“Oh, we never lose power in my part of the Hilltop; there’s too much redundancy in the grid.” That, is what I always tell people. Actually, that is what I used to tell people.
In my twelve years of living in close proximity to downtown, first in the Stadium District and later a mere 1 ¼ miles away on the Hilltop, I’ve never lost power. Not once-not during our regular, epic autumn wind storms which like to fall on a holiday for a memorable namesake, aka the “Hanukah Eve Storm” of 2006, the Inaugural Day Strom of 1993 or the infamous Columbus Day Storm of 1962 (I guess now, it’s the “Indigenous People’s Day Storm”) or the wicked ice storms that occasionally plague our area.
Until yesterday. As I was coming home from work I got a text message from a neighbor I had been communicating with during the day “The power just went out”.
Having lived off the grid in a cabin with no electricity in my twenties and having spent time as a backcountry ranger and river guide living in a tent more often than in a structure, and still being an avid backpacker; it’s pretty easy for me to deal with the minor inconvenience of a few hours/days without electricity.
When I purchased my home four and a half years ago, one of the requirements I had was that it not rely solely on electricity. I had never seen an all-electric home until I moved up here where hydro power was so cheap at one time. It seemed silly to me to rely on a system delivered by flimsy wires in a place with wicked storms and lots of falling trees.
While not everyone is lucky enough to have a home with the ability to burn word, propane or natural gas, there are ways to safely survive a power outage, even in very cold weather.
The first trick is to look at it as an “Indoor Urban Camping Trip”.
Those of us who backpack regularly, are already prepared. My attic nest gets pretty darn cold, so I decided to have some fun and bring one of my sleeping pads and sleeping bags up from the basement.
If you have camping gear, you’re already set. If not, it’s worth picking something up at a military surplus or a garage sale.
If you have kids, it’s a great opportunity to turn an inconvenience into an adventure.
What a great time to build a blanket fort in the living room! It’s warm, fun and adventurous. LED headlamps and flashlights are inexpensive and quite efficient. I even keep a little LED light on my key chain (quite helpful for getting in the house when it’s dark) and read out loud to each other or play cards/board games.
If you’re not lucky enough to have an alternate heat source, building that blanket fort and hunkering down with your family is a good way to stay warm.
Whatever you do, do NOT burn a charcoal grill or portable propane heater inside your home. According to the CDC, over 400 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year many of them improperly and unsafely trying to heat their home during a power outage.
Every home should have a working Carbon Monoxide detector; especially at this time of year!
If you have a BBQ grill, you can use it for cooking, outside and bring the food inside to eat.
Candles and oil lanterns (safely placed so that they can’t be accessed or knocked over by pets or children) are a must.
If you’re lucky enough to have a gas stove, in all but the most modern models, you can light the flame with a match and cook/boil water. It’s also a great mini “campfire” for roasting marshmallows. While cooking is OK, never use a gas stove or oven to heat your home due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
In lieu of that or a BBQ grill, it’s worth picking up a solid fuel “stove” (use ONLY outside or in a separate room with the door closed and windows open for ventilation if you are in an apartment with no easy access outside) for boiling a cup of water.
You want to keep your fridge/freezer closed so keep the cold air in so as not to lose food. Keeping dehydrated backpacking food around, or even Ramen which can be acquired cheaply and easily at any grocery or convenience store, ensures a hot meal.
In sub freezing weather, it’s important to let your faucets drip a bit so that pipes don’t freeze since they won’t be warmed by your heaters/furnace.
I have battery operated tap lights in stairwells around my home, which makes getting around and finding your emergency supplies safe and easy. (Check the batteries in these during time changes as you would your smoke detectors)
A new “emergency” item that comes in very handy is a tiny LED flashlight that holds a couple of cell phone charges worth of power. I keep it next to my desktop computer where it charges by USB. I’m good for cell phone power for 2-3 days without having to go out to my vehicle to charge it.
TPU (Tacoma Public Utilities) did a great job last night keeping everyone informed via social media on their Facebook Page and Twitter (if you’re got that smart phone charged, you can keep up to date)
Everyone is encouraged to call their outages in so that they can be tracked. The number to report power outages in the City of Tacoma is (253) 502-8602
Check out their Website for more information on power outages and safety http://www.mytpu.org/tacomapower/outage-safety/
Be extra careful on dark streets to look out for power lines that may be down. If trees are down, they may have taken power lines with them.
Another great tool to have in your emergency kit is a hand crank radio/flashlight combo. It has AM/FM and weather band radio (for music and news) and a flashlight. Cranking it up is a good way to keep the kids busy.
Last night was just a practice run. We have a long autumn/winter/storm season ahead of us, so now is the time to check/build our emergency kits and come up with an emergency plan.
When something like this happens, please check your neighbors who may be elderly, disabled or have very small children to make sure they are OK and are not using unsafe heating methods which could result in tragedy.