How to Prepare for a Power Outage
While most of the time the electricity grid is pretty reliable, it isn't invincible. Storms, accidents, and even animals can cause power outages, and most of us have experienced power outages from time to time. Luckily, the majority of power outages only last for a few hours, so they are most often only a brief inconvenience. However, if you experience a power outage that lasts longer than two or three hours, you should consider some power outage safety measures to minimize perishable food loss and protect the comfort of you and your family.
Power Outage Preparedness: What you should do before a power outage to be prepared
Don't wait for a power outage to happen before you think about emergency preparedness. Putting together an emergency preparedness kit doesn't take long, and will go a long way to ensuring that you stay comfortable and safe (check out our emergency preparedness checklist to get you started). Make sure that your kit contains a list of emergency contacts, including at least one out-of-town contact who may be better able to reach your family members. Don't forget to include the emergency outage number for your distribution utility in the list!
Write your utility's emergency outage number down and keep it in an easy-to-reach place, such as on your fridge. You can find the utility outage number on your electricity bill.
It's also a good idea to include an alternative charging method for your phone or any other power-using device that you may need, such as a solar-powered, hand-crank, or car phone charger. If you have a landline phone, make sure there's a non-cordless receiver in your home, as it will continue to work even if you don't have power.
Another thing you can do to be prepared for an emergency is to fill some water bottles with fresh water and keep them in your freezer. This will provide you with a source of water and help keep food frozen for longer when the power goes off. What's more, this will help your freezer run more efficiently, saving you some money in operating costs. It's also a good idea to have at least one cooler handy for perishable food.
Carbon monoxide can accumulate in areas that are not well-ventilated. A tasteless, odorless gas, it can cause brain damage or even death. Install carbon monoxide detectors in central locations throughout your home to provide you with early warning of carbon monoxide build-up.
During a Power Outage: What to do
The main things you need to think about during a power outage include: communication, electrical equipment, food safety, and general safety
The first thing you should do when you lose power in your home is to determine the cause of the outage. Check to see if your neighbors have power before calling your utility - if your home is the only one without power, the outage may due to a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse. If you've determined that the outage is not due to a household problem, call your utility's emergency outage number to report the problem (you can find the outage number on your electricity bill).
When reaching emergency personnel and/or family, try to keep all phone calls brief, in order to preserve your cell phone's battery life and to reduce congestion on cellular networks. Prolong your smart phone's battery life by closing all apps that you are not using, reducing the screen brightness, and setting your phone to airplane mode when you are not using it. Resist using any mobile devices to stream videos, download music/videos, or play video games, all of which could add to network congestion and affect emergency calls to 9-1-1. Try to use text messages, email, or social media for non-emergency communication, which are less likely to experience network congestion.
Turn off and unplug all appliances or electronics that you were using before the power outage, especially sensitive electronics. Don't forget to turn off heating and air conditioning systems as well. This will prevent them from becoming damaged from surges or power spikes when power returns. However, make sure to leave one light turned on, so that you know when power does come back on.
Perishable food in the fridge or freezer should be fine if the power outage lasts no more than four hours. Limit the number of times you open the fridge or freezer in order to keep food as cold for as long as possible. The CDC provides the following guidelines for food safety during power outages longer than four hours:
For the Freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it
For the Refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do not cook or eat food that has an unusual color, odor, or texture. When it doubt, throw it out!
Use battery operated flashlights and lamps for emergency lighting instead of candles. Candles can cause fires, and are particularly risky in the event of a gas leak.
Never use any gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning device (such as a generator or camp stove) inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any other partially enclosed area, as this may cause carbon monoxide to build up. Use these devices outdoors instead. Never use your gas oven for heat.
If a carbon monoxide detector sounds the alarm, quickly move outdoors or to an open window or door. Call for help and remain there until emergency assistance arrives.
Dress for the weather outside. If it is hot out, dress lightly and move to the coolest area of your house (typically the lowest level of your home, since cool air falls), and drink plenty of water to remain hydrated. If it is cold out, wear multiple layers of warm clothing. Wear a hat, as most heat is lost through the head.
After a Power Outage
Throw out any food that is more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and any food that has an unusual color, texture, or odor. Don't forget to restock your emergency kit when you have the chance.
Emergency Kit Checklist
- Emergency contact list, including the number of your power utility, and at least one out-of-town contact
- Copies of important personal documents (such identification, insurance policies, and/or bank records), kept in a waterproof, portable container
- At least one flashlight, along with extra batteries
- A battery-powered or a hand-cranked radio
- A solar-powered or car cell phone charger
- A first aid kit
- A whistle to signal for help
- Some dry and/or canned food, along with a can opener
- Fresh water
- Matches (in a waterproof container)
- Water purifier bottles
Life-Sustaining Medical Equipment
If you or a loved one currently rely on life-sustaining medical equipment that requires electricity, make sure to plan ahead and look into a backup generator or arranging to transfer your equipment over to a neighbor's home, in case their electricity is not down. Also make sure that your utility is aware of life-sustaining medical equipment in your home so that you will be given priority attention from your power company when power is restored.