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What Would You Do If Your Power Went Out For 3 Weeks?

Back in December, residents of a few Massachusetts towns went without electricity for weeks because of an ice storm and the ineptitude of a local electric company. I would venture to guess that most of these people were not prepared in the least, seeing as how the majority of people never think about long term needs in case of a disruption of everyday life. Are you prepared for an event like that? So many things stop working that you think you can depend on when things are not as they usually are:

No more phones if all you have are cordless ones.
No more charging cellphones.
No more cooking if you have an electric stove.
No more water if you get yours from a well with an electric pump.
No more charging rechargeable batteries or flashlights.
No more refrigeration or freezers, so cold food goes bad.
No access to the internet.

We all have experienced the power going out for a few hours or a day even, but what about a few weeks? Could you survive if all of a sudden you found yourself at home with no power, or even living in an entire town with no power such as those people in Massachusetts? That would mean gas stations could not pump gas and ATM’s would not work – could you deal? Eventually even the grocery stores would run out of generator power, meaning there might may be lack of food available even if you had the cash to pay for it. After living in California for so long, I got pretty dedicated to making sure we had enough supplies of all kinds on hand just in case. Living amongst earthquakes, mudslides, flooding, and wildfires will do that to you. But now that we have moved to a small rural town in New Mexico, about 65 miles from the nearest big town, I think it is even more important to have plenty of supplies on hand for most emergencies. A big winter storm would keep the food and gasoline from making it up the hill to town! So keeping in mind both short term (a day) and long term (3 weeks, like in MA), I have started working on getting our emergency supplies straightened away…and this is what I have so far.

Cash – We do keep cash on hand in the house in case the ATM’s or credit card machines stop working.

Food – This is where I have been very diligent on stocking up. I have all sorts of canned soups, chilis, sauces, packets of Ramen Noodles, pastas, energy bars, condensed milk, and even a few MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) thrown in for good measure. Right now I estimate that the two of us could easily last a few weeks on what I have stored. I also have a giant bag of cat food for the little guy (and us, if necessary)!

Water - This is even more important than food, really. I have 20 gallons of water stored in the garage and another 3 frozen in our freezer. We also have a 1,500 gallon cistern buried in our yard that collects all the rain and snow melt from the roof. (Cistern was here when we moved in, but so glad to have it) The water for our house comes from a well that has a solar powered (electric backup) pump. There are also water purification tablets for if we need to clean up dirty water.

First Aid Supplies – In the house we have the normal stuff – Band-Aids, aspirin, Neosporin, gauze pads, wrapping tape, etc.. But in the garage I have stored more of it along with ice packs, ace bandages, sewing needles, razor blades, antibiotics (they last a long time, just ask your doctor. The expiration dates are made by the pharmaceutical companies), extra prescription medicines (if we are on any at some point), and assorted other items.

General supplies – Tons of candles, waterproof matches and lighters, glow sticks, 2 wind-up shortwave/AM/FM/flashlight combo units, an extra cellphone for dialing 911, a solar battery/cellphone charger, heavy blankets and extra winter clothes. Also have an axe for cutting firewood, several knives, heavy duty gloves, rain jackets, rope, emergency tent, and of course all of our camping gear as well!

Personal Documents – In our house, we have a small safe filled with paper photocopies of our driver’s licenses, birth certificate, marriage certificate, social security cards, a few of our credit cards and a contact list.

So do you keep an emergency kit or supplies in your house? Are you prepared for the worst? I am not talking about civil unrest or war, really, but rather just being able to be comfortable in the event that things go haywire for a bit. Let us know in the comments. And yes, I know – this post is not directly related to personal finance, but it is related to your life and it is important!

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Comments (29)

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  1. Excellent topic. I think many of us were chastened by what happened during Katrina. We rely so much on infrastructure and normalcy, and yet we got a stark demonstration of how little we can depend on that infrastructure or government aid if things go wrong. And most people in the US live where one sort of natural disaster or another is a very real possibility in any given year.

    We have a propane cooktop and fireplace insert that could keep us alive in winter without electricity. For at least 10 days, I would say, provided we keep our spare tanks filled.

    Plenty of stored dry and canned food, and plenty in the chest freezer in the garage. The most likely scenario for us losing electricity is a severe winter storm, in which case there’d be little risk of that freezer thawing. We could eat well for a month or more with the food we have, so long as we could cook some of it.

    We could be better about the amount of stored water we have. We generally try to keep 30 gallons or so of drinking water in the basement. But we don’t always rotate it as often as we should. We have a well. In an emergency, I could literally draw water with a bucket and rope, (I’ve had practice, and our water table is that high) though it would need to be filtered and sterilized. Perhaps we should think about a hand pump.

    We keep a little cash on hand, a few hundred dollars in small bills. We have oil lamps, candles, matches, and a few little Girl Scout style tuna fish can burners.

  2. David says:

    Sounds like you are better prepared then most – I keep thinking of putting a deep freeze in the garage for storing food, and maybe that will be this summer’s expense. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. I don’t keep an emergency kit but a lot of my backpacking gear could double as emergency supplies.

    If your power is out because of an ice storm you don’t have to worry about your cold food going bad. Just put it outside in a cooler or in your unheated garage if you have one.

  4. Terri Ann says:

    I’m from central Massachusetts and though I was lucky enough to never lose power in that storm my roommate’s family was without power during that storm for only about 5 days but it was a scary situation for a lot of people. There were inadaquare shelters set up and inadaquate information distributed about said shelters.

    Another key importance it to have your personal in a waterproof/firesafe safe. It’s always good to have a corded phone in your house, even if it’s stored in a closet cause even if you have VOIP or no home phone service you should still be able to plug in a phone and dial 911 in emergencies.

  5. Terri Ann says:

    Not completely true. Right after the ice storm in Mass it got unseasonably warm outside for a couple days. Just cause there’s enough ice to knock out your power doesn’t mean it won’t all melt two days later!

  6. Living in South Florida, we experience similar scenarios every other year or so, although not as extreme as 3 weeks. Down here, even a heavy thunderstorm can put the power out for a couple days at a time. During hurricane season, there is always the threat of a severe storm and there have been times when power (and life) has been disrupted for anywhere from several days to a couple weeks.

    Many people here have been investing in generators, and at the beginning of hurricane season many fill a few portable gas containers in case the gas stations run out or the lines are just too long to wait. All of the local television stations and supermarkets publish preparedness lists including many of the things you mentioned: canned food, flashlights, lots of batteries, radio-powered radio, candles, flameproof/electric lighters, water, etc. The funny thing is that no matter how long people have lived here, or how many times the warnings are posted, people still prefer to be stupid about their planning. Many will wait until the hours before a hurricane to venture out and collect supplies only to discover that there aren’t enough (or any left at all). Then, when the event is over, and the news crews begin to assess the damage and interview people, the sob stories start flowing: I couldn’t get enough supplies the day before so I’m starving, I didn’t get any wood, so my windows were blown out, I don’t have candles so I sat in darkness each night, etc.

  7. David says:

    Eric, you would think, especially down there, people would be prepared. Just goes to show that no matter what the circumstance, people just don’t think long term or that anything will happen to them – even if it does every year. Ignorance is bliss they say…

  8. Matt SF says:

    Excellent work on your supply status.

    I had something like this happen when I moved to Raleigh after a massive ice storm. Southern states never prepare for freak weather events, so any power line that was above ground (nearly all of them in NC), was taken down. I was without power for 6 days, and a few others were without power for 2-4 weeks. The National Guard was called in to give out MREs in less affluent neighborhoods, or those who lived way out in the boonies.

    As for your list, about the only thing I didn’t see was a readily accessible supply of cut, dry firewood. Throw a few logs on the fire and enjoy the unplugged life for a few days ya know!

    The cistern was a nice bonus. Comes in handy if you have a garden.

  9. David says:

    Sorry, should have said that I have a cord of wood, even though I don’t have a fireplace! I cut it all myself in the forest, and keep it for my firepit in the yard.

  10. Craig says:

    Sounds like a crazy rare issue. I don’t think its necessary to have an emergency end of the world kit. Just takes up space and a waste of money. I would guess a lot of people would go to a hotel for some time, although I can understand the costs. As much as it is a huge pain, people can live without electricity, they can just buy food they will eat that night.

  11. Miss M says:

    We’re under prepared, the most likely disaster in LA would be an earthquake. Staying warm or cool isn’t much of an issue where we are, the temperature is never that extreme. Water would be the main concern, we usually have plenty of food around and have a propane camping stove we could cook with. Unlike with hurricanes you have no time to prepare with earthquakes, so we should have some water stored at all times.

  12. david says:

    Craig, it sounds unnecessary until it happens, and it can happen anywhere.

  13. If there’s a nationwide crisis I’m coming to your house!

    Seriously, I would say I have enough for a few days, but that’s about it. I don’t have the space to prepare like you have, but I would like to do a little more than I have now. Good post.

  14. Craig says:

    @David I understand what you are saying, and yes, extreme situations can happen. It’s one thing to be mildly prepared, it’s another to take it to an unnecessary level.

  15. david says:

    What’s unnecessary? The food? Water? Medicine? ;-) In all seriousness, just curious what is unnecessary in preparing for an emergency…

  16. Matt SF says:

    Must have been the Ramen Noodles!

  17. My mom lives in New Hampshire and she was without power for over a week. There also was no gas since all the gas stations were also without power. No heat, no water. Her phone was working though.

    A lot of the responses assume that there is power within driving distance. But what if there isn’t? You can only drive as far as the gas you happen to have in your tank. Hotels won’t be any good if they don’t have power. Stores don’t open if they don’t have power.

  18. David says:

    Thats exactly what I was talking about Ashley – and I live 65 miles from the next closest town, so I would need to be able to take care of myself. Nobody thinks it could happen to them, yet so many have it happen. Better to be prepared than not!

  19. David, you are so right. It seems strange that with such a common occurrence down here so many people are ill prepared, but it is the sad truth.

    Regarding your mention of charging the cell phones, I have learned to keep an eye out for sales on cellular accessories. My last phone I was able to buy 3 spare batteries for $10 @ Best Buy which really came in handy during the hurricane season of 2004 when Rita and Wilma hit South Florida hard and left power out for a week to 3 weeks depending on the area.

  20. Sam says:

    Anarchy would ensue. I would go nuts w/o power for 3 weeks. I do keep cash but not 3 weeks worth. I seriously think there would be major problems if no1 had power in a large area for weeks. Luckily, most stores have power geneartors, so you would probably be able to use checks, debit, and credit. Otherwise: anarchy. People have to eat.

  21. [...] cold as it’s been, what you do if you were without power for 3 weeks?  David over at My Two Dollars prepares you just in [...]

  22. plonkee says:

    In this weather what would happen is that I would be very, very cold. Although I have gas heating, the boiler needs electricity to run. Cooking would be fine as I light the gas with a match. Food would be a struggle, but that’s what tins and a tin opener are for, right?

    If it was going to be several weeks, I’d be decamping to friends or relatives – nowhere is that far away here.

  23. [...] Food and Supply Stockpiling.  Pack away a small to medium amount of dried, canned or frozen goods that you find on sale.  If you really get into it, you can go a few steps more and build a sizable cache to last a few weeks and maybe a month or two.  Just ask yourself what would happen if the electricity went out for more than three days. [...]

  24. [...] This is one part where my deployment to Iraq really paid off.  We would always have power outages on our FOB (Forward Observing Base).  Since then, I’ve always kept extra flashlights strategically placed throughout the house in the event we were to lose light.  With the extra flashlights, means I also keep extra batteries on hand.  For the first night without power, it was easy for us to get around and most importantly “see” what we were doing.  I can only imagine if we were without power for weeks. [...]

  25. [...] Cents tells you how to be prepared for any storm or emergency. I have written several times about our emergency supplies, and I fully believe everyone should be as prepared as [...]

  26. Our home (RV) comes with a lot of this built in. 40 gallon gas tank connected to an 8000W generator. 30 gallon water tank. 12/110V system connected to 220Ah of batteries. About 100W of solar panels that I could rig to the system. 25 gallons of propane which can run the fridge. If water and power went out we’d have to ration though.

    Normal amount of first aid and other stuff like ropes, rain gear, etc. Also a 2m radio in case the cell phone towers get overloaded. Our normal food staples supply would probably last a few weeks.

  27. David says:

    Where do you guys park your RV, in a park?

  28. Holly says:

    One of the other things we did, because of storage issuses, was to purchase a water treatment system. Not the ones that filter tap water. I’m talking about the ones used in dissaster zones. We have a creek behind our home and would use that as well as rain water. It doesnt’ freeze out here. Also, we keep boxes of hand and toe warmers on hand. I work outside so we rotate them out. We also have emergency kits for each car incase we can’t get home right away.

  29. Cheryl says:

    Over a week, no power and two ft of snow last year. Couldn’t get out for 2 days and have elderly father here. It got cold, no way to heat food, etc. Bought a generator and had a transfer switch installed. At the mention of a storm I stock up food, and fill five 5 gallon gas cans. When the weather gets warm and threat of snow goes away, I just pour the gas into my car’s tank. The 25 gallons of gas can be stretched long enough for the gas stations to be up and operating and get in another supply if you only run the generator in the daytime. Transfer switch I have allows the whole house to run but you have to know the wattage you are using at any given time so as not to overload the generator.

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