(2005, Contributed by Oilman2)
Well, let’s talk about what might cause this very prickly problem. As I live in suburban Houston, Texas, likely culprits are a hurricane, severe thunderstorm or tornado taking out the power infrastructure. And since we are speaking of today and the near future, it could also be a disruption of fuel supply to the power company, or a flood inundating the power plant, or even terrorists destroying several plants connected to the Texas electrical grid. Now, I don’t particularly buy into terrorists doing this, but for those of you hungry for terrorist activities, it is a valid ‘whatif’.
Now, the typical suburban water setup in the Houston area is via local MUDs (that is Municipal Utility Districts for you non-Texans), which typically supply water, sewer and other local utility services. In my area, each MUD has one or several water wells, and usually sewage treatment plants as well. Each of these has independent electrical generators capable of handling power outages, but NOT typically capable of long term operation off-grid (off the electrical grid). So it is likely that water will still be available, but might have interruptions due to generator failures. Sewage treatment is largely passive, with the exception of sludge pumps, transfer pumps and aerators. A generator can typically handle these intermittent needs, so let’s assume sewage is also something that continues to function, but could also become sporadic.
The phone companies (those which actually OWN the lines and the switching systems- (i.e. Southwestern Bell) have lower power requirements, and generators which are designed for longer outages. It is likely that the phone system will still work just fine. Your cable system will bite the dust, as most of the cable companies have no provision for off-grid power. Your cell phone may or may not work – it depends on how they are set up. Let’s assume they cease to function for the sake of argument. And TV is toast along with radios…..except for your car system and battery powered boom box.
It’s Saturday morning, and you just came home from buying fishing gear at your local Wal-Mart, when… pfft! All the power goes off. You wait, and the wife drives up about 4 hours later after her <insert activity here> and says she heard on the radio that all of <insert YOUR area here> was without power for at least 2 weeks due to….<insert your pick of disaster here>. About this time the kids get home from <insert kids activity here> on their bikes and are complaining about how hot it is, whining for their A/C, so…
There you are in your <insert footage> square foot suburban home with the granite kitchen counters, wine cooler, giant refrigerator and massive deep freeze in the kitchen or laundry room You suddenly realize you are about to become the owner of a potential mass of corruption, as both your freezer and fridge are shut down but full of food just waiting to rot into one incredibly nasty mess…..
Action Item #1 – Save Perishable Food!!
While it is possible that the local grocery also has generators designed to handle some outages, it is more likely that these generators are under-sized for the actual cooling of all the items in the store long term. If the power company is having trouble getting fuel, then Kroger or Safeway and most other grocers will also have trouble obtaining fuel – counting on them to provide for you could be a serious mistake. In view of this, saving your food is a good idea. Waste is essentially a bad idea anyway, so let’s save what food we can, and clear out the fridge and freezer to avoid a rotting mass of goo.
Why worry about the food? The average suburban sprawl has less than 3 days worth of groceries on the shelves at any given time. Trucks will not run other than those on the road, because the corporate-thinking grocery suppliers and profit-motivated grocery store owners will cancel truck deliveries. Why send a truck with good food to a store which cannot refrigerate it? Why pay for a delivery which will surely spoil?
Hunger will affect your judgment – ask anyone who has ever truly been poor and hungry. It makes your mind unclear, and makes it difficult to focus on anything except your belly. You have a narrow window before your on-hand food spoils as well. Keep your family fed.
Here in Texas, we are big on barbecue, which happens to be a great idea for saving frozen meat. If you have a natural gas or propane or charcoal barbecue pit, then get it going and start cooking meat. If you have a natural gas stove and/or water heater, you should have gas all during the power outage. Most gas transmission companies generate their own power using their own natural gas.
While this is a pain, you will save yourself some time for other critical activities if you cook enough meat to eat for the next few days. If you have a large amount of meat, you should visit the sites below or similar sites and get the things you will need to save your investment. They are not expensive, and they can all be used again and again. You should also realize that a large amount of meat will take a large amount of time to ready for storage. Another reason to initially cook whatever will not keep first, and cook enough for at least a few days in the future.
Cook everything well done, leaving no pink in the middle. Well done meat keeps longer than rare meat as you are killing microbial activity throughout the meat when you cook. Once cooked well done, surface microbial activity is your primary issue. If you happen to have a meat smoker, then a combination of cooking and then smoking can extend the palatable life of your meat significantly. You can also make a dehydrator and turn most types of lean meat into quite tasty jerky for longer term storage and use in stews or sauces.
Ground beef, ground chuck and hamburger should be made into patties and cooked until very well done. At a moderate temperature (60 degrees), cooked patties can be kept for several days if secured from airborne bacteria. As a possible research note, hamburger patties and many other well-cooked meats can be effectively stored when buried in shortening or lard……
Any seafood should be cooked and eaten as the first meal. Cook all of it. Thorough frying is preferred, as this once again kills microbial activity throughout the seafood. If you have a propane burner as most suburbanites do, this will do nicely as a heat source to fry any fish, shrimp, etc. As with hamburger, a moderately cool place and securing from airborne bacteria will allow fried seafood to keep for several days.
- Thick-cut, well-smoked bacon can be buried in shortening or lard and will keep for months at moderate temperatures.
- Any pre-cooked frozen foods can be immediately eaten or thrown out.
- Fresh frozen vegetables can be canned immediately or the following day if kept in an ice chest.
- Frozen fruit can also be preserved by canning.
- SunBelt summer weather is actually great for drying meat; be sure to read up on how to do this properly
- The heat from your car engine can also dry meat – I have dehydrated meat by turning my radiator fan over, making it blow OUTWARD across the radiator and placing meat in the air stream, which happens to average a toasty 110-130 degrees and very low humidity…..
- Bread will not keep as it is made today – eat it, or toast it over open fire as it gets stale.
- Butter will keep too, as long as it is sealed from the air and held at reasonable temperature.
- Margarine will keep for decades, but it just isn’t good for you. That’s why you can place it outside in your yard and nothing will eat it…….nor should you.
- Throw an ice cream party for your kids – let them eat all they can stand – full bellies make parents worry less…..and make the kids feel like it’s an adventure and not a crisis…
- Invite your less-prepared neighbors over and help them. In times like these, working together in a small group and sharing resources is usually better. Your neighbors may actually know something you do not that can help the situation. Be smart – invite neighbors who can actually deal with and adapt to the situation. We all have neighbors who will never get their hands dirty until they are actually starving. Others are simply not going to be able to even comprehend the gravity of the situation. These are the ones who will run to the store and buy batteries instead of kerosene and a lamp. These are the neighbors who will demand that YOU feed and take care of them, that they are due whatever you have because it must be FAIR…. I hope you can see how rocky this can get, and in a very short time. Hunger is THE major survival driver…….
- Involve your children!! They have had uninterrupted electricity all their lives – this is a big shock to them. Keep them close. Talk to them. Comfort them and ease their fears. This is the beginning of a change they must adapt to. Make it an adventure, and invite their friends. When you put kids together, it is amazing to see that they learn to play together….or at least band together to torment the adults! Let it be an adventure, because living your life should be your grand, great adventure. Stay positive – millions have survived and thrived before you under much worse conditions!!
Next logical questions:
Where do I learn about canning and preserving food?
Your parents, grandparents or the internet have this info, as do many older cookbooks. The items you need are mainly canning jars and lids, and a pressure cooker; the rest can be improvised. Smoking, jerking and dehydrating meats is also easily learned via internet.
Where can I find a ‘moderate temperature’ in the SunBelt during our 9-month summer?
Ever hear of a ‘root cellar”? Average ground temperature in the SunBelt is around 60 degrees. That is why your dog digs up your lovely garden during the summer – he wants to feel that cool earth! So all you need to do is dig yourself a bermed pit . line it with plastic and make yourself an insulating cover and you have ‘moderately cool’ in the heart of the SunBelt. Do this in a permanently shaded area, or even better under a roofed area – less surface heat, so a shallower hole is needed. More about this can be found on the internet…. And if you completely shade your in-ground pool…….use your head – think!
Items to have on-hand before: propane, charcoal, smoking wood, peanut oil, MANY canning jars and lids, canning wax, pressure cooker, shortening in big cans, shovel….it isn’t a big list, and you can keep all this stored in the attic except the shortening and propane. And wouldn’t you think that keeping a reasonable amount of CANNED FOOD might not be a bad idea anyway? And if you can swing it, a small generator would make things easier for the near term.
Ok, we saved the food. Now we are at least 2-3 days into the 4-week outage, because it just took that long to get the food squared away!
Oh no! In the midst of all this, you simply forgot about going to work! You rush in and call the office (your cell doesn’t work, remember?), and nobody answers. You call some work buddies, and finally discover that work has been cancelled. You are relieved, but also don’t understand why they wouldn’t just kick on the generators and keep going.
Well, let’s think this through. The 18-story high rise building you work in has generators, but they are too small to run the lights, computers, elevators, water pumps and high voltage A/C systems together. Assuming they do have correctly sized generators, if the power company is having trouble obtaining fuel, the property management company will also. Besides, they are also trying to cope with the situation – they might be just like you – busy trying to help their families.
As no modern multi-story building has windows that can actually be opened (thank you very much, personal injury lawyers…), the temperature in the typical urban office is well over 100 degrees. Sweat tends to make printer ink run, and heatstroke makes for zero productivity, and could possibly involve the company in a wave of legal actions. Besides – what if someone has a stroke from walking up the stairs for 16 or 17 flights? Legal counsel will be telling the corporate guys not to open for business. So now you are wondering about your job, thinking about it in a whole new light…..without electricity and computers, do I even have a job?
It was miserable sleeping in your own sweat last night, wasn’t it? And the flashlight batteries are getting low because the kids won’t let them alone….don’t you miss electricity?