Five lessons learned in 70 hours without power

On Friday night, the wind howled across much of Ontario, reaching speeds over 100 km/h. While it could have been much worse, the aftermath was pretty awful — thousands were left without power as power poles snapped and trees downed lines over a huge area of the province.

Our farm was one of those whose power went out at about 8:30 pm on Friday night. Power outages aren’t rare here, but living within Ottawa city limits has its perks — we rarely go all that long without power. This time, however, we learned just how unprepared we were for the “72 hour” rule.

On Monday evening, a full 70 hours after the power went out, we were back online — very dirty, out of clean clothes, sick of take-out, and faced with the task of cleaning out two fridges (house and barn). In many ways, we’re very lucky. While we do have livestock, the weather was relatively mild and most of our flock is outside so stopped barn fans weren’t lethal. Also, we only have a very small group lambing (hello, high water needs) right now. Still, 300+ sheep drink a lot of water in three days and a lack of a functioning water pump gets old fast.

This morning, I’m showered, the coffee’s made without having to light the BBQ, and I’m ready to reflect on our three days in the dark (the irony of this happening during Emergency Preparedness Week is not lost on me, you guys). Here are five of the things I learned:

  1. Assume the power will be out much longer than they say: This matters for a few reasons. One, you’ll likely be better prepared to keep things running business-as-usual if you leap to action. If you do have an issue with your back-up power (whether that’s just candles and a camp stove or if it’s a full on generator that powers the entire farm), you can get solving it ASAP. Three, you’ll probably save more food (and keep that food safe to eat!) if you assume you’re in for a long haul. We moved our frozen food out right away, but left the fridge, thinking it’d be OK for a day. Yeah, well.
  2. Have your back up power setup ready and TEST it often: Of course we had planned to shear sheep on Saturday, 14 hours after the power went out. Our shearer brought a generator and I zipped out to buy bottled water (see the first point — I should have bought heaps more at the outset). Our generator didn’t fire up proper and thankfully our shearer is a friend and left us his to run the bare essentials (water pump). While it would be great to never have to use it, when you do need your back-up power, it needs to work. One friend suggested setting some sort of task up that requires the generator/back-up system so that it gets used a few times a year to keep fuel fresh and everything firing as it should.
  3. Set up a hand-washing station: We have a farm and kids. There’s dirt everywhere, sure, but more than that there are actually nasty things we come into contact with in a day (birth fluids, dead stock, sick animals). Wipes and hand sanitizer aren’t enough. If I was thinking, one of the first things I’d have done was make sure I had all the things handy to set up a camping-friendly wash station. Gravity and soap are your friends.
  4. Neighbours are the best (it’s ok to ask for help):  As mentioned, Tyler, our shearer, still came to shear, keeping our ewes cool and comfortable, plus left us a generator that we could depend on. Our neighbour Katie stopped in with a water truck to fill tanks AND took our freezer contents to a friend’s, and Andy came by to make sure our water pump would keep water flowing to our ewes. We would have been completely lost without each of them. Thank you.
  5. Be thankful. Three days without power made me keenly aware that even within our own borders there are those who don’t have access to clean, running water on a daily basis. We take so very much for granted, and I thought hard about that as I sat in town, borrowing WiFi and gulping down fresh water. We are so blessed.

Don’t have your own 72-hour kit? Visit this Government of Canada site for developing a plan, and for a handy checklist of what should be in your kit. 


Post script: Vick’s Vapo Rub smeared on your nose makes cleaning out the fridge much more tolerable.

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