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Grid down – How to recognize it early?

https://practical.engineering/blog/2022/11/22/how-long-would-society-last-during-a-total-grid-collapse

This was posted in November to the internet but my husband and I just watched this video yesterday. One of the things I found most interesting and relevant was the mention of how the initial reaction to the scenario would probably be more of a vacation vibe until the gravity of the situation really began to sink in after 2-3 days of no electricity. How does a prepared person get ahead of the curve on something like this? Realizing that the power is not coming back up in 12 hours, rather than waiting 48 hours seems like it might give you additional time to stockpile last minute water or supplies before the herd starts to panic. But how do you recognize that it really is a grid down and not an extended power outage? Or do you not worry about getting it wrong after you hit a certain length of outage, for example 6 hours, and assume grid down so that you can start moving to bug in or out as necessary?

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  • Comments (10)

    • 3

      I don’t think it’s possible to foresee how long a grid down situation will last that’s why you need to prepare beforehand. The only thing that would make me think that the grid would be down for a longer period of time is if the grid was attacked during war vs a natural disaster for example. During war I would assume the grid would be down way longer than in any other scenario.

    • 2

      “Grid down” can mean many things to many people. No power? No internet? No cell phone service? Having been is several outages over the years ( including the big pre-internet black out of 1965), I would think that a clue that it was more than just a local services issues would be a loss of power & internet, cellphone services and internet access on that phone. If that was what I woke up to one morning, I would go to my own version of Defcon 2….and make any last minute preps I needed to, assume the worst but hope for the best. If we’re talking about an EMP type grid failure, then you’d also likely see other symptoms beyond what I’ve listed, such as delicate electrical stuff failing, like your cars, ham radios etc. And seriously, if it was a nationwide failure, the word would be getting around and I’d expect civil unrest pretty early on as looting and theft would ramp up pretty quickly IMO. 

    • 2

      Running around for more supplies after an emergency (of any type) has begun is not in my plans, but to answer the general question anyway:

      I think it’s fairly safe to assume that localized power outages will be temporary, and the larger the area effected, the longer (up to “forever”) it’s likely to last.

      If you (or any neighbor) can still get a cellphone signal, the internet is working, or NOAA weather channels are still transmitting, those are signs that TEOTWAWKI has not come.  When there’s a total communications outage on top of a power outage, it’s harder to tell.

      I don’t think there’s any single “key” to look for that would confirm that yes, this is “it” beyond a doubt.  Mostly it would be a matter of remaining calm, and waiting to see how things unfold over the coming weeks/months.

    • 2

      Last 2 outages were emergency maintenance (4 hours) and a dumb squirrel (3 hours). I knew about the squirrel by calling someone in town. Prior to the maintenance outage, I posted the plan on our family Signal group.

      I would:

      Water is gravity fed. I would top off all water containers including trash cans.(basic hurricane prep)
      I would go to the store with my cash (…) and get fruit and vegetables that last longer (fruit with rinds like oranges, grapefruit, clementines but also apples) and potatoes / rice and most of the hot coffee.
      Top off my vehicles’ gas (our station has a NG genny) and pay with cash (…)

      At home, my wife would:

      Check key websites for an update; local & national news, power outage website, internet outage website, Facebook…
      Turn on the battery-powered radio to local news.
      Confirm location/status of all family members via Signal.
      Take out the flashlights, lanterns and candles. She would put her small flashlight in her pocket.
      Talk to our neighbors.
      I would check with some friends that work with the military and swing by town hall to talk to the utility manager/police with coffee I bought.

      When I got home I would park in the back of the house and lock my car.

      Your Internet provider may have generator power for 8-48? hours but if you don’t have a UPS or generator at home, you won’t be able to connect. Try your cellphone. ISP comms will be prioritized by the government.

      • 1

        This is an impressive reply — I am inspired by it to make my own very specific plan for what needs done immediately in an outage.

        I lived in San Diego in 2011 when our corner of the country had a widespread blackout — it was a long time ago but I seem to recall news reports that none of our gas stations could pump gas. How did you learn your local station has a generator? I have clearly have some work to do in this area.

      • 1

        @Amy s.,

        “How did you learn your local station has a generator?”

        I can see it on the side of the building next to the air pump. You should ask the clerk at your station if they have one in case of a power outage and if the pumps will still work.

    • 2

      I think getting ears on sooner rather than later is probably the best way to go about it.

      Locally here, the radio stations don’t have anything and if the data is out, there’s not really a way to look online.

      My work around is a software controlled radio dongle that I can run off an old android phone and a battery pack. It’s not dependent on wall outlet or mobile data, so I can at least find out what the emergency services know, which is at least more than nothing since they usually have generators and radios.

      I think also keeping a bit on top of the news would help know, with bigger stuff like a solar wind event or escalating tensions, it would at least point you in the direction of what’s happening.

      The TV is also satellite so we can at least watch the news if there’s power

    • 2

      That’s why it’s called PREpared, not AFTERpared.   Have communication plans, primary and redundant meet-up places, plans to get children out of school with paperwork on file at the school etc.

      In 2016 I purchased a book called Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland and Your Home.   Although it turned out to be very different than my expectations based on the title, it is still a valuable resource on how even the “most prepared” people can still freak out.    If you go to amazon and look for a review of this book by Cissy, dated July 26, 2016 you’ll see my review at the time (lengthy) and find out about the nugget of gold in the book, a memo that the author wrote the staff at her child’s preschool.     That alone is worth the price of the book.

      At the end of the review, I tried to post a link to theprepared.com, but Amazon deleted it.  

    • 1

      The only way most people will recognise grid down is when the lights go off.

      the next thing is to find out whether its a short term repair fault or something more permanent, most repair faults take a few hours to 1 day at most, if its longer than that then its probably something more man made like a cyber attack, if its an EMP or a nuclear attack then it will probably be more obvious.

      heading out AFTER the grid goes down is a fools game, people will be more panicky and violence and riots could happen, the time to prepare is before anything happens.

    • 1

      Don’t dismiss this as ‘…that’s a third-world country…’ This was a technical problem caused by poor leadership, lack of planning, incomplete documentation and inexperience. That could describe much of the West.

      “Pakistani officials had planned to save on energy costs by turning off electricity across the country overnight. Nighttime has the lowest usage hours for energy in Pakistan, where winters are relatively mild. The problem came when technicians tried to reboot the electric system in the morning, and found out that the infrastructure wasn’t capable of booting up the entire nation’s energy grid all at once. Major cities, including the capital city of Islamabad, as well as smaller cities and towns across the country were left in the dark for 15 hours on Monday, lasting into the night.”

      Pakistan goes dark