How I Survived Last Week’s Power Outage and What I Learned About Disaster Prep

Photo of emergency suppliesBy now, I hope everyone on the East Coast who lost power is back online, enjoying air conditioning and a refrigerator full of food. Me, I thought my family was well prepared for an emergency but five days without power is making me rethink what we need to do at home and at work to be prepared for the next disaster.

Here’s what worked:

  • Our production hosting environment was totally fine. We pay the data center, Internet Service Provider and other vendors lots of money to keep us running when everyone else is without power.
  • Our office was totally fine. I’m convinced that Crystal City is on some priority list for power because of the government offices and government contractors in this area.
  • At home, my husband Maki was able to power our fridge and a fan for a couple of days using large batteries that we keep charged for emergencies. After 2 days, however, we were dead in the water and had to keep charging the batteries at the office.
  • Even though cell service was totally out, we were able to make and receive calls because we keep a land line and one old fashioned, corded telephone in the house.
  • The hand crank radio kept us abreast of the news.
  • Our ham radio licenses were put to good use. We were able to get on the air and get updates from people all over the metro area, including an employee from Baltimore Washington & Gas who provided great information about the scope of the outage in the area and tips for purchasing a generator.
  • Having gas for our stove and water heater meant that we could cook and take warm showers. Amazing.
  • Having flashlights in every room, including several battery-powered Coleman lanterns, made it easy to get around the house after dark.

Here’s what didn’t work so well, how things could have been much worse and what I learned:

  • I didn’t pay attention to the storm warnings and went home on Friday night without a full tank of gas and completely forgot to charge my cell phone. Thank goodness I was able to fill up early the next day and then use my car to charge my phone. Even worse, I forgot to get cash and had no access to ATMs because the closest ones were all without power.
  • I didn’t have a printed list of emergency contacts and phone numbers, so when my home phones (with all of my saved numbers) lost power, I lost access to phone numbers.
  • I threw out all of the printed phone books from the phone company and it was nearly impossible to use my cell phone to efficiently get phone numbers for local hotels.  Yep, I saved the new phone books that arrived last week.
  • If our office had lost power, staff could have worked from home (assuming they had power) but it would have been difficult to access our intranet without the office VPN.
  • Maki’s new electric car was pretty much useless (although to be fair, we could have charged his car at public charging stations in Crystal City).
  • We made a decision at home several years ago to stop buying bottled water. I was able to filter and save many pitchers of water on Friday night but if a storm hit us by surprise and we lost water, we’d have been sunk. Honestly, I’m not sure about this one. I still don’t want to buy bottled water but perhaps we need an emergency stash or a filtration system.
  • It’s time to buy that generator that Maki has been bugging me about!
  • I needed to be more creative about finding non-electronic ways to entertain my children.

Even though I was annoyed and bothered by the inconvenience of not having power for five days, I’m grateful that the situation wasn’t worse and we had the means to stay in a hotel for a few days. I learned a lot about how to survive the next storm or disaster. How about you? How did you fare and what did you learn?


11 thoughts on “How I Survived Last Week’s Power Outage and What I Learned About Disaster Prep

  1. I used three ten-pound bags of ice to turn our freezer into a good old ‘ice box’. Keeping it shut let everything stay frozen for 48+ hours.

  2. We learned a few lessons, too. We were lucky enough to have power fully up and running by Sunday afternoon. But before that, it would come on for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. The power going off and on like that fried the hard drive on our Tivo. We had it on a surge protector, but we should have just unplugged it after the initial outage.

    Also, the 3g and 4g in our neighborhood is useless when the power goes out and everyone is trying to use it. Although we knew this one from the big snow storms a couple years ago.

    I think the power in Crystal City is more stable because much of it is underground.

  3. We were luckier than most in that we were only out of power during the night the storm hit, and it was back on by mid-morning.

    What we weren’t so lucky on was major tree damage in and around our house. Giant fallen branches in several places in my yard, which are still there because they’re too heavy to move, and too big to handsaw easier. And there are plenty more trees in and around the house, and many of our neighbors have had the same problem. So, we’re thinking we should probably get a chainsaw.

    Also, we realized that we really should have a 72-hour disaster preparedness kit, like this site talks about making:

  4. Ice was really hard to come by the first couple of days in my neighborhood. The grocery stores ran on generators for half a day or so, and stayed open even after they stopped trying to refrigerate things, but all of them sold out of ice almost as soon as they got it. We were lucky to get a bag Sunday morning at about 7am, but couldn’t find any Saturday or later on Sunday. We put some of our less-perishable stuff (OJ, apples, etc) in the cellar where it was nice and cool and it kept ok down there.

  5. In terms of non-electronic entertainment, my bookshelf full of boardgames definitely comes in handy.

  6. This storm taught me a lot. Honestly, I was not prepared with the exception of having a flashlight. Friday night, I was just enjoying an evening at home watching a movie and didn’t even care to check the weather until the winds picked up. Luckily we had enough water and ice and some non perishable foods. And, luckily, I filled the car up! The one thing I learned was that I had to be creative in keeping my dog cool. I constantly gave her ice and at one time put her in the car and drove her around. We finally ended up at a friend’s house who had power. Luckily, our power came on that evening. We were very fortunate.

  7. I am concerned about people handling traffic situations when there are no stop lights…. where do these people get their licenses!? at least people in montgomery county md dont know how to take turns…

  8. Be sure you are allowed to have a generator in your neighborhood, or at least be prepared to pay a fine for using it. Many townhome communities have bylaws that strictly prohibit generators. It seems totally insane, but HOA rules are based on maintaining tidy appearances in non-emergency situations. This is one reason that we are planning to move. We want to be able to have our generator and our garden and just be better prepared for emergencies.

  9. These are great tips. Living in San Francisco with the constant threat of earthquakes, I really need to be a lot more prepared. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Since moving out west we have been putting together our earthquake preparedness kit, the 72 hour link will be very helpful.

    It’s interesting the nicety’s we get used to. Nora was in Nepal recently where she said you were lucky to get a few hours of electricity a day (and they mostly came around 1pm), and even in India we were subject to semi-often power outages. It can really make you appreciate the infrastructure we do have in the country, and the things you take for granted.

  11. Re: chainsaws, if you expect to use then while the power’s still out, make sure you get a gas one rather than an electric one. My friends had 1/3 of a huge tree in their yard that they wanted to get rid of ASAP the morning after the storm hit because it was in a precarious position, but they couldn’t use the electric chainsaw they had, and the stores had sold out of them. Fortunately they were able to (very carefully, while moving some downed trees on the way) venture out to a relative’s house out in the sticks and borrow one. We came along for the ride because it was better than the alternative of suffering in our stuffy house.

    Re: bottled water, we bought a couple gallons of bottled water (in the big jugs) in preparation for … I don’t even remember at this point. I think snowmageddon, because we’ve had the water for a while. Anyway, it’s a good way to keep some emergency water on hand without being tempted to drink it out of little plastic bottles.

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