Now let me elaborate on that shallow answer because there is more to it. But promise me one thing: Keep your eyes open and don’t let your guard down, because we are overdue for a massive solar storm that might blow out the entire electrical grid of the continental US. Now that I have your attention, let’s roll.

Preparing for a Catastrophic Power Outage – The Basics

Electrical power is everything in a developed nation like ours. Society would collapse without it – imagine spending a week in a darkened, famished city full of looters and raging bands of thieves, plundering resources from the unprepared.

From food, transportation, security, weather, sanitation, and whatnot, power is critical, and life would become hellish and harsh without it. But you will be prepared because you are reading this – which means you are already one step ahead of the herd!

Here is a list of indispensable items that you will need in the event of a catastrophic power surge. You should install a storage supply and implement some of these independently (security, lighting, heating, etc.):

  • Food, water, and meds.
  • Lighting (you can’t stay in the dark, you are not an owl).
  • Communication.
  • Heating (depending on are, especially during the winter).
  • Security.
  • Alternate power source.

So, there you have it. Those are the basic factors that your daily life revolves around, and they all depend on electricity. If the electrical grid is offline, then entire cities will halt to a grind – no supermarkets, stores, services, hospitals, transportation or security. No TV, or cell signal.

Most people will never know how easily the frail sense of security can shatter. And it doesn’t take much for the survival instinct to kick in and allow us to become savage. Electricity truly does keep the world civilized because it provides everything we need.

In a prolonged power outage, people become stressed and that’s when the polite, civilized masked comes down, allowing the glimpses of the inner beast to shine through. That is what happens when people are deprived of all the basics necessities.

With our “essentials” list in mind, preparedness means getting enough of everything and having alternatives for communication, security, and power. Let’s start with two of the essentials.

Food

Food is of paramount importance. Lengthy power outages cut the supply chain and limit the distribution of food and consumables.

Stockpile a month’s value of canned food for you and your family. Make sure that it has a very long shelf life – you don’t want to replenish your stock every year because the food has gone bad. Procure only the canned items that fare well under prolonged storage conditions.

You’ll need canned food that only requires a small amount of heating to get it ready for consumption. These are ideal for long term storage since they preserve well.

Another safe option is going with the “Meals Ready-to-Eat” MRE products, which is a military acronym for pre-packaged sustenance food. It is not meant to be tasty, but as a short-term strategy, it will provide the necessary nutrients that your body needs.

Meal preparation is also important. Power outages affect gas supply lines, so you will most likely consume your canned goods raw. Otherwise, a small stove (for burning wood, coal or gas) will do the trick.

Water

This may not be a major concern in small-population rural areas with local water reserves, but it becomes a top priority if the outage affects a major city. Don’t expect your faucet to run clean water when the entire city has been dark for a week.

When storing water, don’t forget to consider the size of your family. A healthy adult needs a daily dose of 2 Liters (half a gallon) of water. But since resources are tight, we can reduce that amount by 25%.

Now if the power outage lasts for a month, then a family of four can survive on 180 liters (90 gallons). Just do the math: 30 days x 4 people x 0.5 gallons x 25%.

Ensure the water is safe for drinking before storing it. Optionally, you can introduce some purifying chemicals. A carbon filter is a great tool for purifying dirty water and distilling most liquids into clean drinking water.

Communication

There isn’t a more dire need for communication than during a power outage situation. You need to stay in touch with the outside world, family, friends, and neighbors to learn of any developments.

A hand-crank radio would suffice. Just keep it handy. The great part about this gadget is that it can be used to recharge some other electronic gadgets like your cell phone.

Hand-cranks use electrical dynamos to convert the mechanical energy of motion into electricity (a voltage differential that can drive an electrical current).

Heating

If the outage occurs mid-winter, you will definitely need an alternative source of heat until everything blows over.

You can gather your family in one room, set up a cozy fireplace, seal every tiny space around doors and windows using towels, to trap the heat inside. You can also use a wood-burning stove, which is a better alternative to the fireplace.

Lighting

The most glaring part of a power outage is the pitch-black darkness in the city and in your home. What’s the first thing you do when the power goes down? Look for a candle or a flashlight!

You’ll be in the dark, unable to orient yourself to go through the basic steps to provide safety. You’ll be needing light-sources that are not dependent on electricity generated by the grid.

Spare batteries, solar-charged lighting, candles, flashlights, headlamps might come in handy. You can manage during the day, but when the night settles you will find it easy to move around with an extra set of battery-powered flashlights.

Security

Are you familiar with the concept of SHTF? When “shit hits the fan” that means it’s general chaos and a bloody free-for-all; it’s when the survival instinct kicks in and people become capable of anything.

SHTF is the perfect description of a catastrophic country-wide power outage. Expect hungry and desperate bands of looters, thieves, and predators to be hunting. They will take advantage of anyone incapable of defending themselves and their resources.

If the police don’t operate because of the power outage, then criminals will do much worse than just to take your stuff! I hope you understand where I am getting at.

Many miscreants will be on the prowl to take advantage of the situation. You need to keep yourself safe. Firearms come to mind, protect your doors and windows, keep pepper sprays close, set up some home defense.

Always keep all doors and windows shut. Don’t go outside at night especially and perhaps not even during the day. Ensure that every family member has a flashlight, but keep in mind that this also makes them easy to spot, like a lighthouse at night.

Alternate Power

The best replacement for the power grid in such a messy scenario is the gas or diesel-powered generator. This isn’t a likely option if you live in an apartment building, but a very good addition to your country house.

Make sure it is properly installed beforehand so that it automatically starts running when the power grid goes south. That way, it’ll only take a couple of seconds to restore electricity.

A bicycle-generator and a solar-powered battery can be a great option to recharge your cell phone, batteries, lamps, flashlights, and other small devices.

Note: Instead of using incandescent lightbulbs, use led lights – they shine brighter and generate less heat at a fraction of the power cost, compared to normal bulbs. Not only will it prologue your generator output but it will save you a ton of money on the electricity bill.

Important tip: Running a generator during a societal collapse caused by a power outage can easily set you out as a target. Imagine being the only lit house on the block – it will attract unwanted attention. So, despite having the ability to turn on every lightbulb in the house – just don’t! Keep a low profile and generate power for heating and security rather than for full-house lighting.

What are the Worst-Case Scenarios for Surviving a Power Outage?

When the electrical grid is badly damaged and offline for a very long time, expect the worst side of people to emerge. Which is why preparation is of the essence.

What is the worst-case scenario? Civil unrest will flare up especially when the number of people suffering from lack of resources skyrockets. Hunger and thirst can transform upstanding citizens into criminals. This behavior shows especially when they gather in mobs.

Imagine the degree of chaos in the North East blackout of 2003 that plunged over 55 million into utter darkness in the U.S and Canada for more than 2 days. Lack of resources will cause people who didn’t prepare to go into primitive survival mode and fight for resources that don’t belong to them.

Prolonged periods of power outage will lead to a few deaths and a crumbling economy since a major part of the nation’s infrastructure will be affected. The crime rate will increase and every problem affecting the society will be magnified tenfold.

But even that is an optimistic scenario – just a 2-day flake caused by a short electrical outage. We know that the US power grid is old, crumbling, and in dire need of repair. Experts estimate that a powerful solar wind (which is due to happen) could melt the entire US copper cabling web. If that catastrophic scenario does happen, it will take the government about 20 years to rehabilitate the entire power grid.

Imagine that kind of nightmare – a true apocalypse, with waring bands of plunderers and groups of survivors scavenging the land for resources to make a living.

Causes of Catastrophic Electrical Power Outages

To be frank, I don’t expect a major country-wide outage to happen, but it could. Murphy’s law states: “What can happen will happen.” So better safe than sorry. Let’s see what likely causes might throw us back into the dark ages.

Natural Disasters

In 2005, a massive hurricane hit Louisiana state, leaving 2.6 million people in a blackout. Not to mentions the all-consuming floods, the hundreds of homes destroyed, and billions of dollars in damages. It lasted only for a couple of days, thankfully.

In 2013, a powerful ice storm swept across Northern US and Canada, wrecking a sizeable part of the grid. These kinds of natural disasters become ever more costly, the more our lives and economy depend on electricity.

System Failure

Long-term electrical outages of varying magnitudes may occur due to a power line or system failure, caused by technical glitches such as a meltdown in a key location or junction point.

The entire power grid system can be distorted by a shift in equilibrium in the power supply. This will ultimately disrupt power sources. Often happens as a result of overheating, so it is more likely during summertime.

Typically, these defects are local, easier to detect and repair. I would not consider these catastrophic unless they happen during the football finals.

Malicious Attack

Some strategists observed that the best way to bring down a country to its knees is to sabotage its power lines. This is especially true for highly developed nations like Western countries, where people live in densely populated areas and every aspect of daily life depends on electricity.

Industrial espionage, cyber-attacks, digital warfare, and eco-terrorism are often targeting the nation’s greatest weakness. It is a very effective way to damage an economy, without taking human lives.

Criminals can also get their hands extra-dirty with power disruption activities by attacking installations and power facilities in the area. It offers the best distraction for authorities and the perfect cover for criminals.

Nuclear EMP Attack

EMP means electromagnetic pulse. It is a very powerful EM shockwave that burns and destroys any operating electronic circuit if it is functioning at the moment of the blast. Even thick power lines are vulnerable to EMP.

Here is the background physics: a functioning electrical circuit or power line has current flowing through it. The EMP wave causes a sudden rise in the amplitude and voltage, effectively bringing the device outside of its tolerance area, frying the device or melting down the power line.

EMPs are naturally occurring events that take place in the cosmos, resulting from disturbances on the surfaces of stars. But EMPs are not exclusively natural events. Detonating a nuclear bomb sends a huge EM shockwave, frying every electronic device that is turned on within a radius of tens of miles.

Solar Winds and Solar Storms

These are cosmic mega-powerful EMP events that take place on the surface of the sun. Funny how the thing that provides life, light, and nourishment can throw us into the dark ages, killing millions and causing starvation.

I am not a cosmologist so I can’t dive deeply enough into the subject, but here is the gist of it: solar activity can suffer some major disturbances, which result in the emission of highly-charged particles.

These emissions are enormous in size and intensity, perfectly capable of traveling back to Earth and engulfing it. Our planet has a strong magnetic shield that will repel most particles, but not all.

As a result, they travel through our atmosphere delivering an immensely strong EMP shockwave, melting the power grid and cables. It would take the government years (maybe decades to restore the power back on track).

Some of the Worst Blackouts in History

People have survived catastrophic power outages in the past. But these weren’t very long and surprisingly enough, people behaved with civility for the most part.

It might interest you to learn about some of the past horrible power supply failures that have affected us recently.

The Blackout of the Northwest United States and Canada:

  • Date – August 14, 2003
  • Locations – New Jersey, Vermont, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
  • Population affected – Over 50 million
  • Number of deaths – 11
  • Duration – 48 hours

The Blackout of November 4 across Europe:

  • Date – November 4, 2006
  • Locations – Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Portugal, and Italy.
  • Population affected – 15 million households
  • Number of deaths – none
  • Duration – Undisclosed hours

The 2012 India Blackouts:

  • Date – July 30, 2012
  • Location – India
  • Population affected – 620 million
  • Duration – 24 hours

Related Questions

If you have some concerns, let’s see if we can address them here.

What can the Government do for you in such times? The government will probably destabilize but would still try its best to appease the situation. That is not an excuse to slack off! The worst scenario is the long-term outage caused by a powerful solar wind.

Will the Banking Sector be affected? It’s rational to be worried about your online savings in times like this. The bad news is that the banking sector will also be grounded but your money should be safe. Probably this won’t affect you much unless you want to buy with a credit card, which is ludicrous, to begin with, since the shops will be closed down, and the card readers will be offline.

As soon as things return to normal, the electronic banking services will become operational. Keep some paper cash at home, as a safety measure.

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