Why is that you spend so much time prepping? You stock food, water, guns and ammo, items to barter, first aid supplies, and some even store nails, boards, tools, and so on. You know that society could collapse at any moment, or that a solar flare could send us back to the stone age, or the economy could crash, or a dozen other calamities could befall modern civilization. You believe in this possibility so you prepare.
But what – precisely – do you prepare for?
There might some SHTF scenarios that play out where it’s basically social unrest caused by a market crash or a disease that wipes out a good percentage of the population, but the thing we fear the most, short term or long term, is the lack of electricity.
Why is the grid so important?
Simply put electricity is the lifeblood our civilization runs on. The problem is that we Americans take it for granted. It’s such an ingrained part of our life that we don’t even think about it until it’s gone. Ever walk into a room during a power outage and flip the switch knowing the power’s out? You might even hit the switch again out of habit. You never realize how much you depend on something until it’s gone.
Back in 1998 we had an ice storm in Canada and Maine that knocked out power for a month in some areas. I live in a fairly rural area and I can remember standing in my driveway listening to trees snapping and cracking in the woods around me as brances crashed to the ground with a half inch of ice on them. Trees, power lines, and telephone poles were down everywhere. Some places didn’t lose power at all and others were without electricity for a month.
We kept the house warm with a small wood stove and a kerosene heater, cooked with a propane camp stove, and used candles and flashlights for a week until the power came back on. If you’ve never been without running water, refrigeration (unless you open the door), and everything else that comes with a blackout I suggest you go down to your basement and turn off the master breaker to the house for a weekend. That will give you some idea of what it’s like. Take notes about the things that worked and didn’t work for. Were you missing candles or batteries? Write it down! Don’t forget that in a widespread blackout grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, hospitals and everything else will be without power too.
Long Term Blackout
Ultimately what you’re prepping for is a long term grid down situation. Most people (non-preppers) don’t think about this, which is why there’s a sudden panic and items fly off the shelves at grocery stores when a big storm is coming. Unfortunately it’s usually a case of “too little too late” if it’s a severe event.
Ted Koppel wrote a book awhile back called “Lights Out”, which is a look at how our electrical infrastructure is open to a hacker attack and the damage that could happen to the grid itself as well as some of the societal problems we would face. It was a pretty decent book that met with mixed reviews.
I’ve read the “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.” It’s a long, dry, arduous read, but there’s a lot of scary information in there if you dig for it. I believe Ted Koppel read this as well and used some of the information in his own book.
The report is focused on an EMP, in this case a nuclear weapon exploded at high altitude, and Ted Koppel looks at a cyber attack on the grid. In reality there are different events that could cause the grid to collapse and focusing on only one seems a little short sighted. Ever see Doomsday Preppers? At the beginning of each show the prepper says something like, “I’m Barney Smith and I’m prepping for the eventuality that soon there will be an avian flu outbreak.” Why would you prep for one specific incident when there are so many possibilites?
Grid Vulnerability – Cascading Effects
A recurring theme in the report was cascading effects. For example: the 2003 Northeast Blackout was caused by one incident which cascaded into many others bringing down a huge portion of the grid in the Northeast. There were systems in place that should have stopped or mitigated this blackout, but for various reasons they failed.
The report states that a generating plant in Eastlake, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, went offline amid high electrical demand, putting a strain on high-voltage power lines (located in a distant rural setting) which later went out of service when they came in contact with “overgrown trees”. This trip caused load to transfer to other transmission lines, which were not able to bear the load, tripping their relays. Once these multiple trips occurred, multiple generators suddenly lost parts of their loads, so they accelerated out of phase with the grid at different rates, and tripped out to prevent damage. The cascading effect that resulted ultimately forced the shutdown of more than 100 power plants.
As you can see it doesn’t take much to bring down something as big and complex as the electrical grid. They talk about fail-overs and redundant systems, but the truth is that the system is so complex nobody is sure what would would happen if it were exposed to an EMP, hacker attack, or any of the other myriad disasters that could happen. In the above example it was just one incident that caused the system to cascade. During an EMP there would be many points of failure likely causing a huge blackout over large swathes of the country.
Many people in today’s society are edgy and nervous and in my opinion they should be. Our civilization is more dependent on electricity than ever before while the infrastructure is getting older. The current political climate is unsettled at best and with the saber rattling going on between the U.S. and North Korea I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up some morning and hear that we’ve nuked them or vice-versa. Mother nature has been pounding the worlds with storms, earthquakes, and volcanoes.
If you sit and think about it for a minute it makes sense to have a little something extra stored away – just in case. Just because you have some food and water stored away for an emergency doesn’t make you crazy. Even the government urges you to have survival kits in your house. Here’s what they suggest for a kit. Personally I think this is a very minimum, bare bones kit, but it’s way better than nothing.
Having food and other supplies on hand could be the difference between being a refugee and staying at home for a week or two and being self-sufficient while the authorities work on getting your little piece of civilization up and running again. It also beats running to the store to do last minute emergency shopping with thousands of other people when a big storm is heading in your way.
Make Your Own Electricity
There are different ways to make electricity. Gas or diesel generators are probably the most common, but these will only be good for as long as you have fuel. Most people only have enough fuel on hand for about three to seven days as the expectation is that power will be restored by that point.
Propane generators are also popular here in the Northeast and there are systems that will kick in automatically and keep the house running without you even knowing it. My mother in law has one of these systems and when it works it’s awesome. There have been times when it didn’t come on automatically though. They also tend to consume fuel at a high rate. If it’s going to be a long term situation consider running the generator every few hours to keep the refrigeration going, but conserving on fuel.
Solar is an excellent way to generate electricity and I have a small “solar generator” that will run some lights, a laptop, and a few other semi-small appliances. What’s awesome is that as long as the sun is out you’re constantly recharging the system.
In addition to solar I also have a gasoline powered generator wired directly to the house that will run about 80% of my devices. Power goes out here two or three times a year for up to three days at a time and it’s made a huge difference in how comfortable we are. The system itself was under $1500 and it’s been worth every penny.
When you’re running your generator during a long-term power outage be aware that they become a hot commodity. During the ice storm back in the late 90’s people were stealing generators while they were still running! Make sure to lock it up so this doesn’t happen to you.
Are You Prepared?
Now it’s time to take a look at your own situation. Are you ready for an emergency of up to three days? Five? Seven? A month? What can you do to make your situation just a little better?
Sound off below!
Oh great post! That’s so true! We really are preparing for no power. I grew up in the mountains where going without power for long stretches of time was a common occurrence during certain times of the year. So, I’ve learned ways of doing things without electricity. Doesn’t mean I’m totally prepared though. I can’t wait to be in a place where I can have solar! That’s one of my families goals. Thanks again for the info.
Lot’s of people know how to live – at least temporarily – without the grid, but far more are likely to just huddle under blankets in the living room until the power comes back on. Good for you on knowing how to stay warm and comfortable and thanks for reading!
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grid down, hard, is a nightmare for me.
I depend on my CPAP, fans and Air Conditioner to get me through the night.
for a few weeks now, there will be good sleeping weather,
then it will turn cold. Electric Heat is very nice, until the electric bill comes due… I have a small propane heater, and a couple camp stoves
(don’t tell the landlord)
the backup battery for the fire alarm, and emergency lights ran down before grid power came back,
when Sandy made her recent visit.
I know I can use the camp stove in complete safety. the Fire Martial
I’m sure would beg to differ…
so next in importance, after grid power: a reliable vehicle.
You should look into building a solar generator, Irish. You can put one together for a few hundred bucks.
and no better time than now!
my CPAP will run on 12V. power so all I really need is the panels, and some southern/western sky. I can upgrade my battery later.
I always wanted to build myself a little circuit that can supply off grid power to the gas boiler thermostat.
I found out years ago how quickly the house can get cold when you don’t really understand your system…
An oil burner, and the well pump will need a fuel driven generator, practically speaking.