When the Lights Go Out and Stay Out: Preparing for a National Blackout

What would you do if the power went out across the country and didn’t come back on? For the first day, you might actually enjoy the downtime. Many of us would be unable to do business without lights, computers, and other electrical equipment. The silence might just be a welcomed mini-vacation.

But if the blackout stretched past an afternoon, things would start to get inconvenient. We would start to worry about the food in the refrigerator, if we’d be able to fill up gas tanks, and not being able to withdraw cash or use ATMs. After a few days of a country-wide blackout, for some, things would get dire. Would you and your family be able to comfortably survive?

American Blackout imagines a scenario just like this where a cyber-attack has darkened the entire United States. This not-so-far-fetched possibility is told in a fictionalized “real-time” over the course of 10 days by those who kept filming on cameras and phones. You may be surprised by how quickly our society could unravel when it becomes powerless. Some would fare better than others, but it would completely depend on their level of preparation and how they handled the crisis. Would you be prepared?

The American Red Cross, which knows a great deal about handling a multitude of disasters, has some important suggestions. If the power looks like it is not going to pop back on soon, the first thing you’ll want to consider is protecting your food supplies. Here are some things The Red Cross suggests you do:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. First use perishable food from the refrigerator. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours.
  • Then use food from the freezer. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Use your non-perishable foods and staples after using food from the refrigerator and freezer.
  • If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items.
  • Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.

You will also want to give some thought to electrical surges and protecting your equipment during the outage. Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment, including sensitive electronics. Turn off or disconnect any appliances (like stoves), equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out.  The best way to gauge when the power has returned is to leave one light plugged in and turned on.

If the power stays out for a long period of time The Red Cross suggests staying close to home. Eliminate all of your unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested. If you are fortunate enough to have a generator and the fuel to run it, make sure you are savvy to generator safety.  Generators produce carbon monoxide and if used in an enclosed area, animals and people in the room could die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you are someone who is lucky enough to live in a place where the power never goes out for an extended period of time, you also may not realize that it is a bad idea to use outdoor grills and stoves inside. Devices that use gasoline, propane, natural gas or burning charcoal-burning for heat and cooking, also produce carbon monoxide. The Red Cross also suggests that you locate any such unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

If you are using these tips, the first few days of the power outage should be smooth sailing. However, what will you do a week later the entire country is still off the power grid? Things could start to get difficult and dangerous for everyone. Check out The Red Cross website for more ideas on disaster preparedness.

Watch American Blackout on Sunday October 27 at 9PM et/pt and decide for yourself if you would survive in the dark.


  1. john
    November 2, 2013, 7:00 pm

    What do you do when the power is out for more than a few days? Exactly why we prepare.