Blackouts happen everywhere, and can strike at anytime of the year. Not preparing for a total loss of power for an extended period of time will leave you and your family scrambling to meet your basic needs.
It’s imperative that you prepare for a blackout so that you can properly handle one when it occurs. The likelihood of you having to deal with a blackout is high.
What to do Before a Blackout
One thing that many people neglect to do when they are preparing for a blackout is to work hard to prevent them in the first place.
While you can’t possibly prevent a blackout from occurring 100% of the time, there are a few things that you can do to decrease the likelihood of one occurring.
Take the time to regularly trim the trees in your yard and prune back any limbs that may threaten power lines.
If there are other hazards in your yard, then you will want to tackle these as well. You need to keep your home and family as safe as possible and prevention is always the first step.
1) Stock Up on Lighting
When you are in the middle of a blackout, you won’t have access to electricity. Meaning, that you can’t turn on the lights in your home.
This can be not only scary, but also dangerous if you haven’t taken time to stock up on alternatives that you can use to light your home.
You need to make sure that you have a number of different light sources for your home, including:
2) Have a Backup Generator
A backup generator is important for every family to have. A high-quality generator will make it easy for you to run your main appliances.
While most people don’t have room in the budget for a whole-house generator, I think that even a smaller one is important.
Being able to charge your cell phone and keep your food cold is important during a blackout so maintaining a generator is well worth the investment.
Check out this article for my recommendations on the best portable propane generator
3) Stock Your Food Pantry
Everyone knows the importance of having food for a blackout, but that doesn’t mean that all families take the time to choose the right foods to have on hand.
Stocking up on emergency food is not the time to be choosing your favorite foods.
The goal is to have enough nutritious food with a long shelf life.
You must have nonperishable foods that have a long shelf life and can be eaten straight out of the can if necessary.
I know that these aren’t everyone’s favorite foods, but they are the best option in a blackout. Look for items such as canned ravioli, tuna, peanut butter, and canned beans.
4) Prepare Ways to Receive Important News and Updates
During a blackout is important for you to keep up with information about safety problems around you and your community.
There is more to know than just when the power is expected to come back on. You must be aware of any safety alerts, including potential natural disaster and public health warnings.
There are many different options for you to choose from when looking for a means of receiving news and updates.
I love battery powered radios, but it’s also a good idea to consider a solar or hand-crank radio. These will ensure that even if you run out of batteries you can get the news that you need.
Having and learning to use a ham radio is one of the best investments you can make in preparing for not only an extended blackout, but all other emergency situations. Plugging in your ham radio to communicate with others is possible if you have invested in a generator.
For our recommendations on emergency communication devices and radios check out these articles.
5) Have a Way to Keep Cell Phones Charged
If you do not have a ham radio, you will need to find another way to communicate with the outside world.
Landline phones won’t work when you are in the middle of a blackout, so you need to make sure that you have a cell phone that you can use to communicate with other people.
If you think that a blackout is imminent, then you need to make sure that your cell phone is completely charged.
Stop playing games and texting your friends and allow the battery to charge completely before you lose power so that you can use it in an emergency situation.
There are portable power banks that you can have pre-charged to give you more cell phone battery cycles.
If you have a generator or a ham radio, maintaining your cell phone will not be a concern.
6) Keep Plenty of Ice
It’s a good idea to always keep plenty of ice or ice packs in your freezer in case of a blackout. Ice can but you time in an extended blackout to prevent your perishable food from spoiling.
While you don’t want to open your freezer or refrigerator very often, as this will cause the food to heat up and spoil, it’s a good idea to transfer your ice packs into your refrigerator and to use them to protect your meat and other fresh food.
7) Keep Cash on Hand
Your credit cards are not going to work when you are in a blackout.
This means that when you venture out of your home for food or other supplies you won’t be able to simply swipe your card and get what you need.
It’s very important to keep cash in your home for a number of reasons, and preparing for a blackout is one of them.
Unlike credit cards, you can easily spend cash even when there isn’t any electricity.
If you are faced with a long-term blackout, you will have to be able to get more supplies for your family, and cash is going to be the only way to pay for them.
I choose not to keep my emergency cash in my home to prevent attracting thieves. I suggest keeping at least $1,000 cash for emergency situations.
Keep it in a secure location. This can be in a safe in your home or an out of home location only you and your immediate family is aware of.
8) Have Ways to Cook Without Power
Even if you stock up on foods that don’t require preparation before eating, you will still want to cook at some point.
If the blackout continues for longer than anticipated you will likely be craving something more substantial than a can of beans.
It’s important that you keep matches or lighters on hand and have an option in mind for how you will heat your food.
One great way to cook during a blackout is outside if the weather conditions allow it.
If you have a backyard fire-pit, then you are already halfway to having a hot meal with your family.
You can easily make a tin foil dinner and cook it in the coals of your fire-pit, as long as you check to make sure that everything is fully cooked before eating.
While this is not a recipe article, I recommend having a number of emergency meals that you know how to cook. Practice making these meals before an emergency with the same ingredients you will have in your emergency food bank.
Families who have grills can also cook outside during a blackout. No matter if you use a charcoal or a gas grill, as long as you have ample fuel you will be able to easily heat up something to eat.
If you don’t want to venture outside either because the weather is bad or because you are worried about safety, then consider keeping an emergency stove in your home.
The cans that are used under chafing dishes won’t be able to cook a full meal, but can easily heat up ravioli or a can of beans.
There are also many freeze dried meals out there that only require adding hot water. These tend to be pricier than homemade meals, but they are fast, easy to make, and satisfying.
9) Have Working Carbon-Monoxide Detectors
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very real concern when you are trying to heat your home and stay warm during a blackout.
It’s important to prepare for the blackout by buying and installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
They will be able to alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide, which can be present from:
10) Gas Up Vehicles
Many people are surprised when they learn that you won’t be able to use the gas pumps during a grid down blackout.
Since the tanks require electricity, they will not be functioning during this time.
It’s a good idea to always fill up your vehicles before a blackout, as you never know how long it will be before you are able to do so again.
Our household rule of thumb is fill the tank every time you hit the half full line.
Our family also stores barrels of gasoline for blackout emergencies. When running a generator for extended periods of time, you can never have too much at the ready.
11) Fill Your Bathtub
While it’s not guaranteed that you will lose water during a blackout, once the lights go out I advise everyone to immediately fill up their tubs.
This will ensure that you have plenty of water on hand to drink, flush the toilet, and to wash.
12) Consider Your Pets
If you have family pets, then you also need to make sure that you plan ahead for how you will take care of them during a blackout.
Just like you need to keep food on hand for your family, you also need to have enough food for your pets.
Many animals get nervous during an emergency and may be so stressed that they accidentally injure themselves.
I recommend keeping a pet emergency kit on hand that includes a first aid kit, their medications and copies of their medical records, extra bowls, a sturdy leash, and an updated photograph.
If you are worried about how your animal will react during an emergency situation or that they will try to escape the house during a prolonged blackout, then make sure that you have a crate that you can put them in to keep them safe.
13) Stave Off Boredom
While I don’t play video games or participate in personal social media, there is no denying the widespread use of electronics for entertainment.
No matter how many people you have in your family, you need to make sure that you have items on hand that you can use to keep you from getting bored. This often is particularly important if you have children in your home.
Card games, board games, and plenty of books are great as they can be used even without a computer or access to your tablet.
And if you’re like me, having fewer electronics isn’t a bad thing.
14) Store Your Blackout Preparedness Items
A blackout box is the best way to make sure that you have all of your items in one place during a blackout.
This doesn’t have to be a fancy container, simply a box of some sort that is large enough to hold your supplies.
While I like to leave my canned food on a shelf in my pantry to avoid it taking up too much space in my blackout box, I have a full set of necessary tools, a first aid kit, radio, extra batteries, candles, cash, emergency contact information, and extra sets of house and car keys in my box.
15) How to Prepare for Power Surges
The whole grid is very unstable during a blackout, especially when the power company is trying to restore power.
Power surges are a real concern, and these can quickly destroy your appliances and electronics if you leave them plugged into the wall.
Get Power Surge Protection
If you don’t already have power surge protection equipment in your home, then now is the time to head to the store and make an investment in protecting your electronics and appliances.
Point-of-use surge protectors don’t have to be used with every piece of electronic equipment that you own, but I think that it’s smart to use them with more expensive equipment that you don’t want to have to to replace when a power surge occurs.
One way that I like to avoid this problem is by unplugging everything in your home and turning off all of the lights except for one. This will prevent your electronics from being damaged, and the one light that you leave on will alert you to when the power is restored.
What to do During a Power Outage
1) Flush with Buckets of Water
If you don’t have running water in your home, then it’s imperative that you know how you can still flush your toilets so that your home remains sanitary and clean smelling.
I advise everyone to keep water on hand for emergencies and to fill up their bathtubs with water when they know that they may be facing a blackout.
You will first need to fill a bucket of water with around one gallon of water.
Many people think that they have to dump the water in incredibly fast to flush the toilet, but this can cause the water to splash out.
Make sure that you pour it at a steady pace into the bowl of the toilet, as the force of the water will flush the toilet.
I recommend lifting the seat of the toilet so that you have a larger space in which to pour the water, as this will help prevent a mess.
Also, when you have flushed the toilet, you can pour a little water into the bowl slowly to fill it part way for the next person to use the toilet.
Another great option is to invest in a composting toilet for use during power outages or everyday use.
Check out our recommendations for the best composting toilet
2) Keep Your Refrigerator Closed
I already mentioned above that you need to make sure that your family doesn’t open the refrigerator or freezer often.
This gets increasingly more important the longer that the blackout lasts. Food can easily spoil during a power outage.
Food in your refrigerator is generally okay for around four hours in a blackout, unless you took time to pack ice around it.
Food in the freezer will last between 24 to 48 hours, depending on how full the freezer is.
Every time that you open your door to either the freezer or the refrigerator you risk causing food to spoil faster. Make sure that you limit how often this occurs.
3) Bring Solar Lights Inside
No matter how well prepared you are for a blackout with extra lights, I love the idea of taking advantage of solar lights that you have in your yard.
After the sun goes down in the evening and your solar lights have been powered, you can bring them in to enjoy their light.
Just make sure that you put them back outside again in the morning so that they will get more light and power from the sun
What to do After a Power Outage
1) Wait to Plug in Electronics
It can be tempting to plug your electronics in right away when the power comes back on and to turn on all of your lights. But this will put a huge strain on the electrical grid. It’s much better to wait a few minutes.
Not only does waiting a little reduce the strain that the electrical grid has to endure as people in your area all turn on their power, but it also reduces the possibility of your electronics being damaged or ruined by a possible power surge while the grid is restored completely.
2) Throw Out Unsafe Food
One of the first things that you need to do when your power has been restored is throw away any unsafe food that you can no longer eat.
This is important to do right away, as your food will quickly cool down in your freezer and refrigerator and you may think that it is okay to eat.
Eating spoiled food is dangerous and even life threatening, so immediately get rid of anything that may not be safe for you and your family to eat.
I am cautious when it comes to food safety and in our household if it is questionable we throw it out or compost it. While we strive to minimize waste, the risks to my family are nothing to mess around with.
3) Restock Emergency Supplies
Once an emergency has passed it is very easy to think that everything is fine and that you won’t have more problems in the future. This is a very short-sighted way of seeing the world and can cause you to have major problems.
You need to restock your emergency supplies as soon as possible after an emergency. This will ensure that you are prepared for future problems that may occur.
Blackouts are a very real possibility and can be very dangerous if you are not prepared to deal with them correctly.
Make sure that you know how to prepare for a blackout, what to do during one, and the steps that you need to take to protect your family and your electronics after power has been restored. This will ensure that you are always poised to protect your family during these important events.