Power Outage Preparation      
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Sunday, 15 April 2007

How much is your tank worth to you? Whether it is $50, $500 or $5,000 you have invested a lot of time and love in it.

Lights Out!

A Hurricane Katrina Survivor's Story


One of the biggest fears we aquarists have is fear of a power failure. It causes us to panic knowing so many things can go wrong. Your sump can overflow if you recently topped off a little too much. You pumps can seize up and not turn back on when you need them to. An extended power failure can cause EVERYTHING TO DIE.

Scary, huh? Now that you’re scared maybe you’ll do some preparations and stop putting it off. I’d like to tell you about my first hand experience dealing with an extended power outage.

I am from New Orleans and I lost everything including my tanks and livestock in Hurricane Katrina. While I was picking through everything I once owned I got a call from a friend that lived about 50 miles inland. He was in a panic; he had been without power for 3 days and was about out of gas for his generator. He offered a place for me and my family to stay and asked if I could help. So we finished up salvaging what we could from our home and drove to my friend’s house.

When I arrived I found he had rigged a good setup for his tank and was ready for when the generator ran out of gas. He had a cordless drill and a paint mixing stirrer to aerate his tank. He had read about it a while back in a magazine and used it to mix emergency batches of saltwater. The only problem was that he was going to use a power inverter plugged into his truck to charge the batteries but they weren’t going to charge fast enough. So in between charges he was going to use a cup to keep the water aerated and moving. When we decided to kill the generator to save some gas my friend and my wife and I started taking shifts trying to keep everything alive.

While I was taking a break I went into his garage and started to dig to see if I could find anything to help, and that’s when the true spirit of McGuyver kicked in. His spare parts container (ever notice how we all have a large supply of spare parts) had some air tubing, air stones, and gang valves. I also found a bike pump and an old inner tube. I cut the Schrader valve out of the inner tube and found that when you remove the rubber from the back of the valve an air line fits in nice and tight. We ran the airline to the gang valve, connected the air stones and placed them in the tanks. We placed all the air stones on one side of the tank, weighed them down with some live rock and began to pump. It worked GREAT! It was so efficient and it allowed us to sit and pump. I have to admit it wasn’t optimal but it got the water aerated and moving enough that you could see loose particles swirling around the tank.

You connect the pump to the gold screw like you were inflating a tire.


 Since it was the beginning of September in New Orleans it was hot enough that we didn’t have to worry much about heaters. However the temperature did get above 86 a couple of times. His deep freezer was already starting to defrost. To keep the temperature in his tanks down we decided to use food that might be wasted anyway. We placed ther frozen foos in ziploxk bags to ensure food could not contaminate the tank. This, along with a fan (plugged into the DC/AC inverter that was plugged into his truck) blowing across the water kept his tank in the safe range. We had decided that in an emergency this should be between 70 and 86.

This worked great for about 2 days, then his livestock started showing signs of stress. We realized that they were not getting any light so we took the mirror off his dresser and put it outside and directed the sunlight onto the tank. It helped, we started to see some xenia open up, but not pulse, and his clam, and Kenya tree coral even opened up a little. We could only get 4-5 hours of light onto the tank and it was weak but we thought we were doing some good.

We decided to rethink and reorganize our plan. He had a 29 gallon tank and a couple of 10’s I had two 55’s, a 29, a couple of 10’s and a 42 hex. We drained his tank into the smaller tanks placing all the fish in a 55, his most valuable corals in the 42 and anything that went toxic when stressed, like his xenia, in a 29 and stared filling the other tanks with RO water to do water changes. We did this so we could concentrate our efforts on the most valuable items and to make sure that if something died and we couldn’t get it out it wouldn’t kill everything else in the tank.

We were able to find some ammonia lock, more air line, air stones, and salt. Taking them home we used them to keep most of the live stock alive for 6 more days. We used both chemical filtration and water changes, treating the tank on one day and changing water the next day to try to keep the levels from becoming toxic. All things considered we were successful and only lost about 20% of his livestock. They were a royal gamma, 2 mandarins, a clarkii clown, a hippo tang and a yellow tang. We lost most of his softies and both of his clams. A couple of the SPS and LPS didn’t make it but we were pleased that most of them recovered in a couple of weeks.

Using what we learned we both have emergency kits on hand at all times. I will give you some advice and some ideas to keep everything alive and not kill your check book at the same time.

Since no two checkbooks are the same there are some different options that you can consider.

1. Gas Generator and Gasoline

The most expensive option is a generator. Some portable generators cost less than the price we paid for the live rock we have in out tank. Think of it this way, you’re going to spend A LOT more to restock your tank than you would to keep everything alive.

A 1200-1500 watt generator will run most systems. To determine how big your generator needs to be add up the wattage of your “must have” equipment. Of course you will want to operate a power head to provide circulation and agitate the water surface. An air pump and air stones will provide additional oxygenation. Depending on the temperature you may need to use your heater or chiller. A generator will keep your system going for as long as you have gas. Remember, if the power is out in your area the gas pumps at your local station will be out too. You will need to have enough gasoline on hand to operate your generator for a few days. For the safety of your family gas should be stored in a safety can.

Be sure to add up the wattage of all the equipment needed to in order to buy the correct size generator.


2. DC/AC Inverter

Inverters come in all sizes and can plug into the cigarette lighter in you car or be connected to a dedicated deep cycle battery. They convert the 12 volt DC power from the battery into the 110 volt AC power that your aquarium equipment needs to operate. Small inverters aren’t as good as a gas generator and can’t handle as much wattage but they are MUCH cheaper and can just operate off of your vehicle. You must CAREFULLY look at the specifications of the items you are going to plug into it, or you can easy overload it. Remember your heater may be 300 watts, larger than some inverters. If you are running an inverter off of your vehicle’s battery you must remember to start your car and run it for 10 minutes every hour. (www. This will prevent your battery from draining to the point where you can’t start your vehicle to recharge it.

Some inverters have dual power connections for both a battery and a cigarette lighter.


3. Battery Operated Air Pumps

I have recently seen these items becoming more and more available at LFS’s. Some plug in to an outlet and will automatically turn on when they sense a power failure. They will run for several hours on a set of batteries. These are great especially if you’re expecting bad weather and you won’t be at home. I drop them in my tank when I go away for the weekend and have someone fish sit or when bad weather is expected when I’m at work.  (Carmie says: I keep one of these in my sump and another in my display all the time. You never know when the power might go out.) Though they won’t get you though days they will be great for several hours. remeber the number of pumps should equal the number of tanks you have. Hav eenough D cell batteries to get you though a few days at least.

Be sure to have a pump for every tank and enough batteries to run those pumps for several days.


The automatic back-up system that can keep fish alive... battery power goes ON when electric power goes OFF.


4. Fish Aid Kit

I keep this in a Rubbermaid tote that I keep in the garage. It’s one of those things that gets buried by all the other things in the garage. I panic when the power goes out and I have to dig it out.

It contains:
Cordless drill /w charged batteries
Paint stirrer
Mylar blanket or pre-cut foam board
50’ of air line tubing
Large pack of air stones and several lime wood air stones
Bike pump
Schrader valve (from a bike inner tube)
Gang valve
Duct tape

These items make up a great first aid kit.


Now to explain the use of the items in my kit:

The cordless drill is connected to the paint stirrer and used to agitate the water and create a current. Remember to keep the batteries for your drill charged!

The Mylar blanket and/or foam board will be uses to insulate your aquarium. You can buy a 4x8’ foam board runs for less than $15 at your local hardware store. Use a razor knife or a sharp kitchen knife to cut the foam board into pieces that will cover the sides of your tank. Then store them away somewhere where they won’t get broken. When the time comes fit them around your tank and duct tape them in place. This will hold in the heat for as long as possible. A Mylar blanket can be wrapped around your tank and duct taped into place. Mylar blankets are an especially good choice for odd shaped tanks.

The manual bicycle pump, 50’ airline tubing, air stones, gang valve, and Schrader valve are where the McGuyver part comes in! Take the Schrader valve (the inlet valve from a bicycle inner tube) and strip away all the rubber from it. Even though the airline should fit snugly on the end I use duct tape to make sure the seal is good. Run the air line to the gang valve then to the different air stones. Lock the Schrader valve into the bike pump and place all the air stones on the same side of the tank (left for me) close to the glass. When the air stones are all placed on one side of the tank pumping will create a current. The lime wood stones are mainly used for dissolved oxygen.

These measures are good for a few hours or to a day or two. However, if you are looking at a LONG haul like several days you might want to evacuate your livestock to a better place. If the power outage is local bring your livestock to another reef keeper across town or even to a LFS for safe keeping. The best thing to do is to get power back as soon as possible.




Last Updated ( Friday, 11 May 2007 )
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