Blackout: Tips to Prepare for a Power Outage

Dietrich Easter

A blackout, also known as a power outage, can occur during any time of year, but they are especially common during the winter months when wind and weather become more severe. Today we answer the question: How should you prepare for a power outage? 

To prepare for a power outage, you need to keep in mind the essentials, and then build up from there. Start with warmth and shelter, then a water supply, a good stock of food, and finally keep in mind personal needs such as medications and communication. 

Most power outages don't last long - but some can last weeks or months! Don't get caught without being prepared. Here are a few things to keep in mind. 

What Causes a Power Outage and How Should You Prepare? 

Power outages can happen anytime - sometimes even on a sunny day. In certain cases, the local power company will be performing routine maintenance, so it might be helpful to make a call (if your phone still works) and see if the blackout was due to scheduled maintenance. 

Otherwise, mother nature probably had a hand in the power outage. 

Here are three common causes of power outages:

  • High winds (tornadoes and hurricanes): When the wind blows, trees crash, and power lines come down. Be ready for a power outage in bad thunderstorms, tornado weather, or hurricanes. Earthquakes can also cause power outages. 
  • Blizzards: The snow can weigh down heavily on trees causing them to snap. The same thing can happen to power lines, especially when there is ice involved. Not only that, but cars going off the road can take down power lines. 
  • High demand: You might think you're in the clear during the summertime, but it's not unheard of for all the power used by air conditioning to cause failures. It's important to realize that no time of year is safe from power outages. 
  • Home problem: Keep in mind that sometimes, it might be just your house that lost power. In this case, contact your neighbors to see if they also lost power. The last thing you want to do is be in a situation where something went wrong but the power company isn't coming to fix it. Don't assume anything. 

Now that we know when to suspect a power outage, let's have a look at how to prepare. 

How to Prepare for a Power Outage 

Power outages are often sudden and scary. However, they don't have to be as long as you take a few steps to prepare. As we mentioned in the introduction, there are a few steps to take to ensure you don't get left out (or inside) in the cold. 

Steps to prepare for a blackout: 

  • Ensure you have a way to stay warm 
  • Have a water supply that won't freeze 
  • Keep food that doesn't need refrigeration 
  • Have a backup generator (it doesn't have to be huge)
  • Keep emergency supplies nearby and organized 
  • Avoid common mistakes 
  • Receive emergency training 

  • Let's run through these so that you're prepared the next time you run out of power!

    Ensure You Have a Way to Stay Warm and Dry

    When people think about emergency scenarios, their minds often jump to two things: food and water. Of course, food and water are important, but most humans can survive several days without water and several weeks without food. However, a human being cannot survive hypothermia for more than a few hours, which is why you must have a way to keep warm!

    What are some things to keep around to stay warm? Most of it you probably already have, but wool blankets are good to keep around, as well as non-electric ways of keeping your house warm. This could be a safe portable heater (be very careful about carbon monoxide if it burns fuel). 

    Having a clean and working fireplace is also a good option if you have some wood on hand. Again, want to be aware of fire hazards. 

    Note: never use heating sources that are not designed to heat a home - never use a gas stove as a heat source. 

    Have a Water Supply That Won't Freeze 

    If you're in an extended power outage, then you may need some extra water. Sometimes, water still flows during a power outage, but other times you'll be without water. How should you store water?

    There are a couple of ways, and they aren't all that fancy. Honestly, just having a cupboard stashed with bottled water or gallon jugs can work. If you rotate through the stash and always keep more than you need, then you'll always have water on hand, but it won’t go bad. 

    It's also a good idea to keep some water filters around, as this will help you purify any natural water sources. As a bonus, you could have some water purification tablets on hand. If you have a camp heater around, you can also boil water to purify it. 

    Keep Food that Doesn't Need Refrigeration 

    Food shouldn't be too much of a problem in short-term outages, but it's still something to consider. In extended blackouts, having some freeze-dried food available could be helpful. You can put this stuff in large containers and, while it's no five-star restaurant, it will keep you fed while you're waiting for the power to return. 

    Keeping a Cabinet Well-stocked with dry nonperishable foods. 

    Tips: Avoid opening and closing your fridge or freezer. Also, keep in mind that chest freezers and fridges will stay colder longer than side openers. Finally, a full fridge and freezer will stay colder than an empty one, so it's worth it to keep your freezer full (even if it's just with bottles or zip-loc bags of water). You can move some of the frozen water to the fridge to help keep it cold.

    Of course, if you have a big chest freezer full of meat, think about how you're going to cook it in the event of a large power outage. 


    Now let's talk generators. 

    Have a Backup Generator (it doesn't have to be huge)

    Generators are awesome. The problem with generators is that people become overwhelmed - they don't know what to get, or they only consider expensive options and become discouraged. 

    Here's the thing: any generator is better than no generator (well unless the generator doesn't work). With that said, there are a few generator options you should consider. As a rule, start small and then work your way up. 

     Types of generators for power outages: 

    • Hand generators: Hand generators include things like crank radios and small solar generators. These are nice to have around as you can store them in a backpack and then grab them when you need a quick flashlight or when you need to charge a phone or GPS. These are inexpensive, and there's no reason not to have a few around. 
    • Portable battery generators: Battery generators have become much more popular with the latest technology. You can pair these batteries with a solar panel, or you can just charge them with your power - leaving you with a full battery pack during the power outage. These battery packs can power fridges and laptops. 
    • Portable gas generators: Gas generators will provide more power and they don't rely on the sun or a power source. Also, small portable gas generators are relatively inexpensive and they can certainly keep a fridge going so your food doesn't go bad. 
    • Built-in generators: These get pretty pricey, but they're also very nice to have. With a large generator, you probably won’t even notice the power has gone out half the time. These are quite an investment, and you can get all sorts of different models but if you live in a rural area it just might be a great investment. 

    Besides generators, let's talk about a few other supplies to have on hand. 

    Keep Emergency Supplies Nearby and Organized 

    If you don't already, ensure you have a first aid kit handy. You'll need the standard stuff - gauze, tourniquets, and emergency blankets. First aid kits aren't just good to have for blackouts, they're also an essential home/vehicle safety item at any time during the year. 

    Don't forget personal emergency supplies, such as special medications for any condition you may have. If you live in an area that experiences frequent blackouts then you may be able to get extra from your doctor. 

    Note: Keeping your car filled with gas is also important. Sometimes, a blackout is an indicator of a larger disaster--in these cases, you want to be able to get away quickly, without becoming stopped at the gas station (which may not be working anyway). 

    Conclusion: Blackout Preparedness 

    Power outages are fun when they only last a half hour, but they can be a dangerous thing when they continue for days. Be sure you have a few items prepared, including a way to stay warm, a way to access clean water, and a way to keep your food from spoiling. 

    Also, you'll want to have some gear such as a generator and a good first aid kit. Finally, you need the training to keep you and your family safe during an emergency. Learn CPR and first aid, and teach your friends.