I’m currently about 36 hours into a power outage in Metro Detroit, or as I like to call it, the “Boogaloo Dry Run”. I’ve learned a few things about my own preparedness, and an awful lot about the preparedness of others.
I have a thing about lights. I buy flashlights like crazy (mostly from http://www.olight.com). People close to me chuckle about it, but being inside a commercial building in Detroit with no power and no light is not something you want to ever have happen in an emergency situation.
So I buy lights. I have a few angle head flashlights, several EDC tactical flashlights, some large law-enforcement type lights, a spotlight, you get the idea.
But what I learned on hour 8 of the Boogaloo Dry Run was that I have exactly ONE lantern-type light. One. All the batteries in the world won’t help light more than one room with only one lantern. Now, I know I can point any flashlight at the ceiling and get it lit, but that’s not an efficient use of a hand-held flashlight and it eats batteries like crazy.
The next thing I learned was that no matter how long we’ve all been doing this, normalcy bias causes us all to make rookie mistakes. For example, when the lights went out, I only had one of my three power banks charged up. The one that was? The solar powered one that holds the least charge. We were able to keep a phone partially charged overnight and use the alarm, but the lesson there was keep them all charged at all times. I had used the other two and said “I’ll get to charging that later”. Two weeks later I needed them and they were dead.
When the sun came up, I decided to take a drive and use the vehicle system to charge up my phone and power banks. And, since I’m being honest, BUY ANOTHER LANTERN. I found a good rechargeable one at Menard’s that has a built in power bank for phone charging for $20.
I first drove to conduct a recon of the extent of the outage, using my BattleBoard (www.battleboard.us) to document the affected areas, and noticed that the affected area had actually grown overnight, most likely due to areas I thought had grid power the day before running out of gas for their generators.
That’s an important point, because in metro Detroit, a lot of local people keep their cars on an 1/4 of a tank, or 1/8 a tank. Imagine doing that, and then sitting in your driveway with the engine running to charge your phone. In the morning, the nearest gas station may not have electricity.
During the 2003 massive outage, there was only one small local area about 30 miles away that still had power, and as we drove out there to get food, there were cars lining both sides of the road where they had run out of gas. I never let my car get below 3/4 or at worse, 1/2 a tank.
The next lesson I learned was about believing official estimates. Last night, DTE power informed me that they would have the power restored by 11:30 PM tonight. About 2 hours before that deadline, they sent out an “update” advising that it would be another 48 hours before power was restored. I had accepted their pledge of 24 hours on day one and planned off of it, and that was a mistake. Fortunately, I know that less than a mile away, there is power and I can get things if I need to, but I’m trying to use this as a training and preparation run, without relying on running out for every little thing.
I learned that my fellow residents of Western Wayne County are mostly thoroughly and woefully unprepared and unknowledgeable. The mere act of negotiating a 4 way stop on a multilane road was far beyond the ability of most people to navigate. I’m not exaggerating here…6 lanes on one road and 4 on the other and people have no idea what to do. Thank God we have the ridiculous “Michigan Left” thing, preventing people from turning left at major intersections or we’d have lost a lot of people today.
The other error I made was in deciding where my generator was best stored. The average power outage in Metro Detroit is less than 30 seconds. Since 2003 I can’t recall any that lasted a full hour. With that in mind, my small generator, which could have powered at least my refrigerator, sits 3 and a half hours away in the garage at the cabin. Outstanding. Experience is the best teacher, so they say.
I did learn something different about retailers, though. Normal power outage protocol is to close the store immediately if the power doesn’t come back on right away. During my morning recon trip, I found that most major retailers were actually open, running on generator power, with limited lighting and limited registers open, and not selling refrigerated items. That’s good to know, but as a retail loss prevention executive, I’m curious to see what their liability numbers look like next month, as people file claims for tripping or bumping into things/people in the limited light.
It’s especially surprising since we are allegedly in the midst of the most dangerous pandemic in the history of mankind, but retailers are perfectly fine with letting customers blunder into each other in darkened stores.
I also noticed that all of the smaller retailers and local stores were fully staffed, just not open for business, obviously in anticipation of opening as soon as possible after the power comes back on and for securing the business. Most of those people, though, were standing in the back alley behind the strip malls, chatting with each other, with their back doors wide open. None were armed. While I know that this is a localized and short-term (in all reality) issue, in a true grid-down disaster, that would be highly dangerous for them to do.
I also used the situation to scope out my own neighbors for potential allies, and potential threats.
On the allies side, my neighbor two doors down, I’ve always suspected was into preparedness, based on how he acts. He’s always aware of his surroundings; he always sees others before they see him, and he is also polite, but never overly friendly. As darkness fell last night, I heard a generator start up and sure enough, he was the only one in the neighborhood who had been prepared (including me, as I kick myself in the rear). He’s now solidly in the my ally column, since when he rolled through the neighborhood very slowly this morning, obviously scoping out the neighborhood himself, he saw that I was openly armed and gave a quick nod. That’s the longest conversation we’ve ever had, but I assure you we will be seeking each other out soon to plan.
Also, my next door neighbor, who I interact with much more, sought me out first thing this morning seeking advice. He’s new to this, so I gave him a couple of pointers. Just like that, we have a 3 house network for defense. I know the neighbor behind me very well, and could quickly expand the network to 4 houses (mostly because they have adorable kids and their dog comes to visit my dogs daily).
On the threats side, I had already identified two houses where the local police have made more than one visit and sure enough, as darkness fell, from one of those houses, people emerged to “go for a walk”. I know that the kind of folks that detectives show up in full tactical gear to look for don’t just “go for walks”, so I made sure everything was secure and that defensive tools were ready for use and staged in key areas.
To recap, here are the best pointers I can offer for an unknown-term power outage:
- Have sufficient emergency lighting available as well as batteries.
- Keep all power banks charged at all times.
- If you have a generator, have it AVAILABLE for use.
- Know routes around your area avoiding major intersections where traffic will back up and tempers will flare.
- Avoid grocery stores…If you don’t already have food, you are behind the game and a lot of nervous and agitated folks will be at the grocery store.
- Know where the potential bad actors are in your neighborhood or area and maintain a watch.
- Know where your potential allies are and get to know them now.
- Keep your vehicle fueled at all times.
- Have non-perishable food on hand for at least week.
- Have adequate water on hand for at least a week for everyone you are providing water for.
- I say it like that, because I keep an extra case on hand to hand out to at-risk people I know or encounter. During Hurricane Sandy, a work partner and I encountered an elderly couple panicking because nothing was open and they didn’t have water. We gave them a case.
- Maintain an alternate method of communication (like radio) and a network to communicate with (have a tribe).
- During an emergency, even you are “bugging in”, get out and conduct patrolling. Gather information on what’s going on locally with your own eyes, rather than relying on the rumors and social media hype. You are responsible for your safety.
- Remember that the first responders are busy…You are your own fire department, EMS, and police.
- As soon as the power goes out, ready all defensive firearms or other tools (here that ranges from an expandable riot baton to swords).
- Keep multiple fully stocked first aid kits on hand.
Hopefully, being open and sharing some of my mistakes will help you.
Leave any other ideas you have in the comments.