Lessons Learned: Power Outage

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.

Published by JD

I'm a defensive firearms and martial arts instructor, as well as a professional security & loss prevention consultant. I train people on how to defend themselves, their workplaces, and homes, as well as how to be prepared & aware. I offer corporate active shooter defense training as well.

3 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: Power Outage

  1. It’s funny you put this up as even though I’m pretty prepared in the case of the boog, a lot of my stuff is still in boxes. I’ll say you were still more prepared than most, but this is what I’ve got going for that particular scenario:

    As far as lighting goes, I actually have several lamterns: one lead acid powered with a spot lamp, one that’s USB charged, and one with a bug zapper. Aside from miscellaneous hand held lights that are battery powered (which I have several spares) for, most are leds built into power banks. Not exactly the brightest, but how long would it take to run down something built to recharge a decent size phone at least once? And aside from my exceptional night vision there’s good reason they’re not super bright, which I’ll address later.

    Power banks, actual dedicated ones? My preferred brand is RavPower, of which I got an upgraded model to replace the first one I got way back in 2013 (still works) with over 16,000 mAh in my EDC bag, and a 3 port one in a bug bag with over 28,000 mAh. To put that in perspective, the smallest car battery (which I run: Optima Yellow D51R!) holds 38Ah, which is 38,000 mAh. I also have a fold up solar panel in the same bag.

    Food & water: the fridge and freezer alone have enough food for just me (I live alone. Keeping it that way) would last at least a few weeks, but I have a lot of various dry provisions on hand. I also have at least 10-15 gallons stashed in various places, and a Sawyer Silver impregnated ceramic filter with a rating of about 30,000 gallons, along with a 5 gallon bucket and other coolers (should probably get another bucket actually, one for each hand. 5gal buckets can be incredibly useful).

    Speaking of fridges, I have 2 APCs which provide enough back up power to shut down a computer in case of an outage, but on their own can keep many low power appliances such as radio clocks and routers (communication anyone?) running for quite a while (actually did just that moving stuff to Fort Sky Dungeon, more on that later). Luckily for me, my new fridge which is bit smaller than the old one actually uses half the amp hours as the old one, which was already less than 3 amp hours to begin with, so either APC could keep that going for quite a while. One major advantage I’ll be taking soon enough: all those are are rectifiers given the batteries are 12v. Meaning you can take a decent size marine battery and wire it in, greatly increasing the life span or your well marbled ribeye and tamales from mee maw. Having extra clothes in case it’s winter time helps too, especially if you’re in the unfortunate living arrangement that electric is your sole heat source. And you don’t have a camp stove. Speaking of which: got a 55,000 btu steel one and an adapter for one of those 20gal ones used for larger grilles (I should probably get one soon, just to cook outside at least). I also need to get a good size generator, which would also recharge the batteries.

    As far as gas: I drive for a living, with a now 40ish miles to get to my launch spot north of Murder Hornet City. My longest time before refueling is 4 days (most efficient drive train in the business!), and by day 4 the lowest I’m at is around 1/4 indicated (the official capacity is 13.2gal, but I’ve refuelled over 14), which sounds low. However, one of my sotra secrets is I have a stabilised 5gal gas can, which gives me at a minimim an additional 150 miles should I need it.

    Speaking of secrets, I’ve been saying this a lot: the best resources (weapons in particular) are the ones no one else knows about, case in point the couple in St. Louis. That said, in the event of a break in, I have weapons stashed everywhere I might be at that moment. Which is far less likely a scenario now, given I live in a 3rd story attic unit with a reinforced door (cedar I think?) that opens outward: you’d get in faster by cutting through the wall, and chances are I’d hear that.

    One final thing as far as secrets: you might wanna hold off on displaying your wealth of preparedness should this be an extended stay in. Reason being is that, though you may be prepared, most others are not. And people in desperate situation tend to look around to see who else’s lights are running and has smoke coming from the windows because you’re burning something on the stove. Running a generator when it’s noisy (if you can muffle it, even better) aside, plan on not operating a lot of lighting, and cover your windows if you can.

    Sure I missed something, but that’s all I got for now. Cheers, Team Let Em Burn!

    Like

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