Power outages are one of the most common emergencies that occur. They can be caused by storms, accidents in which power lines are knocked down, circuit overloads, etc. Power failures can last for an extended period of time or for a brief moment, but no matter the length of time, they cause a disruption in everyday life. Power outages have affected almost everyone; it is important to prepare for power failures and to respond safely and effectively.
Before your power goes out
Make sure you have an emergency light source in all major rooms in your house such as the kitchen, hallways, family rooms, and bedrooms. Emergency light sources can include:
- Flashlight with working batteries
- Hand crank flashlight
- Rechargeable flashlights that plug into the wall. These are especially good for hallways and children’s rooms. Some rechargeable flashlights automatically turn on when there is a power failure.
- Candles and matches. Candles come in all varieties--you can set out nice candles on a shelf for a decoration, or keep wax emergency candles or liquid paraffin candles in a drawer for when you need them. Liquid paraffin is smokeless and odorless so it is good for indoors. Don’t keep matches in reach of your small children, but always know where they are so you can find them when they are needed.
Other items that are good to consider having available before a power outage are:
- Battery or handcrank operated radio
- Wind-up clock
- Extra fuses
- Manual can opener
Prepare your small children beforehand so they are not scared when they are caught in the dark. Warn them of the chances of a power outage and give instructions regarding a meeting place. Show them where they can find a flashlight. You could even carry out a mock power failure so they know what to expect when it really happens.
Another concern to consider when the power goes out is heat and water supply. When the power goes out, the furnace will not work. If you have a well and an electric pump powers the supply of your water, it will also be cut off in a power outage. Therefore, you may want to prepare your home by having extra blankets, a portable heater, or a wood burning stove for heat, and always have water stored for those times.
Additionally, ready.gov offers six helpful tips for preparing for power outages if you have advanced notice:
- Conserve energy to keep the use of electricity as low as possible (turn off lights when not in a room, power down your computer, unplug electronics, etc.). This can help power companies avoid rolling blackouts.
- Fill plastic containers with water and place them in the refrigerator or freezer, if there's room. Leave about an inch of space inside each container because water will expand as it freezes. Place these frozen or chilled containers in your fridge or freezer to keep foods cold while the power is out.
- If you take medication that must be refrigerated, know that you can still keep those medications in the fridge for several hours during a power outage and it will still be ok to use. If you don't want to risk it, ask your doctor or pharmacist how long it will keep without power.
- Since gas stations use electricity to power their pumps, always keep your gas tank half full.
- Know where the manual release lever of your garage door is located and how to use it.
- Keep a key to your house with you if you usually use the garage door to enter your home. Having this key will ensure that you can get in even if the power is out.
What to do when your power goes out
When your power goes out, first check to see if your neighbors have power. If you are the only home without electricity, check the main fuse in your electric service panel or fuse box to see if the main circuit breaker has been tripped or if a fuse has blown. If you don’t know how to check, consult a qualified electrician. If your neighbors do not have electricity either, then you know there has been a power outage in your area.
- Report your power outage to your local utility company so they know which area has lost power, especially in a storm. Only call once to report your outage.
- Turn off all major non-essential appliances such as your electric range and washer/dryer. Turn off the majority of your light switches, but leave a few on so you know when the power has been restored. This reduces the electrical demand once the power has been restored.
- Unplug sensitive electronic equipment such as your TV, personal computer, VCR and microwave. This will reduce chance of damage caused by electric surges.
- Try to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed to conserve the cold inside. You never know how long the power will be out, and you don’t want your food to spoil.
- Open the window shades to allow more light to come in.
Take the time to prepare for a power outage and to gain the knowledge needed to respond safely and effectively during the emergency. A few simple preparations can greatly reduce the inconveniences caused by a power outage.