Blackout: Rehearsing for the Bigger Threat

Editor’s note: Ohio-based author Scott Wagner recently experienced a power outage from the powerful storms that have swept across America in recent days. Here is his journal during the blackout.

I am writing this post on laptop battery power by the light of a propane lamp. This past Friday, as many of you also personally experienced, the eastern states were hit by a sudden and powerful group of thunderstorms propelled by straight-line winds (known as a derecho). Straight-line winds are akin to a tornado without the rotation, and the main difference in a straight-line wind event is that large and small debris isn’t sucked up into a vortex and deposited elsewhere as in a tornado and the swath of destruction is much larger. The straight-line winds in this storm were clocked at 90 mph leaving power lines down everywhere.

How to survive without powerThere are hundreds of thousands of people without power in day three and 22 dead across multiple states. There is not a generator to be found as far as I can search on the Internet, which I did at my in-laws home, since they had power. Today is July 1st. In my area, we may not have power back on in until July 8th.

I was prepared for something like this, but not prepared enough. My weapons status was fine.  An AR-15 or M1A1 Paratrooper carbine was in the car; depending on which one I drove, as was an ample ammo supply. I upgraded my “on-the-body gun” from my Smith and Wesson 642 .38 to my Beretta 92 9mm in a fanny pack, just in case since the basic necessities such as gasoline, ice and in some locales, food, were getting hard to come by.

I had my lighting needs taken care of. I have three rechargeable heavy-duty flashlights, a Streamlight SL20, a Streamlight LED Polystinger, and a 5.11 Light for Life light that contains a capacitor instead of a battery and recharges fully in 90 seconds. When they get low, I just pop them on a car charger.

In addition, I have a new Maglite 3-cell LED flashlight that is rated at 131 lumens and runs on common D batteries (although in my area, those aren’t so common now), with an Intelligent Energy Source Management run time of an incredible 79 hours with progressively descending brightness. There is something to be said for good old-fashioned D-cell alkaline batteries combined with modern technology.

In addition I have an assortment of tactical lights, oil lamps, and a double-mantle propane lamp. There is also an emergency supply of food on hand for up to a week for both my wife and I, and a propane camp stove for other cooking needs.

As the event unfolded, I realized I had a large gap in my basic plans (this blog is about weapons for defending oneself in these times, not the entire preparation gamut, so I am not ashamed to admit where I made mistakes on the rest of the plan) that I needed to address.

We have a well at our house with three pressure tanks, to allow the water to keep flowing in outages. I stored 30 gallons of treated water in the basement for general use including flushing toilets. The faucets and toilets worked from Friday night until Sunday. In years past it was no big deal. But, I will be 55 in August. When the faucets stopped, I reached and exceeded my fun threshold. I am getting a generator once they become available again. I put it off since we are trying to sell our house. Big mistake.

Further, while my wife is more of a tomboy than anything else, she doesn’t like this new “no running water” aspect of country living. A portable LP generator is in our future and the wife is all for it now.

Fortunately, this dress rehearsal came without civil disorder. Use any dress rehearsal to sharpen your game and make ready. Be honest with yourself. Find the chinks in your armor and fix them. Long-term disaster preparation is new to most folks. The last time people prepared at anywhere near this level was in the days of the Cuban missile crisis. This storm was a minor event. Once the electricity comes back on, things will be back to normal. Learn from minor events, because a major event won’t be so forgiving.


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14 thoughts on “Blackout: Rehearsing for the Bigger Threat

  1. birddog1

    In considering a propane generator you should consider “fuel Burn”. Some home units use over 1 1/4 gal/hr at the lower KW source. This equates to 33.6 GPD.

    Most home tanks are 100G…so this equates to 3 days of electrical power. Propane here in NY is about $3.90/G. So 3 days of propane would cost about $390.00. A lot of money.

    I have a 5500KW gas generator which is much more reasonable to operate. What I do is have five 5G tanks of gas and use them in rotation. You can use a fuel stabilizer which will preserve gas for about a year. If the power outage is longer than several days I can also syphon some gas from my vehicles to keep the generator going.

    In the event of a power outage you would not be able to get gas from a gas station..no electricity to pump.

    I also have a well and without power I am without water.

    1. swagner59

      Good points to consider. There are a huge number of people in my area buying wholehouse standby systems. This really hit everyone hard. Thanks for your comments!

    1. swagner59

      Good suggestion about water purification. The emergency kit from Food Insurance contains a water purification system. However my topic area is firearms and we have others handling the food water issues. I just veered off the path a bit due to the storm. Thanks!!

  2. Arawak5001

    No Power Nights

    Too many moons ago, when we were still newlyweds, the ‘better half’ and I would spend at least one evening a week in “NO POWER MODE”. Aka: A no power night.

    Quite simply:
    – No electric lights.
    – No microwave or electric range/oven. (We cooked on gas anyway.)
    – No TV
    – Radio only if wind-up or battery powered.
    – No telephone. (did not make calls, did not answer calls)
    – Nothing using standard household electric power.

    The exceptions to the above were:
    1.the household (220 VAC ) water pump when we flushed the toilet, Not practical for a short duration exercise like this.
    2.and if my Mother in-law appeared on caller-ID since we looked after her.

    The reason for this was being newlyweds, we were basically penniless, and this was a great cost-saving exercise. We read, played board games/cards, etc. We had a blast!

    The blizzard ’93 proved how valuable this weekly lesson was. We were living in NE Alabama at the time and received a 4-foot ‘gift’ of snow, and no power/water for 3 weeks. It was like camping with the following exceptions: #1- The “tent” was whole lot more comfortable and warmer, #2- the chow was a whole lot better!

    Ok, fast-forward 25+ years. Yes, we are doing a whole lot better financially. But the exercise and experience is just as important for other reasons.

    Ever notice just many otherwise “normal” people totally freak-out if the electric goes off? How do your kids or grandkids react when the normal conveniences of modern life (IE: electric and running water), suddenly go off-line?

    Nowadays, the list for a NO POWER NIGHT would also include:

    -No computer.
    -No MP3 player.
    -No video games.

    Now that I have rambled-on for a few minutes of your time, the above occurred to me tonight while sitting around a fire outside. Simple pleasures. A fire, good company, hot beverage, great conversation. NO ELECTRIC REQUIRED! But also a great exercise for people who wish to camp, or prepare for living without our ‘modern conveniences’.

    Food for thought…

    BTW: Our preps paid-off at our home in a Mid-Atlantic state. The 104 degree heat was no picnic, especially with no power, but it could have been a lot worse! We got our power back after only a week.

  3. j.bush@att.net

    Some considerations based on experience:

    1. Your generator should be propane powered if possible. Propane eliminates problems with flat fuel and gummed fuel systems because these generators get forgotten. Get a fixed tank set up to provide emergency heat as well as a fuel source for your generator cook and fill portable tanks.

    2. A minimal solar system with 2 marine batteries runs under $400 and will ensure communications and lights. You will not have to run the generator all the time with a solar backup and if sunlight fails you can charge the batteries with the generator while it is on the pump water and keep refrigeration.

    1. swagner59

      I like the solar system idea., but am unsure how good it will be in Ohio with our multiple days of overcast weather. Anyone have experience with these in Ohio?

  4. rodrob

    An afterthought, have you ever thought about a solar panel to recharge 12 volt batteries and an inverter to get AC power? I live where we see the sun 250 days a year, solar panels make real sense out in the west.

    1. swagner59

      I thought about that, and looked at it, but I dont know about Ohio. Our winters our so cloudy and overcast, much of fall is like that as well. I am not sure how well that might work here. I did follow J.bush suggest on a propane generator. It is what we ordered.

  5. rodrob

    Hi Scott,
    We haven’t had a blackout that long here, Central Washington state, but that doesn’t mean one isn’t coming. We’ve had some severe high winds already this year, but none reaching 90 mph. I have begun to assemble a survival gear/food cache the last few months. I’ve got the firearm/ammo problem under control, I have a small generator and an extra 10-20 gallons of gasoline-the generator is 2-cycle and my outboard on my boat is also 2-cycle and uses the same fuel-oil mixture. I have enough canned foods, freeze dried foods, drinking water storage, and fire making equipment (dry matches, alcohol, lighters, etc). I also have LED & kerosene lanterns, tent, sleeping bags, cots, a Kelly stove for heating water and preparing freeze dried foods quickly. Emergency lights also include candle lanterns, they give off light and heat. This probably sounds better than it really is. I know some other guys that are a lot better prepared. But I keep working on it.

  6. jsafeman@columbus.rr.com

    Scott, just like you I live in Bremen, OH down the road from Baltimore. We were without power fromFri. 6:00pm till Weds. 8:30pm. I do have a generator, though, to keep my 2 freezers, refrigerator, and a few lights on. (Lesson learned after loosing everything back in ’08) Gasoline did become hard to acquire until Lancaster finally got a few opened. Wifes family business, (Bremen Drive Thru), did suffer some loose, but we acquired a few generators from a MOST uncharacteristic location. Believe it or not we discovered 3500W and 6000W units at O’Rielly’s Auto Parts in Lancaster. Just a hint for next ONE that hits. By the way, I’m looking at converting the generator I already have to Natural Gas and possibly getting a Whole House unit installed here at house and wifes Family Business, as we could have fed and helped out a lot of people during this ‘little’ crisis.

    1. swagner59

      Hello,
      yes the generator is on order, I think propane or natural gas is the way to go. If I wasn’t planning on moving, I would be looking at the whole house unit your are describing. This was the longest power outage I have had, even during the big ice storm it was only three days. It is great to know folks out there are willing to help others in these times. As an amusing little twist, the day before my power came back-July 4-a buddy brought over his generator for us. He fired it up, and we got 10 minutes of power before it began spurting oil. We got 25 psi back on the well tanks, and the fans turned briefly…what a letdown. Like I said, this won’t happen again. Thanks for your comment!!!

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