Preparing for Grid Down: My Step-By-Step To-Do List

Approx Reading Time: 15 minutes

A power outage can be inconvenient or if you are unprepared, it can be devastating. A long term grid down event will significantly change life as we know it.

What should I do when the power goes out if I suspect an extended outage or grid-down event? A carefully planned step-by-step list of critical tasks to perform when the power goes will enable you to remember important tasks and be able to accomplish them in a timely manner.

Take time to carefully think through exactly what steps you should take immediately when the power goes out. Kenneth has done exactly that in great detail.

In this post, he shares his specific task list and a general window of time when these tasks should be accomplished. He has thought it through in great detail and we are grateful that he has shared it with us.

Remember, this is one individual’s plan to prepare for an EMP or other grid-down scenarios. Your plan will likely differ. It is important to follow Kenneth’s example and create your plan. It can be a fun and creative process unless you are trying to do it after the crisis has hit. Take some time to think through this with those you love and care for.

Now for Kenneth’s incredibly well thought out plan.

In the Event of Grid Down Scenario and We Are Staying Home

What exactly is Grid Down? Grid down means living without electricity (and everything that runs on electricity) for an extended period of time; many months and possibly years. It is not just a temporary, short-term power outage.

Before we get into this, we are supposing you are home or have been able to get home fairly quickly. We can talk about not being home in a separate article. Before reading any further get two pieces of paper and something to write with.

Top 10 Things to Do in Grid Down Scenario

On one piece of paper, I want you to write down the first 10 things you would do in a grid-down scenario. Just write whatever you think should happen in your home and/or circumstance. There are no wrong answers just maybe a wrong sequence. Get started then we will resume.

Top 10 Things to Do in Grid Down “Winter” Scenario

On the next piece of paper write down the first 10 things you would do in the same grid-down scenario, but now it is in the middle of winter. My guess is most everything you have written will change somewhat in order of importance or you may have added new items to the list.

Now you have two lists. Look them over. I will share several items that are on my personal list and why I have them or why they are in the order they are.

Having a list will help you remember the important things that should be done when you are in a state of shock.  

Grid Down Day One – First Couple Hours

As soon as a grid down event occurs, I will start working on this list immediately.

#1 – Locate Family Members

My family is my top priority. I want to try and track them down and get them home. They all know what they need to do in this event, so worrying about them is not too much of an issue. . . unless, of course, they don’t show up.

#2 – Investigate Cause of Power Outage

The next item on the list is to find out how much of a problem this is. Is this just a power outage or is it more severe like grid down?

If it is an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), almost every form of communication will be down. Only EMP hardened radio stations will be broadcasting; as long as they didn’t take a direct missile hit. If other radio stations are broadcasting using backup generators then it is not an EMP.

At that point, I would get my HAM radios out of their faraday cages and determine how far and how severe the event is by talking with other HAM radio operators.

Once I have determined this really is severe, and most likely a grid down, then I will continue with my list.

#3 – Final Trip to the Grocery Store

Go to the closest grocery store with cash and see how much of my “clean out the store” list I can get.

EMP Grocery Store Plan

If it is an EMP AND I am NOT suspicious of a nuclear attack, most likely my vehicle will not be running. I would need to walk down there with my handcart and an additional armed person to watch the handcart while I am inside.

Non-EMP Grocery Store Plan

If it is not an EMP, I would take my truck and again an additional armed person to watch my truck. The following “clean out the store” list is a list I compiled with my wife of things that we would like to get last minute, if possible.

Because we have sufficient food storage there is nothing that we really need, but just things we would like, if possible.

Clean Out the Store List

The list is separated into all of the stores we shop at, including ones my wife could stop at on her way home from work. This way, she gets some foods and so do I.

Dividing up increases our ability to get more items. We can discuss this more in-depth at another time if you would like. Again, remember to take cash because no stores, if they are actually selling anything, will be able to take credit cards.

Night Grid Down Onset

If this event happens at night, I would immediately get out flashlights to do as much prep work as possible. I have made candlelight holders for emergency times.

The sconces hang on the wall out of small children’s reach and are used by lighting a plumbers candle and put the candle in the sconce with a glass chimney. The sconce also has a small mirror on it to reflect the light.

Although the glass helps with better lighting, its main purpose is to make sure the flame is not extinguished when people walk past.

Daytime Grid Down Onset

If it is still daylight outside, I would start hooking up my standalone solar panels, to get the maximum amount of energy from them to my standalone 12-volt batteries on the south side of my house.

I have what I call a “12-volt power center” that allows me to hook up batteries, solar panels, a fuse box, and a charge controller to a bank of Anderson connectors. This allows me to charge batteries AND connect 12-volt appliances to it and run them directly. I can also add a power converter to be able to hook up regular 110-volt items to it.

# 1 – Fill Up Water Containers

Water is my next concern, especially since I live on a hill and water does not flow uphill. If there is still water pressure, I would fill up every empty container including every sink, tub (using a water bob), pitcher and washbasin, and topping off my hot tub.

With the sinks, as I know the drains all leak, I would put duct tape over the drain before filling. I would do that to my tub also if I didn’t have the Water Bob.

#2 – Shut Off Water at Meter

When the lines are all drained, I would shut the water off at the meter to keep any upstream issues from entering and contaminating what little water I have left. Yes, I know all this is temporary and won’t last, but it gives me water for a few days while I come up with a more permanent solution.

The 500 gallons of water in my hot tub is treated with Bromine instead of Chlorine, and while this water is not for consumption, it can be used for hygiene and watering my garden.

In addition to the hot tub, I have another 500 gallons stored in bottles and barrels. Again, this won’t last but does give me more time to find a more permanent solution. More to follow on this.

#3 – Set Up Temporary Power

As I am a diabetic, my insulin is my next concern and the whole reason for me getting into solar energy. I have a small 12-volt cooler that will hold my year and a half supply of insulin. I would fill the cooler and hook it up to the power center to keep my insulin cool. I have 12-volt extension cables to allow me to put my cooler in a more shaded place.

#4 – Set Clocks

Time is still important to me, so I would set the correct time on the few windup alarm clocks that I have, using the time on my phone while it still has power.

#5 – Take Care of Food in Refrigerator and Freezer

Food is next, and most importantly the food in the rapidly warming refrigerator and freezer. The freezer can wait a few days, as long as the door is not opened. With the refrigerator, I would pull everything out and put in three coolers; food for days one, two and three.

I don’t expect it to last more than that. This way, I am not opening food in coolers #2 and #3 and they can stay cool longer. I would put in as much ice and frozen blue ice packs as I can to help the food stay cooler.

Milk and other dairy products should probably not go in cooler #3. Eggs, ketchup, mustard and many other things we like to keep cool can sit on a counter for a very long time.

Determine what can be left out so you are not wasting precious cooler space. Label each cooler with its contents, and what needs to be consumed first. We will talk about the freezer later.

#6 – Initial Power Outage Kitchen Set Up

Being able to cook my food is important, so I’ll set up camp stoves on my back patio that will work until the propane is gone. Setting up a more permanent solution will be covered later.

#7 – Set Up Handwashing Station and Toilet

Staying clean from the start will solve many medical issues later. I would set up a sanitation station in the bathroom and kitchen. In the bathroom with a window, set up a porta-potty.

#8 – Set Up Water Filters

Keeping my water clean and safe to drink will entail setting up the Berkey water filter with several pre-filters in the kitchen.

#9 – Hook Up 12-Volt Fan

Because I have extreme sleep apnea, I sleep with a fan all the time. My 110-volt fan won’t work, so I have a 12-volt fan I can set up and plug into the power center.

#10 – Implement Security Plan

Keeping my family safe includes keeping watch at night with night vision scopes and other security measures. I won’t go into those here.

#11 – Start Alternative Heating

If it is winter, everyone will most likely be sleeping near either the fireplace or the wood-burning stove. Getting those going and bring in ample wood supply from the woodpile is important.

#12 – Break Out the Ice Cream

Probably the last thing we would do in the timeframe is to enjoy all the ice cream in the freezer, as we have no way of making it last.

By now, I should be mostly settled in and can start working on the next list of things to do.

Tasks for the Following Days (But Not Necessarily on the Second Day)

The tasks listed below should be accomplished after the above list of “critical tasks” have been completed.

#1 – Preserve Food in Freezer

Food in the freezer is not going to last very long, so I would pull out enough to start drying, canning and smoking.

I have built a portable smoker to help with this and also a solar food dehydrator. I have experimented enough with canning over a fire to finally get it right (I hope???) This is an art and not something you start doing in the event of an issue.

# 2 – Secure Wood Pile

To keep my woodpile from disappearing, I would bring the whole thing into the garage where it is mostly dry and safe.

# 3 – Secure Home and Property

To continue with my security I would board up all my windows (and also the doors I am not using) with 3/4” plywood shutters. These are already premade so I don’t have to try and figure this out with no electricity.

Although these are NOT bulletproof, they can help with security and concealment better than without. Along the lines of light concealment, I would hang light-blocking cloth over the windows that I have yet to make shutters for.

#4 – Water Procurement

To try and capture more water, I would unhook my downspouts from my roof gutters (where I have them cut halfway up and currently hooked back together) and put a barrel or bucket under them to catch rainwater. I already have several rainwater barrels, but this will add a few more.

For more water, make first run to Murdock canal with truck and trailer if it is not an EMP. If it is, use the handcart.

#5 – Complete Power Outage Kitchen Set Up

For cooking, the next thing is to set up alternative cooking methods such as solar oven, charcoal briquettes, and tripod over my fire pit for Dutch ovens.

#6 – Implement Fire Safety  

An additional safety measure would be to put fire extinguishers, which are not already set, strategically throughout the house where candles and other fire sources might be.

# 7 – Set Up Rodent Traps

For safety (and possible additional meat sources), set traps for varmints and anything else that comes in the yard uninvited.

#8 – Disconnect from Public Utilities

Turn off the water at the street, and the gas at the meter. Shut sewage off from the house at the sewage cleanout port.

#9 – Vehicle Prep

Park cleaned out and unlocked vehicles in the driveway facing out.

Siphon all gas from the vehicles and put gas in the bike shed. Leave gas caps off and the fill door open on the vehicles. As those less-honest individuals come to get your gas, this sort of lets them know there is no gas, so they don’t puncture the gas tank. This allows you to put gas in it at a future time and use your vehicle.

If it was an EMP and vehicles were in the garage, push them out on to the driveway to allow more space for firewood and other things. This also helps keeps would-be thieves from breaking into your garage.

Pull out car batteries and put them in the garage, or close to the solar panels, for charging and future use.

#10 – Community Organization

Set up a meeting with neighbors to establish community security, water wells, and sanitation.

#11 – Back Up Computer

Using back up batteries and power converters, back up the main computer.

After the First Day – Summer Specific

The following tasks are warm weather-specific and should be attended to only after the most critical “first-day” tasks have been completed.

#1 – Hot Tub Water and Maintenance

Start using hot tub water to water the garden with a watering can. When empty, blow out the lines and put in a plastic liner to use as a basin to refill with every rainstorm and any other source. Keep the lid on the hot tub when not raining to slow down evaporation.

#2 – Food Production

Keep garden going and start digging up both the front and back lawns for additional garden space. Plant weather-specific plants and seeds as soon as possible (depending on the season). Help neighbors with their gardens.

After the First Day – Winter Specific

These items are cold weather-specific, and should be attended to after the most critical “first-day” tasks have been completed.

#1 – Hot Tub Water and Maintenance

Drain hot tub into containers for sanitation use and blow lines with whatever pressure is still in the compressor. Put a plastic liner in after it is drained to catch any snow or rainfall. Keep the lid on when not raining or snowing to slow down evaporation.

#2 – Drain Indoor Plumbing

Drain water from pipes in the house so they don’t freeze.

#3 – Temporary Refrigerator and Freezer

Depending on outside temperature, use the shed as a refrigerator/freezer. Keep it locked when not using it.

#4 – Locate and Organize Warm Clothing and Blankets

Get out extra blankets, quilts, and foam/winter clothing.

#5 – Food Production

Get vegetable seeds started for a winter garden in the greenhouse, if one is not already planted.

#6 – Power Bank Protection

Make sure all batteries outside are winter cold protected.

Initial Checklist Complete

We have discussed a few checklist items from my personal list for the first two days. I would highly encourage you to put together your own list. Feel free to use line items off of my list, but please remember to make it your own.

My step-by-step grid-down list has several things that my family would do based on our unique circumstances. You should include things that might be unique to your situation.

This post only covers the first two days. We will discuss day three and beyond in a separate article. For now, this should give you food for thought and help you get started.

Last bit of advice: practice, practice, practice! Once you have put your list together, do a drill or two with your family and then fill in the gaps. Be safe!



Kenneth can usually be found working in his year-round garden that is when he is not lecturing or teaching CERT. His interests lie in all facets of emergency preparedness and disaster response. Many think that his only passion is nuclear, biological and chemical event preparedness but he also is an accomplished instructor in bushcraft, gardening, living off the land, food preparation and storage, and Yankee (no electricity) woodworking and carving. He loves to teach and usually through hands-on training.