How to Prepare for a Power Outage

Jun 13, 2022 | Energy Conservation

It’s incredible how quickly the house can get dark when the power is out. When an outage happens, get your flashlights out and keep them in an easily accessible area. Depending on the severity of the outage, it’s a good idea to keep replacement batteries within arm’s reach.Power outages are disruptive, and they can quickly bring a day — or longer — to a complete standstill. Whether due to weather, equipment maintenance, or a rogue animal shorting out a transformer, it’s easy to forget just how reliant we are on electricity until it’s not available. While power outages occur relatively infrequently, it’s wise to be ready for them when they do occur.

Excluding significant events, the average customer’s electricity service is disrupted for 92 minutes each year in the United States. While major power-disturbing events are infrequent, they do happen. Many people remember last year’s winter storm in Texas that claimed more than 100 lives and left millions without electricity for days.

In this article, we’re going to cover how to be prepared for power outages before they occur, what to do when a power outage happens, and everything else you need to know to stay safe and keep on livin’ in the event of an outage.

What Are Power Outages and Why Do They Happen?

A power outage – also referred to as a blackout, power failure, or power loss – is the disruption of electricity supplied to consumers. In other words, it’s when the power goes out. Power outages can happen for various reasons, but weather like tornados, hurricanes, thunderstorms, freezing rain, heavy snow, and lightning are typical culprits.

Other common causes of power outages include neglected equipment maintenance and failures.  The United States has over 7,000 power plants, over 160,000 miles of power lines, and countless low-voltage power lines and distribution transformers connecting over 150 million customers. If something has to be replaced or repaired, it can cause a short-term service disruption.

Some outages happen due to an accident, such as if a car hits a pole and brings down the wires. Occasionally, wildlife is involved. One blackout in 2019 happened in Union City, Tennessee, due to two snakes finding their way into a substation and shorting the system.

Another common power disruptor is the accidental cutting of underground power lines during digging. That’s why you should always call the utility company and find out where power lines are located before beginning any projects that require digging.

Finally, planned blackouts, also known as rolling blackouts, may occur if the utility company is trying to manage high demand or a low energy supply. To prevent the entire network from losing energy, sections of it are sequentially turned off to reduce the system load and minimize disruption. Rolling blackouts generally don’t last long and are communicated by the utility company ahead of time.

How to Be Prepared Before a Power Outage Happens

The effects of losing power can range from a mild inconvenience to a severe emergency, depending on your personal needs, how long the outage lasts, what the weather is like, and various other factors. The following tips and strategies will prepare you for outages before they happen.

Keep Basic Supplies Stocked and Ready

Power outages can affect water availability, so having water on hand is smart. A minimum of a half-gallon per day should do it, but if you’re in a warmer climate or have other needs to consider, you may need to increase your emergency supply accordingly.

Keep a supply of non-perishable food on hand. You don’t necessarily have to store a case of meal replacement packs under the stairs. Simply having a couple of extra jars of peanut butter, spaghetti sauce, pasta, and rice – or whatever items you rely on – will provide a sufficient buffer. A grill or camping stove is an excellent way to enable cooking.

Keep Flashlights & Lanterns Within Reach

One of the first things many people discover during a blackout is how quickly and easily it gets dark, so keep a few flashlights or battery-operated lanterns throughout your house. Both of these are preferable to candles because they’re more portable, provide better light, and aren’t a fire risk. And, of course, keep them charged and don’t forget the extra batteries.

Safety First

Safety is the top priority during an outage, so keep a first-aid kit fully stocked and readily available. If you have medication that requires refrigeration or rely on a medical device that needs electricity, discuss power outage protocols with your healthcare provider.

Have an Evacuation Plan

Most outages are a brief nuisance, but in the event of a major blackout, you may have to leave the area. Create an evacuation plan for your family and know the travel routes in the area. Among the other things to consider are essential paperwork and belongings, pets, and how to secure your property before you leave.

How to Stay Safe During a Power Outage

Imagine now that you’re sitting at home and, suddenly, the power goes out. Now what? The first thing to check is if the outage is affecting your entire neighborhood or only your home. Check your fusebox for tripped breakers. Look out the window. Are street lights on? Do the neighbors appear to have electricity? If it’s a widespread outage, it’s time to put your power loss plan into play.

Unless You Have to Evacuate, Stay Put

If your power outage is due to a weather event, it’s likely that trees, power lines, and debris will be cluttering the area, making conditions unsafe. Don’t venture out unless absolutely necessary. Downed power lines are not always immediately visible, yet they’re extremely dangerous. Wait until cleanup crews have been able to assess and repair any damage. And if you have an emergency, call 911 immediately.

Turn Off and Unplug Appliances

Voltage spikes and power surges are common after an outage when service is being restored, and those surges can be detrimental to electronic devices. If you don’t have surge suppression installed in your home, unplug your appliances to protect them. And if you have any appliances that use gas, shut them off so there’s no chance of accidental ignition when the power is restored.

Assess Your Food and Water Supplies

Running out of food and water isn’t the only concern during a power outage. The thing on many people’s minds is how to keep an entire refrigerator of food from going bad. The answer is to keep the door closed. An undisturbed refrigerator will hold a cool temperature for about a day and a freezer can stay cool for up to two days. If you need to get something from the refrigerator, make it fast. Better yet, tap into your non-perishable food items from the pantry.

Get the Flashlights and Lanterns

A simple way to save energy and money is to only control the temperature where you need it. Shutting doors to areas you’re not using or curtaining windows in rooms you aren’t in can mitigate temperature changes. Also, try only cooling or heating the rooms where you spend the most time.

Stay Cool

Staying cool when the temperature is hot can be a challenge, but it is possible. Wearing light, breathable clothing, staying in the shade, and keeping hydrated are all a good start. There are also various products like battery-operated fans, misters, and cooling towels to neutralize the sweltering heat.

Or Keep Warm

Alternatively, if the power goes out when it’s cold, make sure you stay warm. Preserve the heat already in your home by closing the drapes and keeping the doors shut. Use blankets and sleeping bags as insulation and keep everyone together in the same room. It’s an excellent time to use a fireplace, but never use charcoal or gas indoors, as they release poison gas. And if it simply gets too cold, be ready to put your evacuation plan into place. If it’s below freezing, protect your pipes from freezing by turning on the faucet to release a slow trickle of water.

Turn on the Generator, If You Have One

If you have a generator, this is the moment you’ve been preparing for. Operate it according to the usage instructions. Never run a generator indoors, under wet conditions, or in any unsafe manner. A power outage is no time to press your luck and raise your chances of also having to deal with a medical emergency.

Once Power Is Restored

When the power comes back on, wait about ten minutes to plug your appliances in, as power surges can happen as everything is coming back online. And before you move on with your day, be sure to replace and restock all your outage supplies so you remain ready for the next outage. Reset your clocks and alarms. If any food or medication is spoiled, discard it.

Preparation Is Essential

Power outages can be a hassle, but a little preparation goes a long way in getting you through the ordeal with minimal disruption. Keep the essentials on hand, stay safe, have a plan in place, and make sure everyone in your family knows it. Make it a habit to check your supplies regularly, especially before hot or cold weather hits, and you’ll be prepared to get through it easily.

Sources:

https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/power-outage.html

https://www.puc.texas.gov/storm/contents/media/Prepareness.pdf

https://www.getprepared.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/pwrtgs-wtd/index-en.aspx

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