This section provides practical advice for preparing for an imminent massive solar storm, one that is likely to produce a major blackout.
This preparation should help you get through the first few days of the crisis.
1. Extra Batteries – Obtain fresh batteries for flashlights and radios.
2. Gasoline – During a blackout the majority of service stations will be unable to pump gasoline because pumps are powered by electricity. Fill up all your vehicles (automobiles, trucks, motorcycles) with fuel. At the same time, fill up all your spare gas cans.
3. Cooking Fuel – During an electrical blackout, many of the appliances in your home including your cooking stove and range may become inoperative because most require electricity to operate. Determine your non-electric cooking options. For most individuals this will be an outdoor grill. Ensure that you have adequate supplies of charcoal for your outdoor grill along with matches and lighter fluid. If your grill runs off from propane, ensure that you have full propane tanks.
4. Prescription Medicine – Access to prescription medicine will be very limited during power blackouts because most pharmacies are very automated for logging and dispensing prescriptions. Those who have chronic conditions that require regular refilling of prescriptions should work with their doctor to obtain a 3-month supply of medicine prior to the onset of the massive geomagnetic storm.
5. Liquid Cash – A major electrical blackout can deprive individuals from access to their funds. Credit card processing, bank transactions, ATM machine withdrawals, electronic banking, check validation, payroll disbursement and even cash registers are dependent on the availability of electrical power.
This problem can be compounded by the loss of key satellites that form part of the conduit for transmitting financial data. Having available cash on hand can be extremely important during this type of crisis. Obtain funds in the form of cash or traveler’s checks.
6. Water – The loss of electricity may affect city water pumps and water treatment plants that supply individuals with drinking water, along with water for washing dishes and clothes, flushing toilets, bathing and other household needs. Therefore it is important to store as much water as you are able prior to the onset of the geomagnetic storm. The least expensive water is right from the kitchen tap.
Fill up clean kitchen containers and available buckets with water. Fill up your bathtub with water. Bathtub water can
be used to flush toilets and for washing needs. At a bare minimum, you should have enough water to last for three days per person. Generally this will equate to one gallon of water per person per day. A fallback option is to buy bottled water from the stores.
7. Bleach – Access to clean drinking water may become a problem during a major blackout. Purchase several gallons of bleach for use in drinking water purification. Obtain only non-scented regular liquid bleach (such as Clorox) to disinfect water. Avoid purchasing bleach that contains perfumes, dyes, cleaners or other additives.
8. Food – Ensure you have adequate supplies of food available that does not require refrigeration or cooking (e.g. breads, peanut butter, jams, small tins of tuna fish etc.). These are foods that let you fix a decent meal without electricity.
9. Can Opener – If you have stocks of canned foods, ensure that you have a mechanical can opener available. Electric can openers will not work without electricity.
10. The Morning Commute – At the onset of an electrical blackout, most individuals will want to return home before nightfall. Their main obstacle will be global gridlock. Electric commuter trains and subways will grind to an immediate halt. Automobile, taxis and bus traffic in cities will be gridlocked due to inoperative traffic lights. Also the volume of pedestrian traffic will increase and spill over onto the streets further blocking motor vehicle traffic.
Tunnel managers will close down some traffic lanes within tunnels. Generally, tunnel ventilation systems require an extensive amount of electrical power and as a
result many are not connected to electrical backup system.
Therefore, tunnel operators will have to reduce the number of cars allowed through at any given time in order to minimize the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Without electricity, rail traffic will be affected by inoperative railroad crossing signals and railroad stations blackouts. In large cities, many commuters will face reality and simply decide to walk home with some traveling over 160 city blocks on their journey.
If you commute by subway, train, bus or taxi or if you live or work in tall buildings, then I recommend that you either wear or take along a pair of comfortable walking shoes or sneakers to work.
Also carry a flashlight, a couple bottles of water and a small portable radio.
Discuss the potential for an electrical blackout with your children and determine what course of action they should take during a major blackout. It may be difficult to pick up children from school or day care or even communicate with either the school or your children during a blackout.
Work with the school and provide them with written directions, if necessary.
11. Elevators – At the onset of an electrical blackout, people will be trapped in elevators, in underground mines, on roller coasters (some dangling from rides in midair), and inside commuter trains. (Some of these commuters will need to be evacuated from trains stopped in tunnels and between stations.
It can take more than 2 hours for transit workers and emergency personnel to reach some of these trains. Those stranded in tunnels may be in pitch blackness.)
As a general rule, I advise that individuals should not ride on elevators whenever there is a threat of a massive geomagnetic storm. If at all possible take the stairs. If an electrical power outage of this magnitude occurs, you may be stuck in a dark elevator for a very long time, cutoff from the outside world.
12. Airlines – Avoid flying during a massive solar storm with a similar intensity to the Great Solar Storm of 1859. If you chose to fly, you will expose yourself to higher levels of nuclear particle radiation and the electronics within the aircraft will also be subjected to greater failure rate due to this radiation exposure.
The solar storm will adversely affect aircraft communications and navigational signals. On top of this, a major blackout induced by a geomagnetic storm will severely affect operations at multiple airports over vast regions. Aircraft may fly at lower altitudes below 25,000 ft embedding their craft in the shielding afforded by the thicker lower atmosphere and alter their course away from Polar routes to minimize the radiation threat. But the magnitude of this type of solar storm is so great that the threat will be global.
So the question here is “How much do you value your life?” It is best to just avoid traveling by aircraft until the solar storm has run is course and avoid this unnecessary risk.
13. Communications – All types of communication (telephones, cell phones, radio transceivers, and television) may be down for awhile. So before you lose communication, call family and friends and let them know where you are and your plans should a major electrical power outage occur. Also try and hunt down a corded telephone that doesn't require electricity to be used as an emergency backup.
14. Radio – Battery powered or hand crank radios ar e a vital communication/ informational link during a major blackout.
If you don’t own one, I recommend that you buy one. Hand crank radios will continue to operate during a long duration power outage; long after the battery died in other radios. There are a variety of hand crank radios on the market today to choose from.
15. Rechargeable Batteries – In a blackout, it is better to start out with a fully charged set of batteries. Charge all rechargeable batteries (e.g. cell phones, portable computers) that you might need during a blackout.
16. Disconnecting Power – Unplug home electronics (e.g. computers, televisions, radios, satellite receivers) as much as possible. Induced voltage spikes during geomagnetic storms may damage electronics. (Voltage transients have been the death of many pieces of electronics within my home.
As a result, I am a firm believer in voltage line conditioners/regulators.) It just makes common sense to unplug sophisticated electronics during an extreme solar storm.
If you live out in the country and use well water, then I strongly suggest that you also unplug the power line to the well pump. Deep wells make strong earth grounds and you don’t want to take the chance of induced current burning up the pump electronics.
17. Automatic Backup Generators – Some homes, businesses and hospitals have fixed electrical backup generators. Ensure these generators are fully fueled and operational.
18. Aspirin – About 50 years of medical research has shown that geomagnetic storms directly correlate with an increase in heart attacks and strokes. Furthermore these effects appear to be concentrated among the elderly. Anyone over age 35 should take aspirin during the first week following a solar storm.
Unless you have a medical condition that restricts you from using aspirin, I think it may be beneficial to take an aspirin a day. The FDA has approved the use of aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who have had a heart attack, those who have suffered an ischemic stroke, and also those who have had either stable or unstable angina.
19. Buckets – Strong plastic buckets or pails can be very useful to haul water in the event an electrical blackout affects access to clean drinking water. Consider buying some if needed.
20. Vitamins – During a long duration blackout, access to the wide range of foods may become fairly restricted. Your diet may become stressed and deficient in important vitamins and minerals. I recommend purchasing a three month supply of multipurpose vitamins in preparation.
21. Toilet Paper – One day back in the 1970’s, I stopped off at the grocery store on my way home from work. As I entered the store, I noticed something was amiss. The aisles of toilet paper were almost bare and there were a large number of elderly ladies with shopping carts filled with toilet paper in the checkout lane. When I returned to the car, I turned on the radio.
There was a report of a major shutdown at a toilet paper manufacturing facility which was leading to a run on toilet paper. The television news that night showed grannies in the checkout lane battling over rolls of toilet paper. The stories of the plant shutdown turned out to be only false rumors. And life returned back to normal.
Toilet paper is a luxury item that we take for granted. Who am I to argue with thousands of grannies who treat it as a staple of life! So in the run-up to a major blackout make sure that you have sufficient
22. Reading Books – During an extended blackout, you may have plenty of spare time on your hands. I would advise picking up a few good books to read or to read to your children. This may be a good family
bonding experience. Visit a nearby library or bookstore.
23. Pets – If you have pets, you might want to ensure that you have adequate supplies of pet food available.
24. Cold Weather – Imagine your house or apartment without electricity for weeks or months during the winter. In general, this will also equate to a lack of heat because most furnaces need electricity to operate.
In cold climates, during the winter months, this can present a major problem.
Individuals will need warm clothing during the day and warm bedding during the night. This may take the form of wearing multiple layers of clothing. If you are not prepared for this possibility, it may be important to obtain additional warm clothing, blankets (preferably down) or sleeping bags rated for the outdoor temperature range you might potential experience in your neck of the woods.
25. Garage Door – During a blackout, the electric garage door will no longer work. Know how to manually disengage the garage door opener. Hunt down the owner’s manual if you need to or ask a neighbor for help. If you use the garage door as the main point of entry into your home, make sure you carry keys to your front door.
26. Aurora – Experience the power of a Great Aurora. It is definitely beyond a once in a lifetime event, a wonder to behold for both young and old. Expect an early appearance at dusk and then for it to die down but around 3 o’clock in the morning expect a really great explosion of fireworks to light up the sky. Don’t miss it.
27. Power Grid – Several steps are currently employed to respond to moderate solar storms. These protective measures include disconnecting the links between power grids, desensitizing automatic control systems, reconfiguring to provide extra grounding, less switching, fewer large-scale power swaps, and delaying power station maintenance.
But these measures may be insufficient for a massive solar storm.
One other step may be needed called load shedding. It has become accepted and in some cases the preferred practice should be to shut down parts of the system to protect the whole system when there is a danger that operators might well lose the whole system.
Voluntary loading shedding can produce a major inconvenience, but it also protects all kinds of crucial equipment and makes the restoration of power much smoother and quicker.
If a massive solar storm approaches Earth, it seems logical to place most of our entire electrical infrastructure into a safe mode.
It is wiser to take down the power grid in an orderly controlled manner than to allow the grid to be subjected to two days of Geomagnetic Induced Current (GIC) abuse and damage.
This would necessitate major blackouts in this country but the damage from a planned blackout will be significantly less severe than suffering major transformer damage that might take years to recover and place back on-line.