Prepare for Grid Failure
OR...Hope You Bought A Can Opener
Prepare for grid failure! A power grid failure could upset the balance of society. Don’t think so? Didn’t think Snowmageddon or Superstorm Sandy were possible either, did you? The US government acknowledges a problem exists, which means it’s already too late. The electrical grid recently received a promise of $20 Billion to upgrade the grid by 2035. Most of the systems, lines, and equipment in place are already end of life, and most metro areas are way overdue. Prepare now. When the lights go out, it will be too late.
During the Texas ice storms in 2021, we nearly saw a cascade failure that would have knocked out power as far north as Chicago. Most of the state was without power for days resulting in hundreds of deaths reportedly. Texas blamed a combination of Federal push to alternative energy, most of which we unusable during the storm (wind and solar), and an exponential increase in demand mainly from electric vehicles. The Feds blamed Texas. No surprise there.
The push for electric cars is a looming disaster for the overtaxed power grid. Some states’ dream of all electric in the next decade are impossible in the current grid, especially using only renewable energy. The standard Tesla requires around 14.375 kilowatt/hours per day to charge. The average single family home in the suburbs will run 30 kilowatt/hours per day at peak usage, such as air conditioning or electric heating. Adding two (2) electric cars is the same as adding one house pulling full power. A two-car home is now like two homes running 60 kilowatt/hours. Not only will electricity bills double, but only 21.5% of all US electricity is created using renewable energy (US Energy Information Administration, 2022). Why aren’t new electric car buyers REQUIRED to power their vehicles with renewable energy?
Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. FEMA tells all US citizens to prepare for any disaster with two (2) weeks of food, water, medicines, and anything else required to survive (FEMA link here). This is a blanket statement and you must be prepared to be without electricity, running water, or other utilities. Two weeks!!! Granted, most people have enough in the pantry they could eat, but most require preparation or cooking.
For this exercise, let’s assume the absolute worst-case scenario. “Oh, I’m not a prepper or a crazy, right-wing extremist living in the woods.” Regardless, you should be prepared, for your family’s sake. “Well, I’m on a fixed budget and can’t afford to buy freeze-dried or dehydrated meals.” That’s fine. I don’t recommend most dehydrated meals anyway because of the high sodium content.
What would be the worst-case scenario? Let’s say you are young family of three, living in a single bedroom apartment on minimum wage in a major city. You don’t need to skip rent for a month, you can buy provisions over time. In a few weeks, you meet FEMA’s requirements. If they can do it, why can’t you?
The power is out. Whether you wake up to it or it happens in the middle of the day, your first step is verify with the electrical provider, on their website or mobile app, when the outage will be repaired and determine who is affected. If the area covers multiple counties, cities, or the whole state, you’re looking at a grid failure. Can’t reach the website or app? That tells you either thousands of people are trying to reach it at once or their services are down. If you suspect grid failure, DON’T PANIC!
Back to the family in the apartment. If you have any other place to go, for instance, with other family that live in a house outside the city, go there first! Safety in numbers and don’t forget to take your food rations, which we will talk about shortly. Let’s assume you are it and you must shelter in place. I dislike that term, but it is appropriate in this situation. The first thing you need to do is fill the tub and sinks. Then turn on the radio for any special instructions. Don’t be surprised if some stations are offline. Emergency broadcasts will come across all available stations. AM signals have a longer range if FM stations are not coming in and have a tendency to work long distances through “signal skip”. Honestly, though, don’t expect the government or industry to tell you the grid has failed. It looks bad on all of them.
My family laughs at me when the power goes out. I fill the tubs and sinks with cold water. Why cold? That comes directly from the source. Hot water comes from the water heater. We don’t want to tap into that unless we have to, so, fill with cold water. Utilities like water, natural gas, and sewer use generator backups. However, the power is used for purification, not pumping, which requires more energy. Many locations still use gravity-fed water towers to supply water, saving energy. Eventually, though, the water will stop flowing as the pressure subsides.
Cell services and radio stations will also continue to function while generators run, for about three days. But, in a grid failure, gas stations can’t pump fuel. Grocery stores, restaurants, and all non-essential businesses will be closed. When the cell services drop, panic will ensue. Now what? This is when an emergency radio is key. Your family can ride out the disaster with canned and non-perishable food, until authorities restore services.
Prior Proper Planning
How? Proper prior planning. A can of baked beans, as an example, and a gallon of water will keep one person hydrated and clean for a day. Add some crackers and canned chicken or tuna and you are living large. Now, multiply that by 14 days and you understand why you filled the 40-gallon tub. But how did you get to be so prepared?
$10 per week is enough to get you started. Focus first on canned foods and multiple can openers. Get a can opener easy enough for a child or an older adult to use. Canned food is useless if you can’t get into it. Find sales, buy non-brand name items, and visit wholesale or discount stores. You don’t need to buy in bulk, just buy smart. With $10, you can buy five (5) cans of beans and two can openers. Next week, you can buy meats, crackers, trail mix, and other items your family likes. Why suffer? Pay special attention to the expiration dates, but realize they are recommendations. In as little as three (3) weeks, you have 14 days of food. Now hide it and don’t tell anyone where it is! Yes, it’s that important.
Now save for a few weeks to buy an emergency radio. The best ones have a solar panel and hand crank to charge. You can charge your phone or other small devices from the unit and most have a small light. Many will tune to AM, FM, NOAA weather, and emergency stations. A good one is $50. Find and buy extra batteries as this will be your lifeline after 3 days.
Prepare for Grid Failure But Don’t Overthink
You can go down quite the rabbit hole planning. You cannot prepare for every scenario and anything over 14 days becomes apocalyptic without local, state or federal aid. Yes, some could become desperate. Training and education are key. Tell everyone you know to prepare. Ready.gov is an amazing resource provided by the Department of Homeland Security. It goes over several possibilities and provides ideas you may not have thought of.
Building your local community is key. Ask the apartment or property manager to host seminars on the subject. Cybersecurity professionals are well versed in Disaster Planning and Recovery and they love to talk.
One thing you’ll find in a power outage is a severe lack of distractions. No phone ringing. No music playing. No television blaring. Traffic will quiet down. No Internet or TV means finding other entertainment. I recommend charades, board games, or a good book. Of course, you need a physical book. Conserve your phone batteries for communications. If the sun causes the outage through a solar flare, none of your electronics will work anyway. Just in case, keep all emergency electronics in a Faraday bag.
For safety, I recommend staying out of sight. The best neighbors in the world will do anything to protect and provide for their family. Keep blinds closed, doors and windows locked (weather permitting), and limit interactions. I’m not saying don’t help others, but your own family’s safety comes first. Consider proper preparations if it happens in extreme heat and cold. Flashlights should be LED. They use less power and many are rechargeable. Candles are an excellent backup. If it was good enough for the pioneers, just remember a fire source.
Build A Community
But, candles, even when used together, may not be enough to boil water and definitely not enough to keep you warm in the winter. Weather and temperatures require their own conversation. In the heat of summer, opening windows at night can keep the temperatures bearable. If your insulation isn’t up to par, and I have lived in several apartments that it’s not, you might consider fully covering the windows during the day as that is where most heat and cold are lost.
Take it to the next level. Learn first aid and CPR. Learn how to turn your ceiling fan, washer, or dryer motor into a power source. Find a water distiller or reverse osmosis system. You still have water in the water heater and toilet reservoir. Both are great for washing, but so are wipes. The best test of your preparedness plan is camping. Don’t rush to the store. It will probably be closed for safety. No matter what, plan ahead. You won’t get a second chance.