We could lose our electrical grid from a natural disaster, an overload of our dated power infrastructure or from hackers intent on creating chaos and panic. Any one of these scenarios will quickly remind us that everything we rely on, everything we take for granted, is run by electricity.
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If the grid goes down in the daytime, you may have some time to respond. If you commute, getting home to your loved ones will be your first obstacle. City streets with no traffic lights will become the traffic jam to end all traffic jams, subways will be dead in the tunnel and elevators will be stuck between floors. But even if you make it through your commute, you’ll have a new set of obstacles once you are home.
When the grid is gone, communication will be key. Make sure you have a cell phone charger at work, and make it a habit of plugging it in when you are at your desk. Call and leave voicemails with your family on your status. To conserve cell phone batteries, keep the messages brief and to the point. Take your charger and plug it in whenever you have the opportunity—commuter trains have electrical plugs, as do bus stations and airports. Call every 30 minutes so your family worries less.
You will also need cash if the grid goes dark. ATMs are no longer a convenience or an option, and neither are credit cards. All denominations will be needed since getting change for a $100 bill will not be an option. Always carry some backup money to get home by cab, bus, train, plane or whatever mode of transportation is working. Instead of your wallet, stash this money some place convenient and hidden. Small sums may also be needed to convince a driver to take an extra passenger. If you drive, you will need cash to pay for gas. Gas stations will most likely hand pump gas and only accept cash. At the gas station, buy ice and extra spare batteries for your flashlights if there are any left.
Shelter In Place
You have made it home. Your family is safe, but they are sitting in the dark and hungry. Fire up the portable generator for light and to keep the refrigerators and water running. You should be storing enough fuel to run the generator for at least three days before running out. A solar generator can provide lighting, making it less scary for your kids, plus it can also power medical devices that your loved ones may need. Your new chores are to keep the gas-powered generator running, drain the cooler as the ice melts and to make sure the solar panels are positioned to absorb sunlight.
Cold sandwiches are fine for the first night, but make sure you have propane and/or charcoal for cooking. If your freezer is defrosting and bleeding water on the floor, plan to eat the food inside it first. Save the canned and dried goods for after the fresh food is eaten or expired. MREs are also good to hoard, but check the expiration date. Keeping enough food for a month is a good idea.
Water is the next most important commodity. You will need to bathe, cook, clean and flush the toilets. Prior to the event—if you have time to prepare—fill your bathtub with water, which you can use as needed. Solid waste should be flushed immediately. If you need to get water, gather all the plastic containers you can and fill them. Make sure the containers are clean so the water is potable.
Depending on your geographic location and the time of year, heating and cooling will be important. If you need heat, invest in a gas or wood stove. A quartz heater will work well but will also draw power from your generator. A fan can also push around the hot air, making it more tolerable.
The trash collector may not show up for some time. Designate an area to store garbage away from where you live, as the rotting garbage may attract rats, raccoons, bears and other critters.
Home security now means making sure the doors and windows are locked. Have a plan with your family if your home is invaded. You should be armed and show force. With luck, any potential attackers will back down when they see that you’re not a soft target. If not, be prepared to use lethal force. Always have a weapon nearby and make sure all family members know how to operate it.
If you follow this plan, a semblance of your old life should descend. You should be sitting with some light, have a hot meal in your belly, and your family will be safe, dry and relatively comfortable. Play a game to take the edge off, then begin to make long-term plans on where to get food, fuel and other items.
When the grid goes down, your life will change dramatically. Having a plan will make coping with this life-altering event easier. It might not be as convenient as before, but learning how to survive ahead of time sans electricity and power will keep you functioning and alive when the world goes dark.
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.