So…I’m sitting here typing this with about an hour of battery life left on my computer. Have no idea when I’ll be able to charge it, but wanted to get this down while it’s fresh. Like…really fresh. Life when the power goes out is challenging on a number of levels—and this power outage brought some fresh thoughts and ideas…

In all the years we’ve lived in this house, the number of times we’ve lost power for more than a few seconds wouldn’t take up the fingers on one hand. Now we are on our second major power outage in as many months. Last time was a three day long outage during one of the hottest weeks in Virginia history. This time, it’s doesn’t seem so bad—and the storms that are ripping through our area—with little warning this time–have served to drop the temperature at least 20 degrees into the comfortable 70’s.

We don’t have much time to prepare on this one. The neighbor girl runs over, “There’s a tornado on it’s way here!” she wants to warn us. Okay. To the computer, open browser, type in weather.com and our zip. Yep. Tornado warning. Not one, but TWO tornados are working their way around Northern VA and one appears to be choosing whether it wants to visit Woodbridge to the south…or us. Skies quickly darken and the wind picks up dramatically. The trees behind us dance and sway to the direction of an invisible choreographer. Power cuts off. On. Off. Computer back up batteries screech and beep. Power back on for a few seconds…then off again. This time it stays off.

Battlestations. Only the two younger girls are home this time. They swing into action, gathering favorite stuffed animals–including their 18 year old sister’s lifelong companion, a large stuffed dog with the questionable name “Jello.” Also to the basement “safe” room travel guitars (they also have names), Star’s American Girl doll and a variety of blankets and pillows. Being a bit more pragmatic than sentimental, I gather laptops, cell phones, chargers, lanterns and the keys to all the vehicles and sequester them in the basement room while directing Star to replace the batteries in the radio. Shannon collects Sam the Shih Tsu as I toss her one of his leashes to make sure he keeps his adventures to a minimum. About the time we get everything downstairs, we get the “all clear.” Of course.

So…what is so important that I’m moved to use what little battery life I have?

Ironically, on my agenda today is working on my part of an “Emergency Preparedness” seminar to be presented this coming Tuesday. Another nod to the ironic—that seminar will be held on September 11. Tomorrow morning (Sunday) I’m part of a 10 minute 2 person skit commemorating that infamous day, now 11 years past, during the worship service at my church. I can’t help but shake my head.

So, what lessons jump out as we face another evening of living as in pre-electricity days without the pre-electricity mindset and training?

1. Preparedness needs to happen long before you need it. When the event comes—whether an earthquake, a storm or an attack from an enemy, known or unknown, there is often little to no warning. It’s not like a hurricane that builds for days or weeks and the warning goes out, there’s time to board up the windows and stock the shelves. Most events that leave us without power or ability to access our fridge/freezer come without warning. The time to plan is yesterday. Don’t dawdle.

2. Preparedness is about more than just supplies. It can also be about what you DO have that you DON’T need. The first thing that struck me when I went to prepare the “safe room” for my family should that tornado decide to visit our densely treed neighborhood was that I had to make ROOM for my children—the safe room was far from it. Due to work going on in the basement, all manner of furniture and other items have temporary residence in that room—making it nearly impassable, and much less attractive for waiting out severe weather that could reduce our poorly constructed home to matchsticks with no more than a nearby F2. Decluttering has long been my “thing”—and certainly my desire. Small 3 bedroom home meets family of 8 is the story of my life, but when walking through a room in the dark becomes a threat to life and limb, then the quantity and quality of the items that are privileged to share our home must be addressed. I realized during the event that I was quickly moving (and trying to find places for) a variety of items that didn’t need a home as much as an exit.

3. Preparedness is a lot about attitude. I kept my voice light and casual. “Girls, looks like we MAY have some severe weather headed our way, let’s go ahead and move a few important items to the basement.” From upstairs, my 14 year old called down in a wry tone, “In other words, there IS severe weather on it’s way here, right? Tornado?” Never one to lie to my kids, I wasn’t going to start this time. “Very possibly, just come on down.” It was very encouraging to see them take care of business without panic, but with speed, efficiency –and cracking jokes as they cornered the dog and whisked a reluctant shih tsu to basement safety (“Take him out the side door to pee first—and this one time it’s okay if he uses my ferns closest to the stair!”)

4. Preparedness takes practice. You don’t realize how dependent you are on all things electric until you are without. Definitely, this takes some practice and thought. Suggest strongly that if mother nature doesn’t provide ample “dry runs” for you, plan a weekend (or for the truly dedicated, a week) of living sans electric. Keep a running list of what you need that you don’t already have because you likely will not remember a day after the lights come on.

5. Preparedness needs to include fun. It took about 15 minutes for the novelty to wear off and the kids to get bored. Granted, there are only 2 of 6 at home—a definite drop in the number of built in playmates that also provide lots of entertainment and witty repartee, but without electronic companions, many kids (and grown ups) find themselves at loose ends. If immediate danger or imminent starvation is not a problem, what is there to do? So far we’ve done some reading aloud by lantern and perused the stock of board games (also known as “bored” games) for planning the evening’s activities. Neighbor kids arrived shortly after the worst of the storm passed. How nice that they can play without computer screens. Sam the shih tsu is sitting by the open sliding door (which is providing our warming house with some natural air conditioning) with his legs crossed hoping and hoping the rain will stop so he can get his daily constitutional.

I expect the lights will come back on soon…and if not, it will just mean an early bedtime. Our coleman stove provided an easy—if somewhat odd—dinner of a combination of ingredients easily accessible. We are not in immenent danger of…well…danger—just mild inconvenience. There is gas in the cars (we made a decision to never allow any of our vehicles to get less than half full after the power outage that left most of the East Coast powerless–and gas-less–due to electric fuel pumps) so we can travel to areas with power if it really becomes an issue…which is apparently about 2 miles down the road.

This time it’s really NBD (No Big Deal). But next time it could be. The time to think it through and make plans—however minor—is yesterday. Just start—one item, one plan per week is better than waiting until you have “time to prepare.” Pick up some extra canned goods when you grocery shop—just one more of what you already buy (on sale, of course), crackers and dry cereal, granola, coffee, extra TP (this is CRITICAL—especially in a house full of girls!). Some bottled water and a bottle of plain old bleach (no added conditioners, etc.). Batteries, flashlights, a radio that works on batteries or winds up. Get rid of the excess stuff in your house that might cause you to fall. Keep your cell phones and laptops charged and your gas tanks above half as a matter of habit. These are just a few simple ideas. I’ll be posting more as time permits, but in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the deep quiet that ONLY exists in the busy metropolitan DC area…when the power goes out.

When the Power Goes Out…And Life Goes On

3 thoughts on “When the Power Goes Out…And Life Goes On

  • 09/10/2012 at 10:42 AM
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    Great food for thought Donna! I especially liked the idea of deliberately having a “preparedness weekend” or testing out what we really need in the event of a prolonged power outage. Perhaps we’ll do it and I’ll blog about the results!

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  • 09/10/2012 at 12:57 PM
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    Thanks again for putting into words the thoughts that have been recently poking at the edges of my distracted brain.

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