So far, we've gotten multi-hour blackouts about once a year since moving to our new house, Murkworks North. And we got through this past storm pretty well. We had heat, we had light, we had food and the ability to prepare it. It wasn't good, but it wasn't really so bad. Since the more people prepped to handle these things, the better, I'm carrying some comments I made in email to someone off LJ about dealing with this sort of thing over to my journal.
1. Have non-electric entertainment. During last year's blackout, we had a music jam! annathepiper
even wrote up a jam report. It was good. ^_^ This time, we did crosswords and lazed about, and were getting ready to play Yahtzee right before the lights came back on. We'd have had more fun except I was busy prepping for my chemistry final all Thursday and was then kind of wiped out Friday night.
2. If a big windstorm is coming and you have warning, stock up on ice early to keep your cold food viable. (Not all these come with low temperatures.) Keep the ice in bags in the freezer until the lights actually go out (a spazzkat
addition), then transfer the ice and most valuable foods to a locking cooler, and if it's cold out, put it outside. We did not
do this, but have now learned. Oh well, at least the fridge is all sparkly clean. That's
3: Other food: stock more up on soup (easy to heat) and other canned fruits and vegetables (also easy to heat) and tea (easier than coffee to make), and try to keep at least a few days' supply of food in the house, stuff that you eat normally anyway, so you can rotate through it and not feel like you're wasting money. That's a little easier said than done, but a box of canned green veggies, a box of canned fruit, and a bunch of cans of soup OR boxes of mac and cheese plus canned tuna will give you a pretty decent emergency balance of protein and vitamins, and they're all easy to make in the dark without a lot of heat. Also, maybe keep some candy around for morale purposes. YAY! STORM CANDY! Or something. ^_^
Or, if you're tight on space, go over to Uwajimaya and get some decent rice. We like Nishiki brand, and no, I don't mean the sushi kind you can get at QFC, I mean their regular rice. It's easy to make, compact, tasty, and very good for you. This is something we keep 20lb bags of anyway, but even a 5lb mini-bag will keep you in calories for a good amount of time. Plus, it stores well.
If cooking heat is an issue, then there're always MREs, breakfast bars, Tiger's Milk bars, and other similar no-heat high-protein or high-fruit snacks.
3: Lighting: the cheapest way I've found to get decent emergency brightness is to get a couple or three oil lamps and keep a bottle or two of candle (paraffin) oil around. They work surprisingly well. The lamps cost about $8 (or mine did, anyway, at McLendon's Hardware), the oil costs about $4 for a large bottle. The ones I have look like 19th century little-house-on-the-prairie metal-base long-glass-chimney lights, like you'd expect Laura Ingalls to be carrying around. ^_^ One large bottle (which is, hum, a litre?) of paraffin oil fills three of the kind of lamp I have full, and we used it constantly through the evenings during the blackout and didn't even need to refill once. You can get the oil all kinds of places; Bartell Drugs even carries it. And I wouldn't recommend kerosene lamps unless you'll remember to store and replace kerosene every year; paraffin lamps aren't as bright but the paraffin doesn't degrade like kerosene does. (It's a moisture thing.) I studied for my Friday-morning chem final using one of these lamps, so they're bright enough for comfortable reading.
Alternatively, if you're thinking about this right now, you can get these sets of three press-click LED area lights that take batteries for $14 from Costco. Buy those and a brick of AAA batteries. They won't be as good for general lighting as a paraffin oil lamp, but they don't involve flame or bottles of candle oil. Oh, and LED lights are better than regular because they use less power (so the batteries last longer), don't burn out, and are brighter than standard bulbs. But as with most battery lights I've found, the light isn't very even, so reading is like reading by a flashlight.
A still more expensive but definitively more comforting solution for light is to get a good-sized computer UPS (spendy), keep it charged, then use it to power a compact-florescent light during the blackout. Get something that'll keep a full computer system running for 25 minutes or more. We have a couple of these for our servers. They were more than half-drained by the time we got all our servers shut down, but despite that, we got a full evening's light out of one, and that was mostly just as an experiment. We used a full-spectrum daylight compact florescent (Ott-Lite, available at Home Depot and other places) bulb, which we use in some fixtures anyway.
Having normal electric light around, even if it's a single fixture, definitely helps cheer people up. You want c.f. and not incandescent because of the much lower power utilisation, again - 15W for a room's worth of brightness instead of 60W means that your battery power lasts four times longer. We also recharged my cell phone off it.
4: We weren't relying on this, but were very surprised to find that our hot water heater worked through the blackout. This is the advantage of natural gas over electric hot water, and probably tanks over tankless, tho' I don't know for sure about that last part.
5: Heating: if you're willing to store (and annually replace) a bit of kerosene, indoor-use no-vent-required kerosene heaters are available, put out a good amount of heat, and aren't very expensive. But you have to
run them on non-flammable surfaces like stone or tile, and you have to
have the right kind of fuel (K-1 Kerosene and nothing else), or you'll get CO poisoning and die, assuming the heater doesn't, you know, explode. So it's important not to do that. ^_^ The emergency solution to the floor thing where you don't have these options already is to buy some large garden pavers, put those on the floor, then put the heater on them. The solution to the fuel thing is not to try to run the heater on something stupid like diesel. Diesel and gasoline explode. Kerosene doesn't, even if you put a lit match to a spoonful of it.
If you have your own home, of course, a better solution is a woodburning stove. It's much better to get a soapstone or other rock-lined stove, which have a higher thermal mass and are generally more efficient than iron stoves. You'll also want something made in New England that's sold to people who live places like Vermont and New Hampshire where people actually use them for heat, because those people won't generally put up with a bullshit stove. I've actually seen some of these stoves
in person, and they seemed pretty good at the time.
We were surprised to discover that the gas fireplaces we've thought poorly of since moving in were quite effective heaters, as gas fireplaces go. This is not usually true - I know people who found that their gas fireplaces didn't provide any useful heat without electric fan assistance - so if you're putting in a gas fireplace, get one that will burn without electric assistance and has high BTU output without the fan as an aid.
6: This doesn't matter for windstorms, much, but when we have the next big earthquake, you'll want either stored water (difficult) or at least water-purification tablets (easy) on hand. $4 will get you a decently-sized bottle of purification tablets. Replace them every year or as directed on the package; they go bad even in proper storage.
All the local governments and the Red Cross tell everyone in this region to have three-day packs. These are grab-and-go backpack/carrypacks containing survival supplies for three days. This kind of storm is one of the reasons why three-day packs are recommended. We didn't have to get into ours, but we had it handy, and that was really reassuring. (And I go through it once a year and restock it - tho' I should do that every six months, really.) If you think this windstorm was bad - and it was - wait 'till the next big earthquake. It'll be much worse.
Emergency Essentials will assemble a top-of-the-line 3-day pack for you. That's kind of expensive - and you'll get on some Mormon mailing lists, which is kind of funny - but comprehensive. The Red Cross sells cheaper ones that are better than nothing, but they're pretty bare-boned and you'll want to round them out a bit.
So. These are the kinds of things we (mostly) had ready and handy, and helped us deal with the multi-day blackout with a lot less pain and stress than we would have had otherwise. Feel free to offer better ideas, I'm sure this post could use 'em.