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Because of our line of work in power quality, we confront the problems associated with blackouts often. And while we offer some equipment to alleviate certain problems associated with blackouts, I thought I would share few tips and advice culled from our own experiences as well as those with customers. 

1) Always have half a tank of gas in the car. 

This would odd thing to led off the list but it leads precisely because it is often overlooked. In the event of a blackout, your car may prove to be a quite valuable resource. A brief anecdote to illustrate this. 

In 2010, the entire county of San Diego went dark from a massive equipment failure. As more and more businesses & offices closed for the rest of the day, many commuters were faced with traffic jams because traffic lights were not functioning normally if they were functioning at all. Some ran out of gas on the way home, others futilely pulled into gas stations with non functioning pumps becoming stranded till power was restored. 

Within a couple of hours, the cell phone networks for most of the carriers went down so information suddenly was reduced to radio announcements. Some were lucky enough to have battery powered radios but the majority of us relied upon our car radios. 

All that said, once you are home you should remain so unless told to evacuate. The roads should be left open for emergency personnel. 

2) Make a blackout kit

Put aside the following items in a place that can easily be found and accessed (even in the dark) with the following items; batteries, candles, matches/lighter, flashlight and/or battery powered lamp. While FEMA has a list of items for an emergency or disaster, this kit is scaled down to simply finding your way around. 

3) Do not open the refrigerator or freezer unless absolutely necessary. 

Food in the fridge will stay cool for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A half full freezer will keep food cold for 24 hours if it is unopened. The USDA has a quick fact sheet dealing with keeping food safe in a blackout

4) Turn the power off on everything you can especially your air conditioner

When the power comes back on some devices have such an high start up current, they may stress the system and cause another failure. This happens more in areas where air conditioning is a must. The start up current for an air conditioner is much higher than when it is up and running. Given its normal power draw, that is quite a bit of juice the A/C is consuming when started up. Now multiply that as everyone's A/C unit goes on at the same time and you can envision the problem. 

5) Keep Calm & Make the Best of Your Time

Remaining calm in a stressful situation benefits yourself as well as the people enduring the situation with you. You also may find this time strangely liberating. Without the tethers of our technological society, you may find yourself seeking out your neighbors for entertainment. You may have actual conversations with your family. Stranger things have happened! 

Written by Ryan Cox — October 10, 2012

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