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  • 5 Tips to Make Your Home an Electric Island (But Watch Out for Squirrels)

    Over the last year, experts and journalists have been sounding the call: The U.S. power grid is not secure. The U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced in December a $77 million effort to improve utilities’ cyber security. A book released in October by respected journalist Ted Koppel suggested a worst-case scenario for a cyber attack on the power grid could leave tens of millions of people without power for weeks or more, causing mass chaos. USA Today ran a series about the frequency and possible results of power grid attacks.

    So, why aren’t people paying more attention?

    CyberSquirrel Tweet - electricMaybe because squirrels have caused more damage to the power grid than hackers, according to the former deputy director of the National Security Agency, John Inglis.

    He has a point. The small animal world is in a war with the power grid, according to the humorous Twitter account CyberSquirrel. In January alone, more than 45,000 people in 14 states and two countries lost power because of animals, CyberSquirrel reported. Of course, the January 24 blizzard that clobbered the east coast caused power outages for more than 250,000 people. Maybe the small animal war is just a police action.

    Whether it’s caused by squirrels, snow, or hackers, a sudden power loss can be devastating to communications and computing. Having a power source can make a huge difference.

    Microgrid_SOLAR_ Princton University - electric Solar panels contribute to 5.5% of Princeton's microgrid power - photo via Princeton University

    Princeton University’s microgrid is a great example of this. The university has an on-campus power network, called a microgrid, that gets power from a nearby generator and solar panel field. Normally, the university is connected to the surrounding power grid and both takes from and supplies power to that grid. However, during Hurricane Sandy, after power went down to the rest of the area, Princeton’s microgrid was able to disconnect from the main grid and power the campus. For a day and a half, until the town got power back, emergency workers were able to use the university to recharge phones and equipment. The university also set up a hospitality area where local residents could warm up, recharge electronic devices and use wireless Internet service.

    “For a day and a half, we had to generate everything the campus needed,” said Ted Borer, Princeton's energy plant manager, in a Princeton news story. “Now, we can run the campus as an electric island in times of crisis.”

    Here are some ways to turn your home into an electric island, from Ready.gov, the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

    • Have a fully stocked emergency kit including food and water, a flashlight, batteries, cash in small bills and first aid supplies.
    • Keep your cell phone and other battery-powered devices charged and have an alternative charging method, like a generator. If you have an electric garage door opener, know how to release it manually.
    • Keep your car’s gas tank full. You can run a vehicle for power, but not in an enclosed space, unless you like carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • If you use a power-dependent or battery-operated medical device, tell your local utility so it can prioritize your home. Have a backup plan.
    • Find out where to buy dry ice. Fifty pounds will keep a fully stocked fridge cold for two days. Without it, an unopened fridge will keep food cold for only about four hours. A half-full, unopened freezer will keep food cold for about 24 hours. Food in a packed, unopened freezer will stay cold for twice that long.

    And watch out for squirrels. Behind those bushy tails and beady eyes, they’ve got to be hiding something.

     

    - Melissa

     

    February - Power Banner - electric

  • Lessons Learned: Kirsten Survived a Four-Day Blackout

    Kirsten-Lesson-Learned

    In the summer of 2005 Kirsten and her family experienced a four-day power outage caused by lightning striking the area transformer.

    Here’s what she had to say about it.

    My husband and I thought we were prepared for a "common disaster". We were completely wrong.  When power went out for days, we could not run my husband's CPAP machine to help him breathe overnight. We also lost everything in our fully stocked freezer, causing us to lose hundreds of dollars of frozen food.  We also neglected to realize just how hot the house would get in a heat wave with the power out, or that people run the fire hydrants to try to cool off. This made it so that we had very low water pressure, which meant that we didn’t have water to rely on!

    We [were counting] on frozen and cold food storage for our food, and on being able to cook with our electric pilot light gas stove!  While having a small propane cook stove helped, it rapidly became so hot in the house that we couldn’t cook anyway, and all of our cold food stores were ruined.

    I wish we had known to store water; it never occurred to us we wouldn’t have water!  I wish we had more shelf-stable food, more water, and enough battery or generator power to handle my husband's medical needs!

    Kirsten’s advice to preppers?

    Get a generator or several batteries to handle medical needs, have stored water on hand to last at least a week (the amount of time my neighbors were without power during Sandy), and have a LOT more dehydrated foods and shelf-stable foods.

    All too many people assume that they can cook when the power is out, but some modern stoves will not light without an electric ignition pilot! In addition, so many city folks rely on frozen food and their refrigerators (like we did) and that’s simply not helpful if you lose power for very long.

    Thanks for the great advice Kirsten! Make sure you have a way to ignite your oven’s pilot light. In some cases the solution may be as simple as keeping matches on hand. It also pays to be prepared with alternative cooking gear (like a Volcano stove or a Sport Solar Oven).  And of coursewe love the point Kirsten makes about storing potable water. Clean water for drinking is a top priority.

    If you’d like to read more from Kirsten, check out her Be A Prepper blog.

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