Dealing with a two week power failure in relative comfort

photo of emergency food boxes

Each year natural disasters shut down gas, electric, and water services to millions of homes. More than ever, people’s lives are being disrupted by storms, earthquakes, and fires. But few are ready to weather a week or two without utilities.

A weird accident many years ago helped the Patterson family prepare for future outages. On a pleasant summer afternoon a worker’s cutting torch accidentally ignited a huge Styrofoam dome covering our town’s sewage treatment plant. Black toxic smoke welled up from raging flames and spread over the homes and businesses of thousands of people. Disaster sirens wailed as the police department ordered everyone to leave town quickly.

With smoke thickening around our home we tossed camping gear, food, and a jug of water in the trunk, put the kids in the back seat and headed for clean air. An hour later we pitched the tent in the yard of a friend who lived miles away. The next morning with the fire out, the air cleared and authorities let citizens come home.

Fortunately our disaster impacted a small area for a short time. It happened during warm weather and didn’t harm homes, roads, or utility infrastructure. That’s unusual. Increasingly common are monstrous winter and summer storms, wildfires, and even earthquakes that destroy buildings and knock out utilities for days or weeks.

While predicting where and when a disaster will strike is impossible, certainly millions of people will experience one in coming months and have their lives disrupted. Prudent people will have prepared for a disaster by assembling a kit of items that can be used in the home when utilities go down or quickly tossed in the car if evacuation is ordered.

Enduring a week or two without utilities isn’t fun, but having the basic items in permanent storage keeps life relatively comfortable. The Patterson family keeps enough of the following basics ready to ride out a two-week power disruption:

  • Food. Dehydrated meals that keep almost forever, weigh little and are quite tasty.
  • Water. 20 gallons in plastic containers plus water purification tablets and a water filter.
  • Communications. Solar cell phone charger, a tiny radio with extra batteries and a written list of relatives and important contacts.
  • Camp stove, matches, flashlights, paper towels, bleach and warm packs.
  • Medications and toiletries
  • Camping equipment

We store all items, except sleeping bags and a tent, in bins where they can be quickly reached.


It seems to be happening more often. Wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and human disasters create enormous damage over vast areas. These natural events knock out electric and gas service, close stores, and make travel difficult. Sometimes it takes weeks to restore utilities most of us take for granted.

The most likely disaster to strike an American family is an extended power outage caused by a storm. Could you ride out a winter week or two in comfort….without utilities?

Few are prepared to either quickly evacuate our homes or stay put while a blizzard rages outside or cope when electricity and gas don’t work. Creating a preparedness plan and assembling simple and inexpensive items make enduring a few powerless days or weeks safe and reasonably comfortable.

Winding Pathways LLC encourages every family to develop a disaster plan and assemble items useful in the event of an evacuation or long term utility outage.


A family preparedness plan can be as simple as a discussion clarifying what needs to be done and who is responsible for doing various actions in the event of an extended power outage, evacuation need, or some other emergency. Plan items should include having:

  • Preparedness equipment, food, medications, cash, and supplies ready in secure containers.
  • Predetermined a place for scattered family members to meet and stay in the event of an evacuation order.
  • Prepared a list of family, friends, and important professional people (police department, attorney, and physician) with contact information.

All family members should have a copy and one should be in the preparedness container.


Years ago our police department ordered residents to evacuate within one hour because toxic fumes were spreading into neighborhoods from an enormous fire. We had never considered an evacuation and hadn’t developed a plan or a kit of items to quickly grab and toss in the car. Fortunately, we had camping equipment, food, and other essential items scattered about the house and garage. With hurried scrambling we had them in the trunk and were on the road seeking cleaner air within a half hour.

After the air cleared and we returned, our family developed a disaster plan and gathered the items we wanted to take if we ever needed to evacuate again. Or simply use at home if a disaster knocks out utilities.

We store emergency items in three easily accessed places and can gather and load them in the car and be on the road in fifteen minutes.


We began by purchasing two large plastic storage bins to hold an array of small items. We stocked them with items we anticipated we’d need if our power went out for a week or two or we needed to evacuate. Many were simple “around the house” items like matches, candles, old silverware we weren’t routinely using. Other items such a tiny portable radio and solar cell phone charger we bought.

Everything in the bins is dedicated to emergency use ONLY. To raid bins for nonemergency use is foolish. For example, if batteries die we buy new ones, rather than raiding the bin. A survey of our home revealed how many devices require batteries! Since batteries have a shelf life, we check the bins annually and replace items, like batteries, that have a shelf life with new ones.

We began stocking the bins with obvious items we’d need. Dried foods, toiletries, and flashlights are logical. But some things are easy to overlook, so we occasionally add something new. Two examples, many people use credit cards for nearly all purchases. When the power goes off they don’t work. Cash does. So, we hid cash in small bills in our bins When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012 cell phone service remained working in many areas but homeowners had no way to recharge their phones. So, we added a solar powered phone charger to the bin.

It’s important to have two easy to overlook items safely stored for emergency use: Cash in small bills- Credit and debit cards don’t work when the power goes off- and a cell phone charger, such as a solar powered one.

Here’s what the Patterson’s have ready in case of a massive utility failure:

In two plastic bins stored for easy access. Most items are individually packed in zip lock bags.

  • Toiletries, medications, and cosmetics. Reading and sun glasses.
  • Toilet paper, aluminum foil, and paper towels. Bleach. Hand sanitizer.
  • First aid kit. Small bottle of rubbing alcohol.
  • A “multitool” that includes pliers, screwdriver, and knife.
  • Duct and black tape.
  • Water purification tablets and a water purification filter. Learn how to use it before you need it. (see notes later – water purification)
  • Matches in several separate watertight containers and a butane lighter.
  • Sunscreen, insect repellent, and “warm packs.” ( sometimes called hand warmers)
  • Small transistor radio with batteries stored outside so they do not discharge over time.
  • Many spare batteries and two flashlights. (replace these annually) Three candles.
  • Paper and pencils, pens, envelopes and postage stamps. (replace these with new-rate ones)
  • Cell phone solar charger.
  • Contact list of relatives, friends, physicians, attorneys, police, and others. (update annually)
  • CASH. When power is off ATM’s don’t work! Cash does.
  • Books and games. Emergencies often create much down time and can be “boring” after a few days. Plan ahead.
  • Small camping stove and extra fuel. Our stove fits inside a handy pot with a frying pan lid.
  • Two week supply of dehydrated food.
  • Eating utensils, sharp knife, cutting board, can opener, paper plates and washable bowls.
  • Dish soap and small basin.
  • State road map.

Items outside the bins but easy to grab:

  • Water. Ten gallons per family member. Stored in clean camping jugs or milk jugs near the bins.
  • Gasoline. Ten gallons stored in the garage. “Stabile added” to prevent gas from deteriorating. Twice a year we pour the gas into our
  • car’s tank and replace it with fresh gas.
  • Camping equipment. Tent, ground cloth, sleeping bags, pegs, hammer or axe.
  • Battery operated lantern.
  • Cell phones.
  • Clothing. We can quickly grab appropriate clothing from closets and drawers. What we grab depends on the season and weather. Remember a raincoat!

Tents, sleeping bags, stoves, and other camping equipment are invaluable during disasters. Often they can be purchased at great markdown late in the summer after the normal camping season is over or found at garage sales.