Last updated on April 12th, 2015
The electricity goes out – no electrical power – a power outage – blackout.
Our survival will depend upon the preparations and supplies that we have already made and stored at the time of the blackout.
Think about the scenarios and imagine life without electricity. Think about the different lengths of time you may be without power. Imagine each scenario and the preparations that would have to be made to handle them.
While you consider this, keep in mind that the human body will not survive beyond 3, maybe 5 days tops without water – depending. You can survive many weeks without food, although you would be desperate, weak, and mostly unable to function. Also keep in mind your present location, the number of people that live around you, their proximity to you, the population density of the area, and remember that they will all be in the same circumstance as you.
If you are inclined to have a survival preparedness plan for a grid-down blackout scenario, you must first consider the probable length of time that the electricity will be off. The only way that you will discover this information is by gathering information. Unless you otherwise know the cause of the blackout such as from a local event like severe weather, you will need to find out from others. A battery powered portable AM/FM Shortwave Radio will be your information life line.
Many broadcasting stations have backup generators and will probably still be on the air for awhile until their fuel runs out. You will probably soon discover the cause of the outage and probable length of time. You will take action accordingly.
If you discover that there are no local stations broadcasting at all, this will definitely indicate a worse problem. An EMP (electro-magnetic-pulse) weapon of sufficient power will fry most all electronics within line of sight from the detonation. Such a weapon could affect a diameter of many hundreds of miles and cascading much further if detonated at sufficient altitude. This is a worst case scenario, and one where your best chance of discovering the extent of damage will be listening to short wave radio broadcasts from other unaffected parts of the world who will likely begin reporting on an incident of this magnitude. Note that most radios will be wiped out by an EMP unless they have been purposely shielded ahead of time as in this example which may work.
Another blackout scenario may be a grid down situation caused by a very powerful X-class solar flare and/or a huge CME (coronal mass ejection) from the sun. The energy from some types of solar flares can reach the Earth as quick as 8 minutes. A powerful solar flare or CME would probably not destroy the electronic infrastructure like an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) weapon could, however it certainly will have the potential to knock out electrical power grids and destroy untold thousands of transformers including highly specialized EHV (extra high voltage) power grid transformers. A real problem within this scenario is the length of time that it would likely take to build and replace the affected transformers. Some of the very high voltage transformers could take a year or more to build and replace!
Blackout 0 to 24 hours
Short lived power outages are quite common, and most all of us have an easy time dealing with it. We are inconvenienced, sometimes even have fun with it, but that’s about it. There is not too much preparation required here, some flashlights (some call them torches) and some common sense how to deal with the situation… things like keeping the refrigerator door closed until you absolutely need to get something out. No big deal.
Blackout 1 to 7 days
Of lesser likelihood are power outages that last from a day to perhaps as long as one week. This could be from storm damage such as a severe snow or ice storm taking down trees and power lines. A local tornado or hurricane may fit in this category, although the power could be out longer if you were in the target bulls-eye or very outlying areas that get serviced last.
If the event is localized, you always have the ability to get out of the area to an unaffected area until the damage is fixed and repairs are made. If you remain in the affected area, you will need at least a one week supply of food and water.
Storing extra water is often overlooked, but without electricity the local pumps will not function and you will not have water pressure after a short time, even for your well. One week of water storage should be at least 7 gallons per person, preferably more if you consider other common daily uses of water besides drinking (cooking, cleaning, toilet flush). A safe bet is two or even three gallons of water per person per day.
This scenario will become uncomfortable but you will probably get through it okay with minimal but sensible preparations. A seven day city event could be trouble though, assuming that a high percentage of people have not prepared whatsoever, coupled with a high density population and desperation after day three.
Blackout 1 to 4 weeks
Even less likely are blackouts that last as long as several weeks or even one month. This could happen from a powerful enough solar storm that takes down a section of power grid and blows out enough transformers, etc… and take a number of weeks to repair. Again, if you are unlucky enough to be in the target of a severe weather event and/or if you live in an outlying remote area further away and are the last to be serviced for repair, it could possibly take weeks.
Storing enough food for 4 weeks is pretty easily accomplished. However storing enough water begins to get tricky. Now we’re looking at about 50 gallons of water per person. How many of you have that kind of storage? You’re okay if you have a water supply nearby, a way to transport it to your home, and a method of filtration. Remember, water is more important to your immediate survival than food.
In this time frame, unless you have a septic system, local sewage treatment plants will be out of commission. Depending on your geographical topographical location (are you uphill or downhill from the rest of the town…), you may not have sewer drainage, and it may even backup… yes this is something else to think about.
Also consider how you will cook your food or keep warm if it’s winter.
Those that are without power for this length of time and have not prepared (like most people), will become very desperate after one week. If the outage occurs in a densely populated area, safety will be of very high concern. If the outage is only regional and help comes quickly enough and with enough organization and supply, the safety risks will be less but will still be of high concern.
Regarding safety concerns during a long term blackout, remember that if you have prepared by having food, water, and supplies, there will definitely be others that will be knocking on your door, or looking for clues to identify who has food and water. Civility will rapidly become a thing of the past. Desperate people do desperate things. If you have a method of producing light, you will be quickly identified at night, even from far away. You may want to consider a preemptive plan to purchase window covering material in such a case. If you have a method to generate power, a region without electricity will be very quiet and any equipment noise that you generate will be an instant identifier. Solar panels will be an obvious identifier unless hidden from view. Any visible preparedness supplies will be a magnet for others who will be drawn to your location looking for handouts, or worse – to take it.
Blackout 1 to 12 months (or more)
Least likely, but conceivable, is a blackout that lasts longer than one month to perhaps as long as one year or more. Such a scenario would change life as we know it, assuming it occurs in a wide area, e.g. much or all of the USA or much of Europe, etc… There would be significant population die off, some estimate up to 90%.
A very severe solar storm event has the potential to take out an entire electrical power grid infrastructure. So could 2 or 3 sufficiently located EMP (electro-magnetic-pulse) weapon detonations at sufficient altitude.
It is a documented fact that power companies do not have enough spare transformers on hand to deal with a wide region blackout with blown out transformers, particularly the extremely expensive and long lead-time to manufacture EHV transformers (which are made out of the country in China and India, and can take a year to build).
History has proven that some solar cycles have produced extremely powerful solar storms (like the Solar SuperStorm of 1859) which if they had occurred today, would have brought down power grids, damaged satellites, and wreaked havoc on other electronic systems. Today’s modern technology has advanced very quickly during just the past few decades, and has never been tested by this phenomenon. A very high percentage of the entire population unknowingly depend entirely on these systems to function behind the scenes, for their very survival.
To prepare for something like this is orders of magnitude more involved and requires or will require a complete changeover to a way of life that is anything but modern. The purpose here is not to detail the things that you may need to do, but to encourage you to think about the possibilities and to decide for yourself what you are going to do about it, depending on your risk tolerance.
Modern conveniences that require electricity
In no particular order, this is a brainstorm list of conveniences in your home or life (surely there are many more) that require electricity to operate. As the blackout time lengthens, you will need substitutes or alternative power sources for some of these items. Also keep in mind that the longer the power outage lasts, the more likely it will be that others will notice or discover your preparedness, and may themselves try and take them from you out of desperation or criminal intent.
- Oven – Stove – Microwave oven
- Hot water heater
- Washing machine and dryer for clothes laundering
- Air conditioning
- Heating (Electric heat, Oil heat), natural gas okay until pressure runs out, propane tank okay until empty
- Running water except from gravity fed system, pumps will be out including well water pumps
- Sewage treatment systems
- Television, (including delivery systems – Cable, Satellite)
- Your computer
- Radio (until transmitter generator fuel is out) Shortwave radio receivers on batteries okay
- Land line phones (okay until integrated battery systems run out of power)
- Cell phones (transmitting towers and personal phones)
- Gasoline station pumps
- ATM cash machines
- Cash registers and checkout machines at stores
- Stores cannot be open and functional without power (not like the old days…)
- Traffic lights
- Police and Fire response (communication systems will be down)
- Hospitals (okay until generators run out of fuel)
- Irrigation systems – mass agriculture
- Public transportation systems
- Distribution systems for food and most other supplies
- Vehicle transportation (when your existing fuel runs out)
- Air travel
Think about it.
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