When the Lights Went Out in California: How My Family Got Through it and 10 Tips the Prepper Community Gave Me
When emergencies happen, many of us use these experiences as a testing ground to evaluate our supplies, take inventory, and see if we are mentally equipped for the stressors of an emergency. Taking this a step further is talking and bouncing ideas off of the preparedness community. The preparedness community is a unique and special group of people; we look out for one another, we support one another, and ultimately, we learn from one another.
As many of you know, a major grid-down event occurred last week in California. Our electric company was anticipating strong winds in our area and were concerned this could ignite a wildfire. Taking a proactive approach, they decided to cut the power to near 800,000 people. We were given ample notice and told that the lights could be out for as long as 5 days. As long as we had everything we needed, we knew this would be more of a short-term inconvenience. We followed many of the rules outlined in this article.
What We Did To Prepare The Plan
Because our perishable foods make up a majority of the grocery bills each month, our main priority was protecting them during the power disruption. When the power went out, I added a thermometer to the refrigerator to monitor the temperature. If the temperatures started increasing above a certain point, our plan was to move the food into the deep freezer. A last-ditch effort to save our food investment was to preserve the food through canning.
In an article on the subject, Jeremiah Johnson makes some great suggestions on using up your perishable food supply:
If you have the generator, why not stack up those dehydrator machines with already-cooked meat and dry it out? It would be a one-day risk, and you could dehydrate a certain amount of it and have it last a little longer. There’s also another method. Break out your canning manuals, and prepare to can. For this you’ll need something a little special. Here’s what I have: The Coleman two-burner dual fuel stove.
Yes, that green camping stove…runs on white gas/Coleman fuel or gasoline. The reason this is a “goodie” is that you can steadily regulate your temperature and pressure with this little gas-burner stove as you are monitoring your work. Such regularity is important when it comes to canning. Can away! You’ll need to know your stuff: your elevation and the proper recipes that you have in your canning manual for your ratios of seasonings and salt. Can the meat, can the veggies, can whatever you can! Better to save most of your food than eat akin to the proverbial last meal and lose most of it.
Meat can also be salted; therefore, it would behoove you to pick up some 25 – 50 lb. bags of salt, and whatever can’t be canned can be preserved in this manner. Then there’s the Brinkman, the smoker. Yes, time to break out the charcoal and mesquite chips and smoke the daylights out of that meat. Smoke some veggies, and dehydrate them as well. It’ll be a race of the likes of which you’ve never run. Have a woodstove? Well, you can scramble all of your eggs on the top of the stove on a baking pan (hopefully yours has a lip). Scrambled hard…and then you can dry them out after cooking them.
For my family, our generator wasn’t working so hooking up the food dehydrators wasn’t going to work in our situation. But we did have gas still in our home and planned on cooking and grilling any thawed out food. Our plan was that if the electricity did not come back on for Day 3, we were going to start preserving our perishables. Here was our menu during the power outage:
Day 1: On the first day, we got rid of the bacon and some of the produce by eating BLTs. For dinner, we made use of the seafood in our freezer and had fish tacos for dinner.
Day 2: The second day, we made breakfast tacos with the eggs and cheese, and for lunch, we pan-cooked mozzarella sticks that were in the freezer. For the evening I was planning on making stovetop mac and cheese, but the lights came on. Hooray!
Thanks to the ample notice from the electric company, we were able to get out our supplies and organize them before the event occurred. I was able to get all of the laundry and dishes done, so we wouldn’t have to worry about piles of clothes when the power came back on. As well, I set out an assortment of paper goods and plastic cutlery to cut down on handwashing dishes.
Our preps are organized in labeled 20-gallon plastic bins so finding our “light preparedness supplies” was a breeze. Here’s what we took out:
- 2 battery-powered lanterns (for the communal areas in the home)
- 5 flashlights (for each of us)
- 1 headlamp
- 24 Cyalume light sticks
- An assortment of candles
- Solar-powered battery charger
- Extra batteries
- Extra paper towels and cleaning supplies
During the time of the power outage, I was able to communicate through Facebook to update my friends and share my experiences in hopes that it would help others better plan and prepare for their own emergencies. I documented my experiences on Facebook but wanted to share some of the lessons we learned along the way and the advice and tips from other preppers.
Sanity Savers for Those With Kids
Those of you with kids know how important it is to anticipate the child’s needs. While basic survival needs should always be met, for our two-day power outage, we knew the basic needs were not an issue. Their mental health – however, was! I knew that going into this emergency their dependence on technology was going to be a big problem, so I wanted to have some comfort foods and activities planned that would add a bit of normalcy to the situation. Here are a few things what I did:
- Apocalypse snacks – Trying to make light of the situation, we started joking at the grocery store about having them pick out apocalypse snacks and it became a joke for the duration of the emergency. The kids each picked out a few things that they wanted. Albeit, the food items were junk food, I knew they would provide a source of fun since I do not normally buy these things.
- Pre-charged devices – I made a point of informing my kids on the upcoming emergency and what they needed to do. If they wanted to have power on their iPads, cell phones, etc., they needed to charge their devices and extra batteries. They each charged what they wanted to use and learned a valuable lesson in rationing their battery power.
- Games – For years, I have been purchasing board games and puzzles for them. One the first day, my two daughters sat down and played board games for a few hours. Their favorites were playing card games, the 200 piece puzzles, and the board game of Life. As well, while it was still light outside, they went outside and played. My son even joined in and they were all having a great time.
- Watch a movie on the iPad – To surprise them, I had downloaded a few movies on the iPad and didn’t tell them about it. When it got dark, I pulled out the fully-charged iPad, and we all sat down and watched a movie.
10 Tips From Other Preppers
Over the years, I have asked the prepper community to offer advice on emergencies, and this case was no different. When I shared on Facebook that we were in a grid-down event, my friends gave some great advice that I felt should be shared.
- Off-Grid Refrigeration
“have lived off-grid for 15 years. In the future, you may want to consider a used propane fridge from an old RV. They last forever. There are upright freezers that use very little electricity and a few solar panels will do the job as well as give you LED lighting and charge your electronics.
We have Makita batteries for lanterns and tools. Energizer plugs in the wall rechargeable flashlights. They give me a flashlight and nightlight. I own many of them, maybe 30.
We turned a car battery into a big power-bank. I installed it into an ammo box and added a car cigarette lighter to the box for charging our tablets and phone. I also own the largest battery banks I could find on Amazon.
We do have a generator, Yamaha 3000. If your generator has been sitting it may just need a new spark plug and fuel line. Easy to fix.
I am also a prepper. It gets easier. I wish you the best.”
“Home Depot has online sales of fantastic Sportman Inverter 1000Watt generators, often for 180 bucks including free home delivery. I bought 2. Mine used just ONE QUART of gas in 3.5 hours to run our fridge, powered one 60watt bulb, and charged all our cell phones. The inverter is a key component that adjusts fuel consumption to the energy requirements getting pulled by your appliances.”
Another prepper suggested:
“an 800 watt Cobra inverter is 80 bucks now. Clamps onto your car battery. Amazon Prime delivers. Runs your freezer or refrig. One hour run time every twelve hours keeps food cold. I use Harbor Freight moving blankets to keep them cold but blankets and quilts will do.”
Here’s another tip from a Facebook friend:
“back in the 90″s our area was hit by an ice storm. .lights out for 13 days.. we luckily had a small generator.. kept the furnace running.. water pump and our frig running…but no hot water.. a few lights and some outlets…at 8 o’clock when the gen ran out of gas we went to bed..my husband was out of town and my boys and myself had to keep things going…it was a struggle but we made it and felt pretty good about our accomplishments.. hope the new fire does not come your way..
- Off-Grid Cooking Sources
“Notwithstanding politics at all, in our part of Free Wyoming we went without power for about 36 hours – in the dead of winter and because we have a prepper mindset, didn’t suffer. Our wood stove insert has a nice cooking surface on top and the living room (front part of the house) was always toasty. We had plenty of food, candles, lamps, batteries, water (unaffected). It just proves that even under the least of circumstances, being prepared is a good mindset. We also proved to our own satisfaction that seldom can we influence outside events and must move with the flow.”
This prepper talks about the storing charcoal:
“Good time to buy charcoal end of the season here in the east. Bought 3 the other week. Get lump also. I mix them. It works really good. I dump them in a big plastic bin with lid. Holds like 3 bags.”
- Alternative Lighting and/or Power Sources
“when we go camping we attach Kim lights to 1-gallon milk jugs full of water and it actually turns it into a very bright light.”
Another prepper made this suggestion:
“Forget the power company. Retrofit solar power to provide for 1 room of your house. Do not connect it to the grid. Trucker refrigerators can easily run off of them with a battery or 2 and an inverter controller. Plus you can have LED lighting and recharging power.”
5. Emergency Communication
“We use handheld ham radios to communicate. Very handy, better than the cell phone.”
6. Have a plan
“Working on day 3, time to clean the fridge. Oroville California, next to Paradise. Wind gust then gone. *Gas stations still up. *BBQ quesadillas last night, yumm, Smores late night. Star watching and good conversations. Hubby & Son rebuilt the front stairs”
How My Family Will Improve Our Preparedness Endeavors
Although small-scale emergencies can be inconvenient, they can also be learning experiences and ways to be more resilient during an emergency. While each disaster event is different, there are mistakes or holes in your preps that can be identified and corrected before a more serious emergency occurs. A few mistakes I experienced from this grid down event was I had grown way too dependent on my deep freezer to store food. I like deals and would pick up meat and other food items while they were on sale. When the lights were turned off, I started second-guessing my decision to store up so much perishable food. My new goal is to use up and also can some of these perishable items so that they can be stored in the pantry.
Our battery supply is also something I want to begin bulking up. We had batteries, but our supplies on C and D batteries had definitely dwindled. With winter approaching, I would like to get more of an assortment of batteries and organize this part of our supply better.
As well, our paper goods came in handy while the lights were out, but after taking stock of how many paper goods we used (paper towels especially), I would like the double this amount. One reason we got low on paper towels was that we decided to do a deep clean our refrigerators when we transferred the food items into the deep freezer.
Thanks again to the prepper community for the support and advice you offered! It was much appreciated!
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