If the power goes out for a longer period of time, nothing works: no running water, no flushing toilets, no stove, no telephone and no internet connection. Here are tips on how to prepare well.
Actually, you don't have to worry about a longer power outage. Because Robert Schmitt, President of the Medical Disaster Relief Organization Germany, is convinced: "If we had a prepared population, we could easily get through a power outage of a week."
Here are the tips to prepare:
"The good thing is, even in the event of a power failure, there can still be a water supply for a while. How long depends on the basic pressure in the pipe system," says Boris Michalowski, civil protection officer in the Berlin state service of the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund. Especially on higher floors or in the countryside, where the water supply is connected to the electricity, the water supply can also fail directly. So his tip is: When you notice the power outage, the first thing to do is fill the bathtub or a couple of buckets with water. And it makes sense to "have a few bottles of drinking water at home".
Robert Schmitt from the German Medical Disaster Relief Organization goes even further: "We recommend always having supplies for ten days, because drinking water is the most important thing of all." The Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance shares this recommendation. 20 liters of liquid per person for ten days (water, juice and other) should be available. Including five liters of water for cooking - 0.5 liters per day.
Collected rainwater is particularly suitable as service water. Because if it has run over roof surfaces, it can contain heavy metals, bacteria and pathogens. You would first have to prepare the rainwater for use as drinking water - at least boil it, filter it and treat it with tablets from the outdoor needs.
The service water in the bathtub or buckets is also used to flush the toilet. If it is used up or if this manual type of flushing does not work (anymore), both disaster relief workers recommend small diaper, hygiene or dog waste bags for disposal. They block odors. If you have a garden, you can of course improvise a kind of outhouse - but that shouldn't be necessary for the first few days.
Most heaters need electricity. Those who have to do without it should go into a single room with warm clothing and blankets and keep the doors closed. So the residual heat cannot escape. Disaster relief worker Schmitt advises setting up a tent in it, putting in sleeping bags and blankets. "When the whole family snuggles up in there, it quickly gets warm."
Using home-made stoves indoors, such as the currently popular tea light stoves, is dangerous. "First, the heat conduction is not so good," says Michalowski. Secondly, there is a risk of so-called wax fires with uncontrollable, high flames if the heat builds up.
The grill, a fire bowl and other home-made makeshift or outdoor heaters are also life-threatening in the living room. The chimney sweep trade and the fire brigade warn of an accumulation of exhaust gases, lack of oxygen and carbon monoxide concentration - there is an acute risk of poisoning.
Have battery-powered flashlights and spare devices and batteries at home for the nights. Or camping and outdoor lights and kerosene lanterns including fuel. And in a place that everyone knows - within easy reach. An alternative are lamps and flashlights with an integrated dynamo, the batteries of which can also be charged using a hand crank or a solar panel.
Michalowski's tip: headlamps. "You can move around easily in the dark and have both hands free. If you use candles, I recommend putting them in a small lantern. This also protects against falling over and a fire." Important when using candles: air them regularly.
It pays to have food in the house that can be prepared and eaten cold. This is especially true with babies and small children in the house. "It's very important that you don't have to go to the supermarket because it's not open during a long power outage," says Schmitt. By the way: If you can still buy a little something from the shop next door, you need cash in your wallet. Because the ATMs may not work anymore.
He cites the flooding in the Ahr Valley in 2021 as an example of this. "It took a long time for the relief operation to start, for the units to be on site. And that's why we at civil protection are dependent on the population, at least for the first few months Days after a crisis, you can always take care of yourself first." This also applies to major power outages.
Gas cookers are suitable for cooking warm food - whether it's the large gas grill for the balcony and terrace or the small camping model for a single pot. "I like small suitcase gas cookers. They have small cartridges and they are relatively stable," says Boris Michalowski. "If you have good ventilation, you can definitely use it in the kitchen."
Under no circumstances should you light a charcoal grill in the living room. "On the one hand because of the fire hazard, but much, much more important is the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning," says Michalowski.
A little bit still works with electricity: For example, music from a smartphone or portable speakers, watching films on a notebook. But the batteries of the devices must always be well charged. Also, keep your power banks stocked - these are batteries used to charge small electronic devices.
Power outage information
How to react in the event of an event is also a question of information: For example, to find out whether the power blackout covers a large area and could perhaps last a long time. Or if it only hit a few streets. But you need a radio for that. "Because if the electricity is gone, then the normal means of communication are gone. The cell phone network can collapse relatively quickly," says Michalowski. The router and TV at home no longer work. His advice: turn on the radio, the authorities will announce information about this in such emergencies.
Of course, it is important that the radios can be operated with batteries. The classic tip for emergencies are radios that are charged using a hand crank. But that can be quite difficult. "Cranking for 30 minutes for a 10-minute newscast is quite realistic in the manufacturer's technical specifications," reports Michael Fuhr from the telecommunications portal teltarif.de.
And the alternative with a solar panel often needs direct sunlight - which can be difficult on cloudy winter days. Fuhr therefore recommends radios with battery operation or USB charging sockets, for which you either have several sets of spare batteries at home or charge your power bank regularly. "And if you have a car, you can also sit in and listen to the radio. Therefore, by the way: always have a full tank of gas in the car," says Schmitt's advice.
Michalowski has an extra tip: Find out where the so-called civil protection beacons of your place of residence are. "You can also get all the information there. Or you can find first aid services if that becomes necessary," says the crisis expert. These lighthouses are often the town halls or other public places that have an emergency power supply.
Anyone who needs a powered ventilator, cannot leave their 5th floor apartment without a lift, or has other limitations can sign up on a new emergency register. The locally responsible control centers of the fire brigade and rescue services are able to provide help as needed. Those in need of help or their carers can register online at notfallregister.eu in this list.
In addition, you should always have some supplies of the required medicines in the household. "But also general painkillers, cough syrup - everything you could need. Check your first aid kit again," says Michalowski.
Discuss with family and friends
The electricity is gone - no more trains running, family members, relatives living alone or friends can be stuck somewhere. And now? "Agree on meeting places, especially with the children. For example, that everyone comes home and you don't start looking for each other," advises Schmitt. "Or that you meet at the train station. And when. Because someone might have to walk two hours home when the trains stop running - so they say, every hour on the hour, you meet there and there." Or whoever has the car collects the others.
You should also consider that the doorbell no longer works. What shouldn't be a problem in a single-family house is definitely a problem on the fifth floor of an apartment building in the backyard. Here, too, an agreement can help, for example that someone opens the door downstairs every half hour.
If possible, make arrangements with friends or relatives in other cities. Then you can offer each other shelter in an emergency. Because maybe the current is already flowing one place further without any problems.
(This article was first published on Sunday, November 06, 2022.)