Would you be ready if suddenly your electricity and water turned off and didn’t come back on for hours, days, or even a week? This grid down emergency preparedness guide for beginners will help you get ready for the first seven days of a grid down event.
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Why Should I Prepare for a Grid Down Emergency?
Wasn’t what happened in Texas in 2021 just a fluke? You don’t really need to prepare for that kind of power grid down emergency since it is such a rare event, right? Well, you might want to second guess that thinking, and here is why:
- Power grids are getting older and are in need of service and upgrades
- We keep growing our population, and increasing our urban sprawl, which is pushing our grids to capacity.
- About once every 4 days, part of our grid in the United States is under some sort of cyber attack.
- Power outages are over 2.5 times more likely than they were in the mid 80’s.
- We keep increasing our use of sustainable power, and while sustainable power is getting more efficient, it is still less likely to preform as needed during extreme weather.
- Weather patterns seem to be increasing because of climate change, and weather is still the #1 reason for power outages.
As someone who preps myself, I also use prepping for a grid down scenario as my gold standard. If you are prepared to be self-sufficient with the grid down, you are prepared for almost anything.
How to Survive When a Power Grid Goes Down
I have broken this emergency guide down into 8 categories. I start with what I think is most important and work my way down. But before we even start on the categories, there are a few things to think about.
If You Know the Grid Might Go Down
Not every grid down scenario has a warning, but if you have knowledge ahead that there is an event (like a large storm) coming your way that could compromise the grid, there are a few things I recommend you do ahead of time.
- Fill up your gas tank. Filling up your gas tank ahead of a storm is smart for many reasons. If the grid does fail, the pumps at the stations eventually won’t work. The storm may also cause delays in servicing gas stations even after the grid is restored because of bad road conditions. Also, a weather event big enough to disrupt the grid could also disrupt oil transportation. This can make gas prices surge.
- Get some cash in small denominations. If you are in a grid down emergency, and you do venture out to try to buy something, many stores won’t have the means to run a credit or debit card. And because banks will likely be closed, stores could also run out of change fast. You don’t want a loaf of bread to be $20 just because they have no change to give you.
- Check your preps, and fortify what you might be lacking. If you are lucky enough to have warning of a possible compromise coming, check for any deficiencies in your preps that might have been used lately, and will need to be replaced. What if your kids used all your batteries on their Wii remotes last week? Maybe you guys have eaten a lot of soup lately and now you are almost out? Could you use a case of water bottles? Did you use your grill a lot last week, and you know you are almost out of propane? If you have the chance to do so safely, use this time wisely to prepare.
#1 Lighting When You Have No Electricity
In any emergency, I would usually say the most important thing to start with is water. However, in a grid down emergency, you need to be able to see to get to the things you prepped safely. Because of this, I made lighting the first category. Lighting will be so important as you put your plans into action.
I recommend you have many different types of light. I really like solar and battery powered light because it is relatively safe. Candles with holders you can carry are great for backup too, but if you are using these types of light, remember to have a fire extinguisher in your home. No need to turn one emergency into two.
Have some light that can be easily carried with you if you have to move around the house. Also have some larger bright lights that can be stationary, like sitting at a table while you eat or play games. It can also be useful to have some light that can move with your hands free, like with a head lamp.
If you have stairs in your home, I also recommend you have some battery powered lights that don’t have to be carried. We have ones like these in our home for everyday use, but when there is no light at all, stairs can be extra hazardous.
#2 Water When the Powers Out
We can not live long without water, it is just a fact. So why is water a problem if the grid is down? Water gets to our homes with pumps, so if there is no power, the pumps stop, and eventually the pressure goes with it.
The good thing is it usually takes a little time for the pressure to stop, so as soon as the power goes out, fill up any bathtubs, large pots, or containers you have in your house.
It is recommended that at a minimum, you should try to store 3 gallons of water per person, per day on your property (don’t forget about your pets). This is to cover drinking, hygiene, and cleaning, and it can be stored in a lot of ways.
First, you can get cases of bottled water from your grocery store. These are good to have on hand for drinking.
There are also lots of options of storage containers you can get for your needs depending on the room you have to store water.
- Water Bricks. Water Bricks are great for those that have smaller homes, like apartments or condos. They are smaller, and stackable.
- 5 Gallon Containers. I like and use 5 gallon containers, because they are easier for me to carry, fill, and use than bigger containers. They have handles, and you can buy spigot valves for them as well.
- 55 Gallon Barrel. The 55 gallon barrel is probably what is most commonly thought of when you think of water storage. These are great for storing large amounts of water if you have the space for them. I like the ones that stack and have spigot for easier storage and use.
- Rain Barrels. Rain barrels are great to have to replenish your water supply, or to use on your garden when you don’t have an emergency. Just remember if you are using water collected from outside it is not clean, so it will have to be boiled or you will need a good water filter like the Lifestraw for personal use, or the Berkey for a whole family.
#3 Food Prep for a Black Out
If the power grid is down because of a large storm, you might not be venturing out to the store. Even if you did, with no power, they will most likely be closed. So it will be up to you to feed your family with just what you have in your home.
The first thing you should do is use your perishables before they go bad. If you don’t have a generator, the food in your fridge and freezer will not last long. Start with using any meat, eggs, or dairy since they will spoil first.
Food will last 4 hours in the fridge as long as the door stays shut. You have 48 hours for a full freezer and 24 hours for a half full one before food begins to spoil.
Next, make sure you keep enough staples in your pantry to get you through that week. There are tons of freeze dried meal companies to choose from if you want packaged, freeze dried meals. They are great and easy to make (just add hot water), but they are expensive. Build cheaper staples first, then add some freeze dried foods as you build your preps over time.
For staples, make sure you have a good supply of rice, beans, pasta, oats, and honey. All of these are fairly inexpensive, and will last for years. Peanut butter is great to have since it adds protein and much needed fat to your diet, plus it just taste good. Try to have some canned fruits, veggies, and pasta sauce to throw in the mix.
Next, I would suggest adding a drink powder that has a full days worth of vitamin C, and a multivitamin. After that is when you can choose to start adding powdered milk, butter, and cheese to your preps. Last, some of those freeze dried foods we mentioned earlier.
Don’t overlook special food needs. If you have a baby, or pet, make sure you plan for the food they would need during an emergency as well. You might even want to keep a little supply of special food items in the house to boost moral, like candy.
Cooking With The Power Out
One thing to keep in mind when deciding what foods to build up in your emergency storage, is how you are going to cook them. If you have a gas stove and it is still working, then you can of course use that.
What if you have an electric stove? If it’s warm enough outside and you have a grill or propane camping stove, you can of course use those.
If it’s cold and you are stuck inside, make sure you have a way to cook your food so that it doesn’t produce large amounts of carbon monoxide. One fuel that is relatively safe indoors is denatured alcohol, so a small alcohol stove and grill used for camping could boil your water, or heat your food. We also have a stove that runs on butane that is safe to use indoors.
If your emergency grid down situation was caused by weather, you are probably having to deal with some extreme temperatures. Here are some tips for dealing with those extremes when you have no power.
Keep Warn in Extreme Cold
If you have the funds, the first thing you might want for extreme cold is an indoor safe propane heater like the Little Buddy, or the larger Mr. Heater Buddy. But there are other things you can do to help keep you and your family warm in the extreme cold that cost very little.
You can make a small hand warmer using an old empty peanut can with tea lights in the bottom. Those little tea lights build up enough heat in the can to warm hands and fingers held over it (just be careful not to touch the hot metal).
Next, dress warm. Make sure you have warm socks, beanies, and gloves for each member of your family. Also dress in layers. Use blankets with your clothing to create more layers.
Create micro climates in your home. Pick one area close to the kitchen to be your main space. Close doors that lead to other spaces to try to contain heat where you are. Use painters tape and plastic sheeting to stop drafts coming in from outside doors or windows.
Open binds or curtains during the day that get direct sunlight, but make sure curtains and blinds are closed in all other circumstances to keep out drafts.
You can also create an even smaller micro climate with a tent. This can be especially helpful when sleeping. Set up a tent, kept off the ground with a mattress or blankets, and stay in there together to build body heat.
Third, eat warm foods and drink warm drinks. Hot cocoa, and warm herbal tea can keep your hands warm, while making your insides warm as well. Heating up cans of chili, stew, or soup can be a nice, warm hearty meal to take the chill and hunger off. So if you live in a colder climate, these would be good to add to your food stash and rotate through on a regular basis.
*A few things to keep in mind for a blackout during extreme cold. Foods that contain water , and your water storage can freeze, so don’t keep these items in the coldest parts of your house.
Keeping Cool in Extreme Heat
In very hot weather make sure you are staying hydrated. Do not do physical labor during the hottest hours if you can help it. Stay on the lowest floor of your home. Keep windows with direct sunlight completely covered during the day. Make paper fans to circulate air. If you have the budget, get some battery powered fans.
#5 How to Handle Waste When the Powers Out
Another thing to think about in an emergency grid down scenario is that it is very likely your regular garbage pick-up won’t be happening. You will want to make sure you have plenty of very sturdy trash bags to keep pest out of your waste. You also might be producing more waste if you are using paper or plastic products to avoid doing dishes.
Also, your toilets will stop flushing when your water stops running. You should be able to force flush them by pouring water down them yourself for awhile, but eventually you might not be able to do that. Be prepared with plastic bags and wipes to take care of #2’s if it gets to that point. You can either use the plastic bags right on your regular toilet, or you can get a camping toilet lid to add to a 5 gallon bucket.
#6 Backup Power and Communication
If you have the funds for a gas generator, that would of course be ideal for keeping some items powered up. But if not, there are some inexpensive things you can get to at least keep you informed and charge some smaller items, like a cell phone.
I would recommend a multi-use item that can work with multiple power sources. I like this item from Amazon because it has a light, an AM, FM, NOAA weather radio, and can charge your cell phone by using either solar, batteries, or even a hand crank.
#7 Basic First Aid and Hygiene
If anyone hurts themselves during an emergency, grid down scenario, you might not be able to just pop into the drug store for supplies, so it is important to keep some on hand. We like to keep the over the counter drugs we use most stocked up. We also keep a basic first aid kit in the house and one in the car.
Another good investment to make before an emergency is to take a basic first aid and CPR class. You can usually find these in your local area, and they are usually inexpensive.
During your grid down emergency it is important to stay healthy by keeping up with your personal hygiene. A solar shower is a good way to keep clean. Even if it is cold, if you have a window that gets direct sun, you can warm up a solar shower bag.
You also want to keep some bar soap in your supplies since it stays shelf stable for a long time. Dry shampoo is also a good thing to have on hand for a cold weather grid down scenario because you most likely don’t want to get your hair wet and cold. Here is a previous post from our blog about how to make your own dry shampoo with ingredients you often have at home.
For emergency purposes, if you have a female in the house, make sure you always have enough feminine hygiene products to get through an emergency without a trip to the store. Or if you have a baby, make sure you always keep diapers and wipes from getting to low.
#8 Miscellaneous Info You Need to Know When the Grid Is Down
Here are some extra suggestions to try and make an emergency grid down scenario a little more bearable.
Make sure you stretch every day. You don’t want to do heavy exercise when it is hard to regulate your temperature, or while trying to not use up extra calories. But stretching can help not only your physical health, but your mental health as well.
Keep busy to make the time go a little faster. Have some card or board games in your house. Maybe read a favorite book if you have enough light during the day. Have some drawing paper or coloring books around if you have children.
When it comes to prepping most prepper’s would suggest you don’t share with anyone outside your family how much you have prepped.
In a smaller emergency, like a storm that you know will end, you can of course help those around you with what you have. But if there is an extended emergency where people’s own supplies will run low, desperation can make them show up at your door ready to take what is yours.
Do get to know your neighbors though and find out who in your community has skills that could be useful in an emergency. And let them know what skills you have. Maybe you’re an EMT, that would make you valuable to them and they would be more likely to help you, knowing you can help them.
If you want to learn even more about prepping there are lots of content creators on YouTube who have great channels. These are my top two choices because they are far above the others in quality and quantity.
*You can also check out our post and checklist on Next-Level Prepping for more information on bigger events that you need to prepare even more for.
Remember to make your preps one at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed and think you need to do it all at once.
Start with what is most important and build up your supply one item at a time. Remember to buy what you will use so you can rotate your supplies with your regular items so things don’t go to waste. You can do it!