Anyone who has ever gone through a power outage (I’m willing to bet is just about everyone) knows that it seems like life just stops without electricity. Literally everything we buy, and use is associated with electricity in one way or another.
Take dog food for example. While you don’t need to plug a bag of dog food in, the factory where it was made relies on machines, and light for people to see. It also requires fuel which is made in refineries to get that dog food to the grocery store.
A short-term power outage would probably be an inconvenience, while a more extended grid down event would have dire consequences the longer it lasts. Regardless whether we are talking about a power outage that lasts a few hours or a complete grid down event, there are some precautions we can take.
Possible Power Outage Causes
Before we get into the large-scale events that could cause a power grid failure for an extended period, let’s go over the more likely short-term power outage scenarios. While the larger disaster scenarios are very important because of the dire consequences, power outages are easy to prepare for, and a good starting point.
When you find yourself without electricity, and you know it’s only for a short period of time, the basic power outage supplies will do fine. I’ve put together what I call my “lights out kit” which is just a plastic tote with all the essential power outage supplies like flashlights and batteries.
Suggested Reading: Alternative Energy & Power Outage Supplies
Power Company Issues
This could be caused by human error, equipment failure, or routine maintenance, but power companies are bound to have issues. Considering the population and our electrical needs, the electric companies do a good job of keeping the power on.
Effects: In a situation like this, the odds are we will be without power for less than 24 hours. In this scenario the power company is likely to know the cause of the problem and be able to react very quickly.
Most power outages that cause the grid to go down for an extended period are caused by natural disasters. The amount of people affected, and the time they are affected depends on the severity of the natural disaster. A tornado will do far less damage to the electric grid than an earthquake or hurricane.
Effects: A power outage caused by a natural disaster could last days, weeks, and even longer. In a natural disaster the priority is always safety and saving lives. Power will be restored as soon as possible, but depending on the damage, it could take a while.
Suggested Reading: Preparing for Natural Disasters
Man Made Causes
Possibly the most common cause of a power outage is human error. This could be a construction crew damaging power lines, or someone plowing their car into a transformer. This has happened to us a handful of times, and the longest the power has been out is 20 hours.
Effects: This is one of those inconveniences I mentioned above. Unless you require special medical equipment, it is highly unlikely a situation like this would be life threatening. It also a good excuse to pull out your batteries, flashlights and other power outage supplies and put them to the test.
This type of situation in more likely in rural areas, but not unheard-of in urban or suburban areas. High winds could cause a tree to fall on power lines, lightning or an animal could damage electrical equipment. Birds are unlikely to get electrocuted by power lines, but squirrels and rodents can wreak havoc on electrical equipment.
Effects: While it may take a while for the power company to pinpoint the problem, the odds are something like this wouldn’t be long lasting. Most power companies have taken measures to minimize damage caused by animals but it’s still possible.
Possible Grid Failure Causes
All the power outage causes listed above (other than natural disasters) are unlikely to cause any issues beyond “first world problems”. When the power goes out for a short period of time it gives us an opportunity to use our supplies and learn from our mistakes. A larger grid down scenario however is altogether different.
A power grid failure than lasts weeks or months will require more than the basic supplies and could affect more than just our homes. It could affect supply lines, critical infrastructure, public services, communications and many deaths.
We would literally be set back 150 years. While that is a big issue, the bigger issue is that as a society we are unequipped to handle that. People have lost the skills required to live 100 years ago and couldn’t grow a carrot if their life depended on it.
On the larger scale of disaster scenarios, terrorism is a pesky gnat. Not to minimize the effects of a terrorist attack but they’re unlikely to cause a disaster on a national scale. The odds of a terrorist attack affecting us personally is very slim, but is not impossible.
Terrorism isn’t limited to people from the middle east. Domestic terrorists and social justice warriors could also target the power grid. You could argue that it might even be more likely
This sort of goes along with terrorism but also includes other countries that would do us harm. There is no way to be sure what exactly a country has going on behind the scenes, but we can be sure their capabilities go beyond what we know about.
These days the good hackers don’t live in their parents basement, they work for the government. You can be sure that our government either has, or is working on ways to cripple an enemies power grid. If we are doing it, you can be sure other countries are as well.
EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse)
I won’t go into a lot of detail about what an EMP could do to the power grid because I recently did the video below that goes into detail about the effects of an EMP. An EMP is possibly the biggest large scale threat to our national power grid.
When the detonation of an EMP weapon occurs, 3 types of electromagnetic pulses occur. These are the E1, E2 and E3 pulses. I explain more about these in the PDF as well as in the article I wrote about the increasing threat of an EMP.
In the recent past an EMP was seen as something that was over hyped by preppers and something straight out of science fiction. These days people are starting to understand what a real threat this is becoming.
The PDF mentioned in the video is no longer available at The Preparedness Experience. To get this PDF (and a few other bonuses) just fill out the form below…
CME (Coronal Mass Ejection)
Coronal mass ejections that are strong enough to cause real damage are rare, but they do happen. The 2 CME’s that have happened in recent history are the Carrington event in 1859 and the solar flare of 1989 that caused a 9 hour power failure in Quebec.
The Carrington event affected telegraphs during the industrial revolution, but our technology is much more advanced since then. A CME does not produce E1 and E2 issues that an EMP does, but it does produce the E3 affect which would wreak havoc on the power grid.
The time it takes for a CME to travel to Earth depends on how strong it is. Depending on it’s severity it could take less than 1, or up to 4 days to reach earth. The Carrington event took 17 hours to travel from the Sun to the Earth.
War & Conflict
While there hasn’t been an invading force on American soil in the last 2 centuries, the world is getting much smaller. Ships can cross the ocean in days, and planes and missiles can reach the U.S. in hours.
Battlefield America is much more likely today than ever before. Because technology has advanced so much in the past century, having boots on the ground is not as necessary as it used to be. The first strike could be shutting down critical military infrastructure to minimize initial casualties.
Life Without Electricity
Electricity is something we often take for granted. Just like the water dripping from our faucets, it’s always there. But just like water, we only realize how important it is when it’s gone.
In the show this week we also covered a few of the main issues we would have during a power outage or a complete grid failure.
- Phones and Laptops
- Health equipment
- Heating and Cooling
- Water Supply (well pumps)
As I stated earlier, preparing to live without electricity should be one of our top priorities. Just about every disaster scenario we can think of involves the possibility of the power being out.
Other than food, most of the preparedness supplies we have are centered around living without the modern conveniences. From flashlights to battery banks, these supplies are useful if the power goes out for a few hours, or a few weeks. PS, don’t forget about the batteries.