This post is a day late because the electricity was out in the last, strong round of storms... this time for 64 hours, ending yesterday evening. We have had two other storm-related extended outages since November, one for six days and the other for four. Although we are ready with several redundant systems to back us up, every time we go through this, I realize just how dependent our entire culture IS on electric power!
The first problem people run up against is water! Water is the second-most essential thing humans need, after oxygen to breathe. If it's raining, you can leave lots of pots outside and catch the rainwater, and even (probably, mostly) safely drink it, though I recommend that while life is treating you kindly, you bottle up and set aside a gallon per day per person of water for emergency use. I am lax in this area, partly because I have gravity-fed spring water, however, that could fail too. I intend to follow my own advice.
Water is also required for flushing toilets; most of us still need to think of this problem. You could use that rainwater you didn't want to drink for this purpose, in which case, your ice chests might come in handy as big receptacles. Or, maybe you are in the position to consider converting your household over to composting toilets, which will still be functioning during extended power outages. If you are interested, click that link and you will find a good, simple-to-understand, discussion of systems available and how they work.
Several of my friends who don't live on our tiny town's gravity-fed system were seen during this winter's outages hauling home garbage cans full of water to take care of personal hygiene needs, or visiting with towel and shampoo in hand to beg a shower off those who did have running, hot water. Bathing is another need that sometimes has to go by the wayside in power outages. What kind of water heating are YOU using? I have always favored propane water heaters, in part because I could make sure to stock up on the propane during the calm periods, and have enough to get me through the storms. Of course, this is still dependency on our oil-driven culture, and I have also researched what it would take to convert to either solar or wood-heated water.
The solar option is a costly set-up, but I believe we are going to see a round of rebates and tax cuts again, as our country tries to break its dependency on foriegn oil. Now could be the time to research and plan for some conversion in your home's systems. Here's a link to Real Goods, one of the oldest and most comprehensive solar consulting businesses. I do love my on-demand propane water heater, and am also concerned that a solar system would be yet another failure during the weeks of storms we have had this very wet winter.
Such weather is just when a back-up system attached to a wood stove would come in handy. Here's a great little video to watch about using a stovepipe water heater:
The video references this article from the Mother Earth News archives, both together will give you some really good information on how you can get hot water independently in winter. Of course, you won't be wanting to use your wood stove in summer, so snag one of those camping solar showers to set aside for the rare instance of a summer power outage. That hot sun will come in handy!
Now that you have looked over your immediate health needs, take a look in the cupboard... how are you doing with keeping up on food storage? Any number of emergencies can interfere with your ability to get food, and even though I prefer getting my food fresh, I still maintain a cupboard full of staple grains and beans. I always notice how empty the store shelves look right after a power outage, and that makes me realize that people have a tendency to panic in the face of an outage and rush out and buy a lot of food. I particularly feel sorry for those who need electricity to heat their homes and cook their food, and for those who never learned to cook! A pot of soup simmering on the wood stove is a good alternative, and so is keeping a campstove that you can cook on in an emergency... even that outdoor bar-be-que can come in handy.
Which reminds me... be aware that you are not using unvented heat sources that allow carbon monoxide to build up inside your house! This fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes over the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, and how to avoid it in a power outage.
How can you pursue your usual interests in a power outage? Sometimes, this sense of boredom is what makes them seem so difficult to people. We have a large collection of kerosene lanterns, several of which emit enough light for reading or craft work; once again, we turn to the oil industry. There are good candle options that don't contain oil, however they also don't provide much in the way of light. Take advantage of the natural daylight coming into your home during a power outage, and adjust your tasks accordingly. You can also use personal headlamps that run on batteries that can be recharged out on your porch during the day and returned to use in the evening. REI offers an assortment solar charging panels that can keep you connected with the outside world during an outage or other emergency; when an outage is caused by a storm or other natural disaster, knowing what is going on also reduces your stress level! Of course, a drive to the store to gossip about the weather with the neighbors might be enough to recharge your cell phone, so you can call Grandma and let her know you are all right!
These outages inconvenienced us, but also gave us personal re-charging time... to read, to knit, to play board games, to make plans for the coming spring. Sometimes, when the culture grinds to a halt, we become aware of just how much 'busyness' we have allowed to overtake us. Being prepared helps me to let go of the stress of an unexpected change and enjoy the down time. I know I haven't covered all of the strategies that help with emergency preparedness, and would love to hear your suggestions in the comments!