I don’t know if you’ve ever lived through a major power outage, but I have. I live in a hurricane zone, so I guess it’s no surprise that I would end up suffering through a hurricane sometime. The one I got wasn’t one of the big, sexy ones which brought in FEMA agents and lots of non-profit agencies to help us recover, but it was bad enough that it took a week for our power to get back on, so we could put our lives back together.
You don’t really realize how much you need electric power, until you are left without it. As a society, we are addicted to electricity. Pretty much everything we do uses electricity in one way or another, even activities which we think aren’t electrified.
When the power goes out, you really notice it; and the longer it is out, the more things it affects. Life gets harder rather quickly, as we wonder how we are going to do even the basic necessities for survival, let alone the day-to-day activities we are used to.
Looking at the way things are in California right now, this may be something we all need to get used to. The rolling blackouts they are having right now are due to a series of errors, some made by the power company and some by the government.
The government blames the utilities for not properly maintaining their lines, while the utility companies are blaming the government for forcing them to invest the money that should have gone into that maintenance, into expensive green energy projects.
With the push for green energy projects across the country, PG&E may not be the only company that is behind on its maintenance. Now that the dam has been opened, we could see forced blackouts anywhere in the country where there is a risk of power lines causing wildfires.
Perhaps you can learn something from my experience. It sure has helped me with my planning since I went through this experience. So, I’ll break down the week here and give you an idea of everything that went wrong.
When the Power Went Out
I first noticed that the power went out when my computer suddenly shut off. This wasn’t the first time that had happened to me, as power outages in the middle of a storm are fairly normal. I figured that the power would come on in a while and in the mean time, I could have a snack and watch the rain.
There was just one thing… the power didn’t come back on. As I sat there for hours, I counted all the work I wasn’t getting done and all the money I wasn’t making.
Meanwhile, since I live in the south, the temperature was rising. It had been 100°F outside before the rain started and it was rapidly heading that way inside. I opened the doors and windows that I could, without rain coming in, but there wasn’t enough airflow to cool the house much.
I guess that wasn’t as bad as being up north in the wintertime. While too much heat can kill you, too much cold is more likely to. People who live in colder climates than me and who don’t have any alternative means of heating their homes, like a wood-burning stove, are really taking a chance with their lives in the case of a major power outage.
Without power, we really didn’t have much light in the house. Most homes don’t have enough windows and mine is no exception. Between the lack of windows and the heavily overcast sky, it was hard to do much of anything.
Fortunately we had a gas stove, so cooking dinner wasn’t much of a problem. We had plenty of food and for the moment, the fridge and freezer were keeping things cold. We just had to make sure we kept the doors closed to keep that cold inside.
Had a hard time sleeping that first night, due to all the heat. For that matter, we had a hard time sleeping all week long. If I had been able to string up some hammocks we could have been cooler, but the only place I could do that was in the back yard, and it was still raining.
I work at home, so I obviously couldn’t work. But neither could my wife. The school she worked at didn’t have any power either, so she was stuck at home. The kids loved it, as kids will, seeing it as a vacation from their classroom. But even if the schools had been open, they would have been stuck at home, as our street looked like a lake; some problem with the stormwater drainage.
The big thing that confronted me that morning was the home’s sump. Without electricity, the sump pump wasn’t emptying it out automatically.
I had to tell the family we were switching over to emergency procedures and they’d have to use a five-gallon bucket toilet we had set up for emergencies. Fortunately, we use greywater recycling, so the water from most of the sinks and tubs went out into the back yard, not into the sewage system.
As afternoon rolled around, the water flow from the sink started diminishing and eventually came to a complete stop. We were without water. Fortunately, I had foreseen this and had stockpiled water. My rain barrels were full as well and I had a good water purification system.
The rain has finally let up… at least for the most part. We’re still getting some sudden rainfalls, but we’re also getting dry times as well. Maybe our street will finally dry out and I’ll be able to move the cars. But man, the humidity is horrible.
Up till now the food in the refrigerator has been doing good, as the insulation was enough to keep it cold. It also helped that I had the freezer full, so there was a large mass of cold food there to keep it cold. But today’s crunch day for that food. I’m going to have to start doing something with it or it’s all going to spoil. Time to fire up the smoker and smoke what I can. Too bad it’s too cloudy to use the sun’s power to make jerky.
Bathing is a challenge now, as we don’t have running water; and with the heat, we all need to bathe. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico, so I knew how to handle this. All it takes is a five-gallon bucket and a smaller plastic container, something that holds about two quarts.
To take a bath, you get a couple of gallons of water in your bucket and lock yourself in the bathroom, setting the bucket in the tub. You can wet yourself down by pouring water over yourself with the small container.
Once wet, it’s time to soap and lather. Then use the same container to pour water over yourself to rinse. The water is cold, but you don’t want to use more than you have to anyway. I can actually bathe and wash my hair with less than a gallon.
Of course, there are some family members who might not be all that happy bathing with cold water. I won’t mention any female’s names, but I’m sure you know what I mean. That meant heating up the water in a metal bucket on the barbecue grille. Fortunately, I’ve got a gas grill, in addition to the wood-burning smoker. I always keep extra propane on hand, as part of my survival preparedness.
By now I’d be worried about my firewood supply if I lived up north. Most people stack their firewood in the open, which means that it would have gotten soaking wet from all that rainfall. In olden times, most people either stacked their wood in a shed or built their homes with wide eaves, so that they could stack the wood up against the house, where the eaves would protect it.
Still working on smoking the meat from the freezer and canning the veggies. That’s a bit challenging on an open fire, but not all that bad. We’re using the gas barbecue grille for that as well, when we’re not using it for cooking. I hope my supply of propane holds out.
There’s enough sunlight that I can make jerky from some of the meat, rather than smoking it. I’ve already soaked it in brine, in anticipation of smoking it, so it has salt. That’s not as good for flavor as marinating it, but it will work fine for preserving it.
To make the jerky, I sliced the meat up and hung it over the clothes line. This is somewhat analogous to what the American Indians did, except they used wood racks, instead of a clothes line. Still, it’s the same idea and the meat seems to dry well, as long as the sun stays out.
Neighbors are starting to run out of food and have come knocking. That’s tough. I know many of their kids. Fortunately, we know this isn’t a TEOTWAWKI event, where we know the power won’t be coming back on. So I shared some food with them, giving them rice and beans from my stock, as well as some of the chicken that had thawed out.
I’m concerned about what’s going to happen in a few more days. People have already broken the windows in the local supermarket and raided it for food. What’s going to happen when that food runs out. The average supermarket only has three days worth of food on hand.
I’ve decided that my plans for alternative power were totally inadequate. The few solar panels I bought have barely been able to keep up with charging phones, flashlight batteries and a few other necessities.
If I had been able to power my fridge, I wouldn’t have had the panic to save my food. If I could have air conditioned at least one room in the house, we could have slept a whole lot better.
It’s more than just keeping cool so that we can sleep better; my wife’s heat intolerant. We normally have to keep her in the air conditioning pretty much all the time, except during our brief winter. Without air running, she’s been unable to do a thing.
I’ve been using evaporative cooling as much as I can to keep her cool, but that’s not enough. There isn’t any ice, or I’d be using that. The best I can do is keep her wet and in the breeze. At least at night it’s a bit cooler and she can move around.
People are starting to talk about organizing the neighborhood so that everyone can eat. I know what that means, it means that they expect me to share what I have. As best I know, there are no other preppers in the neighborhood, so I don’t know where all this food is supposed to come from, unless they are thinking I have enough to feed everyone.
Finally got all the food salvaged. But as much as I care for my fellow man, I didn’t do it for them. Besides, by the time you split up what was in my freezer through the neighborhood, we’ve got enough for one good meal, that’s it.
More people are coming around, asking for food. I don’t know these people, so I’ve been turning them away. Mostly I do that by telling them to go to the FEMA distribution center.
But as far as I know, FEMA isn’t here yet. If they are, it’s probably just to bring red tape. I haven’t seen anyone who has had food that came from FEMA.
Decided to do some scouting around today, so took the car out to see what’s happening. As best as I can tell, there are a few churches and non-profits up and running, trying to help people. That’s it. But I took that information back to my neighborhood and tried to spread it around.
Almost got carjacked while I was out scouting around. There has always been a lot of gang activity in the area, so I guess the gangs are getting active. I must have looked like an inviting target, driving my car down a nearly empty street. Fortunately, I saw them in time and gunned the engine, before they could reach me. A few twists and turns and I lost them. But it was close.
The radio has gone dead; we’re not even getting information that way anymore. Radio stations are supposed to have some sort of emergency power supply and a stock of fuel to run it. So I guess they ran out. We don’t even know if anyone out there is paying attention to what’s happening here, as we aren’t getting any reports back. It sure feels lonely.
Things are starting to get ugly. People are hungry and so are their kids. I’m starting to see others walking around with guns strapped on. I carry concealed, so I’ve been doing that all along.
But I doubt all those people have a concealed carry license. They’ve just decided to take it on themselves to carry a gun. And I have to say, they don’t all look like nice people.
Several of them got together and came up my walkway, looking like they were planning on taking over. Since I have a four foot tall hedge around my front yard, they were all bunched up, right there on the walkway… right where I wanted them. I stepped out on the balcony, while the family poked their guns out the windows. As I said, they were right where I wanted them… where we had the upper hand.
That was enough to get them to turn back, after shouting a few threats at the house. I’m sure they’ll come back, just as soon as they’re ready.
Later that Day
Thank God, the lights came back on. We have power once again. Things are starting to settle down. Where it was looking like we were going to have High Noon in the streets of our neighborhood just a few hours ago, things look civilized once again. People have put their guns away again. Some food trucks have shown up and I see smiles on faces once more.
So that was my experience. I’m glad it wasn’t any worse. But what about you? Have you lived through something similar? Have you had the lights go out? How did you handle it? How did your neighbors? What did you learn that you were doing wrong?