Last night, the lights went dark at 8:30 p.m., and they didn't come back on. I looked out the window, and our city was like a black hole in space. There wasn't a light to be seen anywhere.
We were happy to have an emergency light plugged into outlets in every room, so we could at least see to safely maneuver around the house. In the laundry room, we have a couple of LED lanterns stowed, so we grabbed them and put them to work. The furnace was disabled by the power outage, so we started a fire in the fireplace insert. That added a bit to ambient illumination and warmth. Then we settled in for a game of cribbage and our conversation swung to speculation about what might have caused the outage. And we waited for the lights to come back on. And we waited, and we waited. Sometime in the middle of the night, power was restored, but we were in bed by then.
So why do I tell this story? Because, in the middle of all this, I started thinking about all the people who were sitting around in the dark and the cold because they haven't prepared for situations like this. Like us, those folks were probably wondering what caused the power to disappear, and wondering when it would return. But I could imagine many of them scrambling around to find flashlights and other items they would need.
And that's the point I want to make. It is so much easier to go through a power outage if you don't have to go hunting for your emergency equipment. Honestly, it doesn't matter what caused the power failure. That is only important if your job is to restore the power. But for the rest of us mortals, the only thing that matters is being able to take care of your own immediate needs — enough light to be able to move around the house safely, enough warmth to stay well, an emergency supply of water (in case the city water pumps are down, or your own well pump is out of action), and an emergency supply of foods that don't need electricity for preparation.
- Prepare each room with an emergency light that automatically comes on when the power fails.
- Get a couple of battery-powered LED lanterns, because these units will really light up an entire room. They're safe, from a fire standpoint, but keep a supply of replacement batteries on hand.
- Have flashlights or headlamps available in every room, and periodically check the batteries to make sure the lights are always operational. Headlamps are more convenient than flashlights because they free up your hand. But if you used flashlights, I recommend units with an adjustable lens that can provide a range of beam width.
- Prepare your pantry with bottled water sufficient to last several days, in case there's a prolonged power failure.
- Stock up on high-energy emergency foods that can be eaten without the need for cooking.
- Have manual can openers in your kitchen utensil drawer, so you can open canned foods.
- Know where your camp stove is, and have a supply of fuel for it. It's okay to cook indoors with a propane or white gas camp stove, but don't waste the fuel trying to heat the house with it. DO NOT cook indoors with a hibachi or other type of charcoal grill, because that is a recipe for CO poisoning.
- Don't open the refrigerator or freezer until you're really in need, because the cold will escape.
- If it's cold enough outside (below 40 degrees F.) use the great outdoors as an auxiliary refrigerator.
- Stock up on blankets and/or sleeping bags to use when the furnace is dead.
- Have books to read and games to play when all the electronics are out of action.
- In most cases, a power failure will last only a few hours, so don't panic. But if you have reason to believe something catastrophic has happened, and the power is going to be offline for a long time, consider evacuating to a safe location that is not affected.