A few weeks ago, Northwest Houston experienced a large power outage. Thousands of homes lost power for several hours. While my area was not affected, I wondered how the residents of the area fared during the blackout. The following article by Todd Sepulveda describes exactly what happened and some lessons we can all learn from it. Todd runs the wildly popular Prepper Website and Ed That Matters among others.
Lights Out! NW Houston Edition: Lessons for Non-Preppers!
by Todd Sepulveda
Anyone who wants to experience SHTF is out of their mind! The fact is, it won’t be the book, movie, fantasy that many think it might be. It will suck! Every once in a while, we get a little glimpse into what a major event might look like by watching and observing how people respond to the smaller, localized events. And if we are one of the people smack-dab in the middle of one of those smaller, localized events, well, we get a chance to run through how we might truly respond.
On Tuesday, August 23, 2016, a small electric substation caught fire in NW Houston. Why? I’m still not sure. But the fire caused a blackout that at one point reached 85,000 homes!
I was cooking dinner (spaghetti if you must know) and about to put garlic bread in the oven when the lights flickered and then went out. Like every paranoid prepper, I checked my phone…relieved that it wasn’t the dreaded EMP that would end the world as we know it, I opened the shades to let natural light in and served dinner to the family. As we ate, I checked my local area Facebook page, that posts information faster than even Twitter, and realized that the lights weren’t coming on anytime soon.
I checked the Centerpoint Outage Map website to see how far the outage reached. Centerpoint maintains the power lines in the Houston area. They also post updates on outages….more on that later.
We waited for a while to see if the lights were coming on, but chose to head out to my parents since they had power and Centerpoint was saying it was going to be 10-12 hours until power was restored. Why suffer? It isn’t SHTF yet!
Natural light was still coming in since the shades were open, but it got dark fast! I have PLENTY of lights around, so getting our stuff together was no big deal. We packed up, closed down the house and headed out.
As we left the neighborhood and traveled down towards the freeway, we noticed that lights that were previously out were back on. We called my in-laws, who live close by and they had power. We decided to go their to see if lights were coming on faster than Centerpoint said they would.
After about an hour, we realized that the lights weren’t coming on. We decided to go ahead and head out to my parents since they were better prepared to handle us and lights were still flickering at my in-laws (they weren’t leaving). Before we left, my neighbor texted me and reminded me to turn off my AC unit. She said that last time the lights were out like this, her AC blew when the lights came back on. I drove over to the house to turn off the AC and then we headed to my parents.
Power was restored sooner than the 10-12 hours that Centerpoint said. We woke up a little earlier than normal to head back to the house to get the kids to school and get ready for work.
The lessons learned aren’t going to be anything new for the experienced prepper. But they are good reminders. This article also might be helpful for the non-prepper who is looking to have some supplies or ideas to be a little better prepared for emergencies.
Plan, Plan, Plan
The best thing anyone can do when thinking about emergencies is to have a plan and mentally rehearse what they would do and how they need to respond to be safe. As I realized that the power might be off till the next day, I started discussing with my wife what we wanted to do: stick it out in a stuffy house (Houston heat & humidity sucks) or head over to my parents. We talked about what we needed to start doing to prepare to leave the house and started getting ready. Read more articles about planning here, here and here.
You WANT to Have Lights and MORE Lights!
Like I said before, night comes real fast! But, having light isn’t that much of an issue for me. I have 3 flashlights strategically placed on our fireplace mantle. I also have a rechargeable lantern by my bed. But the light that we used the most were the emergency lights that double as nightlights.
I have two Lite Savers, one in the kitchen (see pic) and one in the hallway. They stay charged because they plugin to an electrical socket. At night, they have a small LED light that provides a little light so you don’t kill yourself while you’re walking around in the dark. The LED light automatically comes on when the room goes dark. However, the light can also sense when electricity isn’t flowing in the house and then turns on the big light. You can unplug the light and carry it around like a small lantern. The light it provides is surprising!
It is always amazing to me how people don’t have the basics. One lady on Facebook posted that she didn’t have a flashlight or candles, but she did have her solar lights from her flowerbed. As preppers, we definitely know that trick. But WHY didn’t she have any flashlights or anything else? Come on!
We live in an information rich time in history. Of course, if we have a SHTF moment, information might not be so available. But until then, you have a ton of information on your cellphone. Hopefully, you’re not only using your phone to play “Words with Friends” or “Pokemon Go!” You SHOULD bookmark important information sites so that you can easily access information.
Some examples are:
- Your local power outage map.
- Check to see if your neighborhood or community has a page on Facebook. Like I said, mine posts information before you hear about it anywhere else. Yes, you’ll have to deal with some weirdos, but it’s worth it.
- See if your local police have an online scanner channel. It’s amazing what you can find out by listening to police and other first responders.
- Twitter. Yes, Twitter! This won’t necessarily help you in a local event. Although, you could check to see if there was a city hashtag like #HouNews (see below). But, Twitter is like that Facebook page I mentioned above, but on a world wide scale. Many people use Twitter all over the world. If something is going on, people will be tweeting about it. Coup attempts, riots, war… you can get instant information as it is happening.
- A good traffic map/APP is helpful too!
- Besides your phone, a good emergency radio with SW or even a cheap Baofeng is helpful.
It was dark when we were leaving the house…real dark. People were still driving in the neighborhood. As we were packing up, I thought about how we might look to thieves who might be driving around the neighborhood, checking out places to “hit” later. We decided to leave one car in the driveway to make it “appear” like someone was home.
Later, when I went back to the house to make sure the AC was off, I was surprised at how dark the neighborhood was. When the moon is not out, it gets dark…real dark. I could easily see which homes had lights shining through the windows. And I was instantly aware of any other light in front of homes or driveways. Something to REALLY think about.
I won’t get into having a means of protection. That should be a no brainer!
A Thought on Cell Phones
My cell Phone did well getting me a lot of information at first. However, at one point, we all lost signal, including the ability to text. I don’t know what kind of emergency power cell towers have, but it probably isn’t much if any. It could have just been our service provider, but I’m not sure.
However, for those that were using their cell phones for any length of time, even as a flashlight, it would have been good to have a way to charge it. Small cellphone battery chargers are very inexpensive! Some of the big ones will charge your phone multiple times!
We were lucky enough to have already cooked food before the lights went out. At the worse, we didn’t warm up the garlic bread. And, even if we needed to do something for dinner, we have plenty of food in the pantry and multiple ways of cooking it. We’re preppers after all!
However, I was floored by the posts I saw on Facebook where people went out to their neighborhood restaurant, only to realize that they didn’t have power either….duh. Some couldn’t buy food because the grocery store didn’t have power. I read where some people just ate crackers because that is all they had.
In reality, someone who was really hungry didn’t have to travel that far to get to an open restaurant or grocery store. But for goodness sake! Have some food in your pantry!
If this would have been a major long term event, people would have gone hungry…very hungry. It’s amazing to me how little food people keep in their homes.
We could of easily stayed at the house. It would have been a little warm (did I say Houston heat & humidity sucks already?), but just an inconvenience. One reason why I didn’t object too much to leaving the house was to update Prepper Website. I try to not miss a day!
Because we prep and plan, we were able to make decisions and had options on how to handle this evening. If you are reading this and you don’t prep, taking a little bit of time to plan and set aside some supplies can make a big difference during a local event. It’s just wise! And if others are depending on you, it’s your responsibility to be prepared!
What would you add?
This article first appeared on Ed That Matters.