On Tuesday Nov. 17, a massive hurricane-force windstorm slammed the Inland Northwest, notably northeast Washington and the Idaho panhandle. Hundreds of trees came down. Thousands of branches littered streets and intersections. Roofs flew off or were smashed by falling trees. Three people died. Power poles – not just lines, but poles – snapped like matchwood. Electricity across the two largest cities in the area – Spokane and Coeur d’Alene – as well as most of the outlying region, was down for anywhere from a few hours to 10 days.
To compound the misery, temperatures dropped into the high teens at night and low 30s during the day. With so many people utterly dependent on electricity for heating, cooking, lighting, medical care, sanitation and every other facet of comfortable life, results ranged from wretched to tragic.
Without electricity, gas stations could not pump gas. With many streets and intersections blocked (as well as a fuel shortage), food deliveries largely ceased. Grocery stores, unable to keep food chilled or frozen, lost inventory in the tens of thousands of dollars. Most stores were closed.
Additionally, in our case, all outside contact ceased. Cell-phone towers were damaged by the wind, so we were without house phone, cell phone, Internet, email or any other form of modern communication. Distant friends and relatives had no idea how we were faring. My uncle passed away during this blackout, and I was unaware of this loss until power was restored.
I’ve always maintained that baseline preparedness encompasses seven core areas: food, water, heat (or shelter), lighting, medical, sanitation and protection. There are variables not included in this list (communication, etc.), but these are the basics for survival. For those of us whose lifestyle is geared around preparedness, this was a test of our emergency systems. It was the first major opportunity to see whether or not we could practice what we preached.
As it turns out, with one major exception, we did fine. We were warm, well fed, able to wash (frugally), cook and keep our farm going. But as the hours and then the days ticked by with no restoration of power, our biggest weakness manifested itself: water. We had enough water for ourselves (we keep 50 gallons stored in the house at all times), but we had no water for our livestock.
Currently we are “livestock heavy” with 23 head (22 cattle and one horse). It takes a lot of water to supply that many animals. It was thanks to the forethought of a prepared neighbor that we were able to keep our stock comfortable. This neighbor had installed a solar system which, on sunny days, gave enough juice to power his well. Surrounding neighbors filled up barrels and transported the water to their livestock. Promising ourselves never again to get caught with our pants down, we are currently looking at affordable options to power our 610-foot-deep well.
While our hour-to-hour and day-to-day work and farm chores during the outage took up most of our energy during the day, the long, dark evenings allowed us ample time to reflect on how different life would be without the convenience of electricity. It astounds me – absolutely flabbergasts me – how few people understand what life would be like without power. I don’t mean a personal outage of a few days; I mean a catastrophic loss for months or even years.
Over the past decade, various specialists have pointed out the weakness and vulnerability of America’s electrical grid. Nationally, the grid is interconnected to a startling degree. Cascading power failures from such small triggers as a single tree falling on a critical line are well documented. Throw in such potential calamities as a massive solar flare or an EMP from an enemy nation (and America has many enemies), and you’re looking at the potential for an unprecedented disaster.
Too many people make light of the likely consequences. “We’d go back to the 1800s,” they snort. “Big deal. People lived just fine in the 1800s.”
If you think life in America without electricity will merely revert us to pioneer days, you are dead wrong (not literally, I hope). We wouldn’t regress to the 1800s; we would regress to the 1100s or earlier. Life would become a bitter, brutal struggle for survival, and many millions would die.
Society thrived in the 1800s for five very simple reasons: 1) a non-electric infrastructure already existed; 2) people had the skills, knowledge and tools to make do; 3) our population levels were far lower; 4) most people lived rurally and raised a significant portion of their own food; and 5) there were relatively few people who didn’t earn their way.
Folks, I’m here to tell you it’s no laughing matter to lose electricity in a modern home and in our modern society, particularly in urban areas. Everything depends on electricity. Everything. The interconnectivity that exists in today’s society is complex beyond belief. Even if you yourself are off-grid (congratulations!), no one else is. All food deliveries, all medical care (and supplies), all sanitation, water and other critical services – all depend upon electricity.
When the Inland Northwest lost its power, crews and services from outside the region rushed in to assist. I cannot even begin to express the gratitude people have for the emergency responders, hospital personnel, power crews, charitable organizations and everyone else who mobilized to assist those whose lives were utterly disrupted. But what if these personnel and services were not available? What if there were no outside help because everyone was in the same boat?
If a grid-down situation ever happens for whatever reason, we won’t be reverting to the 1800s. The oopsy-daisy notion that America without power will merely return us to a jolly pioneer lifestyle is naïve, idealistic and immature. This is why it’s theorized 90 percent of Americans would die in the aftermath of a grid-down situation. Most people are not capable of surviving.
This storm underscored the need for everyone to become preppers. We should all stockpile the proverbial beans, bullets and Band-Aids. We should stockpile the things and knowledge necessary to make life survivable without power.
But more importantly, we should stockpile a relationship with our Savior. You may not survive a grid-down scenario, but you can survive in the Lord. It’s the best strategy on the planet and utterly immune to a failing grid.
Media wishing to interview Patrice Lewis, please contact [email protected].