Overview: Surviving a blackout
The experts tell us to expect more
outages as the capacity and condition
of our power grid go downhill.
So we assembled this set of tips, a blackout survival kit, to
help you cope—and maybe even
thrive—without power. Of course,
the best preparation is to buy a generator.
But whether you own one or
not, these tips can provide some
comfort and convenience, safety
and sanity during the next blackout.
Tip 1: Turn your car into a generator
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The inverter turns DC power from your car into AC current for low power electrical gadgets.
A power inverter, which turns DC current from your
car into AC current for electric gadgets, is the next
best thing to a generator when it comes to surviving a blackout. An inverter to power a tablet or
laptop will cost you about $25, but there are much bigger
models ($100 and up) that can run power tools and appliances.
Field Editor Cameron
LiDestri even used an inverter to get hot water
during a recent weeklong outage. His on-demand
water heater burns propane but also requires a
75-watt electrical supply. So Cameron plugged
the heater into a long extension cord and ran it
out to his car. “When anyone wanted a hot
shower, I just started the car,” Cameron tells us.
Tip 2: Get cash
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Keep cash handy
During a blackout, cash is king.
In a blackout, cash is king and an essential part of your survival kit. Some stores may stay
open, but they probably won’t be able to process
credit card purchases. And all the cash
machines will be on strike. Field Editor
Pete Plumer tells us he learned this lesson
the hard way during a long power outage:
Keep an emergency cash stash on hand.
Tip 3: Conserve batteries with LEDs
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LED lighting lasts much longer than incandescent lighting when running on batteries.
During a power outage, LED flashlights and
lanterns have a huge advantage over incandescent
models: They allow batteries to last
much longer (typically about six to ten times
as long). And LED technology isn’t just for
flashlights. During a six-day outage, Field
Editor Matt Kelly used LED “puck” lights, the
type designed for under-cabinet lighting. “I
stuck them up in bathrooms, bedrooms and
hallways so we didn’t have to stumble
around in the dark,” Matt tells us.
Tip 4: Fill the tub
When the power grid goes down,
your city water system may soon
follow. So fill up buckets and bottles for
washing, flushing and drinking. Several of our
Field Editors pointed out that the biggest reservoir
in any home is the bathtub. And Field Editor
Tompkin Lee added a critical tip: “Duct tape the
bathtub drain. Most drains are not all that tight,
and in a day or two, all that precious water will
Tip 5: Fill the grill tank
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Keep a full propane tank handy so you can use the outdoor grill during outages.
A blackout limits many of life’s little
pleasures, but you can still enjoy a hot
meal if you have a gas grill and a full
tank. During a three-day outage, Field
Editor Arthur Barfield fed dozens of
friends and neighbors by grilling the
contents of his fridge
and freezer before
anything went bad.
Tip 6: Have a backup plan handy
If a blackout lasts long enough,
even a well-prepared family will
want to give up and get out. So
make just-in-case arrangements
with friends or relatives who are
willing take you in. If you wait,
you might find that phone and
becomes a lot more difficult.
Tip 7: Ice saves money
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Ice bags in the freezer will preserve food longer and provide drinking water.
A couple of days without power can
cost you a few hundred bucks as food spoils in
fridges and freezers. You could try to buy a
few bags of ice (along with everyone else)
after the power goes out. But Field Editor
Shawna Hathaway has a better idea: Fill locking
freezer bags with water and keep them in
the freezer. During a blackout, they’ll help the
freezer stay cold longer. Or you can
transfer them to the fridge or a
cooler. When they thaw, you’ve got
Tip 8: A CO detector is essential
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A battery-powered CO alarm will warn you if deadly carbon monoxide gas becomes a hazard.
Blackouts often lead to
carbon monoxide deaths.
Here’s why: To get heat
during outages, people crank
up fireplaces, gas stoves and
all types of heaters—and
anything that burns produces
carbon monoxide. It’s OK to
use these heat sources, but
take a tip from Field Editor
Kevin Yochum. During a
recent outage, he
fired up his kerosene
first he placed a
CO detector in the
room. You can buy
a detector for
about $25 at any
Tip 9: Gas up
Even if you don’t plan to go anywhere,
your car is a critical part
of your survival kit. It’s your
emergency transport, your
charging system for cell phones
and maybe even the only heated
space you’ll have. So don’t wait
until the blackout hits. As Field
Editor (and emergency manager
in New York City) Nathan
Mandelbaum points out,
without power, gas stations
can’t pump gas from their tanks
Tip 10: Get a radio
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You can listen to a battery-powered portable radio anywhere.
If phone and Internet systems
go down along with the power
grid, a battery-powered radio may be
your only source of weather and
You could listen in your
car, but a portable radio
lets you listen anywhere.
radios cost as
little as $20 at discount
After the Power Goes Out
- Unplug everything. As the grid
sputters back to life, it may create
power surges that can destroy
electronics. Leave one light
switched on so you know when
power has returned.
- Don’t use candles. Flashlights
produce more light and won’t burn
your house down.
- Bring solar landscape lights
inside. Don’t forget to put them
out for recharging during the day.
- Keep the fridge closed. The less
you open fridge and freezer doors,
the longer your food will stay cold.
- Tap your water heater. It’s your
built-in emergency water supply.
Let the water cool before you open
the drain valve.
- Don’t take chances. Power
outages mean packed emergency
rooms and delayed ambulance service;
it’s a bad time to get injured.