One of the most important things that got me so motivated about preparedness, was learning about how fragile the power grid in the United States is, and what the effects of a prolonged outage would look like. There is a rather well known book in the preparedness community called “One Second After” by bestselling author William R. Forstchen, which paints a very realistic portrait of what life could look like in the USA during an extended power grid down situation. I highly recommend that people who are unfamiliar with this book give it a read if they are serious about survival and preparedness. Something that I want to address at this point is that the term ‘power outage’ means different things to different people. If you live in a hot or cold climate, and your home heating and cooling system is electric, or if the only way you can cook food in your home is with electric appliances, you have serious issues to think about, other than not being able to see in the dark. I hope to cover some of these other issues in future articles, but today the purpose of this article will be talking about alternative emergency illumination strategies for your home.
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A national, or regional prolonged outage is obviously a very extreme / worst case emergency scenario. Depending on where you live, thunder storms, wind storms, tornados, hurricanes, earth quakes, snow storms and other acts of nature, can all be factors which can knock out your power for extended periods. The difference in power outage scenarios is that in an apocalyptic situation, caused deliberately by an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) or naturally by a Coronal Mass Ejection “CME” (solar flare) the damage to the power grid would be very wide spread across vast areas of the USA and possibly the entire globe. When the grid goes down because of a major weather event, even though the damage may be widespread, utility workers and emergency crews come in from all over the country to help restore power to damaged areas as soon as possible. The more extensive the area of damage, the less outside help becomes available, and the longer it takes to arrive. If damage occurred on a national level, it would be unrealistic to expect any outside assistance in your area. If you want to be prepared, you have to understand that temporary outages are highly likely and that prolonged outages are a real possibility. Temporary outages are temporary inconveniences. Prolonged outages have the potential to become life changing events. The reality is that losing power in your home for hours, days, or possibly even weeks, is more of a “when will it happen” versus an “if it will happen” reality. The question you really need to ask yourself is “how prepared am I for a temporary or a prolonged power outage?” Most people are really not “prepared” but, they can get by for a few days with the oddball collection of flashlights, batteries, and candles they have scattered in various places around the house. That may be good enough for a temporary outage of 2-3 days, but what if you had an extended outage? In places where hurricanes have hit in the last few years, it has been very common for people to be without power for 2-3+ weeks. Fortunately, there are some really practical, cost effective things you can do to improve your emergency home illumination preparedness. Let’s take a look at some options:
Battery Powered Lanterns: Battery powered lanterns are usually peoples first logical “go to” choice for providing area or room lighting during a power outage. Battery powered lanterns have come a long way over the last several years. When people think of these types of lights and lanterns they typically think of the big and bulky C and D battery cell lanterns like the old school models pictured here:
While these lights still work well, they are mostly obsolete in terms of their features, size to weight performance, battery runtime life, and brightness output. If you already own any of these old school types of lights I am not suggesting to get rid of them, but you may want to consider using them as backups, or in secondary locations inside your living space. The main issue that I have with the older models is the batteries. C and D cell batteries are expensive compared to AA batteries. The other issue is that retailers are carrying less and less C and D batteries these days because the industry is pushing rechargeable, AA, AAA, and rechargeable battery operated lanterns. C & D batteries also are the first types of batteries to be sold out ahead of known weather events. I have lived through eight major hurricanes in my life and I can’t ever remember a time when AA batteries were completely unavailable. Electric lanterns are my favorite for use in the house or in tents. They provide a lot of light in a handy package that can be left on a table or chair and can be easily hung from just about anywhere.
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Liquid Fuel Lamps: Traditional oil or kerosene lamps: I’m not a big fan of these because of the safety issues, fuel storage issues, and the toxic fumes and odors given off by these types of lights. While they may work well for area lighting, I don’t think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages with the battery powered, rechargeable or solar options that exist today. Some people don’t have issues storing liquid fuel but personally, in my opinion …if I’m going to store flammables I would rather use them for cooking, powering equipment, or for running vehicles.
Candles: An old reliable that technology that is difficult to completely replace: I’m a big fan of candles as an illumination solution. Why? Because they are still very practical and useful and can be integrated into your existing living space with little issues as long as a little caution and care are applied: Candles provide a soft, soothing, relaxing light that electric lights can’t reproduce even with dimmers. Emergency situations are stressful, and anything you can do that might help relax you and your family is a good thing. Having candles also gives you a very reliable, easy to use back up to your battery or solar powered lighting. Candles are relatively inexpensive and depending on the size and type of the candles you have, they may last much longer than batteries. Candles are also and excellent barter item to have for prolonged outage situations. They also work great in situations where light discipline inside your home is necessary, as candles don’t throw off as much light as lanterns and flashlights.
Headlamps: I’m also a very big fan of this item. Some people think headlamps are goofy, but they can make life much easier for any type of preparedness or survival situation. I keep one in my travel backpack, one in my “go bag” and keep one in my vehicle. As with any type of gear, all levels of quality exist. After several years of using and experimenting with different head lamps, my all -time favorite is the Princeton Tec Remix-Pro. Princeton Tec makes an impressive line of headlamps that are very difficult to beat for the money.
Rechargeable Lights & Batteries: Rechargeable devices are great. However, to get the best performance out of a rechargeable, you usually need to be charging off an 110V electrical outlet. Charging by portable solar panels is viable, but can be a slow process. Charging of generator power is much better. Not everyone has that option, and it may not be the best use of limited fuel resources. You can plug into a vehicle’s electric system to recharge a battery, but this can also be a slow process. I would never completely rely on rechargeable devices 100%.
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Solar Power: Although solar powered devices have come a long way, I personally have not seen anything that works as well as it advertised. I think solar charged devices are a good back up to build redundancy into your mix of Illumination devices, but like rechargeable lights, they should not be considered a standalone solution.
Redundancy: Regardless of what types of lights and devices that you choose, you should always have some redundancy built into your illumination strategy. In my opinion, the best alternative is always having battery powered devices in the mix. Don’t completely rely on rechargeable or solar powered lights 100%. Personally, for something this important, I want a back up’s to my back up’s. With all the choices available today, it’s not difficult or expensive to accomplish this. In my opinion this should also apply to selection of devices based on battery type.
Battery Types: My current philosophy is that I purchase and stock AA and CR 123 batteries only. I still have D batteries but only because I already have lanterns that use them. These are secondary and back up lights. If starting up from scratch I would purchase AA, CR123, and rechargeable batteries only. $16.00 will get you a package of 36 batteries vs. about (8) size D’s. With AA’s, the versatility is many times more allowing you to have commonality of one battery type for both hand held flashlights and lanterns, and possibly even your head lamps. CR 123’s are more expensive, but they are normally used for tactical flashlights and weapon mounted lights. The advantage to these is they have typically have the longest shelf life of 8-10 years.
Article by GetZone.com Contributor, Robert Rudis