Find the shutoffs valves for your water and gas service and the main circuit breaker for your electricity.
After you do that, identify and label what each circuit breaker will turn off if tripped.
As people living in the First World, we take power for granted. We need light; we flip a switch. Our clothes need washed; we fill an empty basket with clothes, add some washing powder, and push a button. We need to preserve some leftovers for tomorrow or food for next week; we put it in a freezer/refrigerator and forget about the food until we need it.
Take away that power away and things stop.
No gasoline/diesel from the gas station pump, no climate control at work or home, no continuous positive airway pressure machines, no sewage treatment, no water, the list goes on.
What is a family to do?
First, look at your threat analysis. How long would you be without power, if one of those threats happened? One day, two weeks, three months, forever!
I ask you to check your threat analysis for a reason; you could easily spend $25,000 for a solar powered system that doesn't do anything to give you power in an emergency. Yep, 25 grand and no power in an emergency.
So, let us look at some equipment, in order, from a short-term to a long-term power outage.
Short-Term Emergency Power
(A few hours to a week and maybe just a little longer)
A gasoline generator that you buy from one of the big-box home improvement stores or local hardware/equipment stores will easily fill this time frame. All you need to figure out is how big of a generator you need, some extension cords, and oil and gasoline for the generator.
Using this idea, you plug in the appliances as they need power. Plug in the freezer; run it for an hour. Unplug the freezer then plug in the refrigerator for an hour. Need to do a load of wash; unplug the refrigerator and plug in the washer. You get the idea.
There are safety issues though.
A running generator will give off carbon monoxide. This is the number one killer. Every year, people put the generator in their garage, to protect the generator from thieves, and they die from the generator's exhaust fumes.
Another safety issue, the electrical extension cords must be the right size. A too small cord will overheat and possibly start a fire.
Do Not, Don't, Never plug a generator directly into the house wiring. This is called backfeeding; it can kill an electrical worker attempting to restore power.
Lastly, operate the generator on a level, firm, and dry surface/area.
An upgrade to this idea is to have an electrician install a transfer switch in your home. A transfer switch manually or automatically transfers the power source to power your appliances. It will cost about as much as a generator.
Now, you have to remember that you will need fuel for your generator. The longer the emergency, you are preparing for, the more fuel you will need.
Almost all of a generator's fuel usage is figured at half-load. That means, if the generator is rated at 10,000 watts, the fuel usage is calculated with the generator running a 5,000 watt load. Yeah, I know it is misrepresenting/misleading, but now you know.
If you are preparing for more then a few days, you might want to look at generators that use a different fuel then gasoline. Generators can be found that run using diesel, vegetable oil, or propane/natural gas.
The natural gas powered generators can be permanently hooked up to the underground gas lines found in most cities. This allows you to never have to worry about fuel storage because the gas lines are pressurized by the gas company. The gas lines will have pressure as long as the lines and the gas company are intact.
Sorry folks planning to survive an earthquake. Those gas lines might break in an earthquake, so you shouldn't depend on a gas-line fed natural gas generator for power.
But, you might be able to use a natural gas/propane generator hooked up to a 100, 250, 500 gallon or larger tank. You know, the tanks that you see sitting next to houses in the rural areas of the country.
Natural gas/propane will last as long as the tank it is stored in. Gasoline and diesel will need to be rotated. As I empty a fuel container, I buy more. I always put fuel stabilizer in my stored gasoline then use the oldest gasoline first.
(A month or two)
For a medium-term emergency, you will need to buy a better generator and store lots of fuel. I can tell you; you will want a transfer switch. Just think, a month of unplugging and plugging in your appliances without a transfer switch.
(months to years)
For long-term emergencies, you are going to have to become a power company. Albeit, a small power company, but a power company nevertheless.
To supply power for the long-term, you and your family are going to have to conserve power. The reason: The less power you use; the less power you will have to generate, and the less money you will spend.
There are multiple ways of producing this power for the long-term. They are solar, wind, hydro, and methane.
The premier source for information is Home Power magazine. I can not say enough good things about this magazine and their staff. They have walked the walk and can talk the talk, and they have done it for over 20 years!
That's all for, now, so I'll ...
See you, Monday!
Wikipedia - First World
NASA - Earth at Night
NASA - Earth Lights
NOAA - Low Light Imaging of the Earth at Night
Electrical Power Consumption/Infrastructure Prorated by Population Density
Sizing a Generator for Home Use
Select the Right Portable Generator after a Disaster
Generator Sizing Calculator
Consumer Product Safety Commision - Portable Generator Hazards
Portable Electric Generator Safety Tips
American Red Cross - Fact Sheet: Using a generator when Disaster Strikes
Selecting an Extension Cord
Clatskanie People's Utility District - Generators
Wikipedia - Transfer Switch
Transfer Switch Guide
Sta-Bil Fuel Stabilizer
Home Power magazine
HP Magazine - Getting Started
HP Magazine - Solar Electricity Basics
HP Magazine - Wind Electricity basics
HP Magazine - Microhydro Electricity Basics
HP Magazine - Solar Hot Water Basics
HP Magazine - Home Design
Methane Digester - Methane Digester Design
Solar Cooking Archive