Power outages can be incredibly disruptive and reveal just how reliant we are on electricity in our daily lives. It’s essential to approach the situation with a well-thought-out plan and a sense of empowerment rather than panic.
Understanding the power grid
Part of preparing for power outages is understanding that the power grid is incredibly fragile. Not only is it fragile, but it is also very complex. Howstuffworks.com explains it very well.
“Although most of us take the power grid for granted, it’s anything but simple. There are 450,000 miles (724,205 kilometers) of high-voltage power lines and 160,000 miles (257,500 kilometers) of overhead transmission lines in the United States connecting electrical power plants to homes and businesses [source: DOE]. Since large amounts of energy cannot be stored, electricity must be produced as it is used [source: EIA].” How Power Grids Work | HowStuffWorks
The power grid is prone to problems because it’s huge, delicate, and complicated. It covers a vast area, relies on a precise balance of electricity supply and demand, and has many interconnected parts. This makes it vulnerable to disruptions and as a result, power outages are quite likely.
What causes power outages?
Understanding the potential causes of power outages is a great first step toward being better equipped to handle such situations. Let’s dive deeper into some common causes of power outages.
- Severe Weather: Mother Nature can be unpredictable, and severe weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, thunderstorms, and flooding can disrupt power supplies. High winds can damage power lines and trees, leading to widespread outages.
- Grid Overload: As our dependence on electricity continues to grow, so does the strain on the power grid. During periods of peak demand, such as extreme heatwaves or cold snaps, the grid can become overloaded, resulting in blackouts.
- Car Accidents: Traffic accidents involving vehicles colliding with power poles or transformers can disrupt power supply to specific areas.
- Terrorist Activity: Acts of terrorism can target critical infrastructure like power plants or substations.
- Maintenance and Planned Outages: Sometimes, power companies need to perform maintenance or upgrades on their equipment. These planned outages are typically communicated in advance, allowing you to make necessary preparations.
What stops working when power goes out?
When the power goes out most people automatically think of not having lights or the ability to charge their devices. However, what you quickly realize is how reliant you are on power.
Here are some things you might not realize will affect you if the power goes out.
- Electric Stoves/Ovens
- Electric wells
- Heat/Air Conditioning
- Grocery/Convenience Stores (payment options, coolers, lighting, etc.)
- Water treatment plants
- Electric vehicles
- Credit/Debit machines
How will a long-term power outage affect you?
A prolonged power outage can have various impacts on your life. The best thing you can do to plan and prepare for power outages and all things that might disrupt your life is to really think through what your life would look like if you didn’t have power.
So, what if the power went out right now and you didn’t have power for the next 3-5 days what does that look like for you?
–How are you and the members of your house going to get around in the dark? Do you have enough flashlights of various shapes and sizes for every member in your house?
–What will you eat? Food that needs to remain cold can safely be stored in a fridge for up to 4 hours, in a fully stocked freezer for up to 48 hours, and in a partially filled freezer for up to 24 hours. The CDC has a printable here that you can print out to help you know more about food safety during a power outage. Do you have shelf stable foods?
-How are you going to prepare the foods you have? If you have an electric stove and oven, how are you going to prepare food? With a gas stove/oven how are you going to light it? If it’s the heat of summer, do you really want to use the stove/oven and heat up your house even more?
-Are on a well, how do you get water? Most people on a well have an electric pump. If the power goes out that means their water goes out as well. How are you going to get water? Do you have a manual pump?
-Does your job require internet access or computer access? How long are you able to go without a paycheck if you are unable to work due to a power outage?
-How are you going to charge your phone to communicate with loved ones?
-Do you have medical devices or medications that require power?
What can you do to plan for a power outage?
After reading through those questions what came to mind that you need to think and plan for? How are you going to prepare to meet your needs in the event of a power outage? What if a power outage lasted for more than a week or two?
Here are a few suggestions:
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- Create a black out box that will keep all of your flashlights, head lamps and glow sticks in one place.
- Have cash on hand
- Figure out alternative cooking sources (and don’t forget the fuel!)
- Keep money saved up in case of income loss
- Have alternative ways to keep warm and cool during extreme temperatures.
- Power banks are a great way to keep your phone and small devices charged
- Invest in a generator
A word about generators
Generators take different energy sources, like gasoline, propane, or even sunlight, and transform them into the electricity we rely on. These machines come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, offering a wide variety of energy outputs.
Before you go shopping for a generator, it’s important to figure out two things:
1-What you want it to power
2- How much electricity it needs to produce.
Generators are wonderful machines that can make power outages bearable. Depending on the size of the generator it can help run fridges, freezers, light sources, and medical equipment, but they can be deadly. Too many people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to the offset of gas produced by the generator. If you have generator, make sure you have a plan of how you are going to run it outside and power what you need it to power. You will also want to consider how to keep it from being stolen.
You can do this!
Being aware of how our daily lives can be affected by power outages and taking steps to prepare for them is crucial. Whether it’s having backup generators on hand, keeping essential supplies stocked, or having a well-thought-out emergency plan, these actions give us the confidence to handle power outages with resilience. Always remember, preparation is the key to not only surviving but also thriving during power outages.
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