In December 2018, The President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), released a report entitled Surviving a Catastrophic Power Outage, How to Strengthen the Capabilities of the Nation. The government recognizes that the power grid is a prime target for attack by nation states and explains: “There needs to be more individual accountability for preparedness”. While they work to improve the resiliency of the infrastructure, we need to do our part and increase the ability of our individual households to live without electricity for an extended period of time.
How do I prepare to survive an extended power outage that lasts for 6 months to a year? It is important to build physical resources as well as develop important survival skills and relationships. Physical resources include water and food storage, alternative energy methods for cooking, lighting and heating, sanitation, medical supplies, communications, and physical protection.
The report found that:
“People no longer keep enough essentials within their homes, reducing their ability to sustain themselves during an extended, prolonged outage. We need to improve individual preparedness. … The idea of individual preparedness is not a new concept. Civil defense, an older term used to elevate a level of individual preparedness and activate communities, used to be more widely accepted.”
The United States Air Force also released a report in 2018 from the Electromagnetic Defense Task Force (EDTF). This is a second credible witness that should motivate every family to prepare today.
The potential for an adversary to inflict damage on states through electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) attack has grown significantly. Today, all aspects of society, governance, and security have dependencies on EMS. However, power grids, telecommunications, and many command-and-control systems have not been designed to survive a hostile EMS environment. Once damaged by natural phenomena such as GMD or human induced phenomena such as electromagnetic pulse EMP and HEMP, it may take months to years to recover networks and other vital functions to their original state.
Multiple adversaries are capable of executing a strategic attack that may black out major portions of a state’s grid. An EMP attack affects all devices with solid-state electronics and could render inoperative the main grid and backup power systems, such as on-site generators.
The United States is the most technologically advanced nation on earth. We are highly dependent upon electricity for almost every activity of daily life from cooking our food, to lighting our home, to powering our communications, to transporting our just-in-time inventory to stores, to warming our homes. We are highly vulnerable.
An extended power outage, regardless of the origin, would severely hamper transportation, preventing the delivery of critical supplies. Communications systems would be disabled. The ability to produce, refrigerate, and distribute food would be complicated. Hospitals and health care facilities may be inoperable. The ability to deliver clean drinking water and manage human waste would be limited.
Our vulnerability to disease and death would increase dramatically due to decreased sanitation and limited medical care. The extent of the damage can only be estimated, but our world, as we know it, would be dramatically altered.
Our nation and communities will all be stronger and better able to withstand the consequences that a catastrophic extended power outage may bring if each of us take personal responsibility and act today. It may be simpler than you might think to gather the needed supplies and gain the knowledge you need to be self-reliant without electricity.
Consider each of the following categories carefully. Develop some realistic goals and get to work to achieve those goals. Preparing now may just make all the difference in your future.
Store as much clean drinking water as you reasonably can. We recommend 2 gallons per person per day for at least 2 weeks. Visit How to Store Water for Emergency Preparedness to learn everything you need to know about storing water for emergencies
You will need to know where to get additional water when your stored water supply is exhausted. Research what the options are in your local area and make notes for future reference. Check out Emergency Water: 17 Potential Sources for some places you may be able to find water.
Remember water is heavy and you will need a way to transport it from the source location. Fuel will likely be quite limited so consider wheeled carts, or other modalities that will reduce the weight and enable you to transport the water over long distances.
Water disinfection and purification knowledge and tools will also be important. The water you are able to acquire in this type of an event will generally not be safe to drink without a little bit of help.
We have written a helpful resource Making Water Safe to Drink: 7 Disinfection Techniques that will get you started. You will want to invest in a quality water filter which will remove both chemical and biological contaminants from the water such as a Berkey Water Filtration System or Aqua Rain Gravity Filter.
Stocking a pantry of nutritious foods is relatively simple and inexpensive today. An extended power outage will result in food scarcity and high prices if you can find it. The demand for food will be increased both due to need and hoarding out of fear.
We strongly recommend that every household have a 3 month supply of shelf-stable foods that are part of your everyday diet. Canned foods, cereal, boxed dinners, and beverages are just a few ideas. Stock up on anything that you eat on a regular basis that does not require refrigeration. Many of these items have a shelf life of at least 2 years, so a 3 month supply can easily be rotated in your normal diet.
Next, build a supply of longer-term basics. Wheat, white rice, beans, oats, dried potatoes, pasta, and sugar will store for 25+ years when packaged and stored appropriately. Go to 8 Food Storage Enemies and How to Slay Them to learn the best way to store your valuable food. These basic foundation foods will provide critical calories and are easily supplemented with other foods you may be able to obtain.
Supplement the basics with dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. Many will have up to a 25-year shelf life which will ensure you have safe food stores for quite a few years. However, make sure that you get the foundation items (grains and beans) first. You may want to read, Hunger Insurance – Don’t Get Caught Without It!, for ideas to help you get started. Click here for our personal recommendations for quality suppliers of foods packaged for long term storage.
Consider how you may be able to grow at least some of your own food. The Victory Gardens of WWII are a great example of the power of producing even a small amount of food that can benefit the entire community. Incorporate fruit or nut trees into your landscape. Grape vines and berry bushes are beautiful and easy to care for. Create a space for a small garden, start building the soil and grow something every year. Even a potted tomato plant counts. Store vegetable seeds for your garden.
We are spoiled when it comes to cooking our food. We easily heat our food with the push of a button or the turn of a knob. Cooking without electricity can be a bit more challenging and comes with a learning curve. Check out Emergency Cooking: 12 Family Favorites for ideas on cooking methods to use when the power goes out. Our favorite alternative cooking devices can be found here.
Most alternative cooking methods are not safe for indoor use. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a deadly consequence of cooking indoors using the wrong methods. We wrote a post that gives you great options: Safe Indoor Emergency Cooking Solutions that you might want to review. We really like to use Safe Heat for cooking indoors, you can read more about it at Canned Heat – Safe Fuel for Indoor Emergency Cooking.
No power means no lights. Stumbling around in the dark is a great way to sustain an injury that will just make all of this worse. Purchase a good supply of alternative lighting that includes lanterns for area lighting, headlamps for task lighting, and flashlights for general use. Rechargeable solar options are our favorite.
Candles provide some dim lighting but are also a fire hazard. There are better alternatives available. Store extra batteries for any lighting devices that need them.
Depending on where you live, you may literally freeze to death unless you plan to be able to stay warm without electricity or natural gas. Check out our post Surviving a Winter Power Outage – How to Stay Warm and you will discover what our family learned when we turned off our electricity in the dead of winter just to see if we could survive.
Once again, carbon monoxide is a deadly enemy so you must select your alternative heating devices with great care. Best Alternative Heat Sources to Use During a Power Outage is a great resource to learn how to warm your home when the electricity is not an option. Our recommended alternative heating devices can be found here.
Personal sanitation is often overlooked when preparing for a grid down scenario. Most sewer systems require electricity to operate. Our local sewer plant only has a one day supply of diesel fuel to run a backup generator. What happens after that?
If clean municipal water is no longer being delivered to your home, how will you shower or wash your hands? Everything you ever wanted to know and more is covered in the article Prepping for Basic Emergency Sanitation. You will definitely want to understand this when you are faced with an extended grid down event.
No power means very limited ability to gain access to the incredible medical care we have become accustomed to. Drug store supplies will disappear quickly. Brush up on first aid skills and learn to treat more conditions at home. Backup power will be required for home medical equipment.
Stock up on over-the-counter and prescription medications as well as first aid supplies. You may want to read Prepping Tools for Medical Care and Antibiotic Stockpiling for ideas. Basic supplies will make a huge difference in your ability to treat conditions at home. A good-quality medical reference book may help you diagnose and treat simple conditions at home.
Invest in your health and make it a priority now to exercise and eat better. Eliminate poor health practices from your life. The stronger and healthier you are going into a challenging event, the better you will be able to resist disease and cope with the challenges.
The ability to send and receive an abundance of information in our society is taken for granted. No power means no computers and no cell phones. How will you get information about what is going on in the world or touch bases with others to ensure they are okay?
Purchase good back-up communication devices that make sense for your personal situation. Make sure that you can power them using solar or other alternative energy methods.
Stressful events bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. We want to work together as neighborhoods and communities to help each other make it through the tough times. We are stronger together than we can ever be alone.
That being said, you should develop a plan to follow the recommendations of this post; Protecting Yourself from the Darker Elements of Society who may be intent on causing you harm. Fortify and secure your home so it is a less attractive target for thieves. Protect your food storage from would-be-thieves through operational security (don’t announce you store food) and physical security (store in unexpected locations and keep it locked up).
Develop a plan to defend yourself and your loved ones. Acquire the tools that you need to accomplish that. Remember that sometimes the best defense is to turn your enemies into friends. If someone is threatening you because he is hungry, feed him. We all are capable of doing desperate things when pushed too far. Be ready and willing to share your resources when it is wise.
Call to Action
Understand that we live in a turbulent world and there has been a significant rise in the rate of natural disasters. It makes sense to spend the time and resources that are necessary to prepare in order to mitigate the damages and loss of life that these events may create.
One last quote from the introduction to the NIAC report:
Across the nation, we experience major threats nearly every year: hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, droughts, and other serious disasters. For these events, the nation has well-established response processes where the federal government serves as a backstop for the robust efforts of individuals, businesses, communities, and states. Even as severe weather increases, the nation has steadily improved its ability to respond to growing disasters and resulting outages—improving planning and coordination, hardening infrastructure, and building strong mutual aid agreements.
The risk posed by a catastrophic power outage, however, is not simply a bigger, stronger storm. It is something that could paralyze entire regions, with grave implications for the nation’s economic and social well-being. …
… imagining an outage that stretches beyond days and weeks to months or years, and affects large swaths of the country. Unlike severe weather disasters, a catastrophic power outage may occur with little or no notice and result from myriad types of scenarios: for example, a sophisticated cyber-physical attack resulting in severe physical infrastructure damage; attacks timed to follow and exacerbate a major natural disaster; a large-scale wildfire, earthquake, or geomagnetic event; or a series of attacks or events over a short period of time that compound to create significant physical damage to our nation’s infrastructure. An event of this severity may also be an act of war, requiring a simultaneous military response that further draws upon limited resources.
While evidence of impending threats of this magnitude may be disturbing, it is important that we do not allow ourselves to be motivated by fear. Preparing to be self-reliant and take care of our own families is the right thing to do. We must move forward with faith and do everything in our power to take reasonable steps and prepare for the challenges in our future.
We are all part of a community and have a responsibility to make the world we live in a better place. Reach out to your neighbors and build relationships. Work together to prepare so that when disaster strikes, we will thrive together.
Thanks for being part of the solution!