We were in the dark for ten hours during the San Diego blackout earlier this month. That impressed on me that we’re pretty unprepared for emergencies.
What if power goes out again, this time for much longer? What if we have to evacuate, perhaps due to fire? We’ve nearly had to do twice in the last ten years.
Since the blackout, I’ve been taking stock and making plans, which I’ve done using two of my best skills: (1) Reading on the Internet and (2) Buying things.
There are four scenarios we need to be prepared for:
Short-term power outage. Something like the one we had recently. We did pretty well there. There are a couple of things I think we can do better, but those relate to the next scenario, so I’ll talk about them there.
Longer term power outage. One that stretches on for many days, perhaps combined with breakdown in other utilities.
In this scenario, we’re hunkered in the house without electricity, maybe also without gas and a supply of pure water.
We need to do a bit of work to get ready for this. We need food, pure water, illumination, and communications.
Water: FEMA NY and a couple of other places recommend a three-day supply of pure water. That’s one gallon, per person, per day, plus a quart per day for pets. Different sources give slightly different info on how to prepare the water, but it seems all you really need to do is pour it into food-safe containers, seal the top, put it in a cool place away from direct sunlight, and you’re good to go.
Food: We’re pretty well covered there. Thanks to Julie, we always have food in the house. About half of it is perishable, but half isn’t. We both like nutrition bars of various flavors, so we always have a lot of food.
Illumination: Julie stocked up on candles. They’re warm and cozy for a ten-hour blackout, but not really practical for longer than that. They don’t cast a lot of light, and they’re dangerous. Julie also bought a lot of flashlights, and a couple of them are very good.
I bought two of these rechargeable lanterns from Amazon.com. We’ll keep them plugged in in the pantry room off the kitchen at all times, which is where I think we should keep our little collection of emergency supplies.
We need to think about solar lighting or hand-cranked rechargeable lights.
We need to make sure we always have a supply of D-Cells.
If we had a lot of money lying around (which we currently do not), I’d get one of these GoSolar! fold-up solar panels, to charge laptops, cell phones, give the car a jump-start, and more.
Communication: Julie has a hand-cranked portable radio, which we listened to quite a lot during the blackout. I think I will probably also get this one, which also includes the ability to recharge a cell phone over a USB connection.
The Internet is a major source of communication, of course. I kept plugged into Twitter during the emergency, but my iPhone ran down just before the blackout ended. Since then, I bought a Mophie Juice Pack, which doubles the lifespan of the battery. I’ve been thinking I want one anyway for business trips. I’ll make a point to keep it 100% charged at all times when it’s not actually in use.
During an emergency, the car isn’t just a source of transportation; it’s also a source of electrical generation. I already have a car charger for the iPhone. It’s actually an adapter that turns the cigarette lighter into a USB power source, so I should be able to use the car charger for the iPads too. And the car has an electrical outlet built in to run conventional household power, which we can use to charge the iPad and my MacBook Pro.
Evacuating by car: Take all the above, throw them in the car, and go.
Evacuating by foot: Store as much of the above as we can carry in knapsacks, take them with us and go.
Still needed: Print out copies of legal documents, store them with emergency supplies. Get copies of prescriptions, store them with the emergency supplies. Julie says we have a first aid kit — is it any good?
You’ll note the absence of a fifth scenario, which has started to appear frighteningly likely since the financial meltdown of 2008:
The collapse of civil order. Think: Russia, 1990. Government simply stops working, cops and courts disappear, money is valueless. How would we survive then?
I’ve done some reading on this on blogs like Ran Prieur and Global Guerrillas. The two things that are valuable in that situation are community ties and practical skills that matter in that new world. I don’t have much of either, I’m afraid. I don’t see my abilities as a blogger, content marketer, and journalist as having much value in a post-breakdown world. And as for community — for more than a decade, my community has been on the Internet rather than where we physically live.
You’ll also note the absence of weapons on this list. This is not because I am a pacifist; it’s just that survivalists who think they can fight their way out of societal collapse are deluded fools. You’re most likely going to lose a gunfight or a knife-fight or a bare-knuckle brawl unless you’re trained and practice every day. I do none of those things.
What I can do is talk. I’m more confident of my ability to talk my way out of a conflict than I am in my ability to fight my way out. I may get a gun at some point, but only partly for self-defense, and even then it’s a real risk that the gun would most likely be used against me, or, even worse, Julie.
My friend Jim Macdonald recommends never, ever going below a half-tank of gas. It’s a good rule, and one we never follow; we usually let the tank get well below a quarter-full before refilling. That’s the way it was at the time of the blackout. We really need to do a better job of keeping the tank full.
Tips for an apocalypse, by Teresa Nielsen Hayden.
Real emergency preparedness, by Teresa
Jump kits (Go bags), by Jim Macdonald.
FEMA NY – Water
FEMA NY – Food