AAR: Power Outage

I’m sitting at my desk at 11:45 on Tuesday, minding my own business, like I always do. Clear skies, no wind, no rain, sunny and warm(ish). Everything seems normal.

Then, the lights in my office went out. A split second later, I heard a loud BOOM! Uh-oh.

Cutout fuse. When this blows, it makes a hell of a noise, and I'm off-grid for at least 3 hours.
Cutout fuse. When this blows, it makes a hell of a noise, and I’m off-grid for at least 3 hours.

This exact evolution has happened several times over the last 10 years here. There’s a fuse on a power pole at the corner of our road and the main road, and when something shorts the primary wires, the cutout fuse explosively releases. If I hear that sound, I know the power will be out for at least 3-4 hours, since it’ll take a while for the outage to get reported and for a crew to respond. And if there’s any weather going on at the time, or it’s dark, it’ll take longer. That cutout takes out only about 60-70 customers, so in a larger event, we’re small potatoes.

So as soon as I saw the lights flick out, I knew it was time to test my recently authored “Blackout Protocol.” When my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a few months back, I realized that maintaining her insulin supply was a top priority. That’s why I went out and bought a backup refrigerator and a Honda EU2000i generator – two is one and one is none, right? But just accumulating gear is not a plan, and having this stuff around with no practice using it, or worse, having me be the only one to know what to do with it, is a recipe for disaster. So I wrote down complete, step-by-step procedures on how to handle an outage – if it lasts this long, start up this generator, plug in the cord labeled “UPSTAIRS FRIDGE” to this outlet, move the insulin to the backup fridge, etc. Pretty comprehensive, very detailed, and totally untested. Until Tuesday.

I pulled the family together and watched them use my instructions to get everything set. That was very revealing – having somebody else follow your instructions reveals a lot about your biases and assumptions, and I ended up with a lot of feedback on fixing the procedures. I also had produced a step-by-step startup guide for each generator, complete with photos of the various steps (move the choke to the right, flip this switch, etc.) They worked through those pretty well, but gave some great feedback on making that document even clearer to follow, especially under duress. But more importantly, they got everything set up quickly and correctly:

IMG_1499

Even though there are some tune-ups needed, in general the procedures worked well. Once I make my changes, I’m going to print the procedures up in color on nice, heavy card stock, have each page laminated, and put them in the Blackout Kit along with all the extension cordsĀ andĀ adapters needed for various connections.

I still have a few things to do. The procedure specifically mentions using my battery bank to power the backup fridge, but I didn’t get a chance to test that yet. That’s on the short list of things to do to get this project buttoned up. I’m also working through the timing of when to use each generator. My first draft had the Honda as the first generator to be powered up, on the theory that the smaller and lighter unit would be easier to manage. But now I think pulling out the big genny is the first step, since it powers up the house through a transfer switch, meaning it’s basically business as usual with regard to the well, the fridge, and the freezer. A few extension cords take care of getting power back to the network gear, which ended up being more important than just entertainment – it let me find out the nature of the outage from the power company web site, allowing me to gauge how to respond. Once I was assured that zombies wouldn’t be staggering up the driveway anytime soon, I could stand down a bit and, with my network up again, get back to work.

I also need to review the later steps in my blackout procedure, which go into detail about a lot of security stuff, like when to lock the driveway gate, and when to post overwatch for trips outside the house to refuel the generator and such. It also outlines when to run the generator – save the big, loud Generac for a few hours during the day, to get water pressure up, and use the quiet Honda during the night to recharge the battery back and power the small fridge. Plus it outlines when to start thinking about getting extra fuel, and when to pull the trigger on a cash purchase of insulin, just in case the outage portends supply line problems.

Paranoid? Probably. But that’s what I do, and it seems like the best way to protect my family. And I’m pleased that the procedure seemed to work, and that I got a chance to test it under non-stressful conditions. We’ll have to see how it works when we’re fighting off zombies.

5 Comments

  1. APB

    This appears to be a pretty common event around here. Just a few hours ago, I heard the fire department go out for a reported explosion followed by a power failure. When they got on scene, they reported a blown cutout fuse on a pole and asked for the power company to respond. I checked the power company’s website a few minutes later, and they showed 64 customers without power.

    So, my take home from this is that fuses are likely to blow every couple of days, and when they go, they take out 60-70 customers. I suppose they’ll be without power for the next couple of hours like we were.

    I wonder to what degree this reflects an aging grid infrastructure? Something to ponder.

    Reply

  2. I would convert the Honda to propane / gasoline / natural gas. Actually I would have both converted to tri-fuel changing a propane tank is safer than adding gas to a hot genny

    Reply
    1. APB

      I’ve been noodling a propane conversion for the Honda and the Generac. Engineer775 did a good video on the Honda conversion, but he sent the carb in as a core before he ever put gas in the genny. Guess I’d have to opt for the full kit.

      Reply


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