How to Survive a Power Outage

There are currently more than 3,500 power outages in America every year. That’s according to a recent report from the American Society of Engineers. And our annual average of power outages doubles every five years.

If you’re a typical American, you’ve probably experienced more than one outage over the past 12 months. The average outage lasts four hours. That’s long enough to spoil food in a fridge. And inconvenience people trying to see, read, work, and conduct other normal activities. 

And sometimes – especially when the cause is extreme weather or equipment failures – you could be without electrical power for days or even weeks.

Why? Because our electrical grids are old. They’re vulnerable to natural disasters, physical assaults, and cyberattacks. That means you and your family are vulnerable as well.

So, the question is, are you ready if a power outage occurs in your area tomorrow? That’s what I want to help you answer today.

Blackouts can be dangerous

Severe weather not only happens more frequently than ever before. It’s becoming more extreme. The intensity of storms is growing. That’s a double whammy if I’ve ever seen one.

And intentional attacks against the grid are occurring more often. They’re also becoming more sophisticated. Either way, the end result is power outages.

These blackouts endanger lives. They spoil food. They disrupt the food supply chain. They cut communication lines. They contaminate water.

Below I’ve provided a checklist of things you can do to survive a blackout. Before, during, and after. Following this advice will put you in a position to handle power outages without a hitch.

What to do before a blackout

As with all survival situations, the better prepared you are for a blackout, the greater the chance you and your family will survive it. Experts recommend the following:

  • Put together a supply of emergency food and water for your family. Start with 72 hours’ worth. Then build it up to a week, a month, a year, and longer. 
  • Build an emergency kit or bug-out bag. Store your kit in an easily accessible place. Let everyone in the home know where it is and what it contains. Consider having an additional emergency kit at your place of business. In case a blackout occurs while you’re at work.
  • Make a family communication plan. Discuss all aspects of it with household 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 electricity use 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 about an inch of space inside each one. Water expands as it freezes. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold during a temporary outage.
  • Be aware that most medication requiring refrigeration can be kept in a closed fridge for several hours without a problem. If unsure, check with your physician or pharmacist.
  • Keep your car tank full. Gas stations rely on electricity to power pumps. In addition to being your emergency transportation, your car could also be your charging system for your cell phone. And possibly the only heating or air conditioning you’ll have for a while.
  • Know where the manual release lever of your electric garage door opener is located. And how to operate it. Garage doors can be heavy. Remember you may need help to lift it.
  • Keep a key to your house with you if you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home. Just in case the garage door will not open.
  • Get a good supply of cash. Some stores may not be able to process credit card and debit card purchases in an outage. Cash machines may not be working.

Other items you should have ready to go on short notice are:

  • NOAA emergency weather radio
  • First-aid kit
  • Sleeping bag for each family member
  • Several pairs of wool socks and thermal underwear for each family member
  • Battery-powered lamps or lanterns 
  • Non-electric can opener 
  • Prescription drugs and other needed medicine
  • Rock salt to melt ice on walkways
  • Chemical fire extinguisher
  • Battery-powered smoke alarm
  • Battery-powered carbon monoxide detector
  • Disposable plates, bowls, and utensils
  • Deck of cards, jigsaw puzzles, and board games

What to do during a blackout

If you’ve prepared for a blackout, you’ll be ready to deal with it. Following are recommendations from a variety of sources: 

  • Use only flashlights for emergency lighting. Never use candles during a blackout or power outage due to fire risk.
  • Check in with neighbors. If they have power, the problem is inside your home. Check your fuses and circuit breakers.
  • 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. Heavy window coverings would help.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to make sure your food stays as cold and fresh as possible. Check food carefully for spoilage. 
  • Turn off or disconnect appliances, equipment, and electronics in use when the power went out. They could be damaged if power returns with a momentary surge or spike.
  • Don’t run a gas-powered generator inside your home or garage.
  • Don’t connect a generator to your home’s electrical system. Connect the equipment you want to run directly to the generator outlets.
  • Listen to local radio and to a battery- or generator-powered television for news updates.
  • Leave one electrical item on – such as a light – so that you’ll know when your power returns. 
  • Use your phones for emergencies only.
  • Don’t call 9-1-1 to gain information about the power situation. Use it only to report life-threatening emergencies.
  • Drink only bottled or previously filtered water until you determine whether a boil alert has been issued in your community.
  • If it’s cold outside when the power goes out, wear layers of clothing. Don’t use your oven as a source of heat. Find a place to go where the heat is working. Open window blinds and curtains during the day. Keep a small drip coming from each faucet, which will keep pipes from freezing.
  • If it’s hot outside when the power goes off, go to the lowest level of your home. Or to a movie theater or shopping mall if their air conditioning is working. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing and drink plenty of water. Even if you’re not thirsty. Keep window blinds and curtains closed.
  • Try to make sure your pets have plenty of fresh, cool water, and anything else they need for their survival and comfort.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. There may be a considerable amount of traffic congestion with people trying to get out of town and traffic lights not working. If you have to drive, treat every intersection as if it were a four-way stop.
  • Fill the bathtub with water, as your faucet water flow may decrease or stop entirely over time. Duct tape the drain so that water does not leak out. Fill other containers with water as well, such as buckets.
  • Save the risk-taking for later. Power outages mean crowded emergency rooms and delayed ambulance service. So play it safe for a while.

What to do after a blackout

At some point, regardless of the length of the blackout, it will end. Power will be restored. Once you and your family finish celebrating, it’s time to check a few things.

  • Throw out any food that has been exposed to temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two or more hours. Same for any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture. When in doubt, toss it out.
  • 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. Some bacteria produces toxins. Not all of them can be destroyed by boiling or cooking.
  • Don’t turn all your appliances back on at once. If everyone does that, it could overtax the grid and result in another regional blackout. Get your heat or air conditioning back on first. Then wait 10 or 15 minutes before starting up other items or appliances.
  • If the water from your faucet did not run during the blackout but now is running, don’t drink from it right away. Let it run for a while and listen to local broadcasts or contact your local health department to find out if a nearby water source has been compromised during the blackout.

Outages are an equal opportunity offender 

The most dangerous thing you can do when it comes to power outages is assume they will never happen to you. The fact is, they can happen anytime and anywhere to anyone.

Even in unexpected places. Nobody in Texas and other Southern states foresaw Winter Storm Uri in 2021. But that extreme weather event shut off power to millions for several days and longer.

It caused hundreds of deaths and countless injuries. There’s no way to measure the emotional toll it took on millions of people.

And it could have been even worse The Texas electrical grid was within 4 minutes and 37 seconds of a total collapse. 

Don’t delay your preparations

Here’s the reality, folks. People who have not prepared for an emergency will struggle with a temporary blackout. They’ll fall apart in a medium-length blackout. And they’ll probably die in a lengthy blackout.

But if you have fully prepared, a temporary blackout will be nothing more than a minor inconvenience. A medium-length blackout will be one you can handle with some determination. A lengthy blackout will test the resolve of even the most prepared person.

But if you’ve done everything you can in advance and use common sense during the blackout, you will have a much better chance of surviving an event that will cause panic and wreak havoc everywhere the problem exists.  

 Now is the time to get prepared. Don’t wait another minute!

Comments

  • Wanda Rogers - January 16, 2024

    Thanks for posting this. Hope everyone reads it. I was raised out in the sticks, way out on old family owned land. My Mom and Grandparents taught us much of what you wrote. Our power went out before most in our community and we were the last to get it back on. Prepared is the only way to fly.

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