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5 Smart Ways to Respond To a Blackout


30 October 2012

Mr. John Robb always has something interesting to say.  I have subscribed to his news feed for several years.  It has been educational:


5 Smart Ways to Respond to a Blackout
Written By: John Robb

Here are five ways to stay resilient when facing a prolonged blackout.  This list is a little more advanced that buy candles and flashlights.


Stay informed on the loss of power in your area.  A great way to do that is through an outage map.  Many "modern" utility companies have them.

You can find a link to one on their website.  Bookmark it so it's handy.

Here's the one for my area.  It's charting the spread of the outage in real-time, with the number of customers in each town and the number affected by the outage.

It's also interactive, since you can report an outage in your town.  Nicely done.



Report your blackout to the power company.  Make sure the 1-800 number of the power company is written down and in a handy place.

What's the advantage to this?

With many companies, if you report the outage, they will also keep you informed on the progress to return power.  They are usually very good at this (they are able to automate it, so it's really easy for them to do it).

NOTE:  To take advantage of this, you need to have a traditional handset for your phone.  Traditional handsets run off a trick of power from the telephone line.  I'm continuously surprised how many people don't know that wireless base stations don't work during a power outage unless they are plugged into a battery backup system.


Put yourself on your town's reverse 911 call list.

Many towns now have access to inexpensive systems that let them inexpensively robocall everyone in town with important messages (school is cancelled, etc.).

However, you might not get these messages unless you put yourself on the town's "to call" list.


Buy and install a backup generator.  There are more than a few ways to do this. Here's what we did in my home.   We installed 20,000 watt whole house generator.

Here's what it looks like.  I'd take a picture of mine, but it's raining pretty hard outside.


Why is this system resilient?

  • It comes on automatically when power is lost.
  • It produces all of the power we need to run the entire house.  We can now produce all of the electricity we use on premises.
  • It produces power continuously, at nearly the same price as we buy it from the electric company, from natural gas (which seldom suffers an outage).  That means we don't have to refuel it in the storm.

There is one hidden benefit I didn't include on this list.  Now that we can produce our own power, we've become an asset to our community rather than a debit.

Our home is now a refuge for family members and close friends in need of warm bed.  It's also a benefit to our neighbors.  We can provide hot food or a hot shower when needed.

Over time, as we add more production to our home and community, events like this will fail to have a meaningful impact in anything other than in the most extreme and rare case.

NOTE:  Generators like this are in high demand.  There's a long, eight month waiting list.   I'm glad we got on the list right after the storms last year.  So, if you want a system like this before next year's storm season, order it now.

NOTE:  This generator can run on natural gas, propane, and biogas/methane.  It makes my home an energy omnivore.


Live in a town that has a well run municipal power grid.  Experience shows that locally managed grids get back up and running MUCH faster than larger, regional grids.

For example, the August and October blackouts of 2011, lasted nearly a week each.  In contrast, local power companies were able to get back to 100% in a couple of days.

One of the reasons the power outage lasted so long:  the regional power company was being managed to make itself more attractive for buy-out by a larger firm (it's one of the few ways a management team can get rich in a regulated industry that is guaranteed profits).  To accomplish this, these intrepid managerial "risk takers" cut the tree trimming budget by 30%.  Of course, that proved to be a pretty dumb thing to do.

Local ownership of the power system is also a great way to accelerate the local production of energy.  New "microgrid" systems make it possible for local providers to offer many more features than the regional power company, including micro-markets for local providers. Unfortunately, it's tough to buy back infrastructure from the big utility companies.  Boulder, CO is trying to do this right now and it has proven to be very difficult.


Hope to have more tomorrow.  The wind is picking up and the power has flickered a couple of times already.

Resiliently Yours,


PS:  If there is a prolonged period of political and economic failure like we are seeing in Greece and Spain, power production will suffer. What will happen?  You will experience a continuous series of brownouts and rolling blackouts as the power company runs out of funds to buy and produce energy.  You'll also get sudden blackouts as thieves down power lines to steal valuable copper or guerrillas disrupt services.   When that happens, ad hoc grids usually spring up.  They use a rat's nest of local generators and newly strung wires.  These shoddy systems can get very large (multi-megawatt).  These systems are both dangerous and toxic (fumes).   It's much better to have a resilient local microgrid in place, run by a municipal power company, before the regional utility companies run into problems.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    woodNfish · 7 years ago
    The people in Boulder, Co are a bunch of commie whackjobs. The idea of micro grids is about as stupid as it gets and something you'd expect from a bunch touchy-feely morons like you have in Boulder. You can't just drop power into a grid, it has to be managed. This is one reason why power companies fight having to buy excess power from people who have their own generators. If you like exploding power transformers and living in the dark then you are welcome to it.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      russki_top · 7 years ago
      ........and when micro-grids connect to the classic big grid, it's on that utility to manage how it's done. most who set up their own baby grid don't do it to make money in buy-back schemes, they do it because it's a crap-shoot as to whether or not your neighborhood (or home office, or in-house medical suite to care for an elderly loved one, or whatever else requires back-up power in your world) will qualify with the big utility's restoration plan. curiously, when it's connected to a natural gas power supply, you don't have to generate constantly and have some form of excess outlet, your system just cuts off when not required to generate. crazy whack jobs.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    peter · 7 years ago
    And thank God too I live in Minnesota!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    anon · 7 years ago
    Found the original post after some googling.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      anon · 7 years ago
      trying again to hyperlink
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pat · 7 years ago
    I would add a #6. Be armed and be aware. You never know what kinds of people are prowling around in emergencies where you may not have lights operating in your neighborhood or your home.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TheOldMan · 7 years ago
    20 Kw is a bit agressive for most homes. I live in the Santa Cruz mtns and have been through earthquakes ('89) and more winter storms than I can recall when the power went down for a week or more. Through it all, I used a 4kw and now an 8.5 kw gasoline powered generator with manual transfer switches. I don't want it starting in the nigbt or when we are not home, IMHO it's a waste of fuel. I keep 20gal of gas that I rotate to keep fresh, which also comes in handy when my wife "forgets" to gas up her car. OTOH I also have propane for cooking and heating as well as several cords of firewood with a firebox. Anyway I can easily run the house with 8.5kw by cutting out the hot tub and pool pumps breakers and that includes three refrigerators. More importantly is to make sure that all sensitive (and expensive!) electronics are on UPS. Generator power is notoriously "dirty" especially as you get close to the max capacity of your generator. A 20kw autostart system will easily cost you > $10k whereas you can get a great 5-10kw portable for
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Popsiq · 7 years ago
    Don't forget to get that fancy 20 kw generator hooked into the household service. You just can't run an extension cord in through the outside plug and expect the ennertainment system to work. If you can afford the generator, you can afford the electrical re-work.

    Running a primitive system for heat and cooking will be cheaper if not almost as effective, and the there won't be any electrical glow to attract scavengers.

    Don't forget to leave the bathrrom light 'on' in case that utility callback doesn't work. (They'll probably be too busy to be calling, or emailing everybody.)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gump · 7 years ago
    That 20KW generator looks awesome in your yard! Man, I wish I had one of those next to my rose garden. I would put it in front of my azaleas so as to hide their hideous flowers and follage. Just like the picture!

    btw, is that image photoshop'd? Looks like it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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