One of my favorite books is “One Second After” by William Forstchen. The short novel tells the tale of a small-town family dealing with the effects of the power grid going down, most likely from an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) blast over the breadbasket of America. The book is eye-opening as the emergency presented plays out and it made me reconsider what I have on hand should disaster strike. Let’s face it, we’ve experienced more simple power outages than EMP blasts. The possibility and probability of losing power are great enough to warrant training for it. One of the best ways to assess your response to the inevitability of losing power is to stage a 72-hour power outage drill in your own home. Believing in the scenario is paramount to the process and what it reveals will strengthen your level of preparedness.
When you are setting up your mock 72-hour emergency scenario, you have a choice of two different approaches. You can run the scenario, as is, without additional prep or you can spend a given amount of time staging your house for success. Perhaps you already have flashlights in each room. Perhaps you already have a backup method for boiling water and cooking food. Maybe you have a water barrel in the backyard to collect rain. You may have existing preparation in place that will ensure your success. Part of the fun, if you want to call it fun, is learning where your weaknesses are. Everyone has a solution for food. Most of us have enough food in our pantry to last us a good week or more. We also carry plenty of food (read “Fat”) around our midsection to get us through 72 hours. What most people don’t give a second thought to until it presents itself is where all that food goes when it leaves our body. I know it is a shitty topic but having enough water on hand in your bathroom to manually flush your toilet is something you should consider. Those who live in natural disaster-prone areas know the importance of filling their bathtub with water before a storm comes in. This water may not be the best to drink but it can be used to send waste through your home’s piping. Understand to the quality of bottled water you get at the store will vary and some water will taste better than others. Another important 72-hour power outage challenge is preparing for warmth. At home, you have the luxury of wearing as many clothes as necessary from your closet. However, it is much more comfortable if you can control the climate around you. Each year, people die from carbon monoxide poisoning trying to use gas grills as fireplaces. A better option is using a dedicated heater in a single room of your house that you can monitor more closely. Keep in mind, any open flame creates a potential fire hazard. You may want to reassess what you consider comfortand keep some extra sweaters handy.
The 72-hour power outage challenge isn’t as much of a surprise when you are the only person dealing with the emergency scenario. It is definitely more complicated when you have to incorporate other members of your family. Initiating the challenge isn’t a surprise to one but it can be set up as a surprise to others. To start the challenge, you can turn off the main breaker in your house. This is the most abrupt manner of cutting your power. Be careful with this in cold weather if you have electric heat as plummeting temps can burst your pipes. If you want to err on the side of caution, you can ease into your 72-hour challenge gradually by unplugging certain items in your house one at a time. You may end up practicing the 72-hour challenge in shorter durations starting with a day of now power, then a weekend, and finally the full 72 like a true emergency. Take stock of the appliances in your house that use outlets. Note what battery-operated resources require recharging and determine if you have a way to juice them up without plugging them into a wall.
An important element to any mock scenario training is to have a purpose. It is easy to assume a role or set yourself in a situation. What is the task you and your family must accomplish? Sitting around will lead to boredom. Quite literally, think constructively. Think about having to build something that will affect your survival in your home. Ever try basic carpentry without power tools? Ever attempt baking in a Dutch oven with just coals? Take note of what you can do when you lose the precious resource of power. It will give you an idea of what low-tech tools are available that will take the place of more modern tools.
One of the aspects of a mock power outage or emergency scenario at home is how quiet your surroundings will be. You won’t hear the motor to your refrigerator running or its ice maker. You won’t hear the background noise your television may provide you. You’re also not going to hear your garage door opener, the doorbell, or any other device that we forget is linked to electricity. You may notice the sound of water dripping off a faucet you didn’t notice before. Some will consider the 72-hour challenge boring without the ability to watch television, listen to the radio ( do people still listen to the radio?), and connect to the WiFi. During a 72-hour power outage challenge, you may find renewed interest in simple games to pass the time or even paperback books. My suggestion, if you have a movie you enjoy, get the book version of the story and use your memory and imagination to rewatch it in your head.
Depending on how seasoned your family is, you can add in the value of training modifiers. You can say “the refrigerator is off limits” and make your family live off of the rotation of canned goods in your pantry. You can also, at the end of your emergency situation, decide the correct course of action is moving you or your whole family to a secure location. Perhaps you determine how long it takes to grab what is essential. Maybe the purpose of the practical bugout isn’t a question of how (long it takes) but rather what (is taken under a time restriction.)
Immediately following your 72-hour power outage at home drill, you should conduct an after-action review. This should expose the issues you had during the event. Look at what you did right and where you experienced trouble. If you are reviewing with your family, make sure you set expectations like “don’t complain unless you have a solution.” There is no room for complaining in a disaster. This will avoid any unnecessary chatter and griping that is cancerous to the process.
In your after-action review, look at alternative options to power equipment. The 72-hour scenario is meant to be done without the power grid. Next time around, allow yourself the use of the power you harness with battery packs, solar panels, and so forth. Look at emergency food options that don’t require refrigeration or any power to prepare. Determine what your water consumption looked like and if you had enough between drinking, meal prep, and using it for sanitation needs. Maybe you discovered a way to locate or gather water in case your supply runs out.
One of the survival priorities often overlooked and one that should be brought up in your AAR is the concept of protection. When your power goes out, does it affect your home’s security? Your emergency may only be starting when this happens. Do you have the ability to light up your property if that is what is warranted? What is the plan if you must defend yourself and police resources are tied up on other calls? During 2012, I recall police letting me off with a ticket for running a stoplight that seemed to creep up on me. It was an honest mistake and they told me they have had a lot of calls coming in and couldn’t be bothered with me. Think about that one for a second. We are always concerned about the basics of shelter, food, water, first-aid. What happens if your number one survival priority becomes self-defense? If you aren’t prepared to respond, who do you think is coming to save you?
Rinse and Repeat:
There’s an old expression I'll paraphrase. Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you don’t get it wrong. Just because you practiced once, doesn’t mean you know it all. One repetition of an exercise is barely enough to claim any proficiency. Think of it this way. You probably don’t go to the range and fire a single shot from a box of ammunition and call it a day. You probably shoot more than a single box of ammo in each training session. If you’re not content with one round at the range, you shouldn’t be content with one practice session of the 72-hour power outage drill. Of course, the 72-hour drill is more of a time commitment than the time it takes to send 50 rounds downrange. That said, strike a balance between your normal life and training. Just make sure you don’t settle for a single repetition. You’ll learn more each time you apply yourself and the ultimate goal is to make the 72-hour timeframe less difficult. Remember too, most emergency situations are resolved within 72 hours. What happens when yours lasts longer. Be prepared to extend your emergency training an extra day or two.