Keep­ing the lights on when the elec­tric­ity stops flow­ing

American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Dana Ben­ner

Ial­ways hear sto­ries about what will hap­pen if the SHTF and we lose ev­ery­thing that we have come to con­sider “nor­mal.” I have heard these same sto­ries since I was a kid in the 1960s, and they all claimed we would be thrown back into the Stone Age.

While I find that to be highly un­likely, I do feel we face a real threat to our way of life from nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, ter­ror­ism and war. If things get very bad, we’ll lose power, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and com­put­ers. We will lose ready ac­cess to food and wa­ter and most, if not all, mod­ern con­ve­niences.

But, will we be to­tally help­less? Not if we plan. I am not a big fan of tech­nol­ogy, but it has given us the tools that will en­able us to deal with bad things when they do hap­pen.

What will you do when the world goes black? In our mod­ern world, we rely al­most com­pletely upon elec­tric­ity and elec­tron­ics. Elec­tronic de­vices run our lives. We do our bank­ing on­line. We com­mu­ni­cate us­ing cell phones, and we nav­i­gate us­ing GPS. Even our ve­hi­cles op­er­ate us­ing mul­ti­ple on­board com­put­ers. The power grids and pub­lic wa­ter and trans­porta­tion


sys­tems rely upon elec­tric­ity and com­put­ers to op­er­ate. If they go down, most peo­ple will have no power or run­ning wa­ter.

In this ar­ti­cle, I will dis­cuss how you can pre­pare now to be ready to han­dle this real-life sit­u­a­tion.


We have all been there: A se­vere storm knocks out the power. All goes dark. It is fun and games ... un­til you re­al­ize that your re­frig­er­a­tor and fur­nace have stopped work­ing. Most of the time, there is re­ally noth­ing to worry about, be­cause the elec­tric crews are out there, restor­ing power quickly so that the dis­rup­tion is short-lived.

How­ever, what hap­pens if the power stays out for more than a few hours? Per­haps it could be days—or even weeks—be­fore power is re­stored. What if this sit­u­a­tion goes on for months? Are you ready to re­spond to a sit­u­a­tion such as this?

In or­der to make it through an ex­tended out­age, you need to think long term. You need to plan ahead and have mul­ti­ple plans in place. How will you keep things run­ning? Which de­vices can you live with­out?

The fact is that when the power goes out, you never re­ally know when it’ll come back on. Your plans should fac­tor in short-term out­ages, from a few hours up to a day or two, as well as longterm out­ages of a week or more.

What if some­thing re­ally bad hap­pens, and the power grid is lost? What then? Al­though

it is scary to think about, it could hap­pen, so you need to be pre­pared. You need mul­ti­ple ways of generating power just in case any or all of them are needed. The trick is to start sim­ple and pre­pare now. Wait­ing un­til some­thing hap­pens is not the time try to fig­ure things out.


There is no such thing as hav­ing too many bat­ter­ies. Al­ways have plenty of D, C, AA and AAA bat­ter­ies on hand. They will be needed to run flash­lights, ra­dios, smoke and car­bon diox­ide me­ters, and to charge cell phones, among other things.

The prob­lem with stan­dard bat­ter­ies, even the best ones, is that they lose power over time. The trick, if there is one, is to re­view your bat­tery sup­ply ev­ery few months and dis­card the ones that aren’t up to par. I use a volt me­ter to test all my bat­ter­ies on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Stock up on bat­ter­ies when things are good, and make sure you pur­chase good bat­ter­ies. Don’t


cheap-out and get the dis­count bat­ter­ies, be­cause “you get what you pay for.” Bat­ter­ies will be the first thing to sell out dur­ing a power out­age, so keep plenty on hand now.

Buy­ing bat­ter­ies can get pretty ex­pen­sive; for that rea­son, I also have recharge­able bat­ter­ies on hand. Recharge­able bat­ter­ies are no good un­less you keep them charged, so do this while you have power to do so or be ready to rig charg­ers to so­lar pan­els. I al­ways keep a few sets fully charged at all times in case I need them.


My rule of thumb is to keep a good flash­light in ev­ery room, which ob­vi­ates hav­ing to carry one around and po­ten­tially mis­plac­ing it. I also have recharge­able head­lamps in my gear, which al­low me to work hands-free. Last, but not least, I keep a few wa­ter-recharge­able lights on hand just for good mea­sure.


Gen­er­a­tors are great—as long as you have fuel to run them. I have two gen­er­a­tors: One runs on propane and one on gaso­line, so I have the abil­ity to use mul­ti­ple fu­els. If the power is out for more than two hours, I will fire one of them up. The key here is to make sure I keep them in work­ing or­der and have enough fuel for both gen­er­a­tors to run for two weeks.

When us­ing a gen­er­a­tor, it is im­por­tant to do so safely. Never run a gen­er­a­tor in­side a build­ing, and make sure to cut off the con­nec­tion to the power com­pany’s elec­tri­cal ser­vice main line (con­sult your util­ity com­pany or a qual­i­fied electrician to find out how to do this). This will pre­vent you from elec­tri­fy­ing the main line, where work­ers are try­ing to re­store power. Have an electrician in­stall a trans­fer switch to make us­ing your gen­er­a­tor eas­ier and safe.

I only power my re­frig­er­a­tor, fur­nace and sump pump, but de­pend­ing on the ca­pac­ity of your gen­er­a­tor, the choice is yours. Note that the more drain you put on your gen­er­a­tor, the more fuel you will use. Be­cause there is no way to know how long the power will be out, I choose to con­serve my fuel by keep­ing the elec­tri­cal load min­i­mal.

Re­mem­ber: If you have no power, chances are that the gas sta­tion and propane ven­dor will not have

Good-qual­ity recharge­able bat­ter­ies are your best bet for eco­nom­i­cal backup power for your small equip­ment and de­vices.

While a gen­er­a­tor might not be pos­si­ble in this lo­ca­tion, some so­lar pan­els will keep your small de­vices run­ning.

Bot­tom, left: In­stal­la­tion of a whole-house power backup sys­tem isn't cheap, but the right sys­tem will keep your gad­gets and giz­mos work­ing when ev­ery­one around you is read­ing by can­dle­light.

Be­low, left: Af­ter Hur­ri­cane Sandy, many of New York City's res­i­dents had few op­tions for al­ter­na­tive sources of elec­tric­ity. (Photo: Mario Tama/ Getty Im­ages)

Left: When the power goes out, crews will work to re­store it quickly—if they can.

Be­low, right: When de­struc­tive storms strike, af­fected cus­tomers of­ten num­ber in the mil­lions. Your street might have to wait weeks for the re­pair­men to ar­rive.

Bot­tom, right: Land lines could be down, and cell ser­vice is spotty. Two-way ra­dios such as this Mid­land GTX might be your best op­tion for stay­ing in touch.

Be­low: It will be some time be­fore the power com­pany's tech­ni­cians will be able to get to this home. In the mean­time, the res­i­dents will need to find al­ter­nate sources for wa­ter, heat and elec­tric­ity.

Right: When there is no elec­tric­ity com­ing from your util­ity provider, you'll have to make some se­ri­ous choices about what you'll be able to run with your backup power source.

Bot­tom: This con­trol panel con­trols ev­ery­thing on the Bi­o­lite So­lar Home 620, in­clud­ing the amount of power be­ing used.

Top: The gen­er­a­tor be­low is con­nected to a ded­i­cated line into the house. This is much safer and more con­ve­nient than us­ing an ex­ten­sion cord.

Left: If you have a gen­er­a­tor, be sure you test it pe­ri­od­i­cally. Mix fuel sta­bi­lizer in with your gas to en­sure it will be ready to go when the lights go out.

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