Blackouts are a loss of functionality of the electrical distribution grid, they can be very wide spread or very local. A Rolling blackout is an intentional shedding of load by a power utility due to insufficient power generation or inadequate power transmission capability. Regardless of the cause, a blackout can affect the population adversely.
Blackouts are an often over-looked but potentially very serious disaster, depending upon one's location (urban or rural) and stored provisions. Blackouts are most severe in heavily populated, apartment dense areas that rely on refrigeration for food storage. When the power goes out the food spoils quickly, the windows on high-rise apartments won't open for ventilation, and apartment dwellers can't easily exit their buildings. People become stranded in elevators, and travel can be constrained due to the traffic control and mass-transit systems going down. There can even be a breakdown in law and order (see WROL) due to a widespread urban blackout.
The most famous case of a blackout turning into civil unrest is the New York City Blackout of July 13–14, 1977. Combined with widespread hysteria regarding the "Son of Sam" serial murders and a brutal heat wave, the city suffered widespread looting, property crimes and arson. Rioting continued during daylight hours despite police presence, and there were 31 neighborhoods that suffered looting and vandalism. There were over 4,500 looters arrested during the two days and 3,776 people were arrested for other charges while the NYPD suffered 550 casualties. A total of 1,616 stores were damaged and 1,037 fires were set for an estimated total damages of over $300 million.
Preparation & Mitigation
Preparation for a blackout begins by looking at your home to determine what are your critical systems that require power. For instance, it may be your furnace or electric baseboard heaters, air conditioning unit, water pump, or your refrigerator/freezer. Next, look at what systems or devices would suffer if a power surge (spike), power drop (brownout), or outage (blackout) occurred without warning. That may be your computer, home entertainment system, or home security system. Then, prepare to mitigate the damage and power loss by taking some or all of the following steps:
- Adding Surge protectors to non-critical but expensive systems, such as entertainment centers, TV's, DVR's, etc.
- Adding Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) with battery backups for critical systems that need time to properly shut down, such as PC's and laptops.
- Replacing electrical appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, stoves and water heaters with alternatives such as natural gas, propane (LP), or kerosene powered appliances.
- Have a telephone line (land line via "copper wire" or DSL, not voice over IP) that can be used without power, for example, a corded phone without an answering machine.
- Have enough flashlights, candles, radios, amateur radio, and batteries for the entire family.
- Adding an emergency generators with fuel storage.
- Going completely "off grid" and becoming self-sufficient through an alternative power system.
- 1977 New York City Blackout of July 13–14, 1977