How to Prepare for – and Respond to – a Power Outage
What is the first thing you do when you suddenly experience a power outage?
No, not the first thing you say. That might not always be appropriate to repeat. I mean the first thing you do.
If it’s at night, you might first try to remember where you put your flashlight. Next you probably check breakers in the basement to see if a fuse blew.
Then you might look at houses in your neighborhood to see if they have any lights on. Maybe you use your cellphone to call the power company to report the outage.
Preparation is key
Today I’d like to provide you with a refresher course on things to do before your power goes out. And while it’s out.
As well as what to do once the power is restored. I’ll throw in some safety tips along the way.
I’d recommend printing this out so you can prepare for the next power outage. And be ready to deal with it when it happens.
Knowing exactly what to do will come in handy. And it will definitely speed up your efforts to handle the situation.
Hurricane Zeta slams Louisiana
First, though, I’d like to review a few recent examples in which Americans lost power in their homes and businesses.
As of this writing, five people died and more than 2 million people were without power late last month. Due to yet another hurricane.
Hurricane Zeta was the fifth tropical cyclone to make landfall in Louisiana in 2020.
It made landfall near Cocodrie as a Category 2 hurricane (nearly a Category 3). The storm also affected parts of Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia.
Ice storm pummels Oklahoma
Nearly simultaneously, an unusually early ice storm ripped through Oklahoma. It knocked out power to more than 300,000 people.
Many power lines were downed by freezing rain. Other lines were weighed down by thousands of falling trees and branches.
The storm was so bad, electrical crews from other states rushed in to help. That’s assuming they were not already on the way to Louisiana to help there.
Officials from the Public Service Company of Oklahoma issued this statement. “Due to continued ice, sleet, freezing rain and high winds, we’re unable to provide specific information on when service will be restored.” Not very comforting news.
Wildfires ravage California
This year’s record-breaking wildfire season in California is far from over. As of this writing, the state was bracing for more fires. And the expansion of current fires.
In response, Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers.
Low humidity and high winds, especially in the higher elevation areas of northern California, were the main concerns.
The utility periodically cuts off power temporarily in fire-prone areas as a precaution. Their equipment can spark those fires.
Before a blackout
The better prepared you are for a blackout, the greater the chance you’ll be able to handle it. Here’s what to do prior to a blackout.
- Put together a supply of emergency food and water for your family. Start with 72 hours’ worth, then build it up.
- Build an emergency kit or bug-out bag. Store your kit in an easily accessible place. Consider having an additional emergency kit at your place of business in case a blackout occurs while you’re at work.
- Make a family communications plan and discuss it with family members. Conduct a dry run every few months to make sure everyone is ready to carry out the plan.
- Follow energy conservation measures to keep the use of electricity as low as possible. This can help power companies avoid imposing rolling blackouts.
- Fill plastic containers with water and place them in the refrigerator and freezer. Leave an inch of space inside each one, as water expands as it freezes. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold during a temporary outage.
- Be aware that most medication that requires refrigeration can be kept in a closed refrigerator for several hours without a problem. If unsure, check with your physician or pharmacist.
- Keep your car tank as full as possible. Gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps. In addition to being your emergency transportation, your car could also be your charging system and the only heating or air conditioning you’ll have.
- Know where the manual release lever of your electric garage door opener is located and how to operate it.
- Get a good supply of cash. Some stores may not be able to process credit card and debit card purchases. Cash machines may not work.
During a blackout
If you’ve prepared for a blackout, you’ll be ready to deal with it when it happens. Following are some recommendations.
- Use only flashlights for emergency lighting. Never use candles during a blackout due to fire risk.
- If you’re using a generator to power lights, be careful how long you keep them on. If your home is the only one lit up at night, you could become a target.
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to make sure your food stays as cold and fresh as possible.
- Turn off or disconnect appliances, equipment and electronics that were in use when the power went out. They could be damaged if power returns with a momentary surge.
- Leave one electrical item on – such as a light – so you’ll know when your power returns.
- If it’s cold outside when the power goes out, wear layers of clothing. Open window blinds and curtains during the day to let sunshine in.
- If it’s hot outside when the power goes off, go to the lowest level of your home. Drink plenty of water. Keep window blinds and curtains closed to keep the heat out.
- Make sure your pets have plenty of fresh, cool water and anything else they need for survival and comfort.
- Fill the bathtub with water, as your faucet water flow may decrease or stop entirely. Duct tape the drain so water does not leak out. Fill other containers with water as well.
After a blackout
Once power is restored, here are some tips to stay safe.
- Throw out food that’s been exposed to temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for two or more hours. Same thing for food with an unusual odor, color or texture.
- Don’t use taste – or even odor or appearance – to determine if your food is still good. Food can look and smell OK but may contain bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses.
- Don’t turn all appliances back on at once. Turn your heat or air conditioning back on first. Then wait 10-15 minutes before starting up other items or appliances you may need.
- If the water from your faucet has not been running, but now it’s working again, don’t drink from it right away. Let it run for a while. Listen to local broadcasts or contact the local health department to find out if a nearby water source has been compromised. Water purification systems usually rely on electricity.
Patriot Power Sidekick
People who have not prepared for an emergency will struggle with a temporary blackout. And fall apart in a medium-length blackout.
But if you have fully prepared, a temporary blackout will be nothing more than a minor inconvenience. And a medium-length blackout will be one you can handle with some determination.
My suggestion for handling short-term blackouts is the new Patriot Power Sidekick. This mini solar generator never needs gas and costs less than an iPhone.
It weighs only eight pounds. But with its 300-watt capacity, you can use it to power your cellphone or laptop and keep medical devices running. Plus, power lights for safety and comfort, turn on lights to ward off looters and so much more.