Grid Down Lessons: 5 Days With No Power

by Tommy Grant

In our area of the mid-west, grid down situations aren’t unheard of. The storms were expected, and we’d had a couple throughout the day, but when the emergency alert sounded on my phone, I thought that this one might be a little different. It got really dark in the house at 3:00 pm. We turned some lights on, and soon the wind picked up. The rain came down in sheets, and neither my husband nor I were surprised when our lights flickered, went out, came back on, flickered some more, and then went out again. 

This Might Take A While…

I settled down to read my Kindle, and my husband got some work done with the battery power he had remaining on his computer. For dinner, we ate some cold tuna pasta salad that we normally eat for lunch since it was already made and it was easy. It was a few hours later that we got the text from our electricity provider that repairs had been made in our area, and the power should already be back on. Since the lights were still out, we knew that we had a bigger problem than most in our area, and it was likely that we weren’t going to have power that night. 

The following day we decided it was time to pull out the generators and settle in until we were back on the grid. My husband gathered the gas cans for filling, and I was dismayed that we didn’t have more that were full. I’m the prepper in our house, and I have to keep after him (read ‘nag’) to keep the gas cans full. It was in the search for a functioning gas station that he saw how extensive the damage to our neighborhood was, and we soon realized that we were talking a few days until power would be restored.  

What We Learned

Here are the things that we did that worked for us with varying results.  

Food

We still started each day with coffee. We have a grill with a burner on it, and we heated water and used a manual Keurig to have a cup of coffee. Just like every other morning. That felt good.  

I used a gas grill, the burner on the grill, and an electric fry pan plugged into the generator for meal prep. That worked pretty well. We made Thai noodles with cabbage and peanut sauce. I usually have cabbage on hand because our chickens eat it, and it doesn’t spoil quickly. The sauce is only peanut butter, hot sauce, and soy sauce, so I usually have those ingredients handy as well. We also made eggs with veggies and cheese, along with bacon, in the electric fry pan that we hooked up to the generator. Pasta was also easy to make using the burner attached to the propane grill, and we enjoyed grilled chicken that we cut thinly to shorten the cooking time.

Power

We had two generators and moved them from their storage spot down to the house and another building where we have a freezer after about 18 hours. They ran for about 10 hours, and then the pull cord on one of them broke. So we put the working one on a trailer and moved it back and forth between the two locations running them a few hours at a time. At some point, my husband bought and installed a new pull cord, although it didn’t retract after the first use. He thought he had installed it incorrectly and didn’t use it again for a day or so. Then he realized that while it wasn’t fully retracted, there was enough pull to start the generator. We ended with two working generators.

Sanitation

We have a septic system, and the pump that moves the liquids to the drain field is hard-wired and therefore didn’t work. Luckily, our water still flowed from the faucets. We flushed the toilets and washed the dishes. By day 4, we heard the toilet gurgle when it was flushed, a sign that it was pretty full. Because we’d had so much rain, my husband thought it would go down quite a bit when it stopped raining. We went to “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down,” and then on the last day, we set up the kitty litter potty.

Next power outage, we will make changes to this plan. We will immediately go to “if it’s yellow…” and we will also use paper plates, cups, and plastic ware. That will save on dishwashing. I don’t like paper plates, and it never even occurred to me to use them until the last day as I was considering how to minimize what goes to the septic. I will also use a dish pan and dump the water outside. 

Hygiene

We took regular showers. When we realized that this was going to be longer than the typical scenario, I decided to take a shower that first evening while the water was still warm. My husband took his regular morning shower the next morning and was surprised that the water was still fairly warm then, too. I took another shower that second evening, hoping that it would cool me down and relax me as we were getting ready for another night of sleeping in temps warmer than we’d like. That shower was tepid. I didn’t shower the third day but did the next morning, and that one took my breath away. We hoped that we would get power the next day and skipped the shower again on day five. Since the septic tank was now full, I used a bucket and added some water that I kept in a thermos from the morning coffee and, as my mother says, “only hit the highlights.” 

Consider your weather when creating a Grid Down plan

Weather

The week before the storm, I made an impulse purchase at the grocery store. I bought a fan that uses water to create a fine mist, which makes the air feel cooler. It can be powered by a power bank when no electricity is available. I used that and thought it worked pretty well if you were sitting with it. As I get older, it becomes more difficult to handle the heat. It’s a personal-sized fan, so I went back to the store and bought a few more. I think that anything that runs on a solar power bank could be helpful.  

Final Thoughts

I’m one of those people who looks forward to power outages and wants to use that time as an opportunity to test my preparedness. But while this outage lasted for almost five days, it felt too easy.  

Midway through the outage, I shared this with some prepping friends. “I realize I feel like the little girl playing dress up. My situation isn’t really bad. I’m just pretending. I don’t need to figure out what to do with poop. Or how to purify water. No one has needed medical care. My food is still frozen. If the generators run out of gas, we’ll drive into town to a gas station that’s operational and get more. It’s all pretend that this is tough. The cold shower took my breath away this morning. But it was in the privacy of my bathroom, and there was clean water to use. We’re just a few days from those being done as the septic holding tank fills and the lift station doesn’t function, but even then, we know that it’s temporary. Whatever the next step, we know it’s coming back.”

I realized that I can practice and mentally rehearse all kinds of scenarios, but I won’t really know what it will look like till SHTF and we know that the lights won’t come back on, there won’t be clean water, and when I call 911, no one will come. 

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Grid Down Lessons: 5 Days With No Power



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