3 necessities for weathering a Seattle power outage

(originally posted December, 2015)  I have lived my entire life in the Pacific Northwest and I have never awoke to a thunder and lightning storm in December.   Until today.

As this latest El Nino continues its dicey dance with record flooding and wind storms we all need to be prepared for the subsequent power outages this winter.  There are many online lists http://www.ready.gov/power-outage of how to best prepare for a power outage, including items we should all have on hand (batteries, generators, non-perishable foods, etc.).

But I would argue there are three additional necessities EVERY Pacific Northwesterner should have at the ready to ensure the best possible outcome the next time your power goes out.

Before giving the list, I’d like to share a story of some friends who recently lived the list:

“We had a big appreciation dinner planned for one of our teams at church. My husband, David ( a former chef),  had purchased and prepped all the food and was in the process of cooking gumbo in a large pot on the propane burner outside.

It ended up being a super windy day with mixed sun and rain. It ended up being the day of the widespread power outage last fall and we lost power. The place where we planned to have the party lost power AND lost use of water from a tree falling on their pump house.

Well: What to do with food for 40+ people when your refrigerator isn’t functioning? We decided to invite a few of the people it was meant for to begin with (one of them brought desert to share) AND walk around the neighborhood and invited our neighbors, many of whom don’t really know us.


A few showed up and had some delicious food and great conversation. It started raining just as people started showing up, so we just sat in our camp chairs in the garage with the garage doors open. Certainly not beautiful aesthetically — but relationally, it was the best!

For a couple of the families we sensed were shy about coming over, we packaged up care packages of gumbo and simply delivered them to their doors.

We found it was a great way to share and to open up relationships within our neighborhood.”            -Amy

What can we learn from Amy’s story? 

To best prepare for the next Pacific Northwest power outage, I recommend keeping on hand the follow three things in your personal toolkit:

1) An attitude that sees a problem as an opportunity

Have you ever prepared for a big dinner or event and then suddenly things go sideways?  There was a great story in the news last month about a woman whose wedding was called off at the last-minute. Her solution? She didn’t let bitterness win out. Instead, she shared all of the pre-purchased reception food with the homeless in her community.

Rather than getting frustrated about all the food and all the effort that had already been invested and potentially wasted, my friends looked at the power outage as how can we make the best of this?  Our neighborhoods are filled with new arrivals, the elderly, small children and of course (because we’re Seattle) the family that’s lived down the street for 7 years and we’ve never met them.  When the power goes out, everyone feels a little off kilter. Use it as an opportunity to say hello or otherwise re-connect. See the possibility, not just the problem.

2) A solid pair of all-weather shoes and sturdy knuckles

That’s pretty much all you’ll need to move out your front door and onto your neighbor’s front porch. And knock.  Yes, there is always the possibility of that one or two neighbors who will look at you like you’re a traveling salesman and feel suspicious of your intent.  BUT many more will appreciate the gesture and it can open up the possibility of further connection.  It’s completely OK to show up empty-handed when your heart is full of compassion and concern.

3) A desire to give out of recognizing plenty

We all have more than we think we do. When the power goes out, don’t we first focus on what we have?  Perhaps for the next outage, we can take an inventory of what we have to share.  Do you have extra firewood, batteries, blankets?  Do you have a gas stove top that you can offer a neighbor if they’d like to come over and cook on it?

Do you have some board games and a kitchen table?  Several years ago when my son was teensy, our neighborhood endured the power outage of 2008. You’ll remember it if you lived here. Three days and nights of no power and no electric heat.  Well, what we did have was two gas and one natural burning fireplaces and a gas stove top.  Our friends  – who had none of the above – came over and ‘camped out’ with us for those three days and it became a part of our family lore.  Hours of board games, cooking and meals together with no computers, no television and only a hand-crank-generated radio for intermittent news updates. It was one of the best times ever!

So, the next time the power goes out, think about using it as an opportunity to check-in on your neighbors.  You never know what family memories you might be creating.


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