Blackout: The Layered Approach to Coping

By: Tom Chatham

The electrification of the nation and to a larger degree the technology now seen as a necessary part of American life, are the Achilles heel of life in this country today. From cooking to sanitation to transportation to communication, most Americans can no longer do even menial day to day tasks without some kind of electrically powered equipment. We have come to rely on technology more and more as a crutch rather than a lever.

We have been blessed as a society to have tools that can multiply our strengths while covering up our weaknesses. When technology fails on a monumental scale, those strengths disappear and our weaknesses are laid bare before us. When this happens we must cope with it one way or another. Society has become so fragile today that the coping mechanism of most people is a distant memory relegated to our forefathers who could convert a four legged creature into their next meal.

Coping is a matter of knowledge and equipment. The more of both that you have in a situation, the more coping ability you will have. Ever wonder why a soldier heading off to war is so cocky? Knowledge and equipment. If you have good equipment and know how to use it your confidence is through the roof when something happens. It gives you the sense of control you need to overcome obstacles. Of the two, knowledge is by far the most important item to have. You may not have any equipment but if you need to start a fire and know 10 ways to do it without matches, you will eventually find what you need to make it happen. Knowing what to look for is the key to overcoming that obstacle.

When the power disappears and you are left with a room full of electronic paperweights, you need to have the knowledge and equipment to move to the next level of sustainability to cope with the problem. On one end of the spectrum you have full service, full bore idiot proof electrification to do most of your thinking for you. On the other end of the spectrum you have the clothes on your back and the mush between your ears with the power of a small appliance bulb. Knowledge turns that small appliance bulb into a finely tuned laser capable of destroying any obstacle. With the proper knowledge and equipment you can maintain your sustainability near the upper end of the spectrum no matter how bad it gets.

There are different levels to preparing for loss of power. It can go from a temporary loss for a few hours to total loss of all electrical equipment for years. The greater the problem is the lower down the levels you will go making sustainability more challenging. The following levels will deal mainly with power concerns so only brief mention will be given to food, water, sanitation and security concerns. FEMA recommends that every home have a two week supply of food and water. That should be a minimum.

Level one – normal operations with full access to electrical devices and power

Level two- disruption of power systems for less than 24 hours

Level three- loss of power systems up to two weeks

Level four- loss of power systems for two weeks or longer

Level five- catastrophic destruction of power systems and some electrical devices

Level six- catastrophic destruction of power systems globally along with most or all electrical devices

Level one- All systems are functional and nothing out of the ordinary is experienced. All creature comforts are available and accessible.

Level two- Power disruptions are experienced for any of a number of reasons. The power outage will require some alternate systems to be employed to maintain normalcy. Refrigeration will cease so units should remain closed to prevent frozen foods from defrosting. Alternative power systems may include generators, power inverters or alternate energy systems to maintain limited power requirements although for this level no power is likely necessary given the short duration. This level is a survivable event even without preparations except for individuals that require medical devices for lifecare which must be addressed. As a minimum, flashlights, portable radios, candles and matches/lighters should be kept. Foods such as dry cereal, power bars and fresh produce will be sufficient to maintain most people until power returns. Bottled water, fruit juice and sodas will provide sufficient hydration under most circumstances until power returns. The security situation should be relatively normal in most cases.

Level Two

Flashlights
Extra batteries
Portable radio
Candles
Matches/lighters
Fire extinguisher 5 lb.
1st aid kit

Level Three- After the initial 24 hrs. power disruptions will start to have serious consequences for society. Refrigerated foods that are not eaten risk spoilage. People will begin to suffer from dehydration as water supplies disappear. After 72 hrs. the security situation will degrade sufficiently in urban areas to become a threat. At this level an alternative energy source is necessary to maintain living standards at acceptable levels. A generator can be utilized to maintain refrigeration and charge batteries. Generators only provide power when running and they use a lot of fuel when run continuously so to make the best use of small fuel supplies a generator should only be run a few hours in the morning and in the late afternoon to maintain refrigeration, charge batteries and cook food. The remainder of the time a power inverter/battery pack can provide limited power for CF lights and communications to keep informed. This system will provide you with power 24/7 while using the least amount of fuel which will likely be difficult to find. To conserve power, camping equipment can fill some needs such as propane for cooking and lighting. A pressure cooker can also reduce power usage by allowing some foods to be cooked much faster. Sanitation during this time will become more difficult. Urban systems will require a portable system to be used while independent septic systems will only require a supply of water to continue functioning. For apartment dwellers, a battery/inverter system recharged with a vehicle may be the most viable system for electrical power while using propane for cooking. A two week food and water supply would get you through this level.

Level Three

All level two items plus

Generator
Fuel – 5 gal. to 50 gal. depending on duration
3,000w power inverter
Deep cycle batteries
HD Extension cords
Sanitation, town system – portable toilet and waste storage means. Water to bathe
Sanitation, septic system – water supply to flush and bathe, 5 gal./person/day
Heat source to cook – Camp stove, grill, hot plate
Propane – for stove/grill 1 lb. per day
Water storage – drinking/cooking/sanitation
Manual can opener
CF bulbs
Water filter
Pressure cooker 4 qt.
1st aid kit
Defense weapon and ammo

Level Four – If this level is reached it is assumed that food and water supplies are not being transported so it is no longer viable to stay in an urban area and relocation to a less populated area is likely necessary. Without power a sustainable situation will require resources and space that are only possible in suburban or rural areas. This level can last months or even years depending on the situation. Because the duration will not be known at the time, it must be assumed at this point that the situation will continue for some time and a sustainable system of power and supply must be utilized. Renewable energy systems and food production will be a core necessity of this level. Propane appliances would be beneficial especially for refrigeration.

Level Four

All items in level three plus

Fuel Storage – 500 gal.
Propane – 400 lbs.+
Solar Panels – 1kw +
Additional deep cycle batteries
Wind turbine – 500w +
Wood gassifier system
Wood stove -Alternate source of heating/cooking
Tools – Chainsaw w/maintenance eq. & oil, ax, wood saw
Source of wood
Seeds
Garden tools
Canning supplies
Pressure cooker 21 qt.
Source of water / rain catchment system
Hunting weapon and ammo
Fishing supplies
Salt – 100 lbs +
Medical supplies

Level Five – This situation will likely result from an EMP/CME of limited duration and scope. In this instance some devices may still work if power is available so alternate sustainable systems must be utilized. Destruction of major components may impede recovery for many months making self sufficiency a key to survival. The difference between levels four and five are that a level five situation would likely disable or destroy electrical equipment that would be difficult to replace short term. In level four this equipment is still usable if the necessary power can be found to run it.

Level Five

Generator- inside a faraday cage for storage
Wood gassifier system
Tools – ax, wood saw
Solar panels/wind turbine/hydropower
Deep cycle batteries
Woodstove – heating and cooking
Canning supplies
Seeds
Garden tools
Pressure cooker 21 qt.
Source of water / rain catchment system
Candles
Matches/lighters
Fire extinguisher 5 lb.
Hunting weapon and ammo
Fishing supplies
Salt 100 lbs. +
Misc. medical supplies w/antibiotics
Mountain bike
Tube type radio – DC power

Level Six – This level would be the result of severe space weather or earth changes that cause catastrophic damage to electrical components worldwide. The damage to electrical equipment would be complete making recovery of technology a long and difficult process. With technology destroyed, sustainable systems from the past would have to be revived to provide the necessities of society. This is the worst case scenario. Alternative mechanical systems would be needed to rebuild the technology base. Computer chips are the pinnacle of our technology and the production of them requires several layers of technology to produce unlike the casting and assembly of things such as an engine.

Level Six

Wood cookstove
Tools – ax, wood saw, files
Canning supplies
Seeds
Garden tools
Pressure cooker 21 qt.
Source of water / rain catchment system
Water filter
Candles
Matches/lighters/flint
Fire extinguisher 2 – 5 lb.
Hunting weapon and ammo
Fishing supplies
Salt 100 lbs. +
Misc. medical supplies w/antibiotics
Mountain bike w/repair parts
Grain mill
Blacksmithing tools
Spinning wheel
Floor loom
Mechanical clock
Gramophone w/vinyl records
Typewriter w/extra ribbons
Slide rule
Gas appliances – refrigeration, heating, cooking, hot water, lighting
Bio-gas production unit
Steam engine – machine power
Hydro systems – machine power

While this listing is not exhaustive, it provides a window into the various levels a person will encounter over different time spans and situations. Some forethought about your particular living situation will allow you to devise a plan that will allow the least amount of deprivation during the situation you encounter. The time to prepare is before the lights go out. Once it happens it is too late. When this happens, the lack of resources will make your well being entirely dependant on the knowledge you carry. In this instance, knowing what to do if you are caught without resources will allow you to react quickly and decisively in the first few critical hours of an event.

A brief look at the various levels of potential blackout will help you determine what resources are best suited to your particular circumstances. Every plan needs to be tailored to individual needs and expectations. In a level six situation, most of the equipment to repair the technology base will be destroyed so antiquated technology systems will be essential to long term recovery. Since most of this old technology is no longer common knowledge, the storage of this knowledge is necessary outside of the technology systems for later retrieval. This can also be said for any necessary knowledge during short term situations as well.

In November 2003 NASA detected a CME that they later determined to be at the X28+ level. Fortunately this was not directed toward Earth. If it had interacted with Earth we would be living in a very different world today. In 2005 an X17 was recorded and in 2006 an X9 was recorded just to give an idea of how often and extreme these occurrences are. You must decide what level you should prepare for and seek the means to overcome the situation. When you prepare for the worst case scenario, you will be well prepared for almost any contingency and anything less should be easily handled, but that level of preparedness is a personal choice.

Coping with the loss of technology is a personal responsibility that cannot be farmed out to others. When the unexpected happens it is the responsibility of the head of the household to continue to care for their family no matter what situation they find themselves in. It is always good to have outside help when the unexpected happens but to rely solely on others in these circumstances is to put your family at great potential unnecessary risk.

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Posted on November 1, 2013, in Preparedness and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Tom there is a lot of excellent information here. I would however caution you to rethink your daily living resources for level 4 and longer.

    These scenarios immediately escalate Security Ops to number one priority. SecOps will also be a #1 priority until a significant population die off and that would mean vigilance from 2 weeks to easily one year.

    What is critical is that in no way form or fashion can you demonstrate you are better off than the pitiful masses around you. running ANYTHING at ANY TIME will put you on the radar of ALL desperate people within earshot. If you want to play rambo then that too will bring even more unwanted attention. You must practice stealth and deception.

    The key to survival and to rebuilding your place in a new civilization depends on minimizing your daily requirements to facilitate stealth and deception. That means for any scenario beyond short term, you design your preparations to do without modern conveniences or to set an absolute minimum and find ways to NEVER draw attention to yourself.

    This is what survival will look like in a grid or societal collapse.

    • All good points Ric, however as stated in the article, the primary focus in this article was on energy needs. When taken as a whole, all of the concerns of a collapse would fill a book. In the event of a long term technological collapse it would be impossible to rebuild the infrastructure in secret so the incorporation of society would be required to some extent at some point.

      • Yes, the incorporation of society will be required at some point, but I think my point was that could be a far longer point into the future and adaption to a long view and a simpler lifestyle will be just as important as being able to gather massive resources before the SHTF event.

  2. There is a whole generation of Americans that will turn into near zombies when they are unplugged from their ability to twit/text/connect with their fellow twits.

    I have a neighbor (that fancies himself a “homesteader” because he has a few perpetually under cared for cows) come over once after a 1/2 day power outage, whining about “when do you think it will get fixed ?”. His wife can’t FaceBook, his kids can’t be babysat by the TV ( or “home schooled” as they would call it ), he can’t internet…..whole world has come to an end.

    I replied maybe an hour….maybe a few days….it will happen when it happens. “TOTALLY Un-aceptable” he moans…..as if that is gonna do anything to fix it….ahahahaaaaaa

    Yeah….wait until the power goes down for years. Might actually be a good thing, clearing out a whole lot of deadwood. Like a fire in the forest.

    • Right you are Andy. I remember reading a study about young people and their electronic devices. It said they become addicted to them just like an alcoholic or drug addict and when they lose them for any length of time they start going through withdrawals the same way. When this happens for good, these people are going to be in a sorry state. The next time your neighbor comes over complaining about something like this just smile and say, welcome to the country life pal.

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