Tag: power outage

Ten Minutes Helps Prepare for a Winter Power Outage

Icicles hanging from roof edge
Beautiful for the holidays. Deadly if no power . . .

It’s been a pretty nice day here in sunny Southern California, but that should change starting tomorrow as we’re overtaken by another atmospheric river of moisture. Of course, we look forward to all the promised rain. And so far, there’s no suggestion that we could face a winter power outage.

But elsewhere in California, things are a bit more ominous.

  • Just now I checked with the National Weather Service and I found 23 different storm and winter weather warnings for California!
  • At the same time, I checked for power outages, and discovered 2,205 power outages happening right now in California!

Now I know you may not be in California. And I hope you weren’t in Texas last year, when they experienced a spectacular and devastating winter power outage disaster.

But no matter where you’re located, cold weather combined with a power outage can be deadly.

So that’s the combination we’re looking at with today’s Advisory.

Because it’s the holidays, and I know you’re busy, I have found the perfect way for you to get the info with as little effort as possible. It’s a video from Steven Eberlein of Ethos Preparedness. Only 10 minutes long. You might want to pull up a kid or two to watch with you.

I’ve been following Steven on LinkedIn for a while now. He’s a real preparedness expert with years of experience, a sense of humor (!), and he’s snuck dozens of sensible ideas and suggestions into these 10 minutes.

So grab a cup of hot chocolate and settle in!

Winter Weather Preparedness & Trapping Heat (Ready for Anything Video Library)

A good review, don’t you agree? Do yourself a favor and pull together any winter supplies you might be missing. And let me know what struck you as most important for YOUR circumstances!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S.  Now if you’re asking yourself, “What’s the forecast for our part of the country? Do we have any winter weather warnings?”

You can find out just like I did by heading to the National Weather Service site: https://www.weather.gov/ When you get there you’ll see a map somewhat like this. Type in your state. (The box highlighted in red on the image below shows where to put in your state.)

Map of weather warnings from National Weather Service

What’s ahead for YOU when it comes to winter weather? How ready are you?

The Best Generator for Emergencies

Emergency generator
What should I be looking for???

More on electricity?

Emphatically, Yes!  Why do we dwell so much on electrical power? It’s simple.  We depend so much on electricity for just about everything we do that it becomes a major concern in an emergency. And the news about power outages is ominous. But is a generator the solution? If so, what’s the best generator for emergencies? Let’s take a closer look.

First question: what’s your neighborhood like?  

If you live in a single family home with a lot of space around it, having a generator may make sense for emergency power. If you live in a multi-family unit (an apartment, for example, or in a mobile home park), it’s unlikely that a generator will work for you.

Why not?  Mostly, it has to do with logistics.

Second question: What different kinds of generators are there to choose from?

A home stand-by generator is about as big as a stove, and weighs twice as much.  It will be permanently installed outside, probably on its own pad. It’s hooked up to a permanent source of fuel (probably natural gas) and switches on automatically when power goes off. Depending on the size of your home, you are looking at at least a 10,000 Watt generator, and more likely 20,000 to run nearly every appliance and system. These are big, heavy (like 600 lbs.), and are relatively noisy. (Like your A/C.) As you can imagine, a whole-house stand-by generator is also a big investment – typically in the thousands of dollars.

Even the more efficient portable emergency generators for sale today — meant to power a few essential appliances — are about as big as a filing cabinet, and weigh close to 100 pounds. You plug your appliances or equipment into the portable generator using extension cords. Most run on gasoline; some are dual-fuel, which adds a propane option. Costs range from around $500 (which would be a real bargain) to as much as $2,500. Portable models are just as loud as the stand-by generators, too — so you’ll be bothering the neighbors if they are at all close to you! Even if you could stand the noise, you can’t run these inside the building due to emissions and perhaps fire danger.  Every year, people die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they run a generator in the garage!

A third type of emergency power supply is the inverter-generator. If your major concern is keeping your computers and telephones running, you’ll want an inverter style in order to be sure the power going into your devices is “clean.” Inverter-generators are generally smaller in size, weigh less, and are a lot quieter. This makes them a favorite for week-end camping and tail-gating! Prices for inverter-generators start at below $400 and go up.

Still interested? Here are a few other issues to consider.

Can you handle the weight?

First off, how much does the generator weigh? As mentioned, even the “small” generators are heavy, often over 100 pounds. (That’s why most portable generators come with wheels.) This is one hefty piece of machinery to move around. Can other family members move it without your help?  Can you move it even with everyone helping?

How much fuel can you store, and where?

The real issue here is how long will you be without power and how much gasoline or propane can you store safely? Even the most efficient portable generators, run at 25 or 50%, will empty their gas tank in a day or two. To refill the tank during an extended outage you’ll need to be able to safely (and, we hope legally) store several gas cans or propane tanks.

What size generator do you really need?

By now, you should have realized that there’s a great variety in generators — in size, weight and price. One thing we haven’t mentioned yet — and maybe should have started off with — is the amount of power you require.

Generators’ capacity is measured in Watts. Look at the appliances you want to run and pull the wattage requirement from the labels. Note: appliances or tools with a motor take about TWICE as much power to get started up (surge capacity) as they do to keep running (continuous capacity)! That’s why you’ll see generators advertised with two different wattages.

For example, I recently checked on our house, taking a look at keeping just the refrigerator and freezer and some lights going in an emergency. We need about 2,400 Watts to get everything started — but less than 1,000 to keep everything running! So I was searching in the 2500-2000 Watt range.

The only way you can figure out what size you need is to add up all the appliances/equipment you intend to run. Here’s a wattage chart to get you started. As you’re making your list, consider how many appliances you’ll need to plug in at the same time. (Judicious scheduling can give you better efficiency.) And note what sort of plug each appliance requires. Every generator will have a variety of plugs but it’s limited.

How much generator can you afford?

A stand-by generator will be a custom install, so I can’t anticipate what it might cost. As mentioned above, it will be in the thousands of dollars.

The cost for the dual-fuel generator shown below is around $600. Other similar units won’t cost much less but may cost as much as $2,000, depending on where you live. (We’re having a hot summer here in California, and are anticipating power outages, so prices are higher than usual.)

Prices for the inverter-generator start low, but also go up sharply. It all depends on how much power you need.

Finally, don’t overlook the fact that different states have different emission requirements – notably California. This can also change the prices.

As you consider price, compare to what you might lose if you don’t have a generator. A freezer full of food? Days worth of work?

What to look for in the advertising?

Good advertising is helpful. Look for the wattage output, size of the gas tank, noise in decibels, and safety features like overload and oil sensors, CO sensors, and surge protectors.

Example of a dual-fuel portable generator

This generator could easily serve to get you through a temporary power outage. I’d certainly consider this one for myself.

It’s one of the mid-size models from Champion. If you click the image or link and head to Amazon, you’ll find smaller and larger versions on that same page. Read everything, including reviews, and compare! It’s worth learning all you can before making a buying decision!

Champion Power Equipment 76533 4750/3800-Watt Dual Fuel RV Ready Portable Generator with Electric Start

Example of an inverter-generator

In our household we spend hours everyday at our computers, and we have an office full of printers, lights, fans, etc. For us, a power outage is above all a business disaster! So we’ve also been looking at generators that will provide high-quality power for devices. The model below looks as though it would fit our needs well. And I could lug it around!

WEN 56203i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator w/Fuel Shut Off, CARB Compliant, Ultra Lightweight

The real solution to whether you need a generator for emergencies will be a personal one.

You final decision will require some advance planning. You’ll need to figure out what size you need (based on what appliances or equipment you want to run, and how often), where you’ll store the generator and fuel when you don’t need it, and how you’ll start, refill, and maintain the machine. The best generator for you might be very different from mine.

Full disclosure, we haven’t yet made our final decision!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Please share your personal experiences with home generators! We need more information to make a decision about the best generators for emergencies.


Camp Stoves in a Disaster

Cam stove for cooking in an emergency

Cooking in an emergency

I’ve spent much of this past week working with our community on preparing for upcoming power outages. The short checklist from last week’s Advisory just wasn’t enough on cooking without power, so here’s additional info!

I’ve written before about using camp stoves in a disaster, but I’ve focused on the kinds I’ve used personally. Since I’m not a frequent back-packer, I don’t own an alcohol stove. And since I only occasionally cook outside (though I love being invited by a backyard chef!), I have limited experience with grills, too. But I have friends who do all these things, so their stories are incorporated here!.

Time to take another look at using camp stoves in a disaster!

Alcohol stoves for cooking in an emergency

An alcohol stove is perhaps the simplest way to heat water in an emergency! Here’s a basic alcohol stove that I really like. See how compact and handy it is?!! Makes you want to hold it in your hand, doesn’t it? Read below for more details about alcohol stoves, then click to head to Amazon for current prices. (This one seems to be on sale right now.)

REDCAMP Mini Alcohol Stove for Backpacking, Lightweight Brass Spirit Burner with Aluminium Stand for Camping Hiking, Silver

Basics of all alcohol stoves:

  • Round metal fuel container weighing only a few ounces, often just 1 ounce. (Imagine a cut-off soft-drink can.) Different versions have double walls, a top with a chimney, holes punched in the sides to create a ring of flames like a gas stove. The more “designed” the heavier it’s likely to be. I chose this one because it’s just about the simplest version available.
  • Fuel to put into the container. Denatured alcohol (toxic to drink!), methanol (also toxic – sold as anti-freeze), ethanol. Fuels are readily found at sporting goods stores, Walmart, auto supply stores.
  • Way to light the fuel.
  • Stand to hold cup or pot above the flame. Again, my example has a companion stand that comes as part of the package.

Alcohol stoves are simple. Because they are so small and lightweight, you have to be careful not to tip them over, and you have to watch out for spilled fuel. You may need to shelter your stove from the wind. And you have to have the right size cup or pot to fit over the stove.

The key: even the simplest alcohol stoves can boil water in 5-6 minutes, enough to make hot drinks or soup for 1-2 people.

I really like the idea of something compact, light, and simple to operate in an emergency. You can actually build your own out of soda cans! (Great 3-minute video: https://youtu.be/wdGu_0eJr3k You’ll see an ad before the video starts, of course.) Or, you can buy a stove. Many are less than $20!

The stove shown above costs around $20. For about $10 more you can get the Vargo Triad, shown below. It’s made of titanium, with folding arms and legs that double as pot supports and anchors. This stove burns more than one kind of fuel. It also gets the best ratings on a variety of review sites.

Vargo Triad Multi-Fuel Stove

Either of these two small stoves would make a great gift for a scout, a camper, or someone putting together a (better!) survival kit for the car!

Wood-burning stoves for cooking in an emergency

If you’ll be outdoors in at least a semi-wilderness setting, with fuel sources available, having a wood-burning camping stove makes lots of sense. No storing of fuels, no worrying about leaks.

Like the alcohol stoves, wood-burning camp stoves are very simple. Imagine a coffee can with some holes punched in it to let grasses or sticks and air in, and smoke out.

Like the alcohol stoves, these stoves also have ONE burner. You will be using ONE pot. Experts seem to be able to boil, fry and even bake – all on one burner. If you have a larger group, you may need more than one stove or take another look at the classic Coleman two- or three-burner box later on in this article.

I picked the wood-burning stove below because it got very high reviews from users. It’s meant to burn twigs, leaves, grass, etc., but can also burn alcohol. Easily add fuel, and air holes around the bottom keep the fire burning hot. I’d get some special camping ware to go with this stove to be sure everything fits and balances securely.

TOMSHOO Camping Stove Camp Wood Stove Portable Foldable Stainless Steel Burning Backpacking Stove for Outdoor Hiking Picnic BBQ-Upgraded Version

Cooking with classic camp stoves in a disaster

I pulled out our camp stoves. We have two of them, collected over the years. The pictures with dark backgrounds aren’t links – they are from my own camera!

Three burner camp stove

This shows our trusty Coleman stove. It’s a three-burner which makes it really convenient. You can see how my own everyday small pot fits on the stove; with those three burners, we can use a large frying pan or even a griddle. Sometimes adjusting the flame takes some careful effort.

Here’s a link to the current Coleman 2-burner. (Maybe 3 burners are out of style?) It comes in other colors, too, but I wanted to show you a classic Coleman.

Coleman Gas Camping Stove | Triton+ Propane Stove, 2 Burner

Our second stove is a one-burner model that we purchased across the street at an Asian market. It is smaller than the three-burner (Note the pot and the water bottle that appear in each photo for comparison.) and it weighs half as much, making it easier to pack and carry.

One burner camp stove

With either stove, we can accomplish the essentials: boil water for coffee, cook ramen noodles with dried vegetables (from the same Asian market), and have enough water left over for some washing up.

Here’s the current version of that same stove from Amazon (at today’s prices!) It comes with a carrying case.

Gas ONE GS-3000 Portable Gas Stove with Carrying Case, 9,000 BTU, CSA Approved, Black (Stove + 4 Fuel)

Backyard BBQ for survival cooking

If you already have a backyard BBQ, whether fueled with charcoal or gas, you are probably already prepared for some cooking in an emergency when the power is out! Most of the gas powered grills use propane or butane. Some are connected to your natural gas supply.

These grills can be just the size for a steak or two, or big enough to feed a crowd. They can be on a rolling frame that holds the fuel tank and a couple of side table, or built right into a larger backyard entertainment center.

Just a couple of weeks ago I picked out a charcoal burning BBQ that I thought would be a great gift for Mothers’ Day! Remember that one?

Having any of these stoves will give you more flexibility for summer entertainment, for camping, and, of course, in an emergency. All of them require some experimenting and practice before they will work exactly as you expected.

Hope you can find the right one to supplement YOUR emergency cooking needs!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Write and let us know what experiences you’ve had with camp stoves. Every bit of knowledge helps!

3 Emergency Preparedness Checklists for Summer

emergency alert notices from utility companies
Both these notices arrived in the same week!

Have you noticed? I love checklists! Researching and discussing an issue can be exciting and fun. But LEARNING about threats is one thing, and TAKING ACTION to prepare for them is quite another.  I found that building these 3 emergency preparedness checklists accomplished 2 things. First, they forced me to identify exactly what needs to be done, and second, I get the satisfaction of checking it off when I have done it!

3 Emergency Preparedness Checklists for Summer, 2021

Both the notices you see in the photo above arrived at our place in the same week!  One is from our phone company and the other from our power company. (I have hidden the names to protect the innocent . . . ha ha!) If we are getting notices like this, you may be too. At any rate, you need to plan for them in the future. After all, summer brings all kinds of potential emergencies – some planned, many unplanned.

Here are three potential threats with some steps you can take to lessen the impact if they become reality.

Checklist #1. Protect against hurricane.

Atlantic Hurricane Season starts June 1. If there’s any chance you will be in the path of a hurricane, consider taking steps NOW while you have the time and supplies are available.

Keep up with weather info!

If you think you might evacuate . . .

  • Select several logical evacuation destinations.
  • Study a map to know how to reach those destinations. Can you identify more than one road to get there?
  • List what needs to go into your evacuation kit, and start packing it up now.
  • Create a separate list for last minute actions to take or items to grab as you head out the door.
  • No car? Call social services or police to find out what happens with public transportation in an emergency.

Prepare your home to survive the storm!

(Some of the following suggestions come from this useful website. https://disastersafety.org/hurricane/get-your-home-ready-for-hurricane-season/ )

  • Review your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Will wind damage be covered? What about rain? What about storm surge?  You may be surprised at what is NOT covered.
  • Check your roof. Repair loose shingles. Seal around skylights, chimney and roof valleys.
  • Screw down soffits and seal.
  • Buy hurricane-rated shutters ahead of time.
  • Clean up outside by trimming trees, cleaning out gutters, strengthening fences, bringing loose furniture, toys and/or equipment inside.
  • Replace or reinforce the garage door. “weakest part of your house.”

Checklist #2. Prepare for water shortages.

Water shortages threaten much of the west. Shortages have already been declared in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon and Texas!

Why the shortages? Not enough rain. No snow pack. Household waste. You can’t impact the rain or the snow, but if you use the 100 gallons per person per day of the average American, there’s a lot you can do at home to save water every day!

Upgrade and fix appliances.

  • Do you have an old toilet? Those from before 1982 use 5 to 7 gallons per flush. Replace with an efficient model that uses only 1.6 gallons per flush.
  • A toilet that is “running” can waste as much as 300 gallons an hour! Buy the right “flush valve kit” kit for less than $20 and fix it! (Joe and I fixed one of ours last summer.)
  • What about showerheads? Same problem with older models. Replace with 1-2 gallon-per-minute low-flow models.

Train family members!

  • A 10 min. shower, even with an efficient shower head, uses at least 15 gallons. Buy a stylish shower timer.
  • Turn off the faucet when you’re brushing your teeth or washing your face.
  • Waiting for warm water? Don’t let the cold just run down the drain.  Capture in a bucket or pan and water the plants.

Be smart about watering plants.

  • Water only as much as your plants need. Let the rain do its share!
  • Water at the right time of day.
  • Point your sprinklers so water doesn’t land on sidewalks or driveways.
  • Use timers for watering. (So easy to forget that the water is on!)
  • Collect rainwater if possible.

Checklist #3. Power demand is highest during hot weather – so prepare for outages this summer.

Our power company has already warned us to expect Public Safety Power Outages (deliberate outages executed to protect power equipment and to keep it from starting fires).

The utility recommends:

Emergency Plan Guide adds more recommendations:

  • Keep your cellphone charged. Invest in a power bank for extra security.
  • If you know an outage is coming, disconnect computers and other sensitive devices to prevent a surge when power comes back on.
  • Buy and position emergency lighting: flashlights, lanterns.
  • Store up supplies of food that don’t need cooking.
  • Store extra water in case of long-term electrical outage. (Water systems need electricity to pump.) Mark supplies with the date, store them in cool dark location, and replace after 6 months.
    • Buy and store sturdy unopened bottles of water. (Not the cheap plastic kind!) Don’t store plastic directly on cement.
    • Wash and dry empty clear plastic juice bottles and their lids (also glass, porcelain, and stainless steel). Rinse with diluted bleach for extra security before you fill with water from the tap, seal and label. Do not re-use milk containers!
    • Fill clean BPA-free plastic containers (plastic with recycle code 2, 4 or 5) with water, store in freezer. (Leave room in container for water to expand.) Saves energy!
  • Be prepared to manage your refrigerated food.
    • Keep refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible. Tape doors shut as reminder!
    • Invest in a cooler or insulated container where, when it’s filled with ice, you can store drinks, milk and butter without having to get into the refrigerator.

I am confident you KNOW most of the things on these 3 emergency preparedness checklists. What’s important is that you actually DO what fits and get it done before the summer hits. Print the lists out, post them where you’ll see them, and . . .

Check box for emergency lists

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

No phone service!

“. . .but it’s fully charged!”

Nearly 20 years ago, Joe and I worked on a marketing campaign for one of the largest telephone companies in the country. Called “Silence can be deadly,” the campaign was aimed at selling more dependable phone service.

In the middle of the campaign the Loma Prieta quake hit in San Francisco. No phone service! Only static on the car radio! Traffic lights missing in action! Worse, because it took the World Series right off the air, the whole country was suddenly struck by the shock of no communications! (This dramatic interruption helped make the campaign a huge financial success.)

That was then. This is now, when we are all carrying cellphones. Still, communications can be interrupted by disasters. Be ready!

For example, just last month, you’d have seen this news coming out of Texas.

“.. . all major cell carriers are experiencing interruptions.” And this meant . . .

“Can you hear me?”  Hundreds of thousands of cell phones were silenced when power was cut to cell tower sites. Even if your cellphone is fully charged, when cell towers don’t function, either because they have lost power or are turned off, that means no calls, no texts and no access to the internet news.

No emergency alerts. When California shut off power deliberately in the summer of 2019, it wasn’t anticipated that without TV, radio or cell service, governmental emergency alert notices do not come through. Without power, the only way you’ll get notified of impending disaster is via physical alarms like sirens, airhorns, car-powered loudspeakers, etc. (Does your preparedness team need any of these devices?)

No 911 service. These days, 96% of people carry cellphones, so that’s where 80% of 911 calls come from. If your cell phone isn’t working, you can’t get through to 911!

It feels as though this list is just a start for the inconvenience and the danger that awaits in a widespread and/or lengthy power outage that includes telephone companies.

What is the answer when you have no phone service?

So far, there seems to be no one perfect answer. If your power goes out because of a disaster or a policy decision, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Adjust your attitude. Just expect to have no instant communication with the outside world – with your family, your work, or your health care providers. It’s not impossible – our grandparents lived this way! As for attitude, one of our Emergency Plan Guide readers reports that she invited neighbors for dinner every night of a recent power outage! Together, by the light of solar garden lamps, they put together meals (cooking with charcoal grills) and enjoyed each other’s company.
  2. “Read you loud and clear.” If you have family or neighbors within a local neighborhood, you may be able to use inexpensive battery-operated walkie-talkies to touch bases, ask for assistance – or invite people to dinner. Longer-rage satellite radios could reach to just about anywhere! (We just added info about satellite radios to our review page.)
  3. Get on the air with HAM radios. Amateur radio operators – HAM radio operators – have higher-powered equipment that will likely be able to get news from other HAM operators and receive emergency communications from official agencies, too. They may be able to send messages from your neighborhood, as well. A good HAM set-up should have battery-back-up — check with your local HAM team members!.

What about getting to the internet via my cellphone?

It’s possible that you can reach the internet through your cellphone or VOIP phone even if your local phone service isn’t functioning. Once there, you could reach emergency contacts using internet phone systems (Ex.: Vonage, GotoConnect) or apps (Ex.: Google Voice, WhatsApp).

This scenario makes a lot of assumptions. First and foremost, you’ll need ready-to-employ back-up power for your own home or office wi-fi set-up (modem, router). It also assumes your internet provider (operating over fiber or in the cloud) is able to continue operations.

Action item: check with your own internet provider to see just what will happen to your service in a power outage! Find out if they have recommendations to keep communications open.

What about my hard-wired landline?

Honestly, I don’t have a solid recommendation here. Many phone companies seem to be discontinuing wired phone service – I know we can’t use our cheap hard–wired phone any longer. Still, some people’s wired phones do seem to have continued to work even during the outages. If you have a hard-wired phone, you may want to hang on to it. (Check first to see if it is actually working!)

Don’t confuse “wired phone” with “portable phone.” Your portable phone’s base may be connected by hardwire, but – surprise! – that system itself needs electricity to operate.

Once again, do you have suggestions? Stories about power outages that might be useful to other Emergency Plan Guide readers? Please share! This is a complicated issue, with many possible variations. And they keep changing. We’d like to hear from you with your latest discoveries!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. And while I’m writing from here in California, where we have experienced planned and deliberate Public Safety Power Shut-offs, please remember that historically, the leading cause of power outages in the U.S. is hurricanes! So if you’re not in wildfire country, don’t shrug this info off as something you won’t need to know!

Solar For Back-Up Power

Solar Panels for back-up power
A realistic option?

We write often about how to be ready for power outages. The conversation may start with battery-operated emergency radios and/or flashlights, but it almost always moves to solar for back-up power.

A couple of weeks ago, our Advisory was about smallish “solar tools and appliances” that can be put to work when it’s dark, at home or outdoors.

This week, we’re continuing with a look at larger solar systems, the kind that can actually substitute for lost utility power.

Here’s an aside: You may not realize that starting in 2002 I worked for nearly 10 years with an energy consulting firm. One of our major projects was to introduce solar electricity systems to families, schools and businesses in southern California. When the program started, I remember the cost of solar being $9-$10 per watt for a residential roof-top system. Today, the average price across the country is more like $2.50-$4.00 per watt! That’s a 60% drop!

Price drop per watt makes solar of renewed and continuing interest. And it would be natural if your first question were, “So how many watts do I need?”

The correct question would actually be, “How many kilowatts do I need?” (How many thousands of watts?) For your reference, the average installation in the U.S. is around 6 kW. In 2020 the average system cost (after tax credits) was between $16,000-$20,000.

But that’s actually NOT the first question. In fact, there are several questions that come before that one!

So let’s take a look at some of the questions you’ll be asking, and finding answers for, if you are considering solar for back-up power. Along the way I’ll share some stories from the “old days,” some current resources, and some cautions.

Does solar really work?

Yes, it really does. Panels and their various connectors have become a lot better. Proof: Some panel warranties extend to 25 years! But keep in mind that it still takes lots of solar panels and accompanying equipment to produce the amount of electricity you would need to power your whole house. We’re talking thousands of dollars, not hundreds.

That’s why most people start with just a modest system – maybe as small as just two or four panels! — and add as they get more familiar with the technology.

(I spoke last week to a long-time EPG reader. He had just finished doubling the size of his 10-year-old system because of our utility companies are warning about “safety outages.” In California, wildfire season has started!)

The point is, solar is flexible.

How hard is solar to install?

Let’s look at some examples:

1. Hooking up the panels is straightforward. You can certainly learn to build a back-yard or RV-roof system yourself if you are willing to put in the effort. (See more on this, below.)

Here’s a diagram of a simple back-yard system. Direct Current (DC) is generated by the panel. It goes through the charge controller (to prevent any overloading) and is fed into the battery. From there, it heads to the inverter, where the DC current is changed to Alternating Current (AC). Most household appliances run on AC. Your AC appliances or devices can be plugged directly into that inverter and will have power as long as the battery remains charged.

Solar panels for back-up power
1. Simple back-yard, stand-alone system

2. Now, if you want to connect your system to your house, things get more complicated. Your house has power coming from the utility grid. If power from the grid fails, your home solar system has to shut off so it blocks any of your solar power from feeding back into the grid. (It’s actually a matter of life and death, because you can assume that somewhere on the utility grid people are working to fix whatever has gone wrong. “Your” solar power could electrocute them.)

Here’s another image, showing a “grid-tied” system. There would be a switch near (or part of) the meter (my red X) to protect the grid in the case of a grid outage. Note that this solar system is meant to supplement grid power. When the sun goes down, the solar stops.

solar for back-up power
2. Grid-tied system. Thanks to Samlex Solar for these two images.

3. Now let’s look at a hybrid system, that is, a grid-connected solar system designed with back-up battery power. Power for the home can come from either the solar panels or the utility grid or from both. In a utility power outage, a switch at the meter would turn off the grid. The amount of power usable in the home would then depend on the size of the solar system and its battery capacity.

Grid-tied, hybrid solar for back-up power
3. Hybrid system. Thanks to ArizonaAccurate for image.

Whew! So which type of system should I pick?

 In this Advisory, we’re talking about solar for back-up power. So you’d want either the simple back-yard system or the full-fledged hybrid system. (The grid-tied version, number 2., is meant to cut your electricity bill, not provide back-up power.)

How much is it going to cost?

As you can imagine, it’s all going to depend on the size of the system. The bigger the system, the more parts and of course the more cost.

So your first challenge is to decide how much of your home you want to be able to power if the grid goes down.

Whole house?

Calculating how much capacity you’d need for the whole house is worth another whole Advisory. You’ll need to start by taking a look at your usual hourly energy requirement, how many peak sunlight hours are available where you live, whether your panels can be positioned to get the most of that sunlight, and how much overall space you have for panels and batteries. (Here’s a simplified description of how to figure everything from one of our local solar installers. )

The reality for most home-owners? Your solar system will probably NOT be able to power your whole house. A system that large will take a lot of space and will be just too expensive.

Just the essentials?

Experienced solar-system users pare down when it comes to sizing their system for back-up power. They know how to pick only the essential appliances (refrigerator, TV, medical device), how to measure the appliances’ kW requirements, and how to schedule when appliances will take their turn, so as not to overwhelm the system.

If you’re trying to size a system for essentials only, check out this article. It will give you an idea of how many panels it takes to run particular appliances.

What should my next step be?

Based on my research and my experience, I recommend you (1) do some homework and then (2) talk to professional installers to get some advice and some quotes.

Professional system installers will want to know:

  1. Do you want a grid-tied system or a stand-alone system or a hybrid system? (For emergency power, it’s either of the last two options.)
  2. What appliances do you absolutely need to be able to run if there is a power outage? (Type, size, amps, how often and how long, etc.)
  3. How much space do you have for panels, batteries and associated components? (Solar contractors will likely take an image of your roof and yard and start with that, but of course they don’t know about your garage, etc.)

You will want to ask them:

  1. What panel options do I have? (Why do they pick the ones they use?)
  2. What inverter options do I have?
  3. How many batteries will I need to store energy for the appliances I want to run in an emergency?
  4. What warranties are available on the equipment?
  5. Will I be able to add to the system at a later date?
  6. What building or other permits are required?
  7. What tax benefits are available in my community?

If you are more of a DIY person, or want to know more before you reach out to a salesperson, consider these three steps.

First, go to Amazon and buy this book by Will Prowse. (We are affiliates at Amazon, as you know, so we’ll get a small commission.) Get the paperback version so you can mark pages, take notes, etc.

Hands down, Will has the best solar material for enthusiastic beginners. You’ll want to refer to this book often. (I have found that I need to review the watt/volt/amp equation on a regular basis!) The info works even if you aren’t installing your system on an RV. Here’s the link:

Mobile Solar Power Made Easy!: Mobile 12 volt off grid solar system design and installation. RV’s, Vans, Cars and boats! Do-it-yourself step by step instructions.

Second, go to YouTube and watch a few of Will’s videos. I’ve watched a half-dozen of them and every one is first-rate! Here’s one for beginners that will explain all the components mentioned above in my article, and show how they fit together.

Finally, take a close look at some of the “solar kits” or “all-in-one” solar power packages that are available for people starting out. (Search online for those words in quotes.) Kits are attractive and make sense, since you wouldn’t be buying all the individual parts separately. The video above shows a small kit. Below is a link to a larger kit (from the same company, Renogy) with 12 solar panels.

Renogy 3600 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Cabin Kit for Off-Grid Solar System with 12 Pcs of 300W Panel and Midnite MPPT Controller

For all kits, do be careful to check what is included. Many “starter kits,” even the ones above, do not include batteries.

I think solar is a great addition for any energy-conscious person to consider. It has become ever more affordable and reliable, and is no longer considered “cutting edge.” Solar is here to stay!

From a preparedness standpoint, it’s also a reliable source of power for emergency communications and lighting, not to mention security.

Stay tuned. You’ll be reading more about solar here!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. We’d like to hear about your experience with solar for emergency back-up. Leave a comment! (Give us an idea of where you live so we can make adjustments for our own experience.)

Biggest Planned Power Outage in History — Now Underway

“What did I tell you????”

We have written regularly and determinedly about being prepared for a power outage – planned or unplanned — as the most common “emergency” in the country.

Our goal is to keep an inconvenience from becoming an emergency. Or perhaps, keep an emergency from becoming a disaster.

Inconveniences, emergencies and disasters are happening right now in Northern California because of a massive planned power outage.

PG&E, the country’s largest utility, is deliberately shutting down power during an anticipated high wind event to avoid possible forest fires from downed lines.

So far, about 500,000 people have been affected.  Further planned outages may impact as many as 1 million households — 2 million people!

It’s the most extensive planned power outage ever employed.

Some examples of how residents are coping – and struggling.

  • Gas stations have long, long lines or are closed completely as people rush to fill their cars and buy fuel for generators.
  • Stores have sold out of generators, water and batteries.
  • Food stores without generators have packed some items into ice-filled containers or refrigerated trucks, trying to keep them cold for a few more hours. Other stores have already started disposing of ruined food.
  • Some retail operations show emergency lighting, but are closed because they can’t operate cash registers.
  • Traffic lights are blinking or out completely, creating dangerous intersections and traffic jams.
  • Cell phones are running out of battery. “Community Resource Centers” have been opened, and can  provide residents with bathrooms, bottled water and power recharging – but apparently only during daylight hours. (Find list of open centers here.)
  • People who need electric medical devices may be in real trouble unless they have made advance preparations for back-up or alternatives.

How long will the planned outage last?

Again, according to news reports, “Once the fire weather subsides, PG&E will inspect and test the grid both electronically and with on-site crews before restoring service. That could take up to five days.”

(Surely California can expect help from other states and/or utility companies, just as Florida and Georgia did during Hurricane Dorian.)

It’s not often that we experience a self-inflicted disaster.

PG&E Senior Vice President: “The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event.”

As you can imagine, many citizens and citizen groups are outraged that the power line infrastructure has not been maintained to withstand high winds. Watch for more on this. In the meanwhile . . .

Check out these Emergency Plan Guide Resources.

Even if you aren’t in Northern California, an extended power outage could hit at any time. Please take simple steps to keep an outage from being a disaster for you and your household!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Power outage scheduled for next week


Just a couple of days ago I wrote about an upcoming power outages and how we might expect more of them this summer.

This morning I became aware that our local utility has scheduled not one, not two, but three power outages in our community for next week!

All three of the outages have different outage numbers, and all three have different start and end times, but they overlap each other.  Huh???

Now the way I heard about it was through my Emergency Response Team friends, because apparently my house is not involved. As you can imagine, I got on the phone and went up through a couple layers of customer service to learn that  . . .

  • Yes, the longest power outage is scheduled to last 24 and ½ hours.
  • Yes, the maintenance work has to be done “to improve our service to you.”  (!)

Now, picture the situation and why it could be an emergency.

Facts about our community.

Our senior retirement community has 360 homes.  Some of our residents are VERY elderly, and in frail health. Many live alone, with no family nearby. Probably a third of them don’t drive – or shouldn’t drive. These folks are stuck here. For them to have to leave would be traumatic.

Facts about power outages in our community.

  • When the power is out, there’s no light. (We’re ready for that!)
  • CPAP machines, air conditioners, humidifiers and oxygen concentrators stop working. (Average high temperature around here in July is 81 degrees. Not too hot, but still . . .)
  • Electric chairs and electric beds stop working in whatever position they were in when the power went out. Doorbells stop working and so do elevators, if you have one.
  • In an unopened refrigerator it takes only about 4 hours before things start to spoil. If the refrigerator reaches 90 degrees, it could take only an hour for food to spoil.
  • A FULLY PACKED unopened freezer can safely store food for as long as 48 hours. If it’s only half full, food will last about half that long. (So I know you are thinking, well, “Just eat all those steaks and casseroles!” No power to cook them with, remember?)

So how am I telling my neighbors to prepare?

So far, I’m not able to give them much help, because we’re still working on the problem.

First, we’re trying to see if a little pressure from the City could cause the utility to break their work schedule into shorter chunks of time. (I head up our neighborhood emergency response team, remember? That gives me a direct line to the Office of Emergency Management.)

Second, we’ve made arrangements with a local store to order 10 lb. chunks of ice to extending the cooling life of our refrigerators and freezers. We’re also reminding people to freeze containers of water to fill up their refrigerators and freezers.

Finally, we’re checking to see if there would be any homeowner’s insurance coverage for food lost by spoilage. So far, I’ve found YES and NO answers — always the case with insurance, right?

I will, of course, let you know what happens. 

In the meanwhile, do you have any experience with power outages, scheduled or unexpected? Have you discovered any clever ways to prepare? Please share!

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

Day 18 of Summer Vacation: A time for some shorter and lighter Advisories as a welcome change-of-pace!

Power Outage in the Workplace


Updated March, 2019

Power Outage in the Workplace

A Common Emergency Than Can Turn Into a Disaster

It’s Friday morning, you arrive at work and are greeted with . . .

“Guess what! Power is out!”

As people pull in and start to crowd around the front door, questions ring out. . .

  • “Who’s in charge?”
  • “Don’t we have a generator somewhere?”
  • “What about next door, is their power out, too?”
  • “Has the outage been reported?”
  • “How long will it last?”
  • “Does the boss know?”
  • “Shouldn’t we turn stuff off so it doesn’t all go on when the power comes back?”
  • “What was on?”
  • “What about the deliveries we’re expecting?”
  • “I have appointments today. Should I cancel them? Can we meet somewhere else?”
  • “Who’s in charge?”

Power outages are happening more often and lasting longer.

Inside Energy reported that in 2014 in the United States, the five-year annual average number of outages doubled every five years from 2000 to 2014.

Three years later, according to the US Energy Information Administration, the length of the average power outage nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017 – to almost 8 hours. Then came this addition: “. . .and the total duration of interruptions caused by major events was longer.”

Why the increase? Most notable: more and stronger hurricanes, massive winter storms, raging wildfires.  And lurking behind it all, the vulnerability of the grid itself.

We’ll be watching for statistics from 2018, and later for 2019, which has started out as bad or worse than ever before.

Note: Are you familiar with Allianz, the global insurance company? Their 2019 Allianz Risk Barometer now adds cyber incidents to the list of top business interruption risks.

A power outage in the workplace is a lot more problematical than one at home.

You may be able to get along at home because you have immediate access to extra food, clothing, etc. But to respond to a power outage in the workplace YOU NEED TO HAVE PREPARED IN ADVANCE!

Here are three simple questions you can use to start the preparedness conversation.

  1. What equipment will go off? Will it be damaged or dangerous if it shuts off suddenly?
  2. Who needs to know about the power outage? How quickly do they need to know?
  3. How will we communicate with employees, customers, suppliers, regulators and the news media when the power is out!? Who will do the talking?

Resources for planning for workplace outages.

Fortunately, there are some super resources out there to help out in this regard. One of the best is: Agility Recovery. Started 30 years ago, Agility is now serving businesses of all sizes in 44 states. While you may or may not be a candidate for their services, be aware that their website’s library has excellent videos and checklists for every business. The case histories of specific industries (banks, healthcare) are particularly interesting.

Agility has been on my radar for a couple of years now. I’ve attended their training webinars online and talked to several of the sales people, with very useful results.

Four suggestions for taking action to prepare for power outages in the workplace.

1- If the questions in this Advisory have hit any nerve at all, head over to Agility and grab Agility’s free Power and Generator Checklist. You’ll see a complete list of things to do BEFORE an outage, with specific questions to ask your electrician. The checklist adds safety recommendations as well as steps to increase security during an outage.

2- If you’re concerned about having some basic equipment available to help you through the outage — like lighting, power for computers, or a generator — check out our Emergency Plan Advisory: Fire related power outage

3- If it’s time your company considered the bigger picture, I recommend our own book: Emergency Preparedness for Small Business

It too has checklists – many of them! They start at the very beginning to help you get over procrastinating, identify ALL the possible risks (not just power outage), and get you started on pulling together a real business continuity plan step by step. (We describe Joe’s secret weapon that he discovered and developed when he was in military intelligence.)

4- In any case, consider assigning someone from your company to attend the upcoming webinar being offered by Agility on May 15, 2019, 12 – 1 p.m. MT. These webinars last just one hour, and are crammed with interesting info. May’s topic:  Ask the Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery experts. You can reserve your spot here: https://www.agilityrecovery.com/event/free-webinar-ask-the-bcdr-experts/ 

(In case you’re wondering if I have any particular affiliation with Agility Recovery, I don’t. As you know, I am constantly researching resources, and I simply feel very comfortable recommending them.)

With 70% of businesses anticipated to lose power sometime in the next 12 months, this is an important topic for all of us at Emergency Plan Guide. I urge you to take steps now to protect yourself and to keep an outage from becoming a disaster.,

Before you leave, please read the P.S. for just a few more examples of what happens when power goes out at work!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. We all have a good idea of what happens when the power goes out. At least, what we notice immediately. BOOM!  No lights! Meeting rooms, offices, halls, closets, bathrooms, stairwells – all dark except for emergency lighting.

But look a little further, and you may discover . . . .

  • Automatic gates and doors are frozen open, so you have no security.
  • Communications are down.  No landlines, no internet access, and the heightened potential for increased cyber vulnerability.
  • Bathrooms don’t work if you have power assisted toilets or water faucets.
  • UPS systems everywhere are pinging, pinging, pinging. (How long will they last?)
  • There’s no power to the kitchen = no coffee, no microwave, no refrigerator. (Medicines may be compromised, food starts spoiling immediately.)
  • Time clocks and timers may shut off.  (How to track employee time, industrial processes, scheduled communications?)
  • A/C and air handlers go off, same with pumps in the basement and any electricity-driven medical devices (Environment may become uncomfortable, even unsafe.)
  • Your out-of-gas vehicles can’t refill their gas tanks or recharge their batteries.
  • The only tools or pieces of equipment that work are those with battery backup or that run with rechargeable batteries. (What about dental drills? Auto repair tools? Restaurant stoves and freezers?)

What will happen in YOUR workplace when the power goes out? You need to know, so you can be prepared. Otherwise, this outage could truly become a disaster for the business.

Get Ready for the Next Power Outage


Power Outage Alert

“Open Immediately — Power Outage Alert”

This arrived in my mail box yesterday.

The letter, from our local utility, tells me that power will be out all day Thursday while they are “performing maintenance . . . to ensure our grid is modern, reliable and up-to-date.”

Probably a good idea – power was out for several hours a month ago, and again in the middle of the night just two weeks ago.

These outages have generated a few calls and some questions from our neighbors! (They think we have all the answers.)

So I updated my research and decided there was enough there to warrant another Advisory!

Check to see how well YOU will do at answering these questions!

What causes power outages?

(Quick, see if you can name at least 10 causes!)

Just watch the news any night and you’ll be supplied with some answers to this question! In the category of unexpected occurrences, cars hit power poles, animals crawl into electrical circuit boxes (most common problem-maker — squirrels), trees fall onto lines, and flooding takes out whole substations.

In the anticipated-so-not-entirely-unexpected category, on April 20 of 2017 a geomagnetic storm rolled in and disrupted power in places all across the country, from San Francisco and Los Angeles to New York. Want more on this topic? Check out this article and current readings of the Planetary K-Index from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/planetary-k-index

Of course, not one of these accidents is why OUR power is going off next week. Rather, our outage is for routine maintenance. I found out that our utility planned for 35,000 scheduled maintenance outages in 2017!

That’s understandable. When repairs are needed, components have to be replaced or upgrades are required – like integrating new solar or wind into the grid — the system has to be shut down for safety.

A major outage is one usually caused by a storm or other natural disaster, like the 2017 hurricanes and the massive 2017 California wildfires. Major outages are so disruptive that outage statistics are actually kept in two categories: with and without major events!

Utilities have come under some criticism for not being better prepared for major outages. In fact, in California, where power lines have sparked fires, utilities have been sued for negligence in not maintaining the lines and equipment properly.

Finally, here in California we’re familiar with a fourth type of outage, the rotating outage. In situations where the grid is unable to supply the amount of power demanded – usually during a heat wave – sections of the grid will be turned off, in turn, to keep the entire grid from failing. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often.

How long do power outages normally last?

Reliable statistics are challenging for professionals to gather, and nearly impossible for consumers to find. Here is what I have gleaned:

  • A rotating outage generally lasts only a few hours.
  • Here in our part of the world, recent planned outages have been scheduled to last for most of a day or all night. They say our upcoming outage will last 8 hours.
  • Unexpected outages caused by accidents or a blown transformer are usually managed within just a couple of hours.
  • And major outages can last for days, weeks and even months.

In 2013 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory started coming up with nationwide statistics for outages: “The state average outage ranged from seven minutes in Vermont to 1,100 minutes (more than 18 hours) in South Dakota. The national average was around 200 minutes.”

Since that year other agencies have maintained statistics, with complete reports available at U.S. Energy Information Administration. The most recent report, for 2015, shows average outages (not counting major events) of around 110 minutes.  You can get the full report here, with state-by-state stats.  https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=27892

Who do you call when the power is out?

Call your local utility to make a report and/or get a report. Now, if the power is out, your home phone and internet may be out, too, so it’s a good idea to have the phone number programmed in your cell phone or written down somewhere!

Should I turn off my home’s power if power is out in the neighborhood?

Always a good idea to switch off lights, TV, stereo, desktop computer, etc. so that the system won’t overload when everything comes back on all at once. No real need to turn off power to the whole house.

Leave one light on, though, so you’ll see when the power comes back!

If SOME things don’t come back on, a circuit breaker may have tripped. Basic instructions for resetting a breaker:

  • Know the location of your fuse box or circuit-breaker box.
  • Turn off or unplug equipment that connects to the tripped circuit.
  • Push the switch firmly to the off position.
  • Flip the switch back on again.

Circuit breakers are notoriously stubborn. You may have to repeat the off/on maneuver more than once.

Can I drink water from the tap when the power is out?

In most cities the water purification and delivery system runs with the help of electric pumps. If the power goes out unexpectedly and the system is compromised, you will likely be notified to boil water you want to drink, use for cooking, even use for bathing.

If you always have a supply of bottled water, you won’t have to worry. For a longer term emergency, you’ll need a lot more than just a few bottles, of course.

How do I flush the toilet when the power is out?

The sewage system operates on a combination of gravity and electricity, too, so your toilet may not flush if the power is out. You can pour a bucket of water into the toilet bowl to flush it down. The bowl won’t refill automatically, of course.

How long will food last when the power is out?

Food should last in the refrigerator for several hours as long as you don’t open the door! However, after 4 hours some could start to spoil. For example, meat, fish, eggs and leftovers that have been above 40 degrees for even two hours can make you sick. Food in the freezer can last as long as 48 hours but only if the freezer is full.

The test for everything edible: if it smells funny, looks strange or you just don’t know- throw it out.

How should I prepare for an unexpected outage?

Good emergency preparedness habits include having some things ready all the time.

  • Keep your freezer packed as fully as possible. Freeze plastic containers or even plastic bags filled with water and use to take up empty space. (Leave room in the containers for water to expand when it freezes.)
  • Store several days’ supply of ready-to-eat food that requires no cooking. Choose canned or packed items you know you will have no problem eating once you’ve emptied the refrigerator of edible stuff.
  • Have several days’ worth of bottled water. Don’t waste clean water on jobs that can be done using water that is old or slightly dusty, like water from the toilet tank or from the rain barrel.
  • Be ready with flashlights and lanterns. Our rule – a flashlight in every room! Consider emergency lighting for hallways and bedrooms – lights that will go on automatically when the power goes out.
  • Have an emergency battery-operated or hand-crank radio so you can get updates about the outage from authorities. Our most looked-at page is this review of emergency radios.
  • Be prepared and determined to remain calm. Treat the outage like an adventure instead of an emergency!

How should I prepare for a planned outage?

  • Fill extra containers with water to carry you through the outage. Use buckets, big pots, even the bathtub. Keep clean water available for drinking; use bathtub or bucket water to flush the toilet. Here are some more ideas for how to store water.
  • If there’s a chance that items in the freezer may defrost, put things like meat on a cookie sheet so their juices won’t contaminate the rest of the space.
  • You may want to buy block ice and fill a freezer chest with selected small items so you don’t have to open the refrigerator. (We pulled our chest out of the garage this morning in preparation . . .)
  • Distribute emergency lighting throughout the house and note where the flashlights and lanterns are located. Be sure you have extra batteries of the right size. See more information here: https://emergencyplanguide.org/emergency lanterns/
  • Charge your cellphone and have back-up chargers available. (They have become very popular and cheaper. Check out the model below in the P.S.)
  • Your heater may go off. Have extra blankets near your beds.
  • Make sure you have shoes or slippers so you aren’t moving through the dark house barefoot.
  • Clear floors of toys, small furniture, etc. to avoid tripping in the dark.
  • Don’t start laundry or the dishwasher if the outage is imminent.
  • Turn off and unplug sensitive electronics.
  • Make arrangements for back-up power for any necessary medical equipment. (Call the manufacturer for suggestions.)
  • Know how to open your electric garage door from inside.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank full.
  • If it’s too hot or too cold, consider going to the movies, to an air-conditioned mall or to a cooling shelter.

Maybe the best idea of all?  Consider going to stay with friends or relatives while the power is out.

This may all be familiar territory for you. But if it triggers an idea that you can implement to make your next outage just that much safer and more comfortable, that’s what we want!

Good luck!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S.  More on power banks:

Anker 10000 Power Bank for iphone, Samsung Galaxy, more.

Power banks really are useful. I used one just last night when I was away from home with a long call planned.  (We were testing a new emergency communications app.)  This bank is “Amazon’s Choice” for portable chargers. Click on the image to get current price and full details.

More Lessons from Harvey


Hurricane, downed power lines


And now from Irma and Maria . . .

[Note: Please consider using this Advisory as the agenda for a meeting of your neighborhood emergency response team, and include this information in a neighborhood or church newsletter. Share it online. This is information we ALL need to consider!]

The last couple of weeks have been so full of stories about and from hurricane victims that I hesitate to add to the outpouring. But I feel I can’t just sit back and wait for things to settle down. So, here is a continuation of my earlier Advisory on Lessons from Harvey – The First Week.

This Advisory adds observations from Irma and Maria, too.

1. Still the most likely emergency: no power

Texas update: A week after Harvey, I checked the Entergy Texas website. The recurring language (my italics!):

“Power has been restored to all customers in the area impacted by Hurricane Harvey except for customers served by flood damaged equipment, areas that are still flooded, and areas impacted by [specific] substation outages.”

Even as late as last week – nearly 4 weeks after the storm struck —  4,000 were still without power.

Florida update: The outages in Florida from Hurricane Irma were even more widespread. At its height, the power outages affected “62% of the state’s 10.5 million households.”  News reports from five days ago (9-17-2017) say that about 20,000 homes are still dark.

Puerto Rico update: “Puerto Rico’s entire power grid was knocked offline during the storm and the island is facing months without power.”

You have got to be asking yourself,  “How would we fare without power?”

First, it’s important to realize that as an ordinary resident, even after the rain is gone YOU CAN’T FIX YOUR OWN POWER PROBLEMS. That’s why utility teams came to Florida from as far as California to help! These teams have to . . .

  • De-energize dangerous fallen power lines, remove trees from lines, put up new poles, etc. The image above is typical of the mess to be cleared up.
  • Inspect and repair or replace meters that have been flooded.
  • Wait for YOU to get repairs made to your house – repairs that pass inspections — before they can turn the power back on.

All this takes days and days, if not weeks.

Last week, we looked at how to choose battery-operated lanterns for emergency lighting. If you haven’t got your emergency lighting in place yet, head there now. Shelves will be empty if you wait until something happens.

Turning to a generator for longer-term power needs is a completely different decision. We’ve studied this option a number of times, and our neighborhood emergency team purchased a generator some years ago. Questions we had to answer:

  • What would be the limited PURPOSE of the generator? It can’t run everything in a home or office.
  • What size is best? Where would a generator be kept? (Remember in Texas that the back-up generators for the chemical plant were themselves destroyed by the flood.)
  • How much fuel would it need, and where would fuel be stored?

Get professional assistance before making this decision. Here’s an Advisory from earlier this year, with more background information. https://emergencyplanguide.org/portable-generator-safety-update/

And another Advisory focusing on preparing for a power outage in a business setting. https://emergencyplanguide.org/power-outage-at-work/

2. Hidden water problems?

Whenever a disaster involves water, there are additional concerns besides simply having enough water for survivors to drink.

Health care professionals are watching in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma for longer-term health issues including . . .

  • Pollution from sewage. Every image we see of people wading through flood water should make you cringe! These people may be coming directly into contact with sewage. Even the entire water system may have been contaminated. Diseases from sewage pollution can result in death.
  • Chemical pollution. In Texas we all got a powerful lesson about the dangers associated with oil and chemical pollution of water supplies. These dangers are usually not immediate, but could emerge as cancer years after the incident.
  • Mold. Again, when flood water finally withdraws, mold can grow. It’s the danger of mold that prompts people to throw out not just furniture but entire floors and walls, or to abandon their home altogether.
  • Mosquitoes. Standing water after the flood is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and thus increases the chance of viruses like Zika and West Nile and fevers like dengue and chikungunya. Patrol your property and neighborhood and get rid of standing water.

Emergency preparations thus include not just supplies of clean water but also knowledge to help you identify a potential health problem related to polluted water.

3. What about rebuilding after the power comes back on?

Do you have enough money to rebuild your home if it is destroyed by floods? Probably not. That’s where insurance comes in.

Check out this lengthy Advisory about flood insurance. https://emergencyplanguide.org/flood-damage-not-covered-by-insurance/

If there is any chance that you could be hit by heavy rains, flooding or storm surge, you should be asking:

  • What does my Homeowner’s Insurance cover?
  • Do I have to live in a flood plain to get flood insurance?
  • Where do I get flood insurance?
  • Does the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) have maximum limits? (Hint: YES)
  • What is covered by NFIP?
  • What isn’t covered?

Whether or not your flood insurance is adequate, given what we’ve seen lately, or whether you should even get insurance, depends on YOUR answers to the questions above.

Note: There’s a lot in the news lately about the flood insurance program being CUT BACK. I’ll try to keep you up to date.

If you have questions about flood insurance for your home, start with the Advisory mentioned above and then talk to your insurance agent.

4. How will businesses fare?

Even if you’re not a business owner, the impact of a huge storm on the local economy will impact you, too.

According to Scott Teel, Senior Director of Communications for Agility Recover Solutions, in most cases it takes a business about 14 days to recover from a natural disaster. FEMA ads some more, and very sobering, statistics: about 40 percent of small businesses will never reopen after a disaster.

It’s not hard to imagine why. Fourteen days is a long time . . .

First, there’s the flood or the rain that causes the business to shut down, sometimes even a couple of days before the storm actually hits. Then the storm hits; over the three-five days of these recent hurricanes we’ve seen restaurants flooded, fishing boats tossed and destroyed, hotels torn apart.

Even if the building itself isn’t damaged, any business that requires electricity to operate or accepts payment via credit card – like that restaurant, a bank, a gas station, you name it! – will lose revenue during a power outage.

During the shut-down, the business will likely lose employees unless it has funds to pay them for this down time. It will likely lose customers, who are forced to look elsewhere for suppliers to keep their own enterprises going.

What can a business do to protect itself?

  1. Some businesses have a disaster plan that gives owners and employees an understanding of what it will take to carry on essential functions. Naturally, these folks have a better chance of making it through.
  2. Other companies’ plans go so far as to maintain arrangements for the company to move to an alternate location to carry on these essential functions. (As you can imagine, these plans can become pricey.)
  3. Some businesses carry special Business Continuation Insurance that will help, although too great a delay in getting payments can still mean the demise of the business.

If your company doesn’t yet have a disaster plan, you can get started building one using our Guide to a Simple Business Continuation Plan. Request your free copy here. https://emergencyplanguide.org/no-business-continuation-plan-is-a-threat-in-itself/

OK, that’s enough for now.

Our first look at recent disasters talked about immediate issues – having enough water, supplies, and an evacuation kit. This second look brings up some of the longer-term issues that may arise: power outages, health concerns, insurances.

It all goes to reinforce what we have learned at Emergency Plan Guide – when the emergency hits, it’s too late to do any planning or preparing!

Do what you can now to prepare. Whatever you do will serve you better than having done nothing.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Again, thanks for sharing.



Cash Is King in an Emergency


Gold coins

Best emergency currency?

Surviving after a serious, wide-spread disaster

We’re not talking “emergency cash fund” here, the 6 months’ worth of savings we’re all supposed to have to carry us through losing our job.

Here, we’re talking about getting up after the storm has hit, shaking ourselves off, and taking stock of how we’re going to get through the next few days or weeks.

In most emergency situations like this, you’ll be at home – or you’ll get there after some effort.

Will I need cash if I’m sheltering in place at home?

If your stock of emergency supplies is complete, you won’t need much cash!

  • You’ll have food and water, even if there’s no easy way to heat it.
  • You’ll have lights, and blankets, and activities to keep you busy if not exactly entertained.
  • Your battery-operated radio will keep you up with the news.

On the other hand, if you’re like half the population, your food and water supplies will be GONE within just a day or so. You’ll join the hordes of people who realize they have already run low or run completely out of . . .

  • Batteries
  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Coffee
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Pet food
  • Toilet paper
  • Tampons
  • Diapers
  • Baby Formula
  • ! ! !

Even more upsetting will be running out of prescription pills – the kind with the label: “Don’t stop taking this medicine.”

If you find yourself in this situation, you’re going to try to find a store to replenish your supplies. And to do that, you’ll need cash.

Think about it.  When the electricity is out your credit cards are going to be pretty much useless.  Stores – including your pharmacy or doctor’s office — may not even be open if they don’t have lights, air conditioning, etc. If they are open, they’ll only be able to deal in cash. (Maybe if you’re a particularly good customer they’ll accept your IOU.)

Moreover, to GET to a store that does have supplies, you’ll need gas. In an emergency gas pumps won’t work, so stations will be shut down until they can bring in a generator. Even then, their credit card systems won’t be operating.

Once again, cash will be the likely medium of exchange . . . and you may encounter inflated prices as business owners assess the realities of the situation.

If you’re stuck at home for a while, you may also want to pay people to help you repair damages, clear roads, etc. For sure, these neighbors or contractors won’t be accepting credit cards.

(In a big emergency, people may resort to bartering for supplies and services. The best items for bartering seem to be alcohol, commodities such as flour, rice, coffee, etc., and ammunition.)

What if I have to evacuate?

Escaping impending disaster or a disaster that’s already hit means . . . getting on the road in your car.

This puts us back to the need for gasoline.

If you’re aware of what’s happening, and you’re prepared for immediate action, you may get out ahead of the other people hitting the road.  That might put you first in line at a gas station that still has power and gasoline, and where your credit card will still work.

In the crush, however, you may find yourself competing for gas, for a motel room, even for a place to camp or park – for a week or longer! Again, you’re back to paying for these necessities, and maybe with potential bribes to get you a preferred place in line.

So how much cash do I need?

Obviously, the better prepared you are at home, the less money you need if you’re staying home. And the types of emergencies you might expect (power outage, ice storm, earthquake) will have an impact on the preparations you will have made.

On the other hand, you may live in an area where the likelihood of evacuation is high. (For example, if you live along the coasts where hurricanes threaten, where a tsunami might hit, or where flooding is common.) If so, your evacuation preparations need to be more extensive.

And, of course, ANY of us could be asked to evacuate due to a fire, explosion or other unexpected emergency.

So, the better prepared you are to evacuate QUICKLY (with supplies, maps to help you find alternative routes, etc.), the less money you need, too.

In every case, it seems as though enough to keep you fed and sheltered for a week or so would be a good idea. This could mean at least $500 and probably twice that.

What denominations should I have, and how should I carry them?

When things get frantic, people accepting money are not likely to want to make change. So, having smaller denomination bills is probably best — $5, $10, $20.

You can also assume some people will be ready to take advantage of the situation by demanding your money – or taking it. So, don’t keep it all in one place. Put some in a wallet, some in a pocket, some in the dirty clothes bag. If someone tries to rob you, they may be satisfied when they see that your wallet/pocket is empty and it looks as though you have given them all you have.

If you’re sheltering in place, follow the same suggestions. Stash your money in a variety of places in the house. Avoid the bedroom, night stands or jewelry boxes – places where thieves look first. Take some time to create effective hiding places – just don’t forget where they are!

Hiding money or valuables in plain sight

The best way to hide money in your home is in ordinary places that a casual observer wouldn’t even notice but that aren’t hard for you to get into. Some examples:

If you’re a handy-person,

  • Convert a section of your wall (between the studs) into a storage cabinet. If you have paneling, a removable section won’t show.
  • Set a fake vent into the floor or the wall. Use the space behind for storage. (The space below cabinets is particularly useful.)

If you’re not handy, or are in a hurry,

  • Put a hollowed out book right there on your shelf with the rest of the books. Some “secret storage books” are really a simple metal safe, with keys (probably not fireproof). If you intend to put a weapon in the book, be sure to get a book that is big enough. The image shows an example that would fit nicely in our library. It costs around $12. Click the image for details from Amazon:

  • Buy a camouflaged container, like a fake Clorox bottle or a can of vegetables whose bottom comes off. Here’s a picture of a fake WD-40 can! (around $17). I have several cans of WD-40 around the house so this would be totally unremarkable!)  Again, click the image for more details.


Children and money

Obviously, giving children money to carry can be dangerous. Be sure they understand how much they have and how to protect it. Small children who normally manage their own allowance may become vulnerable targets in a widespread emergency.

What about precious metals?

We’ve all heard the investment world talk about the value of precious metals in times of uncertainly.

As an investment, gold and silver can make sense as part of a portfolio. However, as emergency currency, they may not be so effective. Consider:

Who would accept an ounce of gold in return for supplies? Would they be able to make change? How would they (or you!) even establish its value? (Quick quiz. What’s an ounce of gold worth today?  See below for the answer!)

What about a gold coin with the stated value of $1, like in the image at the top of this article? Here, the answer is probably a lot more positive. In fact, some people might prefer the metal to paper. (These coins might also be able to be used in a dispensing machine . . . if you come across one!)

Again, your preparations depend on your own circumstances. But, as always, you want to put the thought into the preparations well before the disaster hits!

Until next time,

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. The value of an ounce of gold today, July 14, 2017, is $2,012.  Care to make change for that?





5 Ways to Create Your Own Home-Grown Disaster


Danger, Not a Step.

Look familiar? See #4 below.

Not knowing is one thing. Just not thinking is another.

Here are five really dumb things that people do that lead to emergencies and even disaster.

Don’t do any of them, please.

 Dumb Act #1: Mix household cleaners.

The classic mistake is to mix household ammonia (like window cleaner spray) with liquid bleach — “because two cleaners ought to work better than just one.”

The result: a gas that can cause nausea, eye irritation, sore throat, headache, cough, and difficulty breathing.

In fact, the chloramine gas that’s released could even send you to the hospital for an emergency tracheostomy — surgery to create a hole through the neck into the trachea (windpipe) to allow you to breathe.

OK, so you know about not mixing.

Did you know that you can create the same noxious gas by simply using two cleaning agents one after another on the same surface?

Every cleaning agent should be suspect:

  • liquid cleaners for the toilet bowl
  • gel for unclogging drains
  • powdered cleansers for counter tops and grout
  • spray foams for the shower.

Check the label for ingredients (look for sodium hypochlorite) and warnings.

If you smell or feel ANY strange or strong fumes, get out of there immediately and allow the space to air out thoroughly before allowing anyone into the area. Rinse everything completely with water and let it dry out some more before you attempt to finish your cleaning job.

Dumb Act #2: Work alone.

Most of us are happy to work alone for some time during the day!

But most of us are not engaged in high risk activities like using dangerous tools, working around machinery, electrical wires, scaffolding, trenches, high pressure materials, hazardous substances, at height or in closed spaces like grain elevators or tanks, etc.

For the 15% of people who do find themselves in these situations it’s important to have some sort of check-in procedure.

This isn’t just for construction or agricultural or other special industries. Office workers like receptionists or parking attendants who work alone may face potential violence from the public. They need a check-in procedure, too.

If your workplace doesn’t have a policy about working alone, get one.

Dumb Act #3: Underestimate a portable generator.

We’ve talked a lot lately about how a portable generator can be a great emergency preparedness tool if the power goes out. We’ve even made some recommendations about which kind to consider, how much to expect to pay, etc. (See footnotes for links.)

We have certainly talked about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from setting up a generator indoors. That extends to having it in the garage or even locating it too close to an open window.

There are other dangers associated with generators that you would know if you thought about it – but sometimes, people just don’t think.

Consider these possibilities:

  • Fire. Like any motor, your generator can get overheated. Don’t spill gas on or around it!
  • Electrocution.  A generator produces – electricity! If your power cords are too light, frayed or kinked, or not properly grounded, you could get the shock of your life. Electricity can kill.
  • Electrocuting someone else. The fifth leading cause of occupational deaths is what is termed “back-feeding.” This occurs when a power company worker touches a wire that should be inert but isn’t because it is carrying power from an unanticipated source – like YOUR generator.

This is why you don’t plug your generator into a wall outlet in your house. The power goes into the house and right through the house into the power grid where the unsuspecting worker is busy trying to fix the outage!

Yes, there is a way to power your house with your generator, but it requires a special “power transfer switch” installed in advance by a qualified electrician.  (A solar array with battery backup requires the very same type of switch.)

Dumb Act #4: Disrespect a ladder.

We are all pretty familiar with ladders, and have probably used at least a couple of different types — step ladder, extension ladder, etc.  (There are many types. Wikipedia lists 21 different ones!)

But for all its familiarity, a ladder can be very dangerous.

If its feet aren’t solidly placed, the ladder can tip over backwards or slide down frontwards. You come down right with it, flat on your back or your face or tangled between the rungs.

Second, a ladder can break. Like any other piece of equipment, ladders simply wear out.  Got an old one in your truck or garage? Before you use it the next time, check out the rungs, the rails, the spreader bars and locks and the feet to be sure they all function as designed.

Finally, can you read? I’ll bet your ladder has a sign somewhere that reads, “Not a step.” (I took the photo above of my own well-used step ladder.)

In simple English, that means “Do not stand on this.” Get up too high on a ladder and you will overbalance the whole thing. Stand on a paint can shelf instead of a step, and the shelf will break.

Every year, more than 90,000 people end up being treated in the emergency room from ladder-related injuries!

Dumb Act #5: Disconnect smoke alarms.

This is simple. Once again, the statistics tell you everything you need to know.

Half of U.S. fire deaths occur in houses where a smoke detector is installed but has been disabled because it beeps.

Of course, nuisance chirping from a smoke alarm is awful. And yes, it always seems to happen in the middle of the night.

Just take the time to fix it. Either put in a new battery or replace the whole thing, preferably with a photoelectric alarm (instead of the cheaper ionization model). If you’re not sure how to do it, go online to YouTube and search for “How to change the battery in a smoke alarm” or “How to install a smoke alarm.” Some videos are boring and some are better; any of them will guide you in making the fix!

As you read this, I hope you are saying to yourself, “Heck, I knew that!”

The key thing is, not everyone does know it! When you have the chance, share this information with children, co-workers, members of your club or church — anyone, in fact, who might have missed it. These are NOT emergencies you want people to learn about from experience.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


Looking for more info on some of these topics? Here are other Advisories we’ve written over the past year or so.

The Best Generator for Emergencies

Portable Generator for Power Outage — Safety Update

Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Detectors

What you didn’t know about Smoke Alarms


Don’t miss the NEXT safety Advisory. Sign up below to get them all.


Smartest Emergency Purchase I’ve Made Lately


When it comes right down to it, having a simple phone plugged into a traditional landline simply makes sense. And when it costs so little . . .!

Corded phone for emergencyFive reasons to go out today and buy a corded phone.


1 – It works when other phones are knocked out or overwhelmed in an emergency.

How many times have we talked about what happens to regular phone communications in a widespread emergency? Power can disable cordless phones; cell phone towers can fall; systems can be overwhelmed. Ultimately, any device powered by a battery will stop working.

Landlines are the most reliable of all the options.

2 – Emergency Services will pinpoint where the call is coming from.

When you call 911 from a landline, emergency services know just where you are. When you call from a cell phone, they have to go through extra steps (using GPS) to find you. And if you’re on the tenth floor, and the only ID the emergency services get is the address of the building . . . When seconds count, a landline wins hands down.

3 – Your kids (visiting grandmother, babysitter) can operate a simple corded phone.

My granddaughters play with their parents’ cell phones all the time. That doesn’t mean they know how to actually turn a phone on, get past the password, find the phone app, and use the phone to make a call.

EVERY kid above the age of about 2 can be taught how to dial 911 from a simple phone.

Not every adult carries a phone, either. Consider elderly relatives. They, too, would easily be able to make an emergency call using a phone like the one in the photo.

4 – Yes, someone could tap the line – but not a random hacker.

Privacy is a concern whenever you’re using wireless communications. A landline is secure unless someone has actually installed wiretap equipment onto your line.

5 – You won’t misplace or lose it.

Your emergency phone is tethered to the wall. It will always be in that place so you will always be able to get to it immediately.

What will it cost?

A neighbor told me he’d bought a simple phone recently for “around $10.”

Frankly, I found that hard to believe. Still, when Joe went shopping for a phone yesterday, he came home from Walmart with the one in the photo. And it had cost him $5.95!

Naturally, you can get fancier ones, with a bigger price tag. (Check out our friends at Amazon. Use the search words: “corded phone.”) But we were looking for the simplest model possible.

Joe opened the box, pulled out the phone, and . . .

We plugged it into a wall jack — instant dial tone.

No registering, no passwords, no set-up, no waiting for a battery to charge, no software upgrades.

(What a relief after we had spent hours over the past week getting our over-the-air antenna to work with our TV and our Amazon Fire Stick. That’s another story, of course . . .)

Now, since the phone doesn’t store names or numbers, you’ll have to dig out an address book to go along with it. Or simply type up and print out a one-page sheet of emergency numbers as part of your family communications plan. (If you have children, you are likely to have this page already prepared for babysitters.)

Fasten this page to the phone itself, or tape it to the wall next to the phone, so it doesn’t get misplaced.

That’s it! It has taken me longer to write this Advisory than it did to get the phone set up.

Action Item: Do yourself a favor and get your own corded phone today.

You will definitely feel smarter and you and your family will definitely be safer!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


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Power Outage At Work


Some statistics for small business.

No Business PlanYou’ve seen the stats here before. Check out numbers from a June 2015 Nationwide Insurance survey:

  • 75% of small business owners say they don’t have a disaster plan. (This is UP from the 72% we’ve quoted before!)
  • 38% don’t even think a disaster plan is important.
  • Unfortunately, a business without a plan has a poor chance of recovery after a disaster. FEMA reports that 43% of them will never reopen, and another 25% will close their doors after one year. That means that after a disaster, nearly three-quarters of businesses without a plan will be gone.

Who knows what the numbers will tell us after the recent one-two-three punch from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria!

No matter what the exact numbers are, operating without a plan leaves your customers in the cold, your employees without a job, and your investment down the tubes.

If you don’t already have a plan, what might spur you to action? Consider this . . .

Let’s take a look at just one risk that you are surely familiar with.

One company we follow is Agility Recovery. As its name suggests the company offers recovery solutions – four main ones (office space, power, communications, computer systems).

In its 25 years of business, Agility has responded to one type of emergency more than twice as often as any other —

Loss of power!

Further, according to Agility Recovery,

  • Nearly 70% of businesses will lose power sometime in the next 12 months.

So, where does your company stand on being ready to withstand a power outage?

“Well, I think we have a back-up generator on premises!”

That’s a start. Again, thanks to some resources offered by Agility Recovery, Popular Mechanics and The Home Depot, here are

Ten questions for your next conversation about power outages at work.

  1. Do employees have emergency kits with flashlights? Are the batteries fresh? Are the flashlights hand-crank?
  2. Do you have emergency radios so you can get the news and weather? Again, fresh batteries, hand-crank or solar?
  3. Are electronics protected by a power strip surge protector?
  4. Do employees know what should be turned off in a power outage, and what should be left on?
  5. Are desktop electronics connected to a functioning UPS device so they can be powered down in a controlled fashion?
  6. Do you have a back-up generator for essential equipment?
  7. Do you know what equipment is considered “essential” and are you confident the generator can both START and RUN that equipment? (It takes 3 to 5 times more power to start up a motor than to run it.)
  8. Have you trained on where to place the generator when it is needed?
  9. Do you have the appropriate electrical cords and plugs for your needs? How long do cables need to be?
  10. Do you have fuel for the generator? How long will it last, and what are the plans for getting more?

Get the rest of the questions and answers.

These ten questions are really just a start. Any business other than a home office needs more information in order to do a good job of managing a power outage. You can get a more detailed checklist, plus see some of the case histories offered by Agility Recovery, at their resource library: https://www.agilityrecovery.com/resource-library/

Power outages are on the horizon, it’s just a matter of when.

Good luck!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team