What WorkedThis outage was a lot easier to deal with than it might have been because we had a lot of warning. PG&E started sounding the alarm about two days before the power was actually cut on Saturday night. Because of that we were able to stock up on ice, stage flashlights, and so on. The ice in particular proved to be very useful because that was the difference between saving some perishables and having them, well, perish. It turns out that our freezer can last 24 hours without electricity (provided you don't open it) but 48 is pushing it.
LED lighting is just awesome. I grew up on old-school incandescent flashlights that lasted an hour or two on a set of batteries. LED flashlights will easily last 10-15 hours, and produce a lot more light in the process. Battery-powered LED candles provide really nice mood lighting late at night. We also had some wall-mounted emergency lights that worked quite well, though we found that the first thing we wanted to do once PG&E pulled the plug was to turn them all off because the bluish light coming up from the wall was really harsh. We also had no idea how long they would last because their internal batteries are quite small. They are intended mainly for the use case where the power cuts off at night with no notice so you can find the real flashlights without having to go groping around in the dark, and for that purpose they worked quite well.
What Didn'tWe have two phone lines, one of which is an old-school POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) line that is supposed to keep working even when the power goes out. It didn't work. As soon as the power died, so did the phone. We even kept an old hard-wired phone to use with that line specifically so we would have comms without power. That experiment was a dismal failure. This corresponds to a data point collected from an acquaintance who did a similar experiment with similar results. The days of reliable hard-wired communications in the face of power outages are apparently over. And unfortunately, our house sits in a cell dead zone so that doesn't work as a backup for us either.
We had uninterruptible power supplies that kept some of our electronics running for a while, but that was mostly a failure too. Some of the batteries had apparently aged out and quit after only a minute or two.
For those that kept working, we learned the hard way that having a UPS with a power-out alarm that can't be muted is an incredibly bad idea. I guess the designers thought that the UPS should be as obnoxious as possible in order to make sure that in the event it was being used to power a computer, the user would know to save their work and shut down. But there are two serious problems with this theory. First, when the power goes out, it's pretty obvious. Even during the day, there's almost always something nearby that's powered by electricity that gives you an indication when it's no longer working. And second, you might be using your UPS to power something other than a computer, something low-power that you want to keep running for a long time, like a DSL modem. Also, even if you are using the UPS to power a computer, and even if it's the middle of the day so somehow you miss the fact that the power has gone out, there is no excuse for the thing to go on beeping for more than a few minutes, and absolutely no excuse not to provide some way to silence the damn thing short of chucking it out the window.
(BTW, anyone want to buy a slightly used UPS?)
But the worst problem we faced was that our water heater stopped working despite being powered mainly by natural gas. It turns out that it also has an electrical element (some kind of blower) and when that's not working, the whole heater just shuts down. We had residual hot water for about twelve hours, which got us through the first night and the following morning. But after that we decided to check into a hotel.
This turns out to be the hardest problem to solve for future outages. But for not having hot water, we could probably survive just about any likely outage. But cold showers are a show-stopper for us. To fix this, we'd either need to replace the water heater, or get a generator or a Tesla powerwall. A generator is kind of loud and obnoxious, and a powerwall is some pretty major coin. Both would need to be wired into the house in order to power the water heater.
Good thing climate change is a hoax or all this could start to get really annoying.