When Kelly Clarkson sings, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” highlights why that’s one of the best things about life, the ability to learn from your mistakes if you want too. It makes you better, wiser, and older. That’s exactly what happened during our one and only PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff) that we experienced last October in Solano County.
Leading up to the event there was a lot of confusion as to who was going to lose power. PG&E kept changing the list rapidly and then their website crashed making the whole experience even more stressful then it had to be. Do we stock up on staples or not? That morning our address was not in the zone for the PSPS, we relaxed but by that afternoon we now were. Don’t know why or how the circuits run but our town was basically split in half and by the time we hit the supermarket the mad rush was in full swing cleaning out all the ice and most of the other staples. In a day, the restaurants, markets and gas stations on the side of town with power were cleaned out as those from the side of town without power tried to find a meal and a place to recharge their cell phones. So while food sat and rotted on one side of town, they were totally ravaged and ran out of provisions on the other side.
If we had more time we may have emptied our garage freezer that was full of meat, fish, and poultry and taken it to a food bank or shelter that had power. With the short notice to prepare we decided in the event of a real emergency, we wouldn’t have advanced notice so we took the opportunity to check out and use the items in our emergency kit and evaluate their effectiveness. We lost electrical power for four days and I am here to tell you mistakes were made and lessons were learned.
I can’t tell you how important a battery/solar-powered radio is. Just hearing voices with updates and critical information is comforting in a way. It also provided much-needed music as well. So glad we had it and is a must in your emergency kit.
LESSON ONE – I greatly enjoy my morning cups of coffee and need them to start my days off right. No power wasn’t a problem since we have a gas stove, I could boil water and use our french press for that precious brew. The problem arose when I realized I couldn’t grind the coffee beans. Yes, I only buy roasted beans. My solution was pouring some beans into a plastic bag and using a meat tenderizer to smash the heck out of them which it turned out was a great stress reliever. They were far from finely ground but enough that they did the job in the french press. The change we decided to make here is to keep a small bag of ground coffee in the kit, or for the next PSPS, grind beans ahead of the shutdown. We’re also going to keep an eye open for a manual grinder.
LESSON TWO – Back to the boiling water on the stove. Without electricity, our gas stove still works except for the electronic ignition so you need matches or a lighter to get a fire going. Matches, lighter sounds so simple, duh! However, I haven’t smoked since college and my wife had finally given it up years ago so the supply of matches slowly dwindled to none. We had recently switched out from charcoal to a propane gas grill and two years ago had our wood-burning fireplace changed to a gas fireplace. When the lighters were spent we never felt the need to replace them as we had led ourselves into a false sense of security. WRONG!
The level of panic that broke out was low at first as we did find a half-used book of matches in the junk drawer that had to be at least ten years old. They were hard to ignite as the strike was worn and I’m pretty sure the life savor stuck to it had something to do with that. The matchheads would begin to disintegrate on the first strike and with a little skill got it to light upon the second strike. As we got down to the last match my wife came up with a brilliant plan. Where did you store all my old travel bags? So there we were, with flashlights in hand going through the guestroom closet like miners searching for a new vain. We opened and inspected all her old handbags and travel bags she used when she traveled for work and still smoked and low and behold in a dirty dusty old black schlepp-along bag we found our treasure.
We have already purchased a new lighter and matches and placed them into our emergency kit and that brings up an important point, don’t wait too long to replace items you use from your emergency kit. Disasters don’t keep a schedule and come when they damn well want too, not when you’re ready. I’m very proud of us, we lasted two nights as it does grate on your nerves after hours of no lights, no cable, no heat, no wifi, no garage door opener, no Alexa, peeing by candlelight, watching food spoil we rediscovered reading but even that after a while under lantern light gets old. We spent the next two nights at a hotel down by our daughter who kept the dog while we enjoyed the pleasure of electricity. Even if you treat the experience more like a camping trip instead of a PSPS it’s psychologically easier to handle but again not everybody is into camping. In fact, my wife’s idea of roughing it is going to a hotel that doesn’t have room service. There was a positive out of this and that was enjoying candlelit dinners for two outside under the stars.
If you don’t have an emergency kit assembled, please don’t wait much longer. In this day and age cities don’t have the budgets to fully staff emergency services. Be prepared and give your family a better chance of surviving a natural or manmade disaster.