Our lives depend on power and electricity. So much so, that it is easy to take it for granted. Whether you are cooking, enjoying entertainment, or using your computer for work, it is likely that electricity is involved in some way. While this shows how far we have come as a connected society, it also reveals our vulnerabilities. Whether due to a massive storm or security breach, a long-term power outage can occur at any time.
The best way to prepare for a long-term power outage is to have an extensive collection of non-perishable food items, non-electric heating, and lighting sources, and a battery-powered radio to keep tabs on essential news reports.
If everything were to collapse suddenly, most of us would find ourselves without a plan. That is why it is essential to prepare for a power outage that may last longer than a week. Look at all of your essential needs, and think of ways to address these issues without electricity.
While it may seem overwhelming, it can be done. Long-term power outages can occur for a variety of reasons, and you want to ensure you and your family have what you need until power returns. In addition to the steps above, take a look at our tips for preparing for a long-term power outage.
During a long-term power outage, you may need to reach long-distance family members or have to communicate with emergency personnel. While cell and internet service may be out in your area, it may not be out everywhere within a 10 to 20-mile radius. So, it may be possible to make a call.
However, how can you do that if your power is out of service? Well, there are numerous ways to communicate with others during a long-term power outage or receive news. First, you should always have a hand-crank or battery-powered radio. This tool will allow you to tune into local and national weather stations for updates regarding the outage.
It is also essential to have a battery-powered portable USB charger as well as a car cellphone charger. Both can keep your cellphone or other electronics charged without electricity.
Also, the internet may be out in your immediate area, but if it isn’t, communicate with loved ones using social media or email. It is likely that phone lines are overwhelmed in your city. So, if you need to reach a loved one, it is easier to use alternative methods of communication like email or text messaging.
Lighting, Heating, and Cooling
It may feel tempting to use open-flame options like candles for lighting and even heating. Avoid them if you can. They create a hazard for you and your family as this can easily cause objects around you to catch fire.
Instead of candles, invest in flashlights, solar-powered lanterns, and battery-powered LED push lights. These are safe options that only require batteries. For any solar-powered lighting, be sure to put it outside of your home during the day so the lights can recharge for you to use at night.
Regarding how you will heat your home, there are many options. First, depending on the season, ensure that you and your family have enough warm clothes, blankets, and sleeping bags. These items can go a long way in keeping everyone warm without having to rely on traditional methods of heating.
Next, invest in safe methods for heating your home. These could include the following:
- A kerosene heater
- Space blanket
- Space heater
- Propane space heater
Kerosene heaters require fuel while a propane space heater needs propane tanks. Both methods of heating can be useful, but they do require care in refueling and fuel storage. Be sure to fuel both heaters outside of your home to prevent the spread of dangerous fumes.
You may also want to invest in a portable generator. These machines will not power your entire house, but they can be used to plug in various types of heaters, lighting sources, and appliances. Portable generators are powered by fuel, and it is essential that you refuel and run these generators at least 20 feet from your home.
It could also be the case that you experience a power outage during the summer or in a warm area of the country. You will not have the luxury of air conditioning, so you have to find ways to cool your home without electricity. First, make sure you have shutters or blinds on your window as they can keep out the sun. Second, invest in some low-powered fans that you can plug into a generator.
At the first sign of a power outage, locals in your city will be rushing to the grocery store. Within hours the essentials will be gone. You can get ahead of this by creating an extensive food pantry ahead of time.
One of the main ways you can preserve your food is by being intentional about the type you purchase. For example, make a point to invest in non-perishable food items like:
- Canned vegetables
- Canned beans
- Peanut butter
- Canned soups
- Granola bars
- Dried fruit
- Canned meats, salmon, tuna
- Powdered milk
- Beef jerky
- Dehydrated foods
These are all items you should have stocked in your home. Again, a long-term power outage can last beyond a few days. However, as a rule, prepare to purchase food for at least a week.
Since the power is out, it is likely that refrigerators and freezers will not fulfill their purpose for long. According to the Red Cross, an unopened refrigerator will stay cold for four hours, while a freezer will retain its temperature for two days. After this time, you need to have a way to preserve perishable items for as long as you can.
Prepare for the warming of the refrigerator by freezing a few gallons of water in the freezer. After the four hours are up, you can transfer the frozen water to the refrigerator to continue to preserve your food for as long as you can.
You can also invest in a larger cooler that preserves some of your larger perishable items.
Cooking may seem impossible during a long-term power outage, but it is still possible to create healthy and filling meals. Before the advent of electricity, previous generations utilized many of these methods to prepare foods.
Fireplaces, wood stoves, and fire pits can all be used to cook food items. However, if you do not want to have to locate firewood, or cook outdoors consistently, there are other options.
You can purchase a solar oven, a cooking mechanism that utilizes the power of the sun to cook food. Second, you can also buy a propane stove. This tool works very similarly to a propane heater, in that you do have to fuel it for use. Many of these stoves are portable and can easily be stored away when you are not using them.
While these methods of cooking are excellent alternatives, you have to remember that they do require preparation. They either need firewood, coal, or fuel. Even solar stoves have to be put out during the day for proper use. So, most of the work will include gathering the items you need ahead of time.
Sources of Water, Purification, and Personal Hygiene
It is easy to forget how much water we use throughout the day. However, you have to be intentional and mindful about water preservation and purification. Each member of your family requires at least one gallon of water per day. So, you need to plan to collect this amount. Keep in mind that you need to have enough water for at least two weeks.
Unfortunately, the power outage could last longer. If this happens, you want to have a strategy for acquiring more. There are a few ways you can safely do this:
- Use a nearby stream or lake as a water source. Be sure to run all water through a filter, and even treat it using a small amount of bleach.
- Develop a rainwater catchment system. This system allows you to capture rainwater. A complete system can run it through a water purifier. For extra water safety, use bleach, purification tablets, or heat to get rid of any lagging bacteria.
Water is an essential part of survival. Without it, you and your family will not be able to last for long. So, prepare for a long-term power outage by purchasing gallons of water, locate a water source around you if needed, and see about installing a rain catchment system for an additional option.
In situations like this, nature can be an excellent resource for survival. So, become aware of what is around you. Doing so, could preserve resources and even save your life.
Regarding personal hygiene, the primary concern should be water conservation. It is important to remember to bathe and wash hands—as mentioned above—however, you need to ensure you have enough water to last you and your family.
Remember how much water that you have allocated for each member of your family per day. Bathe as needed, but keep everything to a minimum as much as possible. Keep a stock of the following to help with personal hygiene:
- Dry shampoo
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes
- Paper towels
- Portable toiletries
- Feminine hygiene products
- Water-less body wash (ex. DryBath)
Many of the items above can help you stay clean without the use of water. They can help you plan only to use water when necessary. For example, you may want to only use your daily water supply for bathing once a day, while baby wipes and water-less body washes can be used for additional bathing needs.
Health Preservation and First Aid
Unfortunately, sickness doesn’t take a break during emergencies. If there is any time you and your family are susceptible to falling ill, it is during a long-term power outage. The lack of consistent heating and cooling, changes in diet, and general stress make you open to disease. Therefore, you have to plan accordingly.
First, you should always have a family first aid kit in your home. These can help you handle basic health issues: colds, sprains, broken skin, splinters, and other less intense illnesses that can become serious if not immediately managed.
Second, ensure that you have all essential medications for yourself and your family (including dogs and cats). Many insurance companies only supply medications on a month-by-month basis. So, speak with your doctor about the possibility of getting a more abundant supply of medicines at one time. There may be some medications where a two or three month supply is possible.
Third, as you will likely be in your home for an extended period, it makes it more likely for germs to spread. So, be sure to wash your hands as much as possible with the water supply, use hand sanitizer, and always use gloves when working with food of any kind.
It also doesn’t hurt to disinfect high-traffic areas of your house each day. Take time to consistently clean doorknobs, counters, light switches, handles, and any other items that are frequently touched by others in your home.
Lastly, have a set amount of over the counter medications for emergencies. Some of these may already be in your first-aid kit, but some may not. So, be sure to create a list and acquire what you may need ahead of time:
- Pain relief and fever medications: Any of the familiar brands. These could include Tylenol, Aspirin, Aleve, Motrin, or Advil
- Digestion and GI medications: Pepto Bismol, Alka Seltzer, Immodium, laxatives (It may seem odd to stock up on GI medications, but a change in diets and stress levels can cause severe changes in digestion and bathroom habits).
- Cold and flu medications: Cough drops, vapor rub, decongestants (oral and nasal)
- Anti-itch and allergy medications: Epi-Pens, antihistamine pills, anti-itch creams, saline formula
Again, health challenges can come at any time, especially during an emergency. Take time to craft an inventory of medications, supplies, and resources you may need to better manage sickness. This step will help you to survive if you are far away from professional medical care.
Concerning sanitation, you want a reliable way to dispose of organic and inorganic wastes. Your main concern here will be the handling of human waste. So, you need an alternative to your toilet’s municipal waste system. You can deal with this in three ways:
- Install a septic tank. Some cities and neighborhoods will allow you to install a tank underground to collect all human waste and sewage. From there, the waste decomposes with the use of bacteria before draining out into a field. A septic tank will keep you from having to depend on the municipal system, that is likely out because of the power outage. However, if there is flooding in the area, the septic can overflow and cause sewage to make its way onto your yard.
- Create a temporary toilet. You can use your original toilet bowl for this. First, you should take as much water from the toilet as possible, install a large bag under the seat, and then spray the area with bleach and cleaner. The area should be sprayed with the items after each use. After the bag is a quarter of the way full, carefully remove the bag, spray with bleach, and store it away from the living area for disposal. You can also achieve a similar effect with a composting toilet (which may be a bit more expensive).
- Purchase a portable toilet. A camping or RV toilet is ideal. These toilets act in a similar way to your temporary toilet. Many can come with a special solution to break down the waste, and soft tissue for easy disposal.
These methods may take some getting used to, but they will ensure that you and your family have a way to manage your wastes safely. Failing to have a way to store waste can make yourself and your family ill.
So, don’t wait until a power outage to decide to install a septic tank, purchase a composting or portable toilet, or acquire what you need to transform your toilet.
Hygiene and sanitation are likely the last things you will think about regarding a power outage. So, alongside heating and food preparation, these topics are ones you want to address early on in your preparation process. They are likely the most challenging to handle once a problem occurs, so plan ahead of time.
Alternative Sources of Energy
As mentioned above, you don’t have to be powerless just because you are experiencing a long-term power outage. There are ways you can alternatively power your home. Here are a few standard methods:
- Portable gasoline generator – These require fuel to operate.
- Solar powered generator – This device converts solar energy into electrical power and stores it into batteries for home use. Their size and price will depend on how much of your home you want to power, and for how long.
- A home battery – This is a back-up source for energy to be used in your home. You can typically only use a portion of the charge at a time.
All three of the above alternative home power sources have pros and cons. The amount you are willing to spend, as well as how long you need these devices will enable you to decide the one that works best. You will likely not be able to power your entire home, so you will have to prioritize what you want to power.
You also have to decide if you want to deal with a large amount of setup before or after the outage. For example, if you want to utilize solar energy, you will likely have to install a generator and panels ahead of time (which could be expensive).
However, if you are seeking more simplicity, a portable gasoline generator allows for easier setup time since it only requires fuel. The former will likely last longer, while the latter will need constant fueling. Again, you need to balance costs with time as you make your decision.
Additional Helpful Survival Tips
The steps above should help you to begin to have an idea of how you need to prepare for a long-term outage. However, there are additional steps you can take to ensure you have a solid strategy. Here are five additional tips to help you in your long-term power outage preparation.
- Utilize your community. If you live in a neighborhood or close to other individuals, do not hesitate to work with them. They may have resources you need, and you may be able to return the favor.
- Always ensure your car’s tank is full. You may need your vehicle for travel or to charge phones or other electronics. You do not want to be caught without it due to a lack of fuel.
- Always sign up for local alerts. You want to be in the know regarding the outage, and any related weather patterns. Local radio alerts can give you insight into whether you have enough supplies, or if you need to evacuate.
- Have a list of emergency contacts. Have a list of reliable contacts you can call if you cannot reach emergency personnel.
- Don’t ignore the value of entertainment. High morale is crucial for survival. Materials that cause you to get your mind off of the current situation can help you do this. Invest in books, magazines, board games, and puzzles to keep you and your family busy.
Long-term power outages can happen without warning. The last thing you want is for yourself and your family to not prepare ahead of time. So, use the tips above to create a plan of preparation and inventory list of what you will need. The goal is to be intentional.
It is important to remember that before the advent of modern technology, many of the above tactics were used by previous generations. As a result, survival in this situation is not impossible. With strategy and preparation, you can safely lead your family through this ordeal.