By Todd Ratermann
One of the most common survival situations Americans, and many others,
face is a long term power outage. Here in the United States, especially in
rural areas I am most familiar with, short term power outages lasting 10
minutes to 2 hours are fairly common. Short term outages are often caused
by auto accidents or blown transformers and are generally more of a
nuisance than an actual threat to a families safety. Long term outages on
the other hand can leave you cold, without access to fresh water, the ability to cook food,
or carry out day to day tasks.
When I think of long term power outages I'm talking about being without
electricity for 48 hours or more. Although this isn't something most of us
have had to face very often, these outages actually occur more often than
you think. Long term outages are usually regional and are most often caused by
natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes or tornadoes and sometimes
severe winter weather like ice storms or blizzards. Another serious threat we face to our
power grid is either a terrorist attack to major relays stations or the
more hands off threat of computer hackers shutting down entire regions of
No matter what the cause of the outage or which expert you turn to for
advice, it all falls back to the basics of any survival situation:
shelter, water, food, fire, self defense and first aid. Although each
survival situation will often change the priority of the list, the list
itself remains unchanged. This particular ordering is what I would
consider priority for myself in the event of a long term power outage.
A worst case scenario for a power outage would probably be if it happens during freezing
temperatures, so that is what we will cover in this article. If your
actual outage doesn't occur during those conditions, you can adjust your
Alternate electric sources are often overlooked. These are not usually sources that
will power your house, but electric that can make life a little easier.
The easiest of these is probably an inverter for your car. An inverter
simply plugs into your cars cigarette lighter you can then plug in an
extension cord into the inverter and run that into your house to power
some basic items like a light or to charge a lap top, tablet or cell phone
it's also a great way to recharge batteries for items like flashlights or
radios. Don't have an inverter? Bring your car
battery inside and use it to power a light. Solar walkway lights can be
brought inside at night and used as a light source.
If a powr outage occurs it's a good idea to turn off all the light switches in your house and even
turn the breakers off on appliances. Power surges can damage appliances
and impede the utility company from restoring power.
A list of bug-in items can be found near the end of this article.
Although shelter may seem like the least of your concerns during a Bug-in
situation there are actually quite a few major issues to consider. Of
course staying dry and warm is always my most important concern in any
survival situation. You can
live three weeks without food, three days without water, but only three
HOURS in hypothermic conditions without shelter.
The biggest issue with shelter as it relates to a power outage Bug-in is
that most outages occur during severe weather conditions; hurricanes,
blizzards, ice storms. For most people electricity is a requirement in
keeping our houses warm.
To reduce resource use the first thing you need to do is create a warm room within
your house. If
you have a fireplace or fixed propane heater you need to use that room, if
not, choose a comfortable smaller sized room preferably
with standard height ceilings. Some people recommend using a bathroom or other
really small rooms, but who wants to spend days in a bathroom? In my case I
would choose our living room. Take blankets hang them over the windows and
doors to help insulate the room and reduce the foot print of the area you
need to heat. Close all the other interior doors of your house and put
rolled up towels at the base of at least all exterior doors to reduce air
leaking under doors.
Within your warm room, you could also set-up a tent if you have one. This
makes a great place to sleep that will warm up just from your body heat.
If you don't have a tent build a fort out of blankets or sheets. Don't
forget to insulate the floor under wherever you sleep. If you run out of
blankets you can use couch cushions, towels, exercise mats, or even bring
in a mattress from a bed room. Just about anything you put between you and
the floor will add a layer of insulation from the cold floor, and hopefully add a
little cushioning comfort to your sleep.
Being confined to one room can be pretty uncomfortable for some people, especially kids.
Board games, cards, or even a portable tv/dvd player can help make
the waiting easier.
If you utilize a wood burning stove or fireplace, propane (portable or
fixed), kerosene, or another heating source that doesn't require
electricity to either generate heat or force the air through your house,
you are a couple steps ahead of most people. IF, you keep enough fuel on
hand to last through an emergency.
Wood is far and away my favorite heating option whether you are in a
survival situation or not. If you are capable of running a chain saw and
have access to a truck and/or trailer, one or two people can cut and haul
enough wood in a couple of days to last a winter. If you are not
physically able, or would prefer to pay someone else to do the labor, most
people can still save quite a bit of money off of your utility bill by
burning wood. Other advantages of burning wood include the fact that wood stoves do not suffer
from mechanical failures and the expensive associated repair costs, they
work during power outages as both a heat source and cooking alternative,
and they allow you to be less reliant on utility companies. For a home
owner with a desire to be more self reliant I can't think of a better
investment than a wood burning stove.
Second to burning wood, kerosene would be my next choice as an emergency
heat source during a bug-in. Kerosene is readily available in most areas,
and is fairly inexpensive. A kerosene heater doesn't require any special
installation and is easy to move from room to room or place to place as
needed. A kerosene heater can be purchased for $250 or less if you wait
until winter, or for the thrifty shopper, I bought two during a spring
clearance sale for about $65 each. Like a wood stove a kerosene heater can also heat water or food
although most models won't do it quite as efficiently as a wood stove.
Another heat sources that doesn't require electricity is propane. A
portable propane heater can cost as little as $100 and does a pretty good
job of heating a room, though they are not as cheap to operate. These
heaters use 1 pound propane bottles that are easy and safe to store. The
bottles can be purchased just about anywhere, or refilled from a 20 pound
grill tank with an inexpensive adaptor. Some models can even be hooked to
a 20 pound bottle with an adaptor. Mr. Heater makes a popular, easy to
find unit that can be found at Home Depot or other home improvement
When using alternate heating sources such as propane or kerosene be sure to be aware of the dangers of
Carbon Monoxide. Improperly vented heaters and/or exhaust from generators
can be deadly.
Keep a fire extinguisher handy! Using new and unfamiliar heat sources,
especially those with open flames creates the possibility of a fire.
Having a fire extinguisher handy is a great idea.
Most people don't associate a power outage with loss of drinking water. However, there are many situations where not having electricity does
indeed cause a disruption of normal water supplies. Many people rely on wells, pressure tanks
or pumps to get water into their homes. And, even though many municipal
water sources rely on gravity to feed water from storage tanks to homes,
it still takes an electric pump to fill those water tanks. Being without
electricity also greatly increases the chances of your water pipes
freezing under your house leaving you without access to water.
Hopefully you have prepared at least in the most basic way for an
emergency by having water stored at your house. The easiest way to do this
is probably to just buy bottled water. The rule of thumb is 1 gallon per
day, per person, for drinking, cooking and hygiene. A mixture of both
gallon jugs and individual bottles is a good option. 5 Gallon bottles are
readily available as well.
For the person on a budget or just preferring to do it yourself you can
bottle your own water in food safe containers such as 2-liter bottles or
milk jugs. If you use milk jugs, be sure to use the jugs with twist on
tops, not the pop off type.
Whichever previously used container type you use, be sure to clean them
thoroughly. You can wash them using hot, soapy dish detergent water. Rinse the
bottles with a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach with 1 gallon of hot
water, adding about 1 cup per bottle and then shake vigorously. Empty the
rinse solution, and with the lids off, allow bottles to dry. Add tap water
and secure lid. Store in cool dark location.
Filtration and Purification
For water that has not been rendered safe through a municipal water
system, you need to be certain it is filtered or purified making it safe
to drink. Water that has not been properly treated can contain water-borne
pathogens such as the protozoa Giardia, Cryptosporidium, or bacteria such
as E. coli, Dysentery and Campylobacteriosis that are also a health
threat. Ingesting any of these can cause serious intestinal tract issues
or even death for those with weak immune systems. Viruses such as
Hepatitis A and rotovirus are also a waterborne threat, although not
as serious in the United States and Canada as in other countries. The main
issues with viruses is that they can NOT be filtered out of water.
There are three primary methods for making water safe to drink;
filtration, chemical treatment, boiling.
- Filtration - filters with a 0.2 micron filter can eliminate
bacteria and Cryptosporidium as well as remove particulates. Filters
will also usually improve the taste of water.
- Chemical Treatment - chemically treating your water can
eliminate bacteria and viruses but usually only helps with
Cryptosporidium after an extended exposure to chemicals. Chemical
treatment does not remove particulates from your water. Poor taste is
usually the biggest complaint about chemically treated water.
- Boiling - Although this may seem like the easiest option,
boiling can require a lot of fuel, something you may not have an excess
of during a Bug-in. However, if you are heating your house with wood or
possibly even kerosene, it is possible to boil water on your heat source
without using any additional fuel than would already be consumed heating
your house. Boiling obviously does not remove particulates from your
There are literally hundreds of filter and chemical treatment options to
choose from. I use and MSR Sweetwater filter and Aquamira Water Treatment
Although particulates do not generally pose a health risk, they sure
aren't very appetizing. The good thing about a Bug-in is that there always
seems to be options around the house, and filtration is no different.
Particulates can be removed with a home made water filter as simple as a coffee filter.
Other options include removing and rigging the filter from your refrigerator.
If your house has a whole home filtration system or an under sink
filtration system either one could be temporarily removed and fashioned
into a gravity filter to improve your water supply during the Bug-in.
Powdered Drink Mixes
Powdered drink mixes like Gatorade or Tang can add a little variety to
your drink options as well as give you a few vitamins. For example Tang is
low in sodium and is a good source of Vitamin C, A, B2, B3, B6, and
calcium. This can encourage you, and especially kids to keep hydrated.
Drink mixes can also improve the taste of chemically treated water.
Water sources often overlooked:
- The lowest elevation water valve at your house will often allow
access to a couple gallons of water trapped in your water lines.
- Your hot water heater is full of water that you won't be able
to access by faucet if you don't have water pressure. This water can be
accessed by the drain valve located at the base of most units. Remember
turn off the breaker for the hot water heater first.
- The back of your commode holds an extra gallon or two of water if
you are without.
- If you have a deep freeze that isn't full, you can store gallon jugs
filled 80% full of water. These frozen jugs will help reduce the cost of
cooling a partially filled freezer, help keep the food cold during power
outage, and used for drinking water as they thaw.
- Collect rain water using anything that will hold it. Coolers,
garbage cans, mixing bowls, storage totes. It won't be drinkable without
purification, but it could be used to flush commodes.
- Snow and/or ice can be melted. Don't drink it unless you purify it
If an ice storm or hurricane is imminent, turn your refrigerator
and/freezers to there coldest settings before the storm hits. This will
have your food as cold as possible, increasing the amount of time the food
will stay fresh before spoiling. Empty space in either the refrigerator or
freezer should be filled with jugs or bottles of water as space allows.
Those intended for the freezer should be about about 3/4's full to allow
for expansion during freezing. This water/ice will help increase food
shelf life by slowly releasing cool air into your refrigerator.
Use food from your refrigerator then freezer first. These perishable items
will soon spoil unless it is cold out. Keep the number of times you open
the refrigerator and freezer will also keep the food colder longer. If it is below 40 degrees constant
outside, you could store refrigerated items outside, out of animals reach.
If it's below freezing, you could store freezer items outside as well.
Placing these perishable items in a cooler is a good way to reduce temperature
variations outside, keep them out of the sun light, and reduce the likely hood
of animals getting to them. Conserve
canned and other non-perishable goods for the long haul.
Beyond the items that must be immediately consumed hopefully you have
stored some food items for this type of emergency. The best items are
those that require very little cooking time and have a long shelf life.
The best items are probably dehydrated foods designed for backpacking and
emergencies. I have used foods by Mountain House and Backpackers Pantry on
many occasions and they are pretty good. The ones I used you simply add
hot water to the pouch give it a few minutes and eat. Some of these things
have a ten year shelf life. They are similar to military MRE's but most
taste better and have a longer shelf life. Another great advantage to
these foods is that they can be easily gathered and packed if your Bug-in
situation turns into a bug-out situation.
My second favorite option for a Bug-in meals would be canned goods and
grocery goods that can be prepared with hot/boiling water. Examples of the
latter would include oatmeal, rice, ramen noodles, pasta noodles, macaroni
and cheese, etc... Canned goods might include vegetables, fruit, tuna,
salmon, soup, etc... Honey is a great staple that can be used to add
flavor, and is a great sweetener. Honey has a very long shelf life, if it
crystallizes simply place the open honey container in a pan with a couple
inches of water and bring it to a low boil. The honey will liquefy back to
it's original state. Some canned goods can beaten raw straight out of the
can. The can can also be used as a cooking vessle if it is a can that is
not lined with a plastic coating, just open the can and cook over low
Canned goods are easy to rotate so they don't go out of date. If you plan
on cooking something for a regular meal that you have in your Bug-in
stock, just buy some fresh cans, put those on the shelf and cook those
that were in storage. Even if an item is out of date, that doesn't mean it
is inedible, especially in a survival situation.
Items I would try to avoid, are dried beans or lentils. These items are
tasty, nutritional, and have a good shelf life, but cooking time can be hours. If you
are cooking on a wood stove it wouldn't be so bad, but cooking these items
on a camp stove can consume a huge amount of fuel for just one meal.
If you start to run out of food, or you are out of food, your options are
limited unless you live on a farm. You can try buying food if there is any
available, or you can hunt for or gather it. In our winter scenario
gathering wild plants is pretty tough going, but hunting can be productive
with a little knowledge. Even a BB gun can help you score rabbits,
squirrels, or birds. Larger game will require a larger gun or trapping
experience that is not easily learned on the fly.
Desperate people can do desperate things. People that have failed to
prepare, and criminals looking for an opportunity are always a concern
during disasters. Remember the aftermath of Katrina?
For self-defense nothing offers more protection than a gun in the hand of
someone that knows how to use it. I personally prefer a hand gun when
considering a weapon strictly for self defense. I like a .45
semi-automatic with a high capacity magazine. However, a shotgun is not
only a great self defense weapon, it can double as a great method for
procuring additional food from small game to large. So, if you are limited
to one weapon, a shotgun serves as a dual purpose tool, especially if you
have a variety of shells to suit each situation.
Fire during a Bug-in situation is generally a much easier endeavor than in
the wilderness. It's also much less necessary. Hopefully if you have a
wood stove or fireplace, you also have a supply of wood in a dry
place and a modern fire starting options such as a lighter and/or matches. Dry wood in general is pretty easy
to get lit using small pieces of wood and paper. Once you have a
fire going there is not much reason to let the fire go out
Beyond the fireplace, fire can also be utilized in your grill or backyard
fire pit to cook meals, boil water or for heat outside your house so it is
good to know how to get one started. There are entire books that have been
written on how to start a fire so here I will only provide a few tips on
items you probably have in your house that can make fire building easier.
Household Fire Starting Methods combined with tinder such as paper, broom
straw, and/or kindling can be used to start a fire.
- 9 Volt Battery & Steel Wool - rubbing a steel wool pad against both
of the terminals of a 9 volt battery will cause the steel to smolder
allowing you to ignite tender
- Aluminum Foil & Battery - touch the foil to both ends of a battery
at the same time, this short circuit will cause the foil to smolder
allowing you to ignite tender
- Dryer Lint & Sparks - common lint from your clothes dryer will start
to smolder when you put sparks on it, even simple sparks from a lighter
that is out of fuel.
- Vaseline & Cotton Balls - these work best if they are made in
advance, but also can be made on the fly. Take a pea sized dab of
vaseline and massage into a cotton ball. These balls can be ignited with
sparks and will burn in rain and wind. Don't have Vaseline on hand? You
can also use antibiotic ointment, lip balm, lip stick or similar items
will all work.
As most of us know the majority of accidents happen in and around the
home. Throw in a chainsaw, camp stove, ax, fire, and knives, then top that
off with home confinement for you and your family. The possibility for the
need of first aid should be obvious.
The best thing you can do is not become complacent in your actions. With
each task at hand be extremely vigilant in terms of safety. The region
being without electricity is definitely going to be a strain on emergency
services and their ability to respond. Not to mention the fact that your
ability to get yourself to a hospital could also be impeded by snow, ice
or lack of safe transportation.
As with any survival situation, it's best to be able to handle just about
any situation on your own. This always starts with knowledge and is
bolstered by the right tools for the job, or at least the ability to
improvise. In this case a good
first aid kit is
your tool box.
First aid training is available at most community colleges and the
American Red Cross offers some good, basic first aid courses. Alternately
there are thousands of articles and manuals about first aid, many
available on-line for free including the
Army Medical Combat
Lifesaver Course Manual.
Below is a list of Bug-in items to help you and your family survive during
a power outage situation. You will find a list of common Bug-in items that
most people will have around their house or apartment, as well as a list
of Bug-in "survival extras". Survival extras are items that can be used in
a large variety of survival situations as well as during common outdoor
activities such as camping. For long term power outages or power grid
failures it's best to have the items from both of the lists.
Common Bug-In Survival Items:
- Food for at least 3 days
- Water (10 gallons)
- Coleman Stove (or other white gas or multi-fuel camp stove)
- Coleman Fuel, 3 gallons
- Bleach (unscented)
- Fire extinguisher
- Basic Tools
- Cash, small bills (ATM's and/or banks will not work without
- Radio AM/FM Weather radio (battery powered)
- Hand Sanitizer
- Automobile inverter
Bug In Survival Extras:
- Coleman lantern
- Kerosene heater (if you don't have a wood burning heat source)
- Chain saw, axe, hatchet
- Two-way radio(s)