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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Boom Boom: Out Go The Lights

A comment on the last post by MikeH of Behind The Parapet got me thinking of what I've done to prepare for any kind of  significant, long-term power outage.

First, a question:  What is the first thing you do when you have a power outage?  Our plan, like most, is to find some sort of light source - be it a flashlight or candle.  We then grab one of our dynamo-powered radios to try and figure out what is happening.

I'm guessing the next item on our checklist is a bit different from most:  We fill up our bathtub with cold water.  Even if the event that caused the power outage is a particularly bad one - and EMP or CME, there should still be sufficient water pressure in the system for us to fill our tub.  If it's because of some sort of "normal" problem with the power company, most municipal water companies have back-up generators to maintain water pressure.

We do this for a couple of reasons.  First, there's the obvious reason of water storage.  We fill it with cold water to preserve the water in our water heater as additional storage.  Filling the tub will immediately add about 40-50 gallons of water to our current storage supply.  Be sure to have one of those small rubber disks to place over the top of your drain plug - you don't want your saved water to slowly leak away.

The second reason we do this is a bit less obvious - cooling.  One of the most common times the power goes out is during the summer.  We've all got our air conditioning units running, and the power demands exceed the power available.  We get black-outs.

Suddenly, hot, sweaty people have no way to cool themselves.  This is especially troubling for home-bound seniors.  If worse comes to worse, you can use that bathtub full of water as a mini-pool to keep yourself cool.  If you have a now-illegal-in-California Black Berkey Water Filter (or something of similar quality), that "used" water can still be easily purified into drinking water.

Do you remember the heat-wave that hit Europe in 2003?  In France alone, nearly 15,000 people died over a 7 day period due to the heat!  It was a "Perfect Storm" of excessive heat, caretakers, doctors and public safety personnel  on "holiday," and a pampered populous unfamiliar with caring for itself.  Some sources have gone back and reviewed historical statistical records, and they place the number of extra deaths in all of Europe during that period at up to 70,000.

Accept The Challenge

Is it time to update your Power Outage checklist?  If you have elderly or disabled folks in your life - and they live on their own - the next time you speak with them, tell them about filling up the bathtub.  I started this with my own mother a couple of years ago.

What's the downside?  If the power is only out for a couple of hours, you've potentially "wasted" some water.  You can take that water and put it in your garden, fill your bird bath or use it to flush your toilets.

As Europe found out only 7 years ago, not doing so could cost you your life.

PS:  Want to know where I picked up this tip?  About a million years ago, I was watching the show, "Hill Street Blues".  The character of Sgt. Belker was interviewing some criminal, when Belker's mom called him on the phone.  She was complaining about the oppressive heat wave in NYC.  The criminal made a suggestion about filling up the tub with water to cool her off...

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Montezuma said...

normally the first thing I do when the power goes out is check and see if I paid the bill... :) Being a Floridian, we lose power frequently from storms, etc... generally speaking, it isn't a big issue..., but in the event of a big storm sometimes power can be out for several days. I am planning on installing a generator this season.

Ryan said...

To be honest I don't think a ton about power outages. We have food, water and fuel already stored so it is OK. Surface water is near and we can filter it. Of course 40 gallons of water wouldn't hurt.

Chief Instructor said...

Montezuma, yeah, if our power goes out for more than a couple of days, we'll be having a helluva BBQ! My freezer is stocked to the gills. I should probably think about a generator as well.

Ryan, if it got really ugly, we could haul water from the Sacramento Delta, but it's a pretty good ways away. Especially considering how much water weighs, it would be a real chore. We've got a canal system in the area, but it is pretty heavily secured with fences and barbed wire, though I'm guessing that would be gone fairly quickly if TSHTF.

Anonymous said...

Last time the power went out, I thought "EMP?" and went to the widow to check things out...

We have some water stored, also have plain bleach, iodine tablets, and a good camp water filter/pump.

But also picked up a WaterBob;

Anonymous said...

I just got back from a week in Paris. The last time I was there was in 1972. I believe the population has at least doubled and maybe tripled since then. A very busy city full of small apartments and millions and millions of people. I am also well aware that in August all civic workers except the police go on vacation to anywhere but Paris. It would be a tough city to survive in a heat wave in August. I would not be suprised to see this story repeat itself if they get another major heat wave. There was a lesson there for all of us, not just the French. Try stocking up on rubbing alcohol. Not only will it cool you off quick in an emergency but it will burn and cook your food and light your night. And it's cheap (relatively). A 12 volt fan and a simple PV and battery system isn't a bad idea either. said...

Great idea, which I am guilty of never doing. I think I will go buy a few rubber plugs.

As for wasting water, that is the beauty of being on a private septic system. Any water in the tub goes right back into my aquifer. It also means I can use the water in the tub to flush my toilets without worrying about sewer backups.

Dustin said...

We got a waterbob - about $20 and it holds the water in a bladder that rests in your tub to keep it clean and potable - even comes with a siphon to draw water out into your smaller containers.;jsessionid=43001AD91988394172FDA6833310B874

We keep it in the vanity in our bathroom that has the tub. I would get 1 for each tub in your house.

Chief Instructor said...

Suburban, I saw the WaterBob's a while back. Have you tried it out? Do they seem sturdy?

Anon, we've got a decent supply of Isopophyl alcohol in our home. It's a back-up fuel source for our Penny Stoves (which are back ups for our propane and white gas stoves!). Good tip.

JJmurph, most of the properties we're currently viewing are way out in the boonies - public sewer, water and electricity are basically unavailable. I always worry about septic systems, as it seems like if they get clogged, you are well and truly screwed. I really need to get educated on how they work and what to do to keep them functioning.

Dustin, I'll ask you the same question I asked Suburban - have you tried it out and do they appear to be pretty sturdy?

jjmurphy said...

Chief Instructor - I grew up on city water and sewer. Was very leery of septic systems. Have now lived in two houses with septics. You want a GRAVITY system. No power required. A pump system means you have to pump your "water" up to the drainage filed. No electricity = no septic.

As long as the system is properly installed on a viable leach field, pumped every 3 to 5 years, and using copper sulfate every six months to discourage root growth, you should be good for decades.

Chief Instructor said...

jjmurphy, a number of the properties we've reviewed have noted that we'll have to get an "engineered" septic system. They are something like 5 or 6 times the price of a regular septic. I understand that if the property doesn't pass the "perc" test, this is the way you must go.

Our top site so far is also very close to a lake. I assume that the water table on this property is fairly high, which might require us to use one of the engineered systems as well.

grumble grumble...

Joel said...

These days, when I have a power outage I go out to the power shed to try and figure out what went wrong. Doesn't happen so much since last fall's expensive upgrade, though. (sometimes off-grid is bad, and sometimes it's good!)

I did the bathtub full of cool water thing in Texas during an extended heatwave, many years ago. I'd come home from work weak and headachy, just ready for good old-fashioned heatstroke. Grab a book and a beer, strip down and slide into that tub I'd drawn in the morning (so the water wouldn't be too cold) and fifteen minutes later I was feeling human again. It works.

Chief Instructor said...

Joel, what's great about it is it's so easy to do. I remind my mom, who lives alone, about this every year. She doesn't do so well in the heat.