If you’ve read my articles before, you know I’m a big fan of a personal threat matrix. A threat matrix defines the events that are most likely to affect you and their impact. While preppers love to imagine EMPs and widespread grid-down scenarios, a simple blackout of a day or two is much more likely.
Just because blackouts are little more than inconveniences doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take them seriously. Treat them as a threat, but more so as a test of your skills and gear. At the right time, a blackout can cause injury to self and home. You need to prepare for that eventuality.
A blackout kit may seem simple or a little overkill, however, it’s a perfect excuse to perfect your grid down prepper skills. Let’s look at how to set up your own blackout kit.
Here in the US, the power grid is mostly stable. We have the occasional outage. These are usually natural and short. With the recent increase in the number and severity of storms, outages are more frequent in most areas.
Wind storms, thunderstorms, and occasionally ice storms knock out power. Wind can uproot trees, and it only takes a lightning strike to take out a transformer. Of the three, ice storms seem to be the most impactful as they bring down trees over a widespread area.
Forrest fires and tornadoes can all do significant damage to our power infrastructure. For widespread impact, look to hurricanes. Any of these events can bring down the grid for days or, in severe cases, weeks.
Moving on to man-made causes, the management of our power grid can cause a blackout. During the heat of the summer, electric companies often ration power to reduce the impact on powerlines.
Hot, overloaded lines can droop and often cause wildfires. Utility companies will cause blackouts in their service area to reduce this risk.
We cannot discount larger events. Man-made Electromagnetic Pulses (EMPs), Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) which also cause EMPs, and cyber or physical attacks on the grid can bring it down. Potentially permanently. Not that a blackout kit will get you through the apocalypse, but you can certainly practice for it.
Mostly, blackouts are inconvenient. Your power goes out for a few hours, but otherwise, you’re fine. The house gets cold, the kids go without electronics, and maybe you eat a cold meal. Let’s detail a few effects so we can prepare for them.
The first and most obvious effect is light. No big deal during the day. More of a concern at night. When navigating your house, you can depend on your cognitive map. No lights needed. When executing a delicate task, the lack of light will affect your performance.
Depending on your kitchen situation, you may need a cooking supplement. Those with electric stoves and ovens will lose the ability to cook. Those with gas stoves only need an ignition source.
There is a good chance you will lose the ability to communicate. The hard-wired phone system is incredibly resilient. That being said, phones go down. If the blackout is widespread, then cell towers will eventually lose power as their generators run out of fuel.
Without electricity, fully charged cell phones will eventually die. All radios and televisions will be useless. In short, you will be in an information black hole.
Goals of a Blackout Kit
First and foremost, a blackout kit will need to help if a minor inconvenience becomes something more serious. Your blackout kit needs to address the basics of a few days without power.
You need light. Life is miserable in the dark when you have a task to do. Your kit should address three modes of light: task lighting, area lighting, and boundary or guiding lights.
Use task lighting when you are active. Cooking a meal, assembling a project, or moving around all require light in the right place. Area lighting is required during periods of low activity. Talking, playing games, etc. Area lights provide a bit of normalcy in the dark. Boundary lights make moving around easier. You can use dim lights to show turns or danger areas.
Next is supplemental power. Have batteries or the ability to power any tools within your blackout kit, as well as tools in your everyday carry (EDC) kit. Have enough power to get you through three to five days.
Your blackout kit will also need a means for communication. We can assume that you will have your cellphone on you before the power outage happens. You also need to plan for the failure of the cellular system. The kit needs to cover several means for communicating (e.g. phone, public radio, two way).
Where possible, your kit should have some ability to feed you. That may be as simple as a lighter for your gas cooktop, or a small stove. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just enough to boil water.
Next, you need a small first aid kit and trauma kit. It’s always easier to have one handy in a known location rather than have to go searching. Especially in the dark.
Finally, your kit needs to come with a plan. Managing a crisis is always easier with a plan. Under stress, you cannot rely on memory.
Second, what if you know what to do but your family does not? A written plan steps you through each and every action required to turn your blackout from a trial to a success.
These are the primary goals of your kit. We will discuss a few others that will make your lights out adventure a bit more comfortable and even fun.
First, you need a plan. Blackout plans do not differ from any other prepping plan. Look around at your home, your neighborhood, and your town.
What are the things you need control of during a power outage? What are the resources that will be available? What are the resources that you will need to get for yourself?
Remember, during blackouts, the risk isn’t just a lack of power. Low voltage or power spikes can damage sensitive electronics as well as your furnace, water pump, refrigerator, etc.
Also, don’t assume that you will be the one running errands. You may have to send your out-of-town visitor to the pharmacy on an emergency run for medication. Be creative. The more you write now, the easier any challenges will be.
A basic blackout plan contains the following.
- Your name, address, and phone numbers
- Don’t assume that you will be the one home, numbers are for your kids, neighbors, and relations
- Contact information (phone numbers, addresses, websites) for the following
- Local services (police, fire, EMS, highway, town offices)
- Utility companies (power, gas, water, sewer)
- Insurance companies including house, car, etc. (In this section write your policy numbers)
- Banks (securely list account numbers)
- Children’s schools
- Hotels in your town and outside your town
- Friends\relatives in the area that can provide support
- Friends\relatives outside the area that can provide support
- Friends\relatives that may need support
- Church or other organizations that can provide support
- Mechanics, builders, roofers, electricians, plumbers, HVAC
- Basically, any resource to fix or repair any major system in your house
- Dry ice supplier
- Without a generator you will a need method to keep your refrigerator cold and your freezer colder
- Household instructions for turning on and off as well as maintaining all major systems in your house
- Electrical circuits (shutting off individual circuits and the main)
- Water system (shutting it off and draining the line)
- Gas (shutting off the main)
- Furnace and air conditioning
- Backup generator
- Instructions for any tools that may be used during the blackout
- Camping\rocket stoves
- Lights and lanterns
- Water filters
- Paper Maps of activities and points of interest
- All the businesses listed in previous sections
- All of the friends and relatives lists in previous sections
- Priority businesses (pharmacies, grocery stores, etc.) remember these instructions are for anyone that may be with you and are not familiar with the area
This is just a small list of the things you can have. At the cost of being redundant. The more you write now, the easier any challenges will be.
Your Blackout Kit
You don’t have to make your blackout kits complicated or expensive. Most of the materials you can gather from your prepping or camping surplus.
The first need when it goes dark is the ability to see what you are doing. Have a task light! Flashlight or headlamp. Actually, have both. They are cheap and small.
All lights are not created equal. When you are doing a delicate task, you need control over the light. A shadow in the wrong place can cause a regretful mistake. Just ask any kid holding the flashlight for dad!
Headlamps are perfect task lights. If you’re not a fan, I actually get a headache from using one that is too tight, choose a flashlight with a clip. With the correct style clip, you can mount it on a ball cap as a headlight.
Area Lights – Lanterns
Sometimes you just need to brighten up a room. This may be for enjoying a card\board game, lighting a room during conversation, or just quiet comfort. Regardless, a headlamp won’t do it–you’ll be constantly shining them in each other’s eyes.
The rule here is frosted glass and LED lights. The frosted glass (or plastic) distributes the light and softens the shadows. The LEDs help stretch your batteries. Unlike task lights, area lights will be on for a few hours at a time, every night. You want your batteries to stretch.
Lanterns are the way to go here. Get one that you can set on a table, or hang from the ceiling. For added benefit, find one that is dimmable.
It will amaze you at how adaptable our eyes are. Set it to its lowest level, and let yourself adapt for 20 minutes. If it’s still to dark, click it up a notch.
Boundary \ Guiding Lights
Next are boundary lights. There will always be hazards to avoid. Stairs, chairs, divots in the lawn.
I highly recommend having a few glow sticks or chem lights in your blackout pack. During our last multi-day outage, our child was still using a night light. We let her pick the color, cracked one, and her “fairy juice” nightlight was the comfort she needed.
Glow sticks are great for boundary light. Drop one at the top of the stairs, place one on top of the big rock in the backyard. They go for hours, and you can pick them up in the morning. No batteries to replace.
If you want to set up a few guiding lights along a path, get mini glow sticks. At one to one and a half inches long, they are just large enough and bright enough to keep you on the path.
It seems like everything takes a battery these days. Phones, watches, radios, games, tools, the list goes on. The short of it is, you need batteries.
Make a comprehensive list of every tool you will use during a blackout requiring batteries. Then identify your expected usage over 5 days. Use this to calculate the number of batteries you will need during a blackout.
Don’t forget electronics that are USB powered. Add a few battery banks and cables to your kit to cover these.
One note I cannot stress enough. Don’t store batteries in any of your electronics. One corroded battery can ruin a device. I speak from a position of experience. Get lithium AAs and AAAs batteries (less prone to corrode) for all your equipment.
Lighter \ Matches
With night comes candles. With the cold comes fireplaces. Each requires a lighter or matches to fire up. A few Bic lighters in your kit and you’re good to go.
Personally, I would avoid non-Bic lighters. I’ve never had success with off brands. Most of the time the flame control doesn’t work, and I’m left with either a blowtorch or a miniscule flame. Often they leak. After a week in my pocket, they’re empty.
When the power goes down, it takes wireless phones with it. Often, when the power is off, the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) is still up and running. There’s an amazing amount of redundancy in POTS.
Pack a wired telephone in your blackout kit. When the power goes down and bricks your wireless hand set, plug in the old standby.
There is an entire industry for emergency radios. They all have similar features. AM/FM (get one with Short Wave (SW) as well), hand crank power, solar, and an integrated flashlight. These are great little all in one devices.
The priorities here should be the radio and the power source. Get one that takes batteries at a minimum. The solar panels and hand crank options work, but honestly I’ve only ever used the hand crank to keep the kiddos occupied.
The other issue is that rechargeable batteries have a life span and need occasional use to stay in top shape. The ability to use AAs that you already have in the kit is a big plus.
Radio stations are built for power outages. Most have redundant power supplies. The state and federal government will use many to get the word out. Short and sweet, AM and FM stations are beacons of information when the rest of the world is largely silent.
The big console radios of the 70s are distant, technological relics. Today you can get all that function and more in a small personal radio.
Go as big as your kit will allow. Small to large, there are many options out there. Stick a list of local radio station on the back of the radio so you don’t have to go searching the dial for information.
Communication is king when everything shuts down. I am thrilled to live in an area with limited cell coverage. However, when the internet goes down, the blister-pack radios come out.
Even though they have limited range, I can still chat with the neighbors to make sure that everyone is OK (and to kid him about using his generator even though the power has only been out for 15 minutes).
A simple set of radios will let you talk to friends and neighbors that are close by. For a little more distance add a small HAM radio to your kit. Without a license, you can only listen. Get a HAM license if you want to key-up and talk.
Small backup stove
If your kitchen doesn’t have a gas stove, then you need an alternative. The ability to have a cup of coco in the evening or a hot mug of coffee in the morning can be life altering when everything else is going downhill.
A small propane or isobutane-propane stove with one or two cannisters is more than sufficient to give you a few pots of coffee. You can also use them to cook a few simple meals with the proper mess kit.
First Aid \ Trauma Kit
Accidents happen, especially in the dark. Dealing with an injury is bad enough when it’s well lit and you know where everything is. Add in low light confusion and it’s best to have a kit in a known and centralized location.
Add in a small boo-boo kit and a trauma kit to your blackout supplies. Most accidents fall into the categories of band-aids, ace wraps, or stitches. These two kits should cover you.
Cold and dark can be pretty bad. Cold, dark, and bored really sucks. Especially after your kids announce their boredom for the hundredth time. And you know more is coming because it’s only 7 pm.
Pack a few forms of entertainment! Cards, old electronic games (think 80s football), etc. My favorite is old time radio. I have an MP3 player and speaker dedicated to my blackout kit. We fire that up, and listen to Burns and Allen, Abbot and Costello, and many others. The time passes quickly with this simple and wholesome entertainment.
Just in case other utilities will stop working, it’s good to have some blankets plus lots of clothes to keep yourself warm if you won’t have the ability to properly heat yourself and your home.
EMPs and CMEs are on every preppers threat matrix. Therefore, it makes sense to set up a small faraday cage for your blackout kit. This can be an ammo can, or my favorite a small garbage can.
There thousands of videos on YouTube on how to make your own faraday cage, so I’ll just cover the highlights here.
Go to your local hardware store, and buy a small garbage can and a roll of foil tape (usually used for HVAC ducting). Tape over any seams on the can. Where the bottom attaches and any vertical seams all get a layer of foil tape.
Next, line the inside of the can with cardboard. You don’t want any of your equipment to touch the metal of the can. Tape the cardboard together with duct tape so that it doesn’t move around.
You can check out our step by step guide with photos here.
Once you’ve prepped the inside of the garbage, add your electronics. If they pile up to the top, add a cardboard top (to keep the can lid from touching anything). Put on the can lid then tape over the seam.
Radios and lights are both candidates for your Faraday cage. While you’re at it, load it up with any other sensitive electronics. Just keep the blackout kit items on top so that they are easily accessible. Second, keep the roll of foil tape with the can so you can seal it back up.
Bundling Up Blackout Kits
Blackout kits are my personal gateway prepping drug. Every friend that buys a house, every college kid that gets their first apartment, gets a blackout kit as a gift. Everyone has loved them, and immediately filled out the 3×5 card with place holders for utility, insurance, and other priority numbers.
You probably already have most of what you need. Take a weekend and pull together your plan, have your spouse or friend review it for gaps. Then fill a small tote with everything you need for the next time mother nature takes out the power. If you’re in luck, it’ll be a day or two where you get to practice your prepper skills.
Take the step and when the next outage happens, you’ll feel that sense of satisfaction of making it through with little to no hiccups in your normal routine. Albeit with flashlights.