Survive an “American Blackout” in an Apartment

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

I got a chance to see “American Blackout” on Nat Geo a few days ago.  If you have not heard of the program, here’s a quick summary from their website:

American Blackout imagines the story of a national power failure in the United States caused by a cyber attack told in real time, over 10 days, by those who kept filming on cameras and phones. You’ll learn what it means to be absolutely powerless. Gritty, visceral and totally immersive, see what it might take to survive from day one, and who would be left standing when the lights come back on.

The show followed five sets of characters:  a prepper family who bugged out to their wilderness retreat, a yuppy couple living in a high rise, a teen home alone when his mom went to work, a suburban family with the wife ready to give birth, and a group of college students trapped in an elevator.   The blackout lasted for 10 days, and the story chronicled what happened to these characters throughout the crisis.

This is not actually a show review, rather, based on the events, I wanted to conclude how an apartment dweller living in the city could have fared under the circumstances as they happened.

How to survive a blackout while living in an apartment in a large city

  1. Hunker down – Unless you had a predetermined bugout location you can quickly run to like the “prepper family” you will need to weather the blackout right where you live.
  2. Have at least two weeks or more worth of water, food and supplies – The blackout in the show lasted for 10 days; they were lucky it did not stretch out much longer.  In reality, it may last longer so have as much as you are able to store.
  3. You need a way to deal with waste – After the power grid went down, the tap stopped running soon after.  There would be no way to flush the toilets.  You’ll need a makeshift toilet, lots of heavy duty trash bags, cat litter, baking soda and bleach.
  4. The “normalcy bias” will get you killed – In the show, several characters knew there was blackout, but still went about thinking things would operate the same as before.  The pregnant lady expected to be able to drive to the hospital to deliver her baby, the high rise couple expected their credit cards would still work, and the teen boy did not expect widespread violence in the city.
  5. Don’t neglect fire safety – The family in the suburbs in the show found their house burned down.  Apartment dwellers are vulnerable to fire, due to proximity between units.
  6. Security will be crucial – The high rise couple found that criminals were going door to door, breaking in and stealing everything in sight.  Even if you live in a security building, the lack of electricity will cause security doors and alarms to fail.  Find a way to make your apartment doors and windows more secure.
  7. Find  your escape routes  – First figure out how to get home in an emergency.  You need to know every entrance and exit to your building so you have an escape route out of your building.
  8. Have ways to defend yourself –You can guess what happened to the woman in the high rise after the criminals caught up to her.   If all else fails and you are not able to run out, as your doors get breached, you’ll need to be able to fight off your attackers.  Know what weapons you can use and how they work.
  9. You may lose contact with loved ones – This is one of the things I fear about a long term blackout:  losing contact with loved ones.  With no phones or  computers working, you have no way to contact each other.  Before anything happens, designate a meeting place in an emergency.  Have backup communications, such as ham radio, two way radios.  
  10. Make your everyday carry count – The college students who were stuck in the elevator managed to climb out by combining items they had with them.  Check your purse or pockets and see what can be useful in an emergency.  Start carrying items you can use – Swiss army knife, paracord bracelet, LED flashlight etc.

Now is a good time to check your power outage supplies.  Replace old batteries, get a solar charger, and    train your older kids to prepare 

You don’t know where you’ll be if or when it happens, so make sure you have an emergency plan for each location your family frequents and have supplies at work and in your car.

A long blackout is very feasible, and has happened in recent natural disasters.  Whether you live in a city apartment, a suburban home or a rural retreat, you’ll have some challenges to overcome.  Surviving a long blackout won’t be easy, and it won’t be pleasant, but being prepared will improve your family’s survival and well-being.

© Apartment Prepper 2013




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  1. hi there,there is a lot to think about, one British tv channel did the same thing a couple of months ago, most of the write ups though it was to far fetched, Nat Geo have just shown it in the UK, looking foreward to watching it

    1. Hey euroseptic prepper, Stop by and let us know what you thought, when you get the chance to see it. Thanks!

    1. Hi S-G-R, That is so true, I kept thinking that same thing – stay home! But I guess if there is nothing to eat or drink at home people will have to venture out. Thanks for the comment.

  2. I have had a 1500wt. electric generator but just bought a second one
    1800 electric generator. I found it on Amazon for $408. and they got to me in 5 days. I am disable and having a gas generator has never been in my plans.
    Since I could never get to gas station, so I have always look for ways to keep freezer going. Yes, one will not be enough but with solar panel it could recharge. And light a room or run fan in the summer. No, a heater would not last.

    Lots garbage bags for bathroom problem where you store them, after filled I do not know, but it would help. And I know this site talk about Water Bob for saving water.

    1. Hi gwynmarilyn, Yes we did mention the water bob in another article. They are pretty good to store water for an emergency and are easy to store. Sounds like you have some great preps! Thanks for the comment!

  3. good review bernie!! not sure if you noticed, but your pal dan had an impressive cameo in American Blackout! 🙂

    that’s right, I was the dude taking the shower (my wife was actually the chick shaving her legs with no water).

    the cool thing was–because they used a little clip from one of my vids, they actually flew me out to the premiere!! haha got to meet Scott Hunt and some other cool peeps.

    1. Hey Dan! Good to hear from you-I had to do a double take when I saw the bathroom scene in American Blackout. I said “I know that guy!” My family said sure you do… I was right! That was you! Now I have to see it again, so I can see your wife 🙂 Way cool, getting flown to the premier – celebrity treatment. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Living in a building (an apartment) that is connected to other people is a recipe for disaster. If the grid goes down people will use fire for cooking and light. It WILL get out of hand and there will be numerous apartment fires with loss of life and all your preps. If you are in any way a serious prepper and think the grid could go down you need to move! I know that sounds hard and harsh, but so is death. Move to a mobile home. In my city you can find mobile-homes for free in OK neighborhoods if you sing a one-year lease. My son just got one. It needed a serious cleaning, but it is a good solid home and he will not have to worry about his neighbor burning it down because they are too stupid to be able to manage a candle or burn it down while trying to cook dinner.

    I know you think “it will not happen to me”, but isn’t that what all the sheep say when they look at us prepping? I have been involved in and with the local fire department and it’s very clear that fire is deadly and easily gets out of hand. Even more so by city people that have no outdoor experience with it. They will use fire indoors and the results are predictable, this Blackout show should have showed that instead of showing a yuppie guy wanting to sue someone because his $17.00 an ounce meat spoiled because his freezer got warm…

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