Author’s note: This was originally written… a few years ago (?), to help a friend move to snow country. And then got some additions to maybe turn it into a series, and then I apparently got distracted. I’m posting it as is for now; I may come back to it and finish the series.
Power failures happen. Trees get overloaded with ice and fall through power lines. A car accident into a transformer or substation can blow the local area. High wind drops lines and tree branches. A pair of birds squabbling on high tension lines an create an arc from one line to another. The grid can be delicate, but it’s also extremely robust, because it works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with more than 99.999% uptime. Most power failures are local inconveniences that last no more than a few hours.
However, some power failures can last longer and be more extensive. The most likely reasons for a wide-spread grid level failure remain weather and infrastructure damage or fault. However, it’s also potentially possible that a malware infection could cause widespread damage that will take longer to repair than retying lines or replacing a blown transformer. The other issue with grid failures, whether the result of natural causes, mechanical failures or malice, is that they can spread as one overloaded sector forces the neighboring sectors to compensate, and the compensation also leads to overload. This happened in the most recent mass power failure in the Northeastern US in 2003.
The blackout’s primary cause was a software bug in the alarm system at a control room of the FirstEnergy Corporation, located in Ohio. A lack of alarm left operators unaware of the need to re-distribute power after overloaded transmission lines hit unpruned foliage, which triggered a race condition in the control software. What would have been a manageable local blackout cascaded into massive widespread distress on the electric grid. (Wikipedia summary)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_2003
The good news is that power failures, while uncomfortable, are temporary. In a malware condition, the power loss may last several days, but it will return. Power companies do have redundant and backup systems, and in their worst case scenario, can use temporary, old-school analog systems to route around broken or corrupted systems. What we need to do when a power failure occurs is be patient, be careful, don’t panic and take care of ourselves.
This document does not apply if you or a member of your household requires an oxygen concentrator or other electric life-support devices. Please contact your local utility about securing backup power sources, and your healthcare provider about tanked oxygen or other necessary supplies. If you are told to go to a hospital or to evacuate in the event of a power failure, follow that instruction.
Preparation for a power failure basically follows all emergency shelter-in-place protocols. This is the winter list. Warm weather failures have different challenges, so I’ll address those separately.
If you can afford a generator, that’s great for you. Go get one, learn to use it, stockpile its preferred fuel, and have it ready to use. But gennies can be expensive, they require maintenance, and they may not be possible if you live in an apartment or townhouse, or don’t have a truck to get it home, or don’t feel comfortable with that type of machinery. (2021 update: There is a modern update, the portable power station. These are big batteries, often with several USB outlets, a light, sometimes a radio, and they power/charge your most critical devices. My household has one; if you’ve got a couple hundred to spare, they’re easy to just plug in to charge as a just in case.)
You do not need a generator to shelter in place, you just need to plan and think ahead. Shelter in place is always the safest form of preparedness. If you’re at home, you’re in a secure space that you know well, with your tools and supplies at hand. If you’re at home, you’re not on the roads. You’re not risking a breakdown or an accident, and you’re likely not needing emergency services when EMS are already extra busy. If at all possible, in a power failure, stay home.
For any emergency where shelter in place is recommended, it’s always a good idea to have a 3 or 7 day preparedness kit in place. This includes water, food, a first aid kit, sanitary preparations, boredom mitigation tools, and communications tools. Since this is the winter list, you also need blankets and bedding, hats and gloves, and other warming equipment.
In a safe place in your house, apartment or other interior space, store at least 1 gallon (4 liters) of water per person per day for three days. If you have room for more water, store more. I strongly suggest having 7 days of water per person. You can store this in sealed 1 gallon clear plastic or white plastic bottles or jugs, in empty and well rinsed 1 gallon household unscented bleach bottles, or 3 or 5 gallon polycarbonate (blue water cooler) bottles, or 5 gallon glass bottles/carboys. If you use glass bottles, ensure that your lids are tightly sealed, and the bottles are securely placed on a flat, hard, floor. If you use larger bottles, also have a 6 foot/2 meter length of medical or aquarium grade flexible plastic tubing in a zip top bag, taped to one of the bottles. It’s easier to siphon water into a smaller bottle or cup than to pour from a large bottle. Flats of individual bottled water (generally 1 L) are also okay, but they generate a lot of empty bottles and while they’re simple for storage, they can leak. Choose the storage containers that work for you, including a mix of methods. Currently, for two people, we have 2 flats of liter bottles (48 L, or 12 gal), 3 5 gallon bottles (15 gal) and 5 1 gallon jugs for a total of 32 gallons. The reason to store water is because municipal pumping systems have power limitations — their generators are limited, and in extremely cold weather, their underground pipes can also freeze. If you have a well instead of municipal water, your pump is probably electric, and you will not have water pressure without power.
Make sure your stored water bottles are in a room unlikely to freeze, and a place where you don’t need to go outside to get them. Basements, under stair cupboards, closets and even under beds (with the right frame) are ideal places. Garages and sheds are not.
You’re better off NOT recycling 2 liter soda bottles or plastic milk jugs for long term water storage. There can be enough residual sugar in a soda or milk bottle to allow for mold growth in your water. If you must use recycled bottles, clean them thoroughly with hot, soapy water, rinse very well, and soak, fully filled and fully submerged, including caps, for 15 minutes in a sink or clean tub of very hot tap water with 100-200 ml (1/2 to 1 cup) household bleach. Rinse again with hot water, then immediately fill from a clean, known good, cold tap and seal tightly. Store this water in a dark place, and do not store it for more than 6 months.
If you live in a place that gets very cold (below freezing), your emergency kit should include at least three disposable chemical hand warmers per person per day, for at least three days. (2 people need 6 warmers per day, so 18 total. 4 people need 12 per day, 36 for three days.) These can be stored for up to three years, if they are sealed in their original packaging and then sealed again in a zip top bag. Also ensure you have at least two warm blankets or a sleeping bag rated to at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit per person. Test a hand warmer at least once every six months. If one doesn’t work, check a second. If both don’t work, the box is done, and it’s time to replace. Chemical warmers do expire. They do fail safe — they become useless — so they are not a fire danger. While chemical warmers are intended for pockets, they can be slipped between a shirt and sweatshirt, or inside a sleeping bag. They work by heating small, contained spaces. They only get up to about 135, but that may be too warm for a small child. For children, wrap the warmer in a sock before letting the child handle it.
Consider your space. Do you have a gas fireplace or a wood-burning stove? If you have a wood burner, ensure that you have sufficient firewood to keep at least that room warm for several days. Have your chimney swept regularly, and clean your ash traps. If you have a wood fireplace, consider having it replaced with a wood-burning stove insert, especially one with a flat top surface that can be used as an emergency cooking surface. Wood stove inserts are much more efficient than fireplaces. If you have a gas fireplace, give it a good look. Does it have a pilot light or does it use electronic ignition? If it has a pilot light, this fireplace can be used even without power. You may have to have a qualified specialist install a battery backup ignition unit. Please consult with your fireplace specialist — DIY and natural gas are generally dangerous combinations. No matter what, a gas fireplace will probably need a battery starter backup. These usually use D batteries that should be removed when you don’t need the battery, and reinstalled when you do. Store those D batteries in a place where they won’t get raided for other uses, and make a note in your phone or other household information notes where you stuck those batteries. This may not be possible on your model, but if it is, this will give you a heat source, and gas is not subject to electrical failure.
During the outage, there’s a near certain chance that your furnace will not work. Even gas furnaces need electricity for the blowers. Without a generator to provide this power, your furnace is down. The one exception to this is a gas water boiler with a pilot light attached to a radiator system, but these are expensive and prone to leaks, which is why they have fallen out of general use. If you still live in a radiator house, take good care of your system and flush regularly. Inspect the pipes, and keep your boiler in good condition. Know how to manage the pilot or the emergency non-pilot starter, and ensure that your thermostat has a long life battery backup. These are more complicated systems, so get a consultation from your plumber.
Designate the warm room in your house. If you can make a gas fireplace/wood stove a possibility, then that’s your room. With a few small, battery powered fans to help distribute warm air, your house should stay safe and comfortable, including your water pipes. If not, you should pick a small room with a soft floor, if possible, as high up in your house as possible. It should be big enough that everyone in your household can sit and lay down comfortably, but not much larger. If you have children, try to designate the parents’ room or a child’s room, so the child is in a familiar, safe space. If possible, choose a room with a connected bathroom for comfort. If you can afford bunk beds for your child, a top bunk will be warmer in a winter emergency, but this is not necessary. It should have as few windows as possible. Grab some bubble wrap — the bigger bubbles are better here, but little ones are okay, too — and some packing tape, and tape together at least a 2 layer thick square of bubble wrap that will fit in the frame of the window in your warm room. As soon as possible after the power goes off, fit that bubble wrap into the window to help insulate against heat loss. Tape it in place with packing tape. If you have curtains on that window, close them at night, and open a few inches for light during the day (Or more, if the sun is shining. Use the greenhouse effect when possible.) If you have time, you can do this for every window in your house, and it will help keep your warmer air warm longer. When you’re in the warm room, keep the door closed.
You need an independent thermometer — small digital ones that run on batteries are fine, and usually accurate enough. You need this to monitor the spaces not in your warm room. As long as your house or apartment stays above freezing, you should be able to use the toilet and sinks without worry. Flush normally. The trickle concept for preventing frozen pipes is only moderately useful — it only works on external, exposed pipes, not the ones inside your house’s envelope. If your house is below freezing, even running a steady stream may not prevent pipe freezes. If the bathroom is not attached to your warm room, it will get cold, but you’ll pee faster. Wash your hands navy style — get them briefly wet, rub soap for 30 seconds without running the water over them, rinse quickly, dry thoroughly. Leave all sink cabinet doors open, to allow warmer air to get to the pipes.
Learn how to open your garage, if you have one, without the powered door lift. There are YouTube videos. Practice this. If you have to GTFO, you want your car, not to walk, and you do not want to have to break down your garage door.
Keep your gas tank as full as you can manage. Try not to let it get below half. You’ll spend exactly the same amount on your gas usage, but you’ll fill it more often. But if you need to go, you have to plan to get at least 150 miles out, and that’s usually about a half-tank of gas.
Keep your tires properly inflated.
If your power failure comes with an ice storm or blizzard, driving should be your last option because it means leaving relative security for a perilous road with less shelter. More people are hurt or die from cold when stuck in their cars than when stuck in their homes. Don’t add to that statistic if you have any option to stay put.
If possible, add a backup battery to your internet connectivity. This is more complicated than it sounds. The typical UPS can power a single wireless router/modem for about 4.5 hours at 20 watts. And it will beep a lot, because a UPS wants you to power everything down. A 12 volt battery with a trickle charger and inverter can power a wireless modem for up to a couple days, depending on usage, but this is more complicated and beyond the scope of this document. Also, if a power outage is widespread, your telecom may be down, too. Cell providers survive power outages better, and cells can be trickle-charged with solar power chargers or battery packs, but you should not depend on your cell for internet to keep you busy. Bandwidth matters in an emergency. Try to preserve it for the most urgent traffic, for yourself and others.
Consider your cooking appliances. Electric stoves, microwaves and kettles are out. Mini-propane camp stoves, grills and backpacking stoves, and especially anything charcoal, are dangerous indoors. They produce carbon monoxide, and carbon monoxide will kill you dead without a second glance or any warning. If you have a natural gas or bulk propane stove, even if it has electronic ignition, you can light the stove-top burners with a butane candle lighter. Ovens are more difficult, especially if they have a digital control rather than a knob temperature setting, but can be lit the same way, usually through the broiler drawer. If you succeed in lighting your oven, leave it lit and turned to low (200-250 F) when not actively cooking. It will add some heat to your house and not relighting every time is safer. You can also store pots of soup or slow-cooking foods inside the warm oven between meals safely.
If you have an electric stove, you must plan for other ways to cook, and long-slow over the flame should not be considered because it takes more fuel than you have room to store. (Advanced techniques like insulated boxes and warming bags will be covered in another post.)
If you have an all electric kitchen, your SAFEST best bets for inexpensive emergency cooking are old fashioned fondue pots and chafing dishes that use Sterno solid fuel, and/or an old-school alcohol burner and ring stand, like we used to use in science class, and a long-handled butane candle lighter. These are safer than matches. Many people get fondue and chafing dishes for weddings or events, never use them, and donate them to thrift stores, where they sell for a few bucks. If you still have yours, put it in your emergency kit. Plan to have two — one for plain hot water for beverages, and one for soup and other cooking. Always use your pans with the lid on. These still use fire, so they are fire hazards, and they will be using the oxygen in the house, and they will produce some combustion gases, including carbon monoxide, so make sure you have a CO detector nearby.
THE SECOND SAFEST BET is an Asian style butane cartridge single burner. Hotels often use these for omelet bars. Plan for two Sterno packs per meal, or one butane cartridge per meal, so 18 Sternos for 3 days, or 9 cartridges.
For all of these, make sure you’re using them on a heat-resistant surface — 12×12 ceramic floor tiles from the big box hardware store work great. If your kitchen is close to your warm room, you can put the tile on your stovetop. If your kitchen is not near your warm room, set up a temporary cook space in the warm room, using two small tables or a low bookcase — one for the cooking devices and the tile, one for prep work. Do not leave a flame unattended, and do not allow small children or irresponsible adults to supervise or interfere with anything on fire. Practice using your cooking tools to make soup and boil water when there is power so you know how long it takes to boil water or soup.
You also want a large thermos, like a 1 quart restaurant style coffee server, or a pump type air-pot. It’s safer and more efficient to boil a quart or half-gallon of water and store in your thermos than to repeatedly make cups of hot water for tea. Both are regularly available at thrift stores.
For the most part, you can use the contents of your pantry for cooking, but there are a few specialty goods you might want to have.
- a couple water flavoring bottles, especially if you use bleach bottle water storage or if you have children who do not like tea/coffee. You can also use premix Koolaid (one packet to your ratio of sugar, stored in a sealed plastic container). Koolaid/flavored water is surprisingly tasty when warm.
- If you need caffeine, or if you have someone in the household with ADD, be sure to include caffeine. Caffeine is not a perfect substitute for ADD meds, but around 200 mg (2 cups of coffee/two tablets) will take the edge off and help maintain focus.
- a box of caffeinated tea bags and/or
- instant coffee, in packets, jars or tins. Starbucks Via instant coffees are better than Folgers/Sanka/Maxwell House, but not cheap. The best budget instant coffee is usually found in the Latinx food aisle — Classico or Bustelo — or at an Asian market, especially Instant Vietnamese and Thai coffees. International instant coffees (the ones in the square box) are the better bet if you like your coffee light and sweet, or you can make your own blend and store it. You can improve Taster’s Choice by combining an equal measure of coffee crystals and Ghiradelli Ground Sweet Chocolate and Cocoa powder. Alternately, you can store a vacuum sealed brick or can of ground coffee and use an insulated French press. However, pour it into a coffee thermos once it’s brewed and let the grounds dry out as much as possible for ease of disposal. Instant coffee doesn’t taste as good, but it generates a lot less waste, and garbage pickup may be delayed.
- A box of individual, UHT creamers, if you like your coffee lightened. Instant non-dairy creamer doesn’t taste as good, gets stale fast, doesn’t dissolve well, and doesn’t provide the healthy fats you need when you’re cold. UHT creamers are more expensive, but they also provide a source of liquid fat that children can easily consume if needed by adding a couple cream cups to hot chocolate.
- 3 individual UHT milk box servings per child, per day. These can be flavored milk, as long as it’s shelf stable. It’s an easy way to get fat, protein and calories into them, and they are more vulnerable to cold than adults.
- A box of instant apple cider packets
- A box of instant hot chocolate packets
- Canned or Just Add Water instant soups — 3 realistic servings per person per day. These can be as simple as 3 bricks of ramen per person per day, or Bear Creek soups or equivalent. Check your local supermarket soup aisle and look for the mixes. It’s tempting to build a big pot of soup and keep it simmering. If you have a gas stove or a wood burning stove and plenty of wood, that makes sense, and you should use all of your perishables in a perpetual soup pot that never stops simmering. If you’re using a canned fuel, this will just waste fuel, so aim for very short cooking time soups. Soups are warming, filling, easy on stressed tummies, and double as a hand warmer while consuming.
Also in your emergency kit, add:
- One acrylic or wool knitted hat per person.
- One pair of knitted acrylic gloves per person. These are often found for $1-2 per pair at big box stores, and they fit a wide variety of sized hands. They are not water proof, but they add warmth. Slit one glove’s index finger tip if you plan to use any touch screen.
- One first aid kit, mostly of the bandaids and antibiotic cream variety. Include an OTC pain med, an allergy med, an anti-nausea drug, an anti-diarrhea med, a bottle of cough syrup, and any prescribed meds.
- One battery powered radio that can receive your local public radio station, and appropriate fresh batteries. An AM band is better, because at night, you can pick up signals from further away. In a severe emergency, public radio stations are supposed to follow the old clear channel procedure. They will broadcast urgent information at the top of the hour, then turn everything off to preserve generator power. This procedure has not been tested in several decades, so be prepared for the system to be shaky. If you can afford a multi- or short-wave band radio, that has the most chance of picking up signal from beyond your outage range.
- several packages of baby wipes. You’ll need to clean your hands, wipe faces, and try to stay somewhat sanitary.
In the house, as part of the kit but not in it, keep:
- Backup battery packs, charged, for your phones. If you have more than one phone in the household, and everyone can still reach their providers, choose one phone to preserve as much battery power for as long as possible. Anyone who cannot reach a provider should turn off that phone. Everyone else changes their outgoing voicemail message to let callers know they should TEXT only to the one phone. Text takes less energy and less bandwidth than voice. Then turn off the phones not in use. If the backup batteries run out for the one phone, you will still have more, and can change voicemail or forward calls again.
- Multiple small, LED flashlights. I like the egg-shaped super-bright ones. They have an on-off button, rather than a pressure switch, so they stay on if needed. They’re pocket-sized, and they hold their battery charges for years. They usually run on 6 coin batteries, which are inexpensive when bought by the 25 pack, and unlikely to be raided for other battery uses. But any small LED flashlight is useful.
- A tube of earplugs.
- A couple dollar store sleep masks.
- A small MP3 player with headphones that runs on a AAA battery and uses a flash card, and 2,4,8 gb flash cards with individual music selections. Everyone will need some alone time, and music can help give that in tight quarters. A semi disposable MP3 player preserves phone batteries for communication. (2021 note: I still stand by this, but the AA/AAA type are incredibly hard to find now. Ones with rechargeable batteries can be found for around $25, and they don’t use a lot of your backup battery power.)
For the first 24 hours, open your refrigerator as little as possible. If you know someone in the family needs milk, pull the milk and put it in a thermos, then put the rest outside in the cold. It will freeze, but it’s easier to defrost frozen milk than unspoil it. Remove the eggs and cheese, because they can handle countertop conditions for several days when the room is cold. Leave the freezer closed. If, after 24 hours, the power is not back on, use your refrigerator perishables first. Most fruit and vegetables will handle counter conditions fine. Condiments will be fine. If you can’t easily heat leftovers, consider them losses; leave them in the refrigerator, but plan to throw them away. Use deli meats, sliced and soft cheeses, and soft fruit and vegetables (berries, summer squash, greens) first. In general, consume soft things before hard things, sweet before acid, animal before plants. If it doesn’t look or smell okay? Don’t risk it. You don’t need a gastro (food poisoning) on top of cold and no power. If you’re not a meat or animal products eater, know that most soy and nut milks are actually shelf-stable, even if you bought it refrigerated. You should keep a couple of bricks of tetra-pack tofu in case of emergency.
If, at 72 hours, you still have enough gas fireplace heat and cooking fuel, start emptying the freezer. If it’s below 15F outside, put the freezer stuff in boxes outside; keep it in the shade. If it’s between 15F and 30F, precook the freezer food, then store outside in the shade. If it’s above freezing, your freezer may be a loss if you can’t cook and consume before it goes bad. Cooked food kept cold will be safer than slowly defrosting raw food, but eat the meat first, then the vegetables, and sacrifice anything that is difficult to prepare or preserve.
Use your pantry items. You will not get scurvy or beriberi or pellagra over a few days, so it’s fine to focus on calories and filling bellies without worrying too much about micronutrients. If you’re cold, you will need more calories to stay warm. You’ll also be bored and worried, so food can help provide comfort, warmth and entertainment. You can crack an egg into ramen and make a cheater’s egg drop soup. If you’ve got traditional sausages — smoked or cooked, like authentic kielbasa or salami — they’re room-temperature stable and can be dropped into soups or eaten on the side with crackers or bread.
Reusing dishes — soup cups, beverage cups — will not harm you over the short term (unless you are immunocompromised). Assign everyone their own spoons, soup cups and beverage cups. Rinse while you have water, if you must, but hot soup and hot beverages will keep bacteria to a minimum, and keeping individual dishes will prevent most cross contamination. If you or someone in your household is immunocompromised, buy a large sleeve of paper hot cups and that person uses those exclusively.
Take your meds. All of them. Try not to skip. If you are insulin dependent, keep your insulin in the coldest place you can, and monitor yourself carefully. Stress and cold will alter your needs. Use your test strips. You can replace test strips later. You can’t replace yourself if you die, and having a diabetic emergency because you didn’t want to use your test trips puts a lot of stress on an already busy emergency system.
Don’t drink alcohol. It really isn’t warming, though it may feel that way, because the alcohol causes your surface capillaries to expand. Booze warms your outside, and leaves your insides colder. It’s also dehydrating, and dehydration contributes to hypothermia. Plus, you’re stressed anyway. While a drink may seem like a good idea to calm down, it’s a depressant, and being stressed and depressed is more likely to make the situation worse for everyone. If you must have a drink, have one, do so socially, share your booze, and don’t get drunk.
You’re in the warm room, you have a hot beverage. It’s a small room. There are multiple people here. Some of them may be small and/or become easily cranky. Break out the chainsaw and go massacre? Tempting…. Acknowledge that impulse and don’t act on it. Cabin fever is a thing. This is where books, card and board games and especially tabletop RPGs are sanity savers. Even children as young as 4 or 5 can play in a simplified dungeon crawl. Instead of calculating THAC0, declare that 1-10 on a 20 sided doesn’t hit, and 11-20 does, regardless of armor, with a 20 getting an extra roll for crit. Damage is always 1d6, whether sword or magic missile. You’re playing for entertainment and to amuse each other, not for XP. Play silly. Of course you meet in a bar — that’s where all adventures start. If your game can’t go in the TVTropes Hall of Fame for Bad Puns and Cliches, the game may cease to be the distraction you need. Act it out. Turn Undead comes with a goofy chant — there’s a hole in your sheet, you ghostie, you ghostie! Young children love playing pretend, so go with their impulses. If your small child decides she is a fairy prince or a sentient puppy — roll up a character sheet and let her roll the dice. Teach everyone Munchkin or Uno. Build a Lego fortress. Re-read a book series together. Have a nerf or styrofoam peanuts fight across the room.(Yeah, you have to pick it up, but this room’s going to need a deep clean anyway after a few days.) Bring small, portable crafts — knitting, crochet, embroidery, chainmail, whittling.
Your warm room will stay somewhat warm — every human produces about the same amount of heat as an old-style 100 watt lightbulb — but entropy always wins. If the temps drop very low, the room will get colder. You will be more irritable if you’re cold, and that makes the warm room chillier. Share blankets. Sit close together. Cuddle. If you need some emotional privacy, sit on the floor, facing a wall or corner, while someone else sits right behind you. Lean into each other’s backs, but focus your attention on your own books or knitting or chainmail. You can share each other’s warmth while having quiet space. Use the earplugs or the MP3 player for a while. Nap. Turn the radio off when it’s just repeating the same thing; check it again at the top of the hour. Sleep in a puppy pile — everyone together. Keep the smallest and most fragile in the middle, where they’re likely to be warmest. If you don’t have people in the space who are not consenting to witness or participate in intimacy (and this includes all children) and you want to try sleeping bag sex — have at. Have fun. Don’t forget contraception and safety.
So… it’s bad. The power’s been out for more than 4 days, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get it back anytime soon. Your batteries are getting low, even with conservation. The warm room can’t keep up.
Are the roads clear, or is the weather bad, too? If the roads are clear, it’s time to head to a powered place. There will be shelters and aid available, but aim for a known person or friend or family member. Text them, and tell them you’re coming. Coordinate a safe landing zone, even if it’s only for one night and a few showers. If that person can’t take you in for more than a night on the floor, that’s okay — that’s why we have the Red Cross and churches and social welfare organizations. Pack 3 days of clothes for everyone, toothbrushes, one pair of closed, warm shoes on feet and one pair in each bag, and drive carefully. Take your time. You’ll be back. Listen for traffic information, and plug the phones into the car charger as soon as you’re rolling.
Is the car in the garage? Can you get the garage open without power? Yes, you can. It requires the rope pull and maybe disconnecting some springs. This was prep work that you already practiced.
Before you leave, you need to make sure your home is safe and can withstand being left alone. Know where your water main shut off is located. If the power stays out for more than 72 hours, and/or the temperature in your house or apartment falls below freezing, or if you have to leave, you need to know how to shut off your water and empty your pipes to keep them from freezing. Being without power is bad. Dealing with a broken pipe in freezing weather is worse. If you’re in an apartment building, you may not be able to handle this yourself. Ask your management what their action plan is in case of prolonged power failure. If you’re in a house, whether rented or owned, you need to know this. To drain your pipes temporarily, you shut off the mains water, then turn off your water heater and open its siphon valve so you don’t pressurize your hot water tank. Then go to the furthest sink away from the mains and heater, and open the tap. A little water will come out. Open the rest of the taps and leave them all open until the power is back. Then turn off the faucets, close the siphon valve on the water heater, turn on the mains, and restart your water heater, in that order. You may now go run a faucet to get the air out of the lines. Be careful — if the house has gotten extremely cold, the outflow (sewer) lines may be frozen. If water starts to back up in that sink, turn off the tap and let the house warm. When the standing water is gone, the sewer is likely running again. Be cautious until you’re certain everything’s defrosted.
If you have to close your water main, your best bet is to leave then. Go to a warming shelter if there’s one available, or to a friend or family member outside the unpowered zone if you can get there safely. But if conditions are bad, if the roads are icy or snow is falling faster than an inch per hour, you are safer staying put, even without running water or communication batteries. You’re still going to have to poop and pee. For poop, you need two 5 gallon buckets with lids, a spare toilet seat, and trash bags. A large bag of baking soda will help with odor. Put the bucket in the bathtub, bag in the bucket. When you need to go, take off the lid, put the seat on the bucket, do your business, remove the seat, scoop some baking soda on top, put the lid back on tight. This is the one time you can use baby wipes or adult baby wipes on your butt — this is going in the trash, not the sewer. When the bag is 1/3 to 1/2 full, take the whole thing, bucket included, outside and let it freeze. Use the other bucket while that one is freezing. Switch as needed. Astronauts do this all the time. To pee, if you possess external aiming equipment, use the bathtub drain. Aim at the drain, try not to splash. If your aiming equipment is mostly internal, add at least one female urination device per person who would need one to your kit.
Wipe down with baby wipes when you’re feeling greasy or stinky. Wear long sleeves, long pants, a couple of layers, a hat, socks. If possible, wear slippers in the house, over your socks. If you prefer shoes, wear shoes, but try to alternate between two pairs so you’re not putting your feet into yesterday’s slightly damp shoes when it’s cold. Do not wear shoes that have gotten wet; let them dry. Change your socks before you go to bed, so you’re wearing warm, dry socks to sleep. You can continue to wear the same pair the next day. Add layers as you need to maintain core temperature. If you cannot get warm, get in a sleeping bag or between blankets with someone else, cover your heads, and cuddle. Talk, tell stories, but stay in close contact until you’re warm. If you still can’t get warm, you’re approaching hypothermia and you need to consider this an evacuation emergency. Close everything down, turn off water and any gas using appliances, and lock everything behind you. Use your car heater, and get to someplace with electricity and warmth.
Do remember that power failures are temporary. You will survive and the power will come back. It’s mostly boring and stressful. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to laugh, laugh. Keep hydrated, get some sleep, enjoy a book or game, and don’t worry about the work you’re missing or what’s going on at the power company. You can’t control either. If your whole area is snowed in or without power, your job is probably closed anyway. Unless you work for the power company, you can’t help them except by staying out of their way.
Selfcare — emergency preparedness — household