Thursday, September 10, 2015

#NatlPrep: Instead Of Cursing The Darkness

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Note: This is day 10 of National Preparedness Month.  Follow this year’s campaign on Twitter by searching for the #NatlPrep hash tag.  This month, as part of NPM15, I’ll be rerunning some updated  preparedness essays, along with some new ones.




Short term power outages affect most of us each year, usually lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours.  Longer outages, while less common, are far from rare.  


  • During the summer of 2012, a powerful Derecho swept across the Mid-Atlantic states leaving nearly 4 million people without power, some for several days.
  • Later in 2012, during and after Hurricane Sandy, as many as 8 million residents of New York and New Jersey were without power, some for as long as a week. 
  • During the ice storm of December 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ontarians were without power for several days, and parts of Michigan were hard hit as well.


Hurricanes, ice storms, Nor’easters, tornados, floods, tornadoes . . .  and even solar storms (see Solar Storms, CMEs & FEMA) are capable of crippling power production and delivery.  Add in our aging infrastructure, and the potential of cyber (or physical) attacks on the system, and the odds of seeing more major power outages only increases.


It is the job of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to "ensure the reliability of the North American bulk power system", a mandate given to it in 2006 as a result of the 2003 Northeast blackout which affected more than 50 million people in the United States and Ontario, Canada. 


In  2009, NERC issued a public notice warning that the grid was `vulnerable’ to cyber attack.


Nearly three years ago, in GridEx 2013 Preparedness Drill, we looked at a major drill mounted by NERC to determine their ability to respond to a full grid-down situation, due to a cyber-attack.  Despite attempts to `harden’ the electrical grid against attacks, the following year Bloomberg News reported:


U.S. Power Grid Vulnerable to Attack: Congressional Research Service

A coordinated and simultaneous attack on the nation's electricity grid could have “crippling” effects including widespread extended blackouts and “serious economic and social consequences,” according to a federal report on the physical security of high-voltage transformer substations.

Without electrical power, water and gasoline doesn’t pump, elevators and air conditioners don’t run, ATM machines and banks close, grocery stores can’t take debit or credit cards, and everything from cooking, to flushing toilets, becomes a major challenge.  Particularly in urban settings.


Having lived for more than a year `on the hook’ on a sailboat, I understand what its like to be off the grid.  But of course, I’d prepared for that. 


I had solar panels, kerosene lanterns, battery operated devices, and other work arounds.   It wasn’t luxurious, or even comfortable a good deal of the time, but living aboard a boat in the tropics tends to make up for such things.


Today, I’ve `swallowed the anchor’, and live on dry land.  But I keep the much of the same gear I had aboard my sailboat, in case the power goes out.  Battery operated radios, LED lanterns (much improved over the old, hot, smelly kerosene lanterns),  a propane camp stove (with extra fuel) . . .  even a small solar panel to recharge batteries.


If a disaster struck your region today, and the power went out, stores closed their doors, and water stopped flowing from your kitchen tap for the next 7 days  . . .  do you have:

  • A battery operated NWS Emergency Radio to find out what was going on, and to get vital instructions from emergency officials?
  • A decent first-aid kit, so that you can treat injuries?
  • Enough non-perishable food and water on hand to feed and hydrate your family (including pets) for the duration?
  • A way to provide light (and in cold climates, heat) for your family without electricity?   And a way to cook?  And to do this safely?
  • A small supply of cash to use in case credit/debit machines are not working?
  • An emergency plan, including meeting places, emergency out-of-state contact numbers, and in case you must evacuate, a bug-out bag?
  • Spare supply of essential prescription medicines that you or your family may need?

If your answer is `no’, you have some work to do.  A good place to get started is by visiting


Unfortunately, a lot of people make the wrong choices when they do prepare.  They buy candles instead of battery operated lights, they use generators inside their house or garage, or resort to dangerous methods to cook or to heat their homes. 


As a result, when the power goes out, house fires and carbon monoxide poisonings go up. Each year hundreds of Americans are killed, and thousands affected, by CO poisoning (see In Carbon Monoxide: A Stealthy Killer).


Food safety after a power outage is another concern, and is something I covered a couple of years ago in USDA: Food Safety When The Power Goes Out.


While preparedness may seem like a lot of work, it really isn’t.  You don’t need an underground bunker, an armory, or 2 years worth of dehydrated food.  But you do need the basics to carry on for a week or two, and a workable family (or business) emergency/disaster plan.


For more information on how to prepare, I would invite you  to visit:




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