I’m watching the rain and snow beat on my window pane during the first storm of 2012 in Central Oregon. But the rest of the country has already had major winter storms and power blackouts. Millions were left without power, and some areas suffered greatly.
If you lived in those affected areas, let’s hope you were prepared for power outages. Here are some tips to keep you from sitting in the dark.
by Leon Pantenburg
This brings an important topic to the forefront : What happens when high winds, heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures combine to knock out the electricity in your home?
Emergency preparedness means you should have backup systems or plans for heat, lighting and water. If you’re lucky, the power won’t be off long, but batteries are gone after a few days, unless you have a way to recharge them. A generator will only work until it runs out of fuel.
One of the more important aspects of urban survival during winter storms is lighting. Without a lighting plan, you could end up in the dark from when the sun sets at around 5:30 p.m. until dawn. The right lighting supplies can make this situation more bearable.
This scenario is familiar to Tom Dumalt, manager of Globe Lighting in Bend, OR.
Dumalt lived in the Milwaukee, OR., area from 1978 through 1981, he said, when days-long power outages were common. While various battery-operated light sources work well, Dumalt also recommends stocking up with plenty of candles and matches because emergency power only lasts so long.
For the long term, candles may be one of the best choices, he said, because they’re cheap, easily available
and easy to use safely.
And if you’re a scrounger/recycler/prepper, candles are something that is always on the “To-Buy” list. And they have a place in any urban survival kit.
When buying candles for a potential power outage, all you’re really
concerned about is quantity. The aesthetics and mood of a romantic candle-lit dinner will soon wear off, and everyone will soon be more concerned about seeing what is for dinner.
Great places to find really cheap candles are garage and rummage sales and thrift stores. It doesn’t matter if the candles are outdated Christmas or novelty candles, odds-and-ends from a dinner party, or clunky art projects – all they have to do is provide light. Buy all you can find and stockpile them.
Another good lighting choice is the old-fashioned kerosene lamps our grandparents used. My urban survival kit includes several such lanterns and lamps, plus a supply of kerosene to fuel them. A standard Deitz lantern, according to the manufacturer, will burn up to eight hours on one tankfull of fuel. 21st Century Inc 210-32060 Hurricane Lantern No. 30
Other garage sale treasures can include old Coleman gas lanterns. These run on Coleman camp fuel or (in
some cases) unleaded gasoline, and they can be dirt cheap. I was given several once after an estate sale, when nobody would buy them. Repairing them was not difficult, and if I can fix one, so can you.
Generally, the reason gas lanterns don’t work is because of a worn-out pump or from being clogged from dirty fuel. Sometimes a good cleaning is all they need. Repair parts are dirt cheap too, so there is no reason you can’t have several. Coleman Two-Mantle Dual Fuel Lantern with Hard Case
Probably the first consideration is if your lighting source emits carbon monoxide. This odorless gas is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Carbon monoxide results from the incomplete combustion of fuels such as wood, kerosene, gasoline, charcoal, propane, natural gas and oil.
All of these light sources must be used in a well-ventilated area only, Marshall said. Remember, if the electricity is off, so is the fan motor in your furnace, and there may not be a way to circulate air.
Both the American Red Cross and the Bend Fire Department recommend an emergency illumination source that is battery-powered.
In any emergency lighting situation, you should be prepared with battery-operated lamps or flashlights, Marshall said. Be very careful with candles or any open flame.
An important part of any emergency preparations is The Plan. Come up with a plausible lighting scenario for your area, then decide how you will handle it.
Think about your lighting needs when there is no electricity, Dumalt advises. When the sun comes up, will you need a light source to work? If so, can you move the work area to take advantage of sunlight?
Look at window placement as it relates to lighting, he added. Would the best idea be to shut down other areas of the house, and move into a central area that is more easily lighted and heated?
Another consideration is what the lighting needs are when the sun goes down. Decide what area you’ll be in when it becomes dark, Dumalt said, then think about the most effective way to light it for different activities. A single candle might be enough to light one area for certain activities, while more light might be needed later for cooking, bathing or washing clothes.
In some cases, such as two people reading together, a single candle will be enough, Dumalt said. In situations where it can be done safely, you can use a candle or lamp to save batteries.
While you’re picking up candles, stock up on extra batteries, too, and be sure to check your flashlights or electric lanterns to determine which batteries they require.
Here are some emergency power outage tips from the American Red Cross:
- Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer.
- Do not run a generator inside a home or garage.
- If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home’s electrical system.
- Listen to local radio and television for updated information.
- Turn off or disconnect any appliances, equipment (like air conditioners) or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary surges or spikes that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace.
- Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when your power returns.//