No Power Part 2: Communication And Sanitation Without Utilities

In the first part of this two-part post, we looked at ways to cook "off grid" and ways to store food without electricity. Today we're going to look at sanitation in emergency situations, and how to communicate when the power is down.

Communication
No power and no phone can be a scary situation for modern folks. We are not used to being cut off, and it makes most of us feel vulnerable. The event that takes out your power may or may not also smack down the phone lines. If it doesn't, you can still use a landline phone with a hand set (not a cordless, which requires power). But if a major storm knocks out your land lines and the local cell phone towers too, then your communication with friends and family will not be as easy as it normally is.

Without power or cell phone use, your options for communication are very limited. You could try battery-operated walkie-talkies, some of which claim to connect at a distance of 35 miles. However, I'm sure that is in very dry air, with no interfering signals or signal blockage. No one I know has ever had two-way radios connect that far apart. It's usually more like a mile or two under average conditions.

CBs and HAM radio allow you to connect with others if you have a power source for those devices, but they're rarely going to connect you to everybody you might need to speak with. If someone has a Nextel phone, the radio function might work even if cell service is down. Failing all the tech stuff, you may have to go see the person you need face to face, if the conditions permit. Every family and group of friends should have one designated meeting place in case of emergency; a place where you could leave notes for each other would be ideal. In the realm of survival, you can almost always come up with shelter, water and most other needs, if you are resourceful. It's communications that are the hardest thing to replace when they are suddenly and unexpectedly gone.

Sanitation
There's a big difference in the sanitation strategies you would use without power in the country versus no power in town. If you have your own well and septic system, your gravity-fed waste system will keep on working just fine with no electricity, but you won't be able to pump water from your well without it. If you can grab a small bucket of water from a rain barrel, pool, pond or the local creek - you can still flush the toilet without any problem.

The game changes a lot if that toilet, tub and sink hook up to a sewer line in town or in the 'burbs. You can keep flushing as long as the sewage system keeps running. If generators and fail safes in place keep working, then the bad water will keep running out of your home. But if the pumps stop pumping due to a prolonged utility outage, and the water tower keeps feeding water into the system, you better hope you're not the house at the lowest elevation on your street. That sewage has to go somewhere when everybody upstream keeps flushing.

We'll finish this post with the nicer topic of bathing. If flooding was not the cause of your power outage, and you are fortunate enough to have a swimming pool, a clean river, or a good swimming hole, you have a way to get clean. If not, you can grab a sponge bath in your tub with a bucket of warm water.

Failing these options, there's always the baby wipe "wipe down." You'll definitely look cleaner after a good wipe, but the lotions, dirt and residue on your skin can leave you feeling a little clammy and grimy.

Drop us a comment to tell how you communicated with folks during your last power outage, or how you kept clean with an 1800s-lifestyle lack of electricity.