North Carolina Blackout December 2022

Posted by Kevin Estela on Dec 8th 2022

It’s Sunday December 4 and I woke up around 2am in the morning when my phone started vibrating over and over. I just wrapped up a 2-Day wilderness survival course in Aberdeen, NC and fell asleep earlier than usual. My friends and Fieldcraft Survival NC fam, Gerry and Doc Mac, both messaged me about losing power in two different neighboring towns. I slowly realized I didn’t hear the sound of the refrigerator running and the ever present glow of night lights lining my hallways was gone. As the sunrise slowly started to creep along the horizon, more messages came in from other sources stating the power would be back on by 10pm. As it turned out, the power wouldn’t come on for days. Some actor(s) decided to shoot electrical substations in the area, knocking out power to 40,000. Their actions inconvenienced many and highlighted the vulnerability of the energy grid. They also exposed the weaknesses in everyone’s preparedness and ways to create a better plan moving forward.

Personal Security

Blackouts are a great time for crimes against property. Surveillance cameras may be down and electronic theft devices may be as well. During the blackout here in NC, there were reported crimes against the local businesses. Add elevated emotional levels to this and you have a community of people on edge. During the blackout, a curfew from 9pm at night to 5am was in place. When I visited with Gerry, his wife, and his daughter, I made sure my AR pistol or PCC was within reach. A blackout does not allow you to skirt laws and if you decide to go renegade, you’ll eventually have to be held accountable. That said, I worried the actions against the power station were potentially the first in a wave of attacks. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Each night, I locked my doors with a double and triple check. I try to keep a low profile in my neighborhood but you never know who will target your house if they’ve seen you walk in or out with supplies. Security is a top priority and during the blackout this was especially true.

Bugging Out and Driving Safety

As word came in that the power would not be restored until as late as Thursday 12/8, there was more chatter on Facebook’s community pages for my area. Many decided to up and leave for secondary homes or to friend’s houses in neighboring counties. Bugging out was their choice and I can’t fault them. Gerry went out for some supplies and sent me a photo of a near mile-long line of cars trying to get onto highway 1. I drove around to curb my cabin fever and witnessed a few serious car accidents. Perhaps it was distracted driving, perhaps it was lack of awareness, perhaps it was something else but drivers did not stop at intersections with traffic signals out. Vehicles were also traveling at high rates of speed when they approached turns and they seemed to disregard traffic laws. At a time like this, you have to be exceptionally vigilant as the infrastructure normally in place to remind drivers what to do is down. We like to say you are your own first responder. Let’s add, you are your own executive protection driver too.

Food Preservation

While food is a low priority in a short-term survival situation, food preservation becomes both practical and financially sound in a blackout. We are in a recession and groceries are not inexpensive. Keeping your food at a safe temperature is important and possible with good techniques. Your freezer will keep frozen food in that state for around 48 hours as long as you don’t bleed the cold air in it. A freezer chest may last longer. Your refrigerator will lose cold quicker. You should consume your refrigerated food first, then frozen, then canned and dried. We didn’t have to worry about water but in some situations, water can be affected too. Some elected to move all of their food to portable coolers and others made friends with their neighbors by cooking everything up. The same online message boards on Facebook used for neighborhoods became a place where you could find who had what to trade. Aside from physical goods, these community forums became the place where you could find great ideas and helpful tips from those who were more prepared and knowledgeable than others.

Supply Runs

I did not have to go out but I wanted to. I had enough gas in my vehicle to get me out of the affected area and I wanted to see just how far it extended. 20 minutes away, I started to see more traffic lights working. I stopped at a local Circle K to get a hot cup of coffee and talked to the attendant. They were all out of ice and expected more later that day. I drove one exit up and one mile off the main drag to another Circle K and found a full freezer of ice. Very few were going out of their way. This concept of convenience and inconvenience in an emergency plays out when people are trampled trying to escape a crowded area. If you seek out an inconvenient exit, you’ll have better luck escaping without injury. If you look for supplies where everyone else looks, you won’t find them. You have to go out of your way and away from the masses. During the blackout, the local Food Lion stores gave away one case of water per family. Other places provided free meals and some provided electricity to charge devices and connect to WiFi. Supply runs ran as long as supplies lasted. Thankfully, this was a relatively isolated event and the key to restocking supplies was mobility. Trucks carried what was needed to the blackout zone.

Battery Packs and Emergency Energy

During a blackout, generators are the most common method of turning your home’s electricity on. Generators aren’t the only option though. Battery packs are all that are needed to keep electrical devices running for emergency communication. Even the battery pack from your vehicle may have a USB plug on it to charge your phone over and over. During daylight hours, solar panels made the most sense to keep batteries topped off. Some people used local businesses to conduct work and charge their devices at the same time. It makes sense to have multiple charging options and methods of running your lights. During the power outage, I decided to upgrade my camping stove to run off of a larger propane tank instead of the smaller disposable tanks. Those, by the way, were mostly swallowed up by the local demand and were near impossible to find if you didn’t have them leftover from the camping season.

Comfort in Discomfort

During the blackout, I received many messages from friends who offered up places to stay and assistance if it was needed. I politely declined claiming that it was just like, “camping indoors” for me. To some extent, it was. I had a hard-shell tent around me, running water, a camp stove on top of my stove, plenty to eat, warm clothes to wear, and other luxuries. I didn’t have the option to turn on my television for updates but my phone was working and I could jump online to read updates here and there. While I was comfortable in discomfort, many were not. I felt bad for folks who were borderline going crazy with conveniences we take for granted no longer a light switch, click, or power switch away. Others like me phrased their experiences in a similar way and got along the same way. Jokingly, I said I should have stayed in the woods after my course but the reality was, my apartment was much better appointed than my tent and living out of my 4Runner. A word of advice, learn to become thankful for what you have instead of what you don’t. It is easy to say, “this doesn’t work” and “that doesn’t work” but what you should do is reframe your experience. Focus on what does work and appreciate what you have.

Experience is a great teacher and while this lesson was free, it was costly for those involved. Local grocery stores were out tens of thousands in refrigerated goods. Families with elderly members and medically needy suffered in cooler temperatures. Kids were not able to go to school and programs were disrupted. This event can be viewed as a learning experience and others should not dismiss the points brought up in this blog. It can happen here in NC and it could happen where you are. Had this been the summer, the food would have spoiled sooner and the air-conditioning would have been crippled causing unknown numbers of heat-related illnesses. Preparedness is not a game and you should take it seriously. The perpetrators are still loose and there are many unanswered questions. We do know this. It will happen again and if you are ready for it, you’ll make it through better than most. By the way, this blog would not be complete without a serious thank you to the folks from Duke Energy and all the responders who worked around the clock to get power restored. You are greatly appreciated as is all of your hard work. THANK YOU!