Style Power Failure, What Causes Blackouts, and What to Do in a Power Outage

The wind is blowing hard, the rain is horizontal and it’s freezing cold at 3:00 am a tree just fell onto the dining room side of the house, rain is coming in. Three trees have fallen across the only road to our side of the island, neighbors are out there cutting it up. My wife and I have grabbed our emergency kits and went to the levee, standing in the rain waiting for the word to be able to go into the house if there is anyone to tell us we cannot. All of the neighbors were out on the levee, a transformer on a power pole was struck by lightning and woke everyone up. Nothing has flooded or caught on fire, all of the houses are still standing, it’s a good thing because the first responders are not able to make it to any of the houses on the island, the bridge is gone. With nothing else to do, everyone went back into their houses to spend the night, we may be looking at a morning without coffee.We had been hit with a double whammy, a major earthquake during a driving rainstorm on a January night, the entire San Francisco Bay Area is crippled due to a major power failure. We have all most likely experienced a blackout, but does everyone know what to do in a power outage? I think probably not. Few people have gotten out of the city, the traffic jammed up on the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge’s, the only way out for them was highway 101 south, it’s a parking lot. We’ve got the family all over the country, we have discovered the entire state is affected from Fresno north, the epicenter was on a fault that was declared “inactive”, it is a long fault running from Concord to Mountain view. Now some decisions must be made.This never happened, could it, yes it could happen, we keep hearing it is a matter of when not if, so what are some of the actions to take? The first is Communications, as soon as possible notify your relatives and loved ones. Take the emergency preparedness plan out of the emergency kit that was put together in anticipation of this event. Included in that plan is a telephone number of a relative living out of the affected area. Choose a person out of the area as a contact, the local telephone lines will be jammed up, 911 calls are the most common. When we make a call if we get a “busy” signal normally we will hang up then immediately redial the same number, compounding the problem. The “recalls” add to the volume of calls crowding all of the calls out of the queue. Call the contact number every 4-5 hours if possible, however, after one call is made that you are OK it will be relayed to others calling the line.


Make a determination if you are able to remain in your home or if you must walk out, gather as much information as you can. If the house is structurally sound it will be safe to stay. Then secure the electrical, natural gas and water supplies, the water will be off as well due to there being no electric service. We will smell gas if a gas line is corrupted but we will not be able to detect a water leak or if the electrical system has been compromised, it could start a fire. It is safest to eliminate the worry, it will be a hassle after the utilities return because your supplier will have to check out the systems but it is the safest action to take. Standing water and an electrical short to ground to not compliment one another.Water, check your supply, we need a minimum of 1/2 gallon per person per day if that much water is not on hand begin conserving immediately. Check the food in your freezer, part of the emergency plan should have included freezing water in your freezer. In many ways, this event can be defined as a freezer power outage as well. Using containers holding milk or juices fill them with tap water, place them in your freezer and leave them there. They will help keep the frozen foods cold for a longer period of time when the ice melts the water is drinkable. Container made for this purpose are readily available, mine are 1 gallon each, approximately 1-foot square and 2 inches thick, laid under all of the food they work well. Do not open the freezer door until you positively have to, if the temperature goes below 40 degrees and the food begins to thaw, the usable life of the food decreases. If the food itself drops below 40 degrees, it’s time to throw it in the trash, don’t chance getting an intestinal illness, we all know what misery that is. Stop using the toilet if there is no way to flush it if it is continued to be used we are heading for a huge problem. If there is water available, in a creek, lake or pond the toilet can be flushed by dumping a bucket of water (2 gallons) directly into the bowl. I suggest making a rule if you’re the one that used the water you’re the one to fill it again. A temporary toilet can be made by using a 5-gallon bucket, using a split swimming “floaty” as a seat, black garbage bags work well as liners. A commercial “porta potty” may be purchased at most camping supply outlets. As the water from the freezer and your supply dwindle, start making water, boil and purify, fill your containers.Save the food in your evacuation kit for use after the food you have in your pantry has been extinguished, use as much food from your freezer as possible first. The spirit should be this event may last for two weeks or longer, I am a proponent of not just having a 72-hour emergency kit, but having supplies for one week, which means adding more food to a commercially prepared kit. If we have not received word on long the event may last, call the contact number, even though it’s out of state they most likely have kept up with the ongoing event. Prepare for 3 days, but expect 6, it won’t hurt a thing. Keep boiling water, charging cell phones with the dynamic charger (or your vehicle) and keep informed through the radio.1/3 of the people are over prepared, 1/3 kind of prepared, and 1/3 completely unprepared. It’s prudent to expect the neighbors to need water, prepare yourself to supply them. None of us will be 100% prepared, there are just too many unknowns and not everyone subscribes to the “self-reliant” life style, I think it’s best to accept reality. Remember after the disaster they will still be your neighbors, I would not be able to refuse someone water if I have any amount. Make no mistake, water will be the number one sought after commodity, especially if a flood takes place. A big part of my mission statement is to be overly prepared, with the goal of my family and I being over prepared and in a position to help other people, that’s the only way I would be able to look my self in the mirror. In times on hardship people band together and come to one another’s aid, I’ve seen it happen many times. Most people want to be an active positive contributor during times of crisis, humans need each other for survival. The person contributing the coffee pot that first morning will gain the status of a mythical “god”.


After the initial 3 days have passed and it looks like it may be an extended event we should be in pretty good shape. We have just started to notice the freezer defrosting, the ice in it is still solid, we conserved our food in the emergency kit by using the freezer and pantry food. In a few days, decisions will be made whether to throw freezer foods away, water production continues and responders are beginning to evacuate at risk people. Looking like the event may last a month or more, we are now in a long term situation, however, due to pre-planning and foresight, we will survive it.This is the first 3 days, it could be better and it could be a lot worse, we had some water on hand and a way to make more, many people won’t. We won’t be out of the mess yet, but we are surviving on our own, self-reliance and confidence paved the way. If you need to rev up your disaster preparedness planning, set up a commercially prepared or self-made home emergency kit. I would suggest a 4 person survival kit for two people, that will get them by 6 days, the length of time I feel is most logical. Most power failures are short lived, however once in a while, (more often than we may think) they last for a week or longer, sometimes longer than a month. What causes blackouts? lots of things, they are unpredictable, leaving all we are able to do is prepare for them in advance.