Power outages can occur because of multiple reasons: utility blackouts or severe weather such as thunder and lightning storms, snow and ice storms, or strong winds. Whatever the reason, power outages can affect thousands – even millions – of people over an extended period of time.
In preparation for a power outage or any emergency, every household should have a disaster supply kit that contains key items such as non-perishable food, drinking water, a battery-operated radio or television, a land-line telephone or cell phone, and an emergency contact list of relatives or friends.
Extended power outages during extremely hot or extremely cold weather are serious concerns for individuals with special needs or for those who rely on life support devices requiring electricity, such as respirators or ventilators.
By law, utility companies are required to maintain and update their lists, annually, of customers who rely on life support devices. People with these medical concerns need to register with their utility company or complete an application to get on their lists. Written verification from the customer’s physician may also need to be included. People with medical concerns should contact their utility companies for details.
However, there is no guarantee that customers with medical needs will have their power restored immediately. People who rely on medical equipment need to be extra prepared. Their emergency preparedness kit should include a list of places to go until power is restored, additional oxygen tanks, and if possible, a backup generator as an alternate power source.
Safety Tips during a Power Outage
•If the weather is extremely hot, take measures to remain cool. Move to the lowest level of your home, as cool air falls. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty. If the heat is intense and the power may be off for a long time, consider going someplace cool, like a movie theater, shopping mall or a “cooling shelter” that may be opened in your community. Get safety tips on preparing for a heat wave.
•If it is winter, or cold weather, dress in layers of warm clothing. If it is a winter power outage, most homes will stay warm for several hours. Your home will stay warm longer if it is well insulated, has storm windows, and windows are sealed. If the power is out for a prolonged period, plan to go to another location that has heat to keep warm – such as a friend or relative’s home or public facility.
•Never use the oven as a source for heat.
•Never burn charcoal indoors for heating or cooking. Charcoal releases carbon monoxide.
•Do not operate lanterns, heaters or fuel-fired stoves without adequate ventilation. Always refuel appliances outside, away from sparks or flames. Wipe up fuel spills immediately.
•Have a battery-operated radio or television to listen to local new stations for current information on power restoration efforts.
•If possible, use only battery-powered light sources for emergency lighting instead of candles. Matches, lighters and candles are fire hazards.
•Turn off or disconnect any electronics, appliances or equipment you were using when the power went out to prevent circuit overload. Power surges or spikes can occur when electricity is restored, causing damage to equipment such as computers, and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace. Remove any food that was cooking on an electric kitchen range.
•Leave one light switch turned on so you’ll know when power is restored.
•If you have advance warning of a storm, turn the controls on your refrigerator to the coldest setting. Food will stay frozen between 36 and 48 hours in a fully loaded freezer, if you keep the door closed. If the freezer is half full, food generally will keep for 24 hours. During winter months, food can also be stored in cold areas of the home or in an unheated garage. Try to avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer doors.
•Consider using a registered backup generator as a source of electricity a power outage. Always rely on a professional electrician to set it up. Properly installing a generator will protect it from damage and prevent a backflow of electrical current into the utility lines that may injure service professionals. Never use a generator inside the home or in an attached garage, due to carbon monoxide build up.
Power Outage Checklist
Check all circuit breakers or fuses to help determine whether your service outage might be the result of a household problem.
Call an electrician if you have standing water near electrical wiring or appliances. Do not enter the flooded area; there is a risk of electrical shock.
Inspect the area outside your home near the electric meter. Call an electrician if the meter or any of the piping and wires on the wall of your home or office is gone or looks damaged.
Common Questions and Answers
Q: What if I go to bed and the power is still not on?
A: Before you go to bed, pack your perishables into coolers, if you have not already done so, and put in as much ice as possible. Also, before you go to bed, leave a bedroom light switched on. That way, if the power comes back on, the light may wake you so you can check the condition of your food in the freezer. If your freezer food still has ice crystals on them, they are safe to be refrozen.
Q: What if the power goes out while I’m away from home, and more than a few hours have passed before I return?
A: Try to determine how long the power has been out. Check the internal temperature of the food in the refrigerator with your quick-response thermometer. Liquids such as milk or juice are easy to check. Spot check other items like meat or leftovers. If the internal temperature of the food is about 40 degrees, it is best to throw it out. If the food in the freezer is below 40 degrees and still have ice crystals, they can be refrozen.
Q: What if the power goes out and comes back on while I am away?
A: If your freezer is fairly full and you know that the power was not out longer than 24 hours, the food should be OK. There will be loss of quality with refreezing, but the food will be safe. If the refrigerator was out for more than two to four hours, it would be best to discard the perishables. If you are not sure food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer. Throw out any foods (meats, eggs and leftovers) that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40 degrees F for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or feels warm to the touch.