The Blackout Drill, a test finds reality in your world!
As part of the Northern Nevada Preppers Group, we conducted our 24hr blackout over the July 26, 27 weekend. Now we had not done this since moving to Reno 2 years ago, so we were due. Now we have plenty of preps but putting them in motion and having all work is an education to say the least.
Fact 1, you WILL learn and I don’t care how good you think you are, you ain’t that good!
A lot of what you do depends on where you start and everybody will be a little different to very different. So getting you and your family comfortable and safe is the goal.
We are starting with these conditions. These set the tone for what you can, cannot and need to do.
• We have a well, powered by 240V AC power. It pumps to a pressure tank
• Our electrical panel is on the house and has 200A of 120/240 available
• We have a fireplace and a gas furnace
• Our gas is Propane with the tank on our property
• We are on our own Septic Tank
• We are in a rural area, on 10 acres with a fence and a gate
• Our internet and phone is DSL, underground to the house via a router
• Our cell phones range is boosted by an M Cell unit next to the DSL router
Due to a family emergency, we started later than planned on Saturday at 6pm. At that time we did a partial shutdown of power to the house, using no lighting or gas at all. We had a “Power Out List” that we put together and knew that it would be modified on the fly and that is exactly what happened. Lisa and I had notepads at all times and noted all things that happened and solutions as well.
We set up the kitchen with a gas stove and cook kit and filled one of our 6 gallon camp water jugs and put that at the sink.
We brought in two of our solar yard lights and put them on a mason jar, these were general lighting so you didn’t bump into things. We pulled in our Possibles bags and used the headlamps from them to do work once the sun was down. I set up one good lantern at the kitchen table. We picked up the eggs and took care of the chickens and harvested zucchini, squash and cucumbers from the garden to add to dinner. We made sure the gate was closed at the street as we normally do.
One of the things I have been meaning to do is get remote monitoring on the two freezers in the shop and the refrigerator-freezer in the house. This was done with a wireless sensor unit, that runs on AA batteries and the dual sensor monitor unit that uses a magnet on the face of the appliance. We logged the readings hourly, set the high and low alarms and recorded the current temps on a paper next to them to have a reference.
At 6am the next morning, we cut power to the house. We did a check of the gas system noting the in place shutoffs, regulators clear of any debris and went through the protocol for seeing if we needed to shut the gas down. We then went through a building survey (typical of an earthquake) to see if anything looked like it needed repair or was unfit for habitation at all. With the gas now not an issue and the building safe to occupy, we started by recording the time and temperature of the freezers on a paper we put on the door next to the monitor. The thing I wanted to do is to find out how long do I have, until I need to repower these up to cool them back down. We set our own protocol to get them started again at 25 degrees since they all had freezer units, that seemed prudent. Of the two freezers in the shop, one is a chest style and the other an upright. I was interested in a side by side comparison as to loss of temperature and time to get them back down to temperature.
We then got down one of the large coolers we use for hunting or events and put that in the kitchen. We pulled frozen gallon jugs from the freezers and put 4 of them in the cooler. We then pulled out as quickly as possible, all of the items from the refrigerator that we would normally use and put them in the cooler. This would reduce the time in the refrigerator and hold temp as well.
We rolled out one of the 55 gallon drums of water and assembled the tap and screwed it into place. We then took a 5 gallon bucket and filled it half way. That bucket went into the one bathroom we planned to use. It would be water to refill the tank to flush it when needed.
With the DSL out, the M Cell would not be able to connect without the DSL modem. When these lost power you need to remember to put your cell phone in Airplane Mode or shutdown it’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth features. Otherwise, your phone will run out of power much faster than if left alone. So we put our phones in Airplane mode right away.
Our main computer is on battery back-up so it does not go down right away. I have about 15 min at the most to get it secured.
At this point we did a “Size Up”. In CERT, we do this to see where we are at in the event. It’s a moment to think without moving what you have done, where you are at and what else can we do. Make a list of things you think need doing or fixing and then plan “what next”.
Our size up at this point has us Safe, water is available, cooking stations set, monitoring what we need to. What we needed to do is:
• Check out the generators and get them into position to provide power
• Set up our Battery Power Station that could get the DSL modem and the M Cell online as well as USB charging and power to Ham Radio Station
• Get the “charging battery” on the Solar Charging Station
• Get power to laptop and connect to the internet if possible for news and communication
• Check small emergency radios with solar and crank power reception
The generators were moved into position. The 2000 watt generator was positioned at the back door with an extension cord and the 10k watt at the connection point with its cord at the shop building. These will be used when we do a power session. This session will have multiple tasks being completed while we have power including water from the well, charging batteries with 120V power along with any other tasks we need. Our assumption is that there will be 3 of these per day at the most and will last about 1.5-2 hrs.
We brought one of the deep cycle batteries into the office along with a 400 watt inverter. These were connected and the DSL modem, M Cell and the Ham radio station was powered up. The USB chargers were plugged in and charging the phones began. With those back on line, we have land line and cell phones available. We also checked in with the noon Ham Net to test radios.
One of the 12V solar panels were brought out with the charge controller and the spare deep cycle battery. They were set up, connected and charging. This battery will replace any battery being used once depleted to a point where it is no longer effective and that battery will be placed in the solar charge station.
Since the laptop had a full battery, I was able to get online and do a post at the Northern Nevada Preppers website and look for news on the fire in CA.
The small radios worked very well. Our small Eatons in our packs worked well indeed.
With those done we had lunch and took a break. It’s important to don’t get in a rush, remember that slow is smooth and smooth is quick.
After about 8 hours, we found that we needed to power up the freezers once again to get them down to temp. Since I use a suicide cord on our 10k generator, it is important to do this right or you could be severely injured. Lisa will NEVER install this cord; we have an alternate plan that does not have the generator connecting to the shop for her. With the main breaker off, I connected the cord from gen to shop and turned off the incoming breaker from that. We fired up the generator and let it settle on an even idle.
Then with the freezers unplugged from the system, we fired up the well and lighting in the shop. That jumped to life and we were refilling water jugs, drums. I plugged in the freezers and they began charging.
We then connected the refrigerator freezer in the house to the 2k generator and started charging it as well. That was very simple and straightforward and Lisa was able to do most of it on her own.
We spent the time in between tasks just reading a book or doing chores that were normal and ordinary. Once we were set up, the day became more normal than not. There is something to be said for being ready in more ways than one. We finally ended our exercise about 6pm on Sunday, made notes about the good, the bad and the things we need to do for next time.
LESSONS LEARNED AND REINFORCED
- We went into the exercise with a plan. There were things we didn’t know how they would work but we planned to adapt and overcome, take notes and create solutions after the fact.
- Let your spouse do things you already know how do. They need to make sure they are ready to do the job because you could not be there or repelling the zombies or something. If you make your mate self-sufficient, you are a pair that can get tasks done quickly and efficiently.
- Look at what you have to do for basic communications and get that working.
- Test things monthly. Here we change water filters, run generators, chain saws and other equipment to make sure they have no issues. The time to find an issue is not when you need it.
- Solar charging is wonderful, especially in Reno NV! We have used 12V panels that work great. The more passive items you can put together the better.
- With a well, you have a pressure tank, which holds water. I estimate that we could go 3 days with flush toilets on the pressure and water in the tank. Nice to know we don’t have to tote water into the bathroom right away.
- Having one pump for the drums already assembled and tested makes it easier and faster to use when you need it.
- Freezers. Interesting here in that the chest lost temp slower than the upright, I kind of figured that but at the end of the day when we had to power up, I could have gone much longer with the chest. When we hit the 25 degree mark we set, the chest was at 19 degrees.
- Within 1/2 hr. the freezers were down below 10 degrees and took another hour or so to get to their start levels. So if you could only run for ½ hr, you could save the freezer.
- We need to have enough salt and pepper to make Biltong if the one freezer should fail.
- Given the run time now evident with the freezers and well, I can using full load on the generator and generator specs to determine the amount of fuel needed every 24 hrs. This gives us a goal to set if we want to run for a week or ??
- Combine tasks with the generator run to maximize the use of power including irrigation of crops.
- If this were a real event, and depending on the event, you may want to increase security around you and carry sidearms. Don’t lose sight of your perimeter when focused on other tasks.
- I will be looking at building a power station with an inverter, plugstrip, USB chargers that can be set up quicker with less hassle.
- Larger inverters, probably 800watt would be a better size. I used 400watt but I like the extra if you need to use it.
- The rigrunner on the ham station did not like the voltage from the battery when using high power. This is probably below the voltage threshold for the unit but the radio did fine. I will look into making an adjustment to it or possibly running the power supply on the radio station from an inverter. The power supply puts out 13.9V and the batter was at 12.5.
- Paper plates and plastic flatware would help in the short term. Sometimes dishes to be washed are an inconvience.
- Have an accurate panel schedule for you power. Not knowing which breakers to turn off or on when you have to is a problem. Better yet, know which ones you will leave on if you have a generator feeding them.
- I will be putting together a 12V water pump and switch with hoses that we can move water from barrels to point of use easier.
- Increase the number of deep cycle batteries, more is better than less.
- Lisa wants hazard tape across the freezer and refrigerator doors to remind us DO NOT OPEN. That one is under consideration…..
- Need a flashlight just inside the shop door.
- Make up sanitation stations with hand sanitizer and wipes at kitchen and restroom.
Well we learned so much and we really had fun with it. Fun now means less stress when it’s for real. We plan on doing this every 6 months. Yep even winter because you have to be ready when it’s not so convenient.