(originally publish June 2018) (Updated January 21, 2024)
Are you really ready for your power to go out?
It doesn’t matter what time of year, where you live or your economic status. When the power goes out…
There’s nothing you can do. Or is there?
The key to surviving a power outage is to evaluate, prepare, and communicate prior to a power outage. This means several times a year you evaluate your supplies and needs, regardless if you’ve ever had a power outage or not. You’ll have unique plans depending on your weather and supplies.
Plus, depending on how long your power is out will dictate supplies, plans, and being able to survive without power.
Evaluate – Prepare – Communicate
Unless your house is completely off grid, an electrical power outage will affect you. Before you ever have a power outage, evaluate how your house works without electricity. Know exactly what parts of your house depend on electricity to function.
Locate and create easy access to your breaker box. If you use gas, propane or oil, know when and how to use emergency shutoffs.
Do a walkthrough of your house to know what will and won’t work during a power outage. Plus, how to get around each issue for safety and comfort. Make sure you write your findings and the supplies you’ll need.
- Electric garage doors won’t work. Locate and learn how your manual door release works, then have everyone in the house practice opening the garage door manually.
- Are you on septic or sewer? If you’re on a private septic system, you’ll get one flush, but it’s not the best idea to just flush. It’s better to have access to a 5-gallon water gallon water bucket and water. Then, if your toilet has to be used, you pour water into the bowl or the back of the toilet until it flushes on its own. This means you’ll need a bucket and access to water too.
- If you’re on sewer or city sewer, find out what your city suggests during a power outage. The water in the toilet bowl will work, but you might not need to. When you are on sewer, unless the entire area is without power, you’ll still have flushing power.
- Non-electric heaters and stoves may or may not work. Check owner’s manuals for safety and usage during a power outage.
- Electric heaters, stoves, ovens, etc. will not work.
- Water availability. If you’re on well water, you’ll need a manual pump. If you’re on city water, you may or may not be affected. Contact your water company for their emergency recommendations. For water, prepare as if you’ll be without water for drinking, bathing and cooking. Even if you are on city water, the power outage may cause your water to become contaminated.
Make sure you’ve created a power outage plan, and you practice it.
Buy the supplies you need according to your original evaluation, but remember you will most likely find other supplies, foods, games, etc. You want to get before you have a power outage.
So how should you prepare for an electric power outage? Rule of thumb, be prepared for the first 72 hours first. This buys you time, allows you to evaluate the situation, how to allocate supplies, and moves into your decision to dig in or bug out.
Digging in means you’re staying where you are for the long hall. Bugging out means you already have a plan to move you and your family to a different location. There is no right or wrong answer to digging in or bugging out, it will depend on the power outage situation, your supplies, and situation.
There’s no way to predict how long you’ll be without power. Creating safe shelter with enough food and water for 72 hours is a good start. You can buy 72 hour kits or set up your own supplies with common household items. Make sure your supplies are in one place in your home.
If you have an outbuilding or a shed, keep flashlights there as well in case the power goes out when you’re outside.
Your 72-hour power outage kit might include:
- A flashlight or battery powered light for everyone, and extra batteries.
- A hand crank flashlight/radio.
- Emergency numbers.
- Stocked first aid kit.
- Water: 1 gallon of water per day per person. Plus extra water for pets.
- Food: Nonperishable food, which requires little to no cooking. Stock food you eat. For instance, if you’re a coffee drinker, stock instant coffee. If you don’t like spam, don’t stock it. Even though it lasts forever, you will not want to eat it. Plus, if you’re eating food you’re not accustomed to like freeze-dried meals, your stomach might not like it.
- A hand can opener.
- Sterno cooking fuel for cooking inside or out.
- Paper plates, silverware, and cups.
- Access to extra blankets.
- Manufacturer approved indoor propane heaters and extra propane. If you have an indoor wood fireplace, make sure it’s always usable, and you have wood cut that fits into it.
- Extra ice or bottles of frozen water in your freezer.
- Cash – ATM’s might not work. Plus, many places won’t be able to take credit or debit. And it’s very possible the supplies you need will not be from a store but from an individual.
- Backup charger for your cell phone such as a car or solar charger.
- A phone connected directly to the wall for landlines. Wireless phones might not work during a power outage, depending on the damages and number of people using the towers.
- Non-electric entertainment. This could include books, coloring, string, and playing cards.
- Fire starters, such as a lighter, waterproof matches, or flint.
- Battery or wind-up clock.
- Extra medication you need.
- You can cook on propane or wood grills, but make sure you use them outside with ventilation.
- Gas generator and extra gasoline.
Make sure you know how to use all of your equipment.
Communicate – Practice – Adjust
Communicate and practice your power outage plan with your family. Make up different scenarios from everyone being home to people needing to get home. Practice if you’re digging in or bugging out.
Yes, practicing a power outage for a few hours or days gives you firsthand experience. Plus, practicing gives you time to correct glitches in your plan before an actual event.
Here’s an example of a basic power outage practice plan.
What is the first thing you do when your power goes out?
First, account for everyone in your household. If you need to get people home, have this in your plan and how it’s going to work. Then get any needed supplies, such as a flashlight, out from their storage area to a main area. Determine if the outage is isolated to your house or wide spread. Check your breaker box for popped breakers. Turn off any appliances or fuel sources such as gas, which need shutting off. Unplug all electronics such as computers, TVs, sewing machines etc. Have refrigerators and freezers plugged into surge protectors.
In cold weather, meet in one area to conserve heat. Use an alternative heat source when needed.
In hot weather cover windows in direct sunlight. Open other windows on a shaded side of the house for air flow.
Keep refrigerator and freezers closed – food should be safe for several hours. If the power outage is longer than a few hours, determine what needs to be eaten. Or if you need to plug in a generator. If you don’t have a generator, keep the freezers closed.
Once you’re in control of the power outage, relax. Check on other family member’s homes or neighbors if you can. There’s nothing else you can do.
When the power returns
Check your breaker box, ensuring all breakers work properly. Turn gas lines back on per safety instructions from the gas company.
Check refrigerator and freezer food for spoilage. If in doubt, throw it out.
As you pack your supplies, make a list of needed items.
Replenish your power outage supplies while it’s fresh on your mind. Make note of additional supplies you wish you had on hand and get them now.
Make any adjustments to your plan, that didn’t work or you thought could work better.
A power outage can make you feel helpless. With a little planning, supplies, and communication, you can conquer the power outage, and still enjoy your time.
You may never lose power, but if you do, you’ll be better off than if you never tried to be prepared in the first place.
Grow Food – Buy Local – Be Prepared – Gain Freedom