As far as Victoria Day long weekends go, the one we just experienced was certainly on the chilly side compared to many years, and though we did see some sunshine, it was mixed with overcast skies and periods of rain. In Meaford, the long weekend was capped off with a power outage which got me thinking how lost we are these days when the lights go out.
I like to think of myself as someone who is prepared for something as simple as a power outage. I ensure that the flashlight in my tool bag has working batteries, I have a number of oil lamps in my home, wicks trimmed and filled with oil, ready for service. I have a stash of emergency candles squirrelled away, and I try to ensure that my cell phone is charged fully as often as possible.
As prepared as I might think I am for a simple power outage, in reality I'm far from prepared, and it's quite likely that you aren't much more prepared. My level of preparation will certainly help to endure an outage of several hours – at the very least I will be able to see and prepare some meals, but for any extended power outage, the kind that could happen after a natural disaster (or an enemy attack on the power grid), I, like most others, would be sadly ill prepared.
We have come to rely more and more on electricity as the decades have marched on, and technology has become an intimate part of our lives. As I have told my kids, likely more times than they want to have heard, we've become pretty soft as a species, particularly in our part of the world. A few flashlights and a handful of candles simply wouldn't get us far if the proverbial crap hit the fan.
When the power went out on Monday afternoon, the first thing I did was haul out my phone to check in with Hydro One to see what information was available. I couldn't use my computer as the power had rendered my internet router useless. The Hydro One website informed me that power was expected to be restored by 9 p.m. (later updated to 10:15 p.m.)
Given that it was only late afternoon, I decided to hop in the car to take a drive and see how the outage was impacting the community (my ulterior motive was that by hopping in the car, I could also hear the radio in case there were any updates. Aside from a few folks outside doing yard work, the town was pretty quiet. Many of the local businesses were already closed for the holiday Monday, but those that you would expect to have been open were shuttered in darkness, with one exception that I could find – the owner of the downtown convenience store had his door propped open, and he was escorting customers round his store with a flashlight. Once you had found your goods, the shopkeeper used a trusty old calculator to add up the cost of your purchase, and then if you had cash (many sadly don't these days), then you were all set.
When I returned home from my drive around town, I used the down time to reflect on how dire the situation would be during a prolonged power outage which would cut us off from accessing our bank accounts, and most forms of communication. How well would we hold up when the food we had in the fridge and freezer began to spoil and the days turn to weeks with no electricity. I would imagine that many of us would wish that we had invested in some home solar power installations (though that would only give you power at home; if the rest of the grid was down, we'd still be in dire straits).
We have come to rely on electricity to such a degree that we have set ourselves up to be completely lost and helpless without it, and we are such creatures of habit (or perhaps we're more entitled than we think) that in the midst of a power outage as we move from room to room in our homes, we still flip light switches (I know you did it too, it wasn't just me). Electricity has become so important that it ranks up there with air and water when it comes to keeping us alive.
On Monday we had a short power outage, just a few hours, but it should serve as a reminder that we all need to be much more prepared, and definitely more self-reliant, particularly as we look toward the uncertain decades ahead as our climate continues to change, and storms become more frequent and more fierce, which will no doubt see us faced with more power outages and other challenges to face.
We need more than a stash of candles and some board games to be prepared for what we will see in the years to come.