Record heat waves are the new normal, so power outages are about to get a lot more common.
Our grids are stressed by factors including hotter and longer lasting heat waves, high energy usage from crypto companies, and hydropower disturbances due to drought. In May, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit organization that monitors the nation’s electric grids, released its annual assessment of the country’s grid conditions… and things aren’t looking good. A huge area of the U.S. stretching from California to Texas and covering a lot of the Midwest is at high risk of power emergencies due to extreme weather and heat.
Of course, blackouts aren’t new. Many households experience them during and after extreme weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes, and every few years a big one hits the U.S. power grid. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the largest blackout in the country’s history occurred in August of 2003, knocking out power for about 50 million people across New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Connecticut. It even disrupted power for some people in Canada.
But as the weather gets hotter, communities that aren’t used to outages are probably going to see them on a regular basis. And big cities that are no stranger to blackouts are going to have to deal with many more.
Gizmodo’s consumer tech experts have already put together a list of the best gadgets to help you endure a power outage. Here’s some more tips about what steps you can take to get ready.
How to plan ahead for blackouts
Don’t wait for the lights to start flickering before you take stock of supplies. Check if you have any candles or flashlights in your home. If not, stash candles, a lighter or two and some matches in cool and dry place like a cupboard. Invest in a few decent flashlights and make sure that you have the right batteries for the model. If you aren’t a fan of disposable batteries, make sure to boost your rechargeables before you think you might need them.
Consider investing in tech that would support your blackout prep, like a decent power bank for charging cell phones and smaller tablets. You might also buy an extra charging cord that connects to that power bank. And consider one of the really large portable power banks on the market, like Anker’s PowerHouse charger, that are powerful enough to keep a small fridge going for a few hours, and have enough outlets to charge several devices at once. And since batteries don’t last forever, you might add a solar powered charger to your prep list as well.
If you or anyone in your household are especially vulnerable to heat, try investing in a battery powered fan and keeping some instant ice packs around. If it’s hard to get to a cooler area, these two could help keep you cool while you wait for the lights to turn back on. Do you take medication that needs to stay cool? Keep a small cooler in hand that you put some ice or ice packs in along with meds and perishable food. Some outages last for days, so if there’s space and safe storage, keep a grill and charcoal or propane gas nearby for cooking if you have an electric stove. If cooking over a flame isn’t possible, keep about 3 or 4 days worth of bottled water and shelf stable food that you can eat without having to prep.
If you don’t have a home first aid kit with essential gauze and bandages, buy one or two depending on the number of people living with you. If there’s a kit in your household, make sure to stock up on necessary supplies like extra bandages. On your way back home from stocking up on items for the kit, take some cash out at an ATM. You may need to buy something during an outage and card processors may not be available.
What to do during a power outage
If an outage occurs during an especially bad heat wave or humid day, figure out the safest way to stay cool. Sit somewhere outside if there’s better circulation or near an open window. If you can safely access a basement in your home, consider staying there. This area of a building tends to be cooler than the upper floors, which could make it a convenient place to hangout until the lights turn on again.
If your phone’s battery is being used up faster than intended, try changing modes when connecting it to a charger. Devices like phones recharge faster and take up less power to charge when they’re on airplane mode. If you have a limited battery on your portable power bank, switch your cell or tablet into that mode. If that isn’t possible, try to close out of some of your apps to conserve battery. Afterwards, use your phone sparingly to conserve battery and prioritize any group chats with family and nearby friends or phone alerts in the case that there are any updates about the outage.
If you can, avoid driving during an outage. It could be dangerous to be out and about without traffic lights and street lights to help navigate cars. Organizations like the Red Cross recommend using a car only in case of an emergency, but if there is not immediate danger from the blackout, it’s best to stay put and wait for updates.
A blackout preparedness plan doesn’t have to be perfect at all to be effective, it just has to exist and help meet some basic needs. Going without electricity for a few days or even just a few hours sucks, but the least you can do is to think ahead so that what starts off as an inconvenience doesn’t become a dangerous situation.