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When the Power Grid Fails – 12 Things You Need to Prepare

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In this post, we'll discuss why the power grid fails, and how to prepare for a power outage that disrupts electricity and basic services such as communications, water and trash pickup. If the power grid goes down, water and natural gas will fail soon thereafter, so planning is critical.

power grid fails

The power grid is one of those things we take for granted, but it's time to acknowledge that it's getting older, reaching capacity and under attack. As of 2020, the average age of the power grid is 30 years old. Power outages are over 2.5 times more likely than they were in 1984.

In the article Bracing for a big power grid attack: ‘One is too many', USA Today states “About once every four days, part of the nation's power grid — a system whose failure could leave millions in the dark — is struck by a cyber or physical attack.” Without a plan in place, most of us would be in bad shape with an extended grid outage. Power outages cost between $18 and $33 billion per year in the United States.

The site PowerOutage.US shows current outages, aggregating utility company data from around the United States. California is experiencing outages and brownouts this summer (2019). PG&E intentionally caused widespread outages, and other states are starting to talk about similar outages for various reasons.

12 Things You Need to Prepare for When the Power Grid Fails

#1 Lighting

Make sure you can see when the power grid fails! Could you find your way out in pitch black with elevators not working at home or work or when traveling? The power will probably fail when you don’t expect it.

Even a small flashlight can make a huge difference. Consider a flashlight for your car, each bedroom, each bathroom and in your kitchen, garage, in each vehicle, and one near your electrical panel and a couple spares (especially if you have kids who lose them). Consider a flashlight for your key ring, your pocket and/or purse and one at work.

Candles or hurricane lamps are other possible lighting source, but keep in mind they create a fire risk and fresh air may be a problem if you are in a tightly sealed building. One advantage of candles and lamps is that they do provide heat, which is useful for cold climates.

A crank powered flashlight is great for kids and serve a double function as a flashlight and backup charger for emergencies. Plus you can get them relatively inexpensively.

#2 Batteries

Flashlights are great, but when is the last time you checked them? Get batteries – a lot of rechargeable batteries. Do you have long life batteries? You can get 10 year to 20 year life AA batteries.

If possible, standardize your flashlights and other battery gear on AA or AAA. We recommend rechargeable batteries and a good charger. They cost a bit more up front but can save you a lot over the years.

There are crank and solar battery chargers, plus your car can charge batteries while you travel using a 12 volt adapter.

See Best Rechargeable Battery and Best Battery Charger for a detailed review of the best AA, AAA and 18650 rechargeable batteries. We also review a 21 watt solar panel that provides 5 volt USB power and emergency radios with built in solar and hand crank chargers to charge USB devices.

#3 Water

Keep a couple cases of water bottles around for emergency power outages. Rotate your water storage. Even water will go stale after extended storage. We have a 55 gal drinking potable water drum with a pump and consider a  roller base for emergencies.

If you suspect power might go out, fill your bathtub, and your sink, and flush your toilets. So its good to take action if the power flickers a few times. Dish water should be used in a bucket or plugged sink. That dirty water is just fine for flushing toilets — see #6.

Finally, consider good water filters such as Berkey and/or Lifestraw. These can take questionable water and make it drinkable. Or take “stale” water that is not pleasant to drink and make it taste better.

See Emergency Water Storage and Filtration – What You Need to Know for a more detailed list of water storage and filtration options.

#4 Toilet

Nature still calls whether the power is out or not. If you suspect the power will go out, flush your toilets right away (before the power is out). When power grid fails, follow the rhyme “if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down” for short term outages.

Flushing water is likely to be limited. Water used once for hand washing can be used again to flush the toilet. Don't forget to stock up on extra toilet paper.

With longer power outages, toilets aren't like to work. Gravity handles the flush, but the sewer or septic may rely on power to pump sewage. Know where your poop goes.

It might be necessary to poop on a newspaper, or in a DIY Emergency Toilet and store refuse in a black plastic bags. Have some wet wipes available for clean up. Another option is a commode, using a bucket and garbage bags.

#5 Garbage 

You need a lot of heavy duty garbage bags. Plan for garbage management in advance. Stock paper plates and plastic silverware so you have less or no dish washing. But disposable paper plates and silverware means more garbage.

How many large garbage bins could you set aside for water, or refuse, or cleanup, or garbage? What about critters coming around (rats, possum…) if you have a lot of garbage? Work out a plan for garbage for dealing with disrupted garbage pickup. If you need to burn garbage, build a burn barrel that burns safe and clean.

BONUS TIP: Garbage bags can also be makeshift tarps if a window is blown in, or you need to make something partly waterproof temporarily. But how do you hold the tarp or garbage bag in place? Duct Tape!

#6 Backup Power

Generator: If you have the funds, consider purchasing a generator. Remember you will need to learn how to use it. We purchased a Champion Dual Fuel (propane and gasoline) generator.

You will need a heavy duty extension cord to power your appliances, or you can hire an electrician to hard-wire to your home's electrical system. If you are doing it yourself remember you need to add a double-pull double throw breaker or other power isolation during a power outage.

Solar panels: They are an expensive option compared to a generator, but they don't run out of gas (except on a cloudy day). In general a gas/propane generator will give more power at a lower cost.

Many grid tie solar inverter systems only work when the grid is up. Make sure you read the manual for your system. For Most California Homes, Solar Panels Won’t Help During Power Outages. Here’s Why.

Consider a more advanced inverter that can run without the grid, consider a battery backup and/or generator if you already have solar panels. In general the generator will cost less but requires regular testing.

See Emergency Power Options for Your Home for more information on providing your own power.

Refrigerators & Freezers – What to do if you don't have backup power

If the power does go out, keep doors of freezers and refrigerators closed as much as possible. Make a list of what you need to grab and get it all quickly then close the door. Chest freezers (top open) are 3.5x more efficient than upright swing door freezers. A chest freezer will hold the cold.

BONUS TIP: A full freezer stays cold longer than an empty freezer, so if you have a freezer that's not normally full, keep frozen jugs of water in the extra space. 2 liter soda bottles work well. Don't fill the bottles all the way to the top. (Water expands as it freezes.) The bottles provide a backup source of drinking water.

FDA Food Safety guidelines note:

  • Before using any foods, check your refrigerator and freezer thermometers. If the fridge is still at or below 40°F (4°C), or the food has been above 40°F for only 2 hours or less, it should be safe to eat.
  • Frozen food that still has ice crystals or is at 40°F or below can be safely refrozen or cooked.
  • If you’re unsure how long the temperature has been at or above 40 degrees, don’t take a chance. Throw the food out.

Fruits and vegetables are more forgiving than meat and dairy. Use common sense, if it looks bad or smells bad do not eat it, and if your choose to eat something that is questionable – cook it thoroughly.

BONUS TIP: Put a penny on your ice cubes. If the penny is INSIDE the ice when you go to use it – you know the ice melted and froze, increasing spoilage risk.

#7 Off Grid Cooking Supplies

Learn how to cook a meal without power BEFORE the power grid fails. Make sure you practice no-electricity cooking regularly, so you know how to do it and have the needed equipment.

Outdoor grills work well if the weather cooperates. Have extra bags of charcoal, depending on space and family size. Also consider extra propane tanks on hand. Remember to cook/grill meats that will go bad first.

Indoor gas ranges/stoves may or may not work when the power is out. Many have electric ignition. 

Consider having a portable gas stove. Small butane stoves are great for cooking simple meals indoors, and store in a space about the size of a briefcase. Camp stoves may not be safe for indoor use. Check before you fire up.

See Emergency Cooking – 10 Ways to Have a Hot Meal When the Power Goes Out for more information on cooking without electricity.

#8 Food

Start by stocking more of what you regularly eat. Focus on foods that store without electricity. If you like a specific type of granola bar, or cereal or soup, keep a few extra of them and keep eating the oldest ones first.

Stockpile food while it is on sale, that way it costs less. Since, you eat day to day it keeps your stock of food fresh. You end up eating what you normally would and still have a stockpile for an snowstorm or earthquake.

Have at least 3 days of food for everyone in the family – including pets. A 30 day stockpile is better, especially if you can stock a bit more of the food you are eating already, and supplement it with MRE, Freeze dried or other canned food you like.

Buy small sample sizes and taste test before you buy a bulk supply. If the budget allows, a home freeze dryer may be a worthwhile investment. That way you can store food you know tastes good that your family will eat.

See also – Home Food Preservation – 10 Ways to Preserve Food at Home.

#9 Heating and Cooling

For people who live in northern climates, consider a indoor safe Mr Heater to keep warm. If you buy one get extra propane tanks. You might need more than one.

Check out Emergency Heat During a Power Outage and other Winter Storm Preps for cold weather survival tips.

For hot climates, read 12 Best Tips for Keeping Your house Cool Without AC.

#10 Communications

Your cellphone battery will die. Get a solar charger, and/or car charger, RavPower Battery Pack and/or crank USB charger. Leave the phone charging. Test your charger and batteries when you change your clocks at daylight savings in the spring and fall.

Assume you might not have 911 or internet. Have a list of key phone numbers written down or printed out. Have LOCAL PAPER MAPS, so you can get where you are going even if a few roads are out and your GPS isn't working. (See Maps for Preparedness.)

A crank powered radio is good too. Get one that can listen to emergency broadcasts, and even better one that can listen to TV broadcasts.

See also the Best Battery Chargers and Batteries and Emergency Radios (Receive Only and Handheld Transceiver Radios).

#11 First Aid Supplies

Either make your own first aid kit or buy one. Have one kit for home, one in the car/truck, and one for work. We recommend at least the Surviveware Small First Aid Kit or Surviveware Large First Aid Kit

You should have enough to be able to be survive for 7 days. Here are things you might need to make sure you have stocks of:

  • Over the Counter (OTC) medications
  • Insulin
  • Prescription medications
  • Inhalers
  • Thyroid meds
  • Adrenaline (EpiPen etc.)
  • Whatever you need (or might need) to take care the basic medical needs of yourself and your family

Get Trained! Learn CPR training and basic 1st aid training BEFORE you need it. Make sure the entire family is trained, even the squeamish ones.

See also – Best First Aid Kit Recommendations for Home, Car, Office and Travel

#12 Everything Else

This listed items above are all critical items, but there are many more that will improve comfort levels if the power grid fails for an extended time.

Money. Businesses that are open may only be able to take cash, or only take credit. It's good to have both on hand, especially small bills.

Supplies. Do you have a stash of one or two changes of clothes for each season? The power outage might occur right before your weekly laundry day. An emergency stash of fresh socks and underwear can make a world of difference during an extended power outage.

Paper is handy to take notes. A deck of cards and a couple board games can help to pass the time. Do you have a box of matches or BIC Lighters to light a candle or start a charcoal grill? Do you have hand/body wipes, alcohol swipes and sanitizing hand wash so you can clean up without using drinking water?

Don't forget the duck tape!

Know How to Get in and Out of Buildings without Power

Learn how to get in and out of buildings at home, work and frequented buildings. Locate stairwells and learn how to get to them. If the power is out, elevators probably won't working. This seems simple but try it at least once, just to make sure you can find your way with the building totally dark and with only a flashlight.

This is a good reason to have a flashlight at work and/or on your keychain.

Team up when the Power Grid Fails!

A prepared group is much better than a prepared individual. Plan with your neighborhood, and with your friends and family. Maybe one person is good at first aid, another is a camper, another is a hunter and so on. A team has far more resources than the individual.

Think about group communication, like local walk-talkies or ham radio for talking to the team. Maybe there's a designated gathering location, or different people in the group prep for different things, like off grid cooking or water filtration.

when the power grid fails text over lightning hitting power lines

Why Does The Grid Go Down?

What causes brown outs (partial power loss) and black outs (full power loss)? Weather, Cyber Attacks, mechanical failure, Earthquakes and other natural disasters, human error and the aging power grid. See below for information about each of these.

Weather

Weather is the main reason for power outages. Snowstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes can generate damaging winds or debris that take down transmission lines so the power grid fails in a local area. Extremely cold or hot weather can cause spikes in demand that exceed available power.

Increased Demand

Over the past decade rolling blackouts and brown outs have occurred because demand is higher than the available power supply.

Intentional Outages

Power companies have started to reduce fire risk and aging replacement. They are creating planned power outages.

Cyber Attacks

Cyber attacks are moving from theory to reality. The US utility grid is attacked constantly, it is likely the hackers will eventually succeed and do something bad. Airports have also been hacked numerous times but so far no bad guys have caused problems … YET.

A police shooting in Madison Wisconsin in March of 2015 resulted in an “Anonymous” attack against police services. The individual paid hackers to disrupt 911, fire, rescue and police for the entire City and County. This caused emergency services outages endangering civilians. It was a small attack, but it had significant impact.

During Christmas 2015 and again in 2017 – Russia successfully cut power to 250,000 people in Ukraine. This included a denial of service on the Ukraine version of 911 services. It has happened and likely will again and not just in Ukraine or Madison.

Earthquakes and Other Natural Disaster

In 1989 Canada experienced a power outage related to a solar flare. Brownouts and storm related power outages are more common. Earthquakes damage infrastructure, which may take significant time to repair.

Human Error/Disasters

In 2003, there  was a “software bug” power outage, which affected an estimated 10 million people in Ontario and 45 million people in eight U.S. states . 9/11 is another example of a disaster that impacted services including regional phone services and transportation.

Aging Power Grid 

The power grid today, experiences 2.5x more than it did in 1984. We are seeing failures line failures, substation failures and numerous other random failures throughout the grid. https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/08/scorching-heat-rolling-blackouts-the-west-is-changing-how-it-does-summer/

Power Grid Zones

There are 100s of things that can cause a small local outage, a regional power outage or even an national grid power outage.

Get the essential information you need to prepare for a nuclear or solar EMP. Learn what an electromagnetic pulse is and how it affects you.
United States Power Grid Zones – Source

Recent articles about power grid risks and failures:

The article “Aging US Power Grid Blacks Out More Than Any Other Developed Nation” notes:

The United States endures more blackouts than any other developed nation as the number of U.S. power outages lasting more than an hour have increased steadily for the past decade, according to federal databases at the Department of Energy (DOE) and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC).

According to federal data, the U.S. electric grid loses power 285 percent more often than in 1984, when the data collection effort on blackouts began. That’s costing American businesses as much as $150 billion per year, the DOE reported, with weather-related disruptions costing the most per event.

“The root causes” of the increasing number of blackouts are aging infrastructure and a lack of investment and clear policy to modernize the grid. The situation is worsened by gaps in the policies of federal and local commissioners. And now there are new risks to the grid from terrorism and climate change's extreme impacts, Amin said.

Also, demand for electricity has grown 10 percent over the last decade, even though there are more energy-efficient products and buildings than ever. And as Americans rely increasingly on digital devices, summers get hotter (particularly in the southern regions of the U.S.) and seasonal demand for air conditioning grows, the problem is only getting worse.

The video below shows a recent PBS special discussing just how vulnerable the grid is:

As you can see, for most of us it's not a matter of if the power grid fails, it's a matter of when and for how long. We all need to prepare for power grid failure. Many of the tips shared here are a good idea for general preparedness as well as power outages. We always need food, water and shelter.

Has grid stability been a problem in your area? What's your biggest concern if the power grid goes down for an extended time?

More Preparedness Information

The Common Sense Preparedness page lists over 100 preparedness articles, all sorted by category. They include:

August Neverman

This post was written by August Neverman IV. August is the Chief Information Officer and Information Security Officer of Brown County Wisconsin. August served on several emergency preparedness teams during his tenure at a local hospital, as well as undergoing emergency response training during his time with the Air National Guard.

Originally posted in 2016, last updated in Jan 2020.

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103 Comments

  1. Try reading “One Second After” by William R. Forstchen. It’s a fictional novel, but is an eye-opening illustration of what could potentially happen after an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) event.

    1. Yes, a very thought provoking book.
      What I recall most is the fact that only the oldest vehicles [those without electronic components] would function – until the fuel supply ran out…

      1. You better be able to pop the clutch to start it when your alternator is fried.But good luck refilling your tank without power to stations if they even have any.A bike is a better choice!

    2. Our novel, Post Grid, is an Amazon #1 best seller too. People are inspired by works of fiction, makes them think. Nan

    3. I read it. it’s also important because he based the results on congressional and military studies done to determine the effects of a large scale EMP. No guesswork on that part by him.

      he does give the main characters some advantages to keep them alive, but that allows him to play out the effects of the EMP over time. Very well written fact based book. as far as the aftermath of an EMP on industry, communication, and transportation, I don’t think there is a better researched book.

    4. I’m surprised nobody attempted ot make a movie out of *One Second After* yet. That would make a good one considering all the Christian or historical films that have been coming out by indie developers recently.

      1. According to wikipedia (so info may be reliable or not) – “The option for the film rights to One Second After was initially sold to Warner Bros., but subsequently expired. As of August 2011 a new option was being negotiated with another studio.”

        The topic may be to real for the studios to touch. There’s a so called “trailer” for a movie on youtube, but it’s awful.

    5. The problem with one second after is that during an EMP there will be a back EMF that makes electricity goes backwards frying all the circuitry of the vehicle even older ones because of the battery. The battery will be fried.

      Your flashlight probably won’t turn on again even if it’s off during the event.

      1. I’m not sure what you mean by “back EMF” but in an AC system the electricity travels backwards 25 or 30 times every second (if you’re in a 50 or 60 Hz country).

        Older style flashlights with incandescent bulbs are generally too small to be affected by EMPs, as their size means they can’t pick up enough electrical current to cause any damage. Newer LED flashlights won’t pick up any more stray current, but since LEDs are much more sensitive to overvoltage situations there is perhaps a small chance that these could stop working.

    6. Good idea! I have read this book and it really opened my eyes to what could potentially happen during an EMP event. Also try the next book, One Year After, by the same author, William R. Forstchen

  2. Typo in #1—Lighting, paragraph 2:
    “…they create a fire risk and fresh are…” should be “…they create a fire risk and fresh air…”

  3. I’ve lived in primitive situations several times in my nearly 70 years, no electricity or drinkable water,
    for months at a time. Laurie’s list is excellent (most people forget about toilet flushing, start to fill your bathtub and replenish from ANY undrinkable water you come across). Have ordinary bleach on hand, a small amount added to ‘unsanitary’ gathered water and to ‘toilet brew’ is good. If you haven’t gotten 1 of the small cooking stoves (shame on you) an “alcohol stove” can be made from metal cans and plain old, off the shelf alcohol (DYI info is readily available). Last, matches can be “waterproofed” by quickly dipping their lighting end in liquefied candle wax. Don’t try to do everything at 1 time but DO keep at it.

    1. Also hand sanitizer makes a great fire starter in an emergency. It is about 99% alcohol!! Just have to be careful using it.

      1. I have to disagree. I have attempted to lite a pellet stove with hand sanitizer on multiple occasions, using a lighter (the long, gun type) and I might as well have tried to light a puddle of chocolate pudding.

      2. Also, if you wear perfume, that can be used for a fire starter. And dryer lint. When I was in Girl Scouts, we used to take dryer lint to camp to use for kindling.

        1. “if you wear perfume, that can be used for a fire starter” DO NOT LIGHT THE PERFUME THAT YOU ARE WEARING THOUGH…You were not very clear on that…LOL

  4. You can get a plugnplay t-stat to convert a small chest freezer into a fridge. Chest freezers are much more efficient than front-opening units (what kind does the grocery store use ? They usually don’t even have lids). The behemoths Americans are used to use too much power for most solar systems and require too large a generator to run for an extended period. Amazon sells the stats (Johnson control–less than $60). Get the stat ahead of time, as they will be very hard to obtain during an extended outage. If you can afford one, get the freezer as well.

  5. This all really great advice. Being in the electrical business as well as the home generator business, I would like to say that financing a generator is a great way to make it affordable. Many good companies will offer great payment plans that you can take advantage of.

  6. I would also recommend the MSP Core 4 or Core 5 backpacking stoves. They can be configured as a rocket stove, wood gassification stove, or a combination. The 5 is the bigger stove.

    I know the Core 4 will support a 10 inch dutch oven or skillet with no problem. These stoves are extremely efficient. it’s surprising how little ash you get compared to the amount of wood burned.

  7. I have a question I’m hoping someone can answer for me. We bought a house last year that has a gas generator attached to the house and comes on after a few minutes of the power going out. I’m curious if the generator would still work if an emp took out the electricity? Thanks for any help!

    1. Will an EMP destroy trains? I know steam trains will still work like on heritage railways. Could an EMP be the return of the steam era?

        1. This is a little bit of an exaggeration, like back in Y2K when it was said planes will fall out of the sky once the date ticked over to 2000.

          An EMP is dangerous only because electrical wires act like antennas and will pick up an electrical current, and in the case of an EMP, some wires will pick up more of a current than they were designed for. The amount of current they will pick up is related to their length, and whether they are shielded or not by some sort of metal enclosure.

          This is why power lines, which are very long and have no shielding at all, will pick up huge electrical surges and deliver them to people’s home electrical outlets, possibly damaging anything plugged in at the time. Trains may be damaged for the same reason if they are electric, but diesel locomotives will likely be unharmed since they are enclosed in giant metal boxes which will shield much of the electronics they use for control.

          Likewise it has been shown by experiment that modern cars are also surprisingly rugged when exposed to low-level EMP, with things like the entertainment system crashing but everything returning to normal after the car is switched off and back on again. In some cases the vehicle battery had to be disconnected for a minute or two to completely reset the electronics, but there was no lasting damage.

          Things like cell phones have wires in them that are far too short to pick up any meaningful charge from all but a direct hit with an EMP, so chances are most phones will keep working even if they are not shielded. They might even get a signal from the cell tower because towers typically have excellent lightning protection, which means they have a great chance of surviving an EMP. Of course if grid power goes out which is quite likely, it may only be a few days until the backup batteries in the towers go flat so this doesn’t mean it will be plain sailing.

          1. Don’t totally agree. The odds of a solar flare or a nuke bomb EMP are extremely LOW. The odds are at some point an EMP will occur. It is not “theoretical” not like Y2k. We have examples in 1859 and recently in Canada in 1989 as noted in the article. Knowing the exact amount of energy is a true unknown. However, the amount of energy in a small to medium solar flare would be absolutely massive (a large one would potentially cause flash fires). The impact would be far more than the impact seen in 1989 when we were just grazed by a small solar flare. So I don’t agree it is the same as Y2k.

            A solar flare could be hours to over a day (based on direct solar flare observations). So the impact of a solar flare is significantly more complicated as demonstrated by the 1989 Solar EMP. The solar flare is not like lightning at all. The nuclear bomb EMP would be more like the lightning – based on the RF signature of the previous EMP tests by the military.

            You are correct on the diesel locomotives and I agree some cell towers might survive. But my opinion (not fact) is that the sensitivity of the tower electronics would be damaged by the ongoing solar flare. Regardless of individual devices or engines surviving, the grid would be seriously damaged, if not outright destroyed (but again extremely unlikely, my guess millions to 1). I believe a cellphone may be damaged mainly because some use RF (near-field) charging which is designed to receive an RF charge and in a solar flare the ambient charge would be thousands if not 10s of thousands of times higher. Regardless even if cellphones don’t get damaged — the wider grid damage is the higher risk. Lack of electricity will be the issue. I encourage you to research the 1989 event to get a good idea what a nationwide or worldwide event would be like.

            As noted odds are extremely low – but the level of risk (ie the impact) of a direct hit from a small or moderate solar flare would be devastating. I wish it would be like Y2k but it would not be- we have tests and a real world solar flare example of 1989.

          2. Y2K was a real deal. The good thing about it was the problem was well understood and simply needed the effort to fix and test. I spent a solid three months building and manning a dedicated test system for my company to be able to test and fix each of the applications developed on that site. Come 01/01/2000, nothing went wrong. Problem sorted. A (very) few major companies didn’t bother and some of their systems did go down.

            In contrast, the problem with an EMP is the effect on each individual piece of equipment in its specific environment is unknown. A box may be EMP hardened but the box it’s sitting on may burst into flames.

  8. Did anybody catch the funniest of the statement “Elevators at home and at work”

    Who has elevators at home? LOL.

    Anyways the real scary deal will be when the liberals and feminists decide to go on *Conservative Hunting* sprees in order to purge the world of filth according to their views.

    That’s when the blood baths will start. Do you want to be caught in that especially if you have a family to take care of or being taken care of by a family?

    It will be like the Russian Revolution where one dictator gets replaced by another in a different dress with different factions all killing each other for various causes.

    1. Handicap individuals may have person elevators or stair lifts in private residences. Many people live in multi-story apartments or condos and regularly use elevator access to get to and from their homes.

    2. Yes we were thinking multi-story apartment buildings. A LOT of people live in them, and they consider them home. So yes, it sounds funny to some of us (including me – until I lived in an apartment/condo for 5 years by necessity).

  9. Even though we live near a nuclear power plant our electricity is from another source. We frequently have outages. Though they don’t last terribly long, your article came on the heels of one yesterday. Good timing. I printed it out in anticipation of not having computer access. Will look it over more thoroughly and physically check off your suggestions. Thanks Laurie!

    1. We had an outage just last weekend. It only lasted a couple hours, but it was a good reminder of how much we depend on the grid. The boys just built a replacement housing for our generator (the old one wore out), so it’s on the to do list yet this fall to get everything resettled for the winter, just in case. With the US giving up control of policing the internet recently, the hackers are only going to get bolder, and I’m concerned that basic services will be affected more regularly.

  10. ? in the event of EMP- is it correct to assume that even battery operated devices; walkie talkie;radio;etc won’t operate?

    1. Putting sensitive devices in a grounded container – such as all metal trash can that is grounded would likely protect them. The can functions as a shield, or Faraday cage, which absorbs and redirects the voltage to “ground”. The same reason some vehicles could potentially survive, as they would be isolated from ground – the problem is when something is PART of the electrical path – it gets smoked (literally).

      1. Make sure you research this thoroughly from reputable sources before trying it, because there are a few gotchas that don’t seem to be covered on some prepper sites.

        For example, if you put the lid on the trash can but don’t seal it with conductive foil tape, the tiny gap between the can and the lid can act as a waveguide (fancy type of antenna) and direct some EMP energy inside the trash can. Small holes in the sides aren’t an issue, but the long thin continuous gap where the lid meets the can is. This gap needs to be closed by something electrically conductive like foil tape.

        Also grounding the can is at best unnecessary and at worst more likely to damage the contents. A Faraday cage works even when it’s not grounded, and people are tempted to ground their trash cans to the electrical system – the same electrical system that will deliver huge surges during an EMP. If you are storing valuables inside your shielded trash can, why would you connect it to a giant antenna like the electrical system that will deliver a huge surge during an EMP?!

        1. In general you are correct. The container matters – plastic doesn’t work. A good faraday cage without ground will protect the contents – you are correct. Depending on the circumstances, the cage can create a huge static charge. If that occurs a ground will occur at some point (resulting in a static dump). Which is why grounding ensures you don’t end up with a huge static charge. The ground I suggest is a true ground copper ground, not grid tied. Like this: https://amzn.to/2UPOo3G

  11. Laurie,
    You have a great list, I had not though of some of the things that you have posted on your list.
    Is it possible that you could make that list printer friendly? I have pain in my hands at this time of the year, which makes hard for me to write. I appreciate the work you did with that list.
    Thank you,
    Orpha

  12. What about money? Does it make sense to securely store some cash? Would banks operate? Could I get something out of a safety deposit box? Would cash even be used? Would using cash make us vulnerable to robbery or home invasion? Could I get money from retirement accounts, or my monthly Social Security checks, etc. etc. etc.

    1. That’s not entirely straightforward. Depending on where you live, cash may or may not be useful, or useful to varying degrees depending on the type of outage. For instance, post-hurricane this summer, my friend in South Carolina found that many stores were not accepting cash, only credit, because they could not make change. I’m sure that in other cases, some places will only accept cash.

      Having money onsite may indeed make you a target, so if you plan to have a stash, I’d have a concealed safe, and maintain good OPSEC. Depending on the extent of and severity of the outage, bank funds and government payments or all types might be unavailable or delayed.

    2. And not just modern US currency. You may want to keep some silver, and some small denomination gold coins (Mexican 2 peso, for example, NOT 1 oz. coins). These will hold value even if the banks fail. Go to a local coin club. Members will often have inexpensive coins to sell. Just act like it’s a hobby, not a prepping activity, and no one will bat an eye.

  13. I don’t recall seeing gasoline on your list. When the entire portion of Southern California lost power back in 2011, it was really scary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Southwest_blackout I remember parking my car 1/2 mile from my house because the traffic stopped moving, we were sitting in traffic for 45 min in one spot on a neighborhood sidestreet. I remember walking past the 7/11 and saw cars crammed into the parking lot and gas lots. The pumps are electronic and did not work. Although Southern California lost power for 11 hours, it was a huge wake up call and showed us just how unprepared we were. I don’t let my car get past 1/2 a tank anymore. I fill up as often as I can. If I had a safe place to store a small gas canister I would.

    Great article, thank you! And I couldn’t put down that book A Second After. It was very well written. Be it cyber attack, solar storm, or in Southern California’s case, “human error”, It can happen, no doubt about it.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I didn’t even think to add that to the list, as we regularly keeps several large containers of gas on hand for general use around the homestead. Grandpa Neverman also made it a family rule to keep the gas tank topped off, so we stick to that, too.

      1. Gasoline does have a “shelf life” of sorts. If you want gas to last a year or two you probably want to add a Gas Stablizer to it.
        What I do is rotate my stored 5 gallon cont. of gas through my car every 4 to 5 months and refill the cans with fresh gas.
        *I store any extra gas in my shed.. NEVER the house or attached garage.
        I also keep a Small BLUE storage container of kerosine for hurricane lanterns and my kerosine camping cook stove.
        * 3 is 2, 2 is 1 and 1 is none. *
        That’s a handy survival rule

  14. Another good book: Farham’s Freehold – about the aftermath survival effort. It’s fiction, but good reading.

  15. Re: Lighting-
    I live in Florida and have been without power several times after storms and no backup power. Three times over 20 days. I made good use of my outdoor solar lights for indoor lighting. Very safe.

  16. Thank you for such great info. I was unprepared for a electrical blackout after a huge wind storm in the foothills in Los Angeles. Ten days without electricity during winter. It got dark very early…and some of us had holiday food in our refrigerators…needless to say all my neighbors lost it all.
    I faired well that time…had three more black outs in three years..some due to storms..lightning hitting tranformers..and tree falling down taking the electric poles and all with them. Quiet scarey.
    I always keep candles..extra ice filled water bottles in the freezer in case of a power outage to put in the frige to keep my food cold…sort of like the old ice boxes my greatgrandma had. All was a learning experience. Need to buy a generator that’s for sure.

    1. The new generators are more user friendly than the old ones used to be, so that makes it easier when you need to use them. Make use you have a generator enclosure, or plan to run it with the garage open (especially if your garage is attached. You don’t want those fumes building up inside an enclosed area.

  17. Generally a good summary. Would recommend Coleman propane stoves. Safe, simple, last a long time.
    Get Coleman L for 20lb tank and you can “camp” in your kitchen with heat, light, hot food.Have used for a week during Hurricane Fran and an ice storm one week outage. Propane stores well and safely if outside. The newer crank radios work well and come with USB ports for your cell phone. A small chest freezer and a small generator (Honda) will go a long way in saving a lot of food. Can make ice jugs when current on, keep in small freezer, put in cooler for a week to keep refrigerator food. Get soy milk, does not need refrigeration till opened. Perk coffee pot, instant coffee, ibuprofen to correct coffee withdrawal.

    1. Excellent point… always have a supply of common meds for upset stomachs, diarrhea, constipation, Tylenol, aspirin, cough meds, lozenges, and vitimens. When emergencies strike its those little things that can mean a lot.

  18. I didn’t see a word in either the article or comments about keeping some means to defend those stocks of what you have. Your burglar alarm isn’t going to work in a power outage, and police/fire are going to be busy in this situation.

    If you are comfortable with firearms, by all means keep them and TRAIN YOURSELF AND YOUR CHILDREN in their use and safety. DRILL it into your children that any firearm they see is presumed to be loaded unless proved otherwise.

    If you are not comfortable with firearms, don’t keep them and risk hurting yourself or a family member. You would want pepper spray, an air horn, wasp and hornet spray, something that you can use at a bit of a distance. You want to avoid hand to hand combat if possible. If they have a gun, and you don’t, you’re better off letting them have what they want, and getting out of there as fast as you can.

      1. Agreed. There are a number of sites on you tube (some by local Sheriff’s departments) which discuss “Hardening” or Securing one’s home to make it less appealing to burglers. NEVER a bad idea.

    1. AKEA, your comments about personal security in a disaster is an issue that is not addressed by enough people. It falls under the category of someone else doing for you. This entire post is about being self-prepared which is almost the most important issue a family can have these days. The ideas expressed are ones we all should examine – yours included. Thanks for bringing up security.

    2. AKEA – bear spray from your local hunting/sportsman store is much better than pepper, wasp or hornet spray. The distance for use is good also.

  19. I’ve lived in a low population rural county since 1983. One thing I’ve learned is that power outages are going to happen. The usual cause is either a lightning strike on a transformer or a freak ice storm taking down power lines. One of my former residences was prone to having the transformer struck by lightning because the house was built on top of a large outcrop of granite. Our transformer was fried 3-4 times per year, every year. That was an awful inconvenience, so we were always prepared for it.

    My recommendations are to take extra care with sanitation issues. (bag in the bowl or 2 bucket system, hand wash station, etc.) Also, if you live out in the boonies, I recommend that you have an LP furnace or space heaters & an LP cook stove. You can heat your home during an outage in the winter & cook and/or boil water all year round. When you live in the country, unless there are burn bans, you can burn your trash. I store extra dried beans, rice & pasta at all times, along with some canned meats & sauces. That, coupled with whatever is in your freezer will get you through an extended outage. Like you, I keep a few extra 5 gallon cans of gas for lawn mowers, etc. There is a good reason to keep your vehicles tanks topped off… It’s to prevent the accumulation of water in your fuel tank due to condensation, which is pretty common in the cooler months. Get a 20 pound LP tank & several 1 pound LP tanks & you’re good to go for cooking if you don’t have a gas cook stove. There’s a brass coupling you can buy that will allow you to refill 1 pound LP tanks from a 20 pound LP tank. (and probably let you refill a 20 lb. tank from a 250 lb. tank) I’m an avid camper so my camping gear is just about the same as prepper’s gear. I have many alternative methods for cooking meals, lighting, charging small electronics, etc.

    My home is the bug out location for my extended family, so I’ll be hunkering down. Unless a tornado hits here, I’ll never bug out.

    I have maps, lots of maps… I have a large spiral bound Rand McNally US map, several state maps & many county maps for all the contiguous counties surrounding my county. County maps are good for finding alternative routes such as county roads & private roads.

    I enjoy reading your website because you post some very practical articles. Thanks & keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for sharing your experience, J. L. All good advice. We have a stash of paper map, too, and made sure our sons know how to use them. with GPS tech so common now, many of the younger generation are unfamiliar with map reading.

    2. Somebody else, on another site, discussed dried vs. canned beans. Dried beans are lighter and more portable, but having to soak them and cook them uses up precious water and fuel. Beans in cans require a can opener (have a manual one in your emergency supplies), but can be eaten right out of the can. With beans in jars, you have the risk of glass breakage, but again, ready to eat. And if you should break a jar, save the broken glass to use as a cutting tool or weapon. Probably the best thing would be to have a mix of dried and canned, to cover all your bases.

  20. I was thinking about the possibility of an EMP attack the other night and was realizing that if it were done it would most likely be carried out during the night, since our various enemies know that if people woke up, they would be, for the most part, unable to do anything until daylight. Even if you keep flashlights next to your bed, if they have LED lights, they would be disabled by the EMP. Also, our enemies know, I am sure, that most of our military members who are married live either off base or on base housing and would have no way to get to their duty stations. I was thinking that one way for individuals to deal with that, to some extent, would be to keep a flashlight in one of those Faraday bags next to your bed, probably one in the bathroom, so that you might be able to get to your larger Faraday cage(s) to get and use other electronics or items you have put away for such an event? What is your thought on that? With the current threats from N Korea it is something we need to think about and plan for in advance. I also have some low power power-stations which have to be recharged every three months even if you don’t use them, so I keep them in one 31 gallon metal garbage can, sealed with aluminum tape, and then take them out every 3 months on the first of the month, to recharge them. Also have small solar panels with wires to use if necessary that I keep in the Faraday cages at all times. Those can be used to recharge items and batteries to keep other things going.

    1. Yes the scope of an larger EMP is overwhelming. Even with small or even moderate generating capacity, it would be a rough life. The ONLY food would be local as 99% of vehicles would not operate, and things we take for granted would be gone for weeks, months or even years (depending on the number of nukes). It is a hard concept to deal with – and the odds are quite low. So we recommend the 72 hour, or 3day storm preparation as a starting point. Having enough for a couple of weeks is the next recommended level, ie Catrina/Harvey level storms – and in the north a week long snow storm causing power outages. These are more likely and more straightforward to prepare for. With all that said, we are not discouraging prepping for a small or even large EMP… its just hard to prep for.

  21. I was thinking about something else that should be in your bug-out gear: cigarettes, EVEN IF YOU DON’T SMOKE. Someone who is Jonesing will do or give you anything for a smoke. They can be more valuable than cash.

    1. And toilet paper! Lots of it. Don’t forget toothpaste and brushes! Think when there is no sewer and people go months without a proper bathroom and you come along offering fresh toilet paper that you can wipe properly and toothpaste with brushes! People will be so thankful to have basic hygiene tools again.

  22. Thank you all for all the helpful tips and info. Don’t keep up with the news that much but for the past month have had a deep concern on things going down and starting to get prepared. On a limited income currently so appreciate different ways to get started

  23. When my children were small, we had an indoor smores making kit. It gave me the idea of using sterno cans for cooking during emergencies and extended power outages, The sterno produced heat sufficient to heat canned soup, canned pasta, heat water for coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Sterno was also a safe, indoor, heating option. Cases of 12 sterno cans may be easily purchased at party stores and some big box stores. In addition to propane for my Coleman stove, I keep sterno on hands. One last suggestion, keep a bottle of unscented bleach in the emergency supplies. The list of uses is extensive. But most importantly, to pretreat questionable water for drinking. There are ratios for bleach to water posted on the internet as well as instructions for the time necessary to wait before drinking the water. I keep a 3 ring binder with info specific for emergencies. Can’t always reference the internet during an emergency. Thanks for the useful information.

    1. Karen makes an excellent point. You won’t be able to access Google etc. to get instructions, menues, etc. I have a number of folders with info. recipes I might need.

    2. That was very smart to PRACTICE cooking with sterno and your Coleman stove. It doesn’t do any good to have them if you don’t know how to use them.

  24. Good article – but one important thing that was not mentioned is that you need to have cash on hand! All ATMs will be down – banks will not be able to help you get cash. So you should have cash on hand. Preferably and smaller bills.

    1. Interestingly enough, when my friend, Amber, dealt with power outages and road closures after flooding, some stores that were able to open were accepting credit but not not cash – because they couldn’t get reliable cash pickup. Thanks for the note and we’ll add that to the article.

  25. Most of the web (and our nation) is ran by feelers those who are extroverts and feel thru life and don’t know diddly squat about anything or anyone unless it’s their niche interest. They are taught by evolution there is no truth only what is deemed comfortable in their safety zone.

    As a result do you really think we have anyone knowledgeable to operate our grid when the retirees finally die off? The grid is operated mainly by elderly whom should’ve retired 10 years ago but are keeping things going. There is a high opening rate for linemen and grid operators. Nobody wants to work.

    1. I think things have been a little too comfortable for too many people for too long. No motivation to tackle hard work. Also, many corporations treat employees as disposable and interchangeable. Why work your heart out when your employer could care less? On the flip side, businesses deal with ever increasing regulation and job hoppers. Why invest in a person when they’be be gone at the next opportunity that comes up?

      It’s all a hot mess.

  26. You guys should read the Alex Scarrow books. Last light is based on what happens when the oil stops pumping to the uk. It isn’t so much survival advice but a story of one families survival. It was very thought provoking and it gives you a taste of the things to think about.

  27. Personal security will be a paramount concern in about a week after a grid failure. Even people who are pacifists will change their M.O. when their family has no food or means to acquire food. Even if you are now against guns, wake up, they are a tool to protect yourself when civility breaks down. If you know someone who shoots or hunts, ask them to take you to a range and learn how to safely and responsibly handle a firearm. Buy a reliable rifle or handgun and know how to use it, store it and how it functions. When society breaks down and people are eating your neighbors dog, the life you save may be your own.

  28. Great article . Always great to refresh this senior memory and add new info. Info on Reliable products ,if H2O can get out then something bad could get in . I found that prob with also but thought it was just me . I have another brand about 25% more expensive JOHN

  29. Download the Free PDF from the LDS church. It can also be purchased at cost. All inclusive guide that includes everything. Every head of household should prep. Don’t depend upon government that got us into the mess.
    If you are urban u need a plan to get out. There will only be death in cities. Look at New Orleans as a fine example.

  30. Hello,
    Thanks so much for the well written article. Sometimes prepper articles are really condescending but this one is not at all! I love all the lower cost options for things. Sometimes the other prepper articles list the cadillac versions of things because they are ‘better’ and then you end up meaning to save for this or that item but never get it because ….well…cadillac. 🙂 I have definitely added a few of your suggestions to my purchase soon list. Thank you!

    1. I’m glad you found the post useful.

      It’s generally acknowledged that scared people buy, so many sites take advantage of that and add language to scare people more to sell more.

      We’d rather educate and give options. Start with the basics, and build from there.

  31. I wish those new light bulbs were a tab bit more attractive. When you have a fixture and the bulb shows, I think it takes away from the look of it. I know it is better for energy savings. Sometimes I choose, rather foolishly, fashion over function. Our shoes are the perfect example of this right ladies?!

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