What Do You Do When the Lights Go Out?




What do you think of when you hear the word “Preparedness?” It’s a subject that gets an increasing amount of attention. Popular entertainment has glamorized radical climate change, technology gone wild, and other "disaster" scenarios. While Hollywood has entertained us with these, the reality is that we are much more likely to have to deal with something more simple and common. In all likelihood, we will be preparing for a hurricane, tornado, blackout, earthquake, flood, blizzard, or other natural occurrence. Most of us have seen one or more of these events in our lifetime. Odds are pretty good you have also learned a few things along the way from the experience. I’m sure we can all agree that, for most of us, it’s not a question of whether or not something like that will happen again, but simply, when?

Being prepared doesn’t mean you need to completely change your lifestyle. In the simplest terms, it’s about common sense and applying a little forethought to potential issues you could encounter at some point. Taking the time, now, to think about potential situations you might experience in the future lets you prepare and be organized with the basics you can have ready to make your life a bit easier when the need arises. Planning ahead helps you alleviate stress and helps keep you from acting impulsively should an urgent situation occur; making it easier for you to focus on the circumstances at hand, calmly and effectively.

What’s the Next Step?

The question to ask is: “What are the basic things I’m going to need, or want, in a preparedness kit?" Beside the necessities like water, food, and shelter, there are some items that you might not normally think of that can make a huge difference in your ability to cope in an emergency. This list is a basic overview and is not meant to be all inclusive.


There have never been more ways to communicate with each other, and the world at large, than there are today. Electronics these days have multiple power options, from batteries to hand cranks to solar. Having a good AM/FM/Weather Radio is something that can warn you in advance when trouble is coming, and for you to get instructions from authorities. It should be portable and have more than one way to power it, in case your batteries run out before the electricity comes back on. Something like the Midland ER102 Crank Radio can be a beneficial asset. It can be powered by alkaline batteries, house power, or a crank for its battery pack, plus it can charge small electronics like cell phones, radios, and GPS units. In addition to being an AM/FM radio, it also has preset weather channels and programmable emergency notifications.

After an event, you might find phone service temporarily down or unreliable. What do you do if you are separated from family or friends and need to reconnect? Should this happen, having an alternate means of communicating with each other would be beneficial. You might want to take advantage of the FRS (Family Radio Service) with something like the Motorola Talkabout MS350R 2-Way Radio. With a compact size, waterproof construction, and an effective range of up to 35 miles, these units can keep you in contact in both urban and rural settings. A set comes with rechargeable batteries, but can also run on regular alkaline. Like the Midland, they have access to multiple weather channels with warning alerts. Having multiple ways to stay up to date with the current news and weather is always going to be helpful.

You may also want to keep a set of Rite in the Rain paper and pen in your kit; as simple as they are, there is still no replacement for a pad and pen. A set that is waterproof can provide an added sense of relief. This would be a reliable way to leave notes, or directions, for family and friends if you have been separated and had relocate.


One of the first things that we can count on after a natural disaster is that, at some point, the sun will set and it will get dark. You’re going to need to see to avoid potential hazards or simply to signal to others. A compact LED flashlight is ideal. They are small, powerful, and have substantially longer run times than the flashlights of just a few years ago. Two good lights are the Fenix PD22-G2 and SureFire G2X. Their LED emitters won’t break or burn out like conventional incandescent bulbs, so they can be thrown in a pack or pocket. The Fenix is only 3.5” long and weighs just a few ounces, with a maximum output of 210 lumens and an SOS signal mode. It is also waterproof. SureFire is the benchmark for illumination tools. The G2X has a maximum output of 320 lumens, an impact-, corrosion-, and temperature-resistant housing, and is made in the USA. Either tool is a great one for most situations.

An important piece of gear to consider having is a reliable multi-tool, like the Leatherman Wave. The Leatherman line of products is indispensable. To list all the potential uses would take more time than would be practical, but I can tell you from experience: you'll be glad you have one when “that” moment comes. With stainless-steel construction, a leather case, and 17 tools—including screwdrivers, saws, and scissors—the Wave is well worth the investment.

Having at least one, or several, small durable containers in your kit is indispensible. I personally use the Pelican 1040 Micro Case. They are ideal for First-Aid kits, supplies, protecting electronics and important documents. They are waterproof and crush resistant, and their use is only limited by your imagination.


Sooner or later, you’re going to have to travel—maybe just locally, maybe further. You may know the area you’re traveling through pretty well, but in an emergency situation, it may not be in the best condition. Your normal routes might be inaccessible due to washed-out roads, disabled bridges, or downed power lines and trees. Something that I suggest having is a map of your local region. You should become familiar with it and have a few routes planned out. It's probably a good idea to travel your routes several times, under normal conditions, so getting lost is one less thing you have to worry about. Also, your usual method of travel may not be practical; you might not be able to drive at all and might need to walk. Here are a few more things to consider for your kit that can help you navigate a bit more safely.

A basic compass, like Brunton’s Tag Along, is a good tool to have. Compasses are often overlooked in this age of GPS and smart phones. A map and compass, while “old-school,” are not dependent on batteries or satellite reception. Having these two simple resources, and learning how to use them, can make navigating from where you are to where you want to be quick and easy—even if the path isn’t.

Another often overlooked item is good binoculars. In addition to helping you find landmarks, they can be used to see from a distance if the route ahead is safe to travel, like those washed-out bridges or downed utility wires. You’ll want to consider something compact for easy packing and carrying, with good low-light performance. Two good binoculars are Bushnell’s 8 x 25 H2O Compact  and the Vortex 8 x 42 Diamondback. They are waterproof and fogproof, have rubber-armored housings and an easy-to-use focusing system. With their folding design and included cases, they can easily fit in your pack or on your belt.


Lastly, you’re going to want to consider having some back-up supplies. As you use items in your kit, you’ll eventually need to replenish expended gear, like batteries. The flashlights recommended above use a CR123 battery. This battery has two excellent features: it’s compact in size and has an average shelf life of 10 years, for long-term storage. I’d suggest keeping a box of these SureFire batteries in your kit.

The Motorola radios, and probably other devices you may want to have, use the more common AA battery for power. I would go with Sanyo’s Eneloop NiMH AA batteries and charger. Not only are they rechargeable, once the power comes back on, but they will retain 75% of their charge after sitting in storage for 3 years—and they come fully charged out of the package.

I hope you found this overview to be beneficial, but remember: the key is to plan ahead. If you are interested in more information on “preparedness,” there are many great sources available on the Internet. A few good starting points are ready.gov, and the FEMA website. Additionally, many local governments have offices of emergency management to help you prepare for situations that may be unique to your specific area or region.

1 Comment

Well written! Good food for thought