Friday, August 14, 2009

What can you do when the power goes out?

By Dustin Bilhimer, Water Quality Program
A recent power outage at our office lasted several hours and prompted me to think about this very question. Most everything I do at work centers around having electricity to power my computer in which all my work resides. I originally drafted this post with paper and pencil.

So, aside from ensuring my loved ones are safe during a blackout, what should I do with this time without electricity? How about contemplating how I could accomplish the most important things I need to do (provide water, food, shelter, and security) in the event I lose power for an extended period of time?

These are some of the questions I’ve asked myself:

  1. How will I get water if the municipal water system doesn’t have electricity to pump water to my house? How do I keep my food from spoiling without a refrigerator?
  2. How do I meet my needs for shelter if I have no heat during the winter? How about cooking my food? How can I add solar power to my house (possibly tied to the larger power grid) to provide my critical electricity needs?
  3. If power did not come back on for days, weeks, or months, everyone is going to have problems with the first two issues and they will be desperate to meet those needs. Under the worst case scenario, how can I protect my family from dangerously desperate and very hungry people?

So what are the solutions to these top three issues of food and water, shelter, and security? Here are my thoughts.

In the past few years my family has been learning to grow vegetables and save seed. We have expanded our garden to the point where we provide a little more than half of the total food we need during the growing season on a 0.17 acre city lot. We’ve also started canning and freezing our garden bounty to save food for the rest of the year (begin to learn how, click here). This part has been especially fun, and I feel good knowing that I have a pantry full of good wholesome food that I’ve grown and that I won’t need to rely on buying as much from a grocery store.

To address my personal security issues, I’ve gotten to know my neighbors better and I feel confident knowing that there is strength and security in working together with them if we need to. History has proven that survival is easier when people work together for the common good rather than as individuals trying to “go it alone”.

However, without the availability of clean water I will not survive long regardless of how well I’m meeting my other needs. If I can’t get water from my tap, there is a community well I can walk to and carry water home from. But if that wasn’t available, or the ground water contaminated, my family and I would not be able to stay in our home.

Without the easy access to clean water that the Departments of Ecology and Health, and countless citizens, work to protect every day, our culture and our communities that rely on public or private water utilities would cease to function as they are now. Everyone needs to do everything we can to protect and support our life-support system, our water.

Ecology has some information on what you can do to help protect water quality (click here) and lists of other references that can help you be more sustainable (click here). You can also find information on protecting your water from EPA (click here).

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