Sunday, August 03, 2008

SHTF: Power outages

Last night, Saturday, a transformer blew in my neighborhood right around nightfall. Most of our neighborhood was plunged into blackness and worse, heat. It was 100 degrees when the power went out.

I happened to be around the corner at the grocery store (picking up ice cream of all things) and returning home when I came upon my street. "Funny", I thought, "the street light is out.". Then I realized what had happened.

After I pulled in the driveway I took my three cell battery flashlight out of the console and brought the ice cream inside the house.

Everything was pitch black and my youngest runs up screaming about the power being out. A couple of good things at this point:

- My wife already had four flashlights out and distributed.
- She also herded our three kids and two errant neighbor children into one room with her where she keep an eye on all until I arrived.

I set up two battery powered lanterns in the same room and took stock of the situation. I went to the next door neighbors and got the layout of the land; the transformer had blown due to the heat and most of the neighborhood was blacked out. Yes, someone had already phoned the electric company.

After letting the neighbors across the street know about their two children safely at our home (and discovering how unprepared this family was - two candles for the whole house), I walked to the end of the block and met another neighbor wandering light-free around the block also assesing the damage.

After returning home, I heard a couple of trucks in the alley. I went back and found the electric company staring at a burned out transformer - the same one which then blew again right in front of me, another neighbor and the electric company workers.

"Not good" says the worker. This might be a while.

"Great" says neighbor clad only in his shorts. "My house is already sweltering".

I guestimated it would be somewhere after midnight before the power came back on, so I went ohome to transfer the information to the wife and kids.

First thing we did after that was close all the bedroom doors and keep everyone out. This kept most of the cool air in and colder than with the introduction of warm bodies.

We then concentrated everyone in one room to build heat and keep it out of the other parts of the home. The children were given ice cream to cool off and told to avoid lots of crazy activity less they get hot.

I pulled several bottles of cold water from the both fridges and kept everyone hydrated. I also put several pitchers of water in both refrigerators. They would stay cold and be available for drinking and the dogs.

A knock came at the door and I considered this might be trouble so I prepared accordingly. As it would happen, it was the neighbor across the street coming to get her two kids. She had a pen or something similar in her hand and I asked what it was.

Turns out she was using one of those Bic lighters used fro lighting grills or stoves as her light source when she crossed the street.

"Don't you have a flashlight?" I asked. "No, we don't have anything like that" she replied.

I gave her a spare and told her to be careful. Hmmm..

Afterwards, we shut down at my house. The kids were put to bed with a flashlight each while I locked up and checked the house.

Only at this time did I strip down for bed. A quick rinse off in the shower and I felt cool. What's more, the bedroom still felt pretty cool as well. We turned in and hoped the power would be on in the morning.

As luck would have it, around 2:30 AM, the power came on and with that, the air conditioner as well.

Some observations for when the SHTF and power losses become widespread and possibly permanent.

- Obviously, have alternative lighting and plenty of options. My battery powered lanterns run off common AA batteries and were purchased on sale at Target for less than three dollars each.

- Know where flashlights and lanterns are before the power goes out. My youngest knew where two flashlights were in the dark as did my wife.

- Have extra batteries! One of the lanterns lost power and a) I had batteries and b) I knew where they were.

- What is the long term plan? What if the power stayed off indefinately? That was on my mind as the hours ticked by last night.

- Have water and food available. Fortunately, we had running water, but what if that was gone with the power as well? Wife and I agreed to invest more in water storage for long term outages this morning.

- Be ready to be called to help neighbors. I never once thought about telling my neighbors to go pound sand. I would eventually depend upon them as well. Don't burn bridges.

- We are all aware of what to do when its cold, but what about heat? Have a plan there as well. Battery powered fans would have made a world of difference last night.

In the end, I had no fewer than two women (mind this guys) tell my wife and I how well prepared we were this morning. Seems most of the nighborhood was really in the dark. Keep that in mind and hope the power never stays off permanently.

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