How to Prepare for a Power Outage

Laura Hennigan
Written by Laura Hennigan
Updated October 14, 2021
Woman bundled up inside in front of window
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Preparing in advance doesn't have to be overwhelming, thanks to these helpful tips

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From high winds to ice storms, many power outages come courtesy of Mother Nature and can last anywhere from a few hours to several days. A power outage is when regular electric service has been disrupted unexpectedly, and there is never a good time for one to occur. It’s important to have a plan in place before the lights go out to help protect your household.

Prepare in Advance

The telltale flicker of lights that often occurs before the power goes out can cause dread for nearly everyone. While electric companies try to provide estimates as to when the power will be restored, it’s frequently a waiting game that can last much longer than predicted.Thankfully, there are ways to prepare in advance so that you can handle any interruptions with as little stress as possible. Reference the recommended power outage emergency checklist for 10 supplies that will help your household in the event of a power outage. You may already have many of these items, but some (like bottled water) have expiration dates and need to be replaced periodically.It’s a wise idea to have an emergency preparedness kit ready to go as well, as a prolonged outage may force you to leave your home temporarily.

Electricity Options

We often take for granted just how much of our home is supported by electricity. Losing it suddenly can range from being a minor inconvenience to an actual health crisis. Take stock of everything that you rely on for power, and create a backup plan for each one.

Refrigerator

To preserve food, keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible during a power outage. When left unopened, a refrigerator can keep food fresh for about six hours, and a freezer can keep items frozen for up to 2 days. 

If you are on hour four of an outage, it’s probably time to grab a few coolers, pick up some ice, and begin transferring fridge contents. When in doubt, throw out any questionable food, especially meat or dairy products. 

Heating and Cooling

Modern portable hand fan on dresser
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A power outage during the winter or summer months can quickly make your home feel uncomfortable. Keeping a stockpile of battery-powered electric blankets and fans can help when temperatures begin to drop or rise.If the outage continues for an extended period, you run the risk of hypothermia or heat stroke. If you or a family member begins to feel ill, it is time to leave and hunker down somewhere else. Inquire with family and friends, opt for a hotel stay, or contact your local Red Cross to learn about emergency shelter locations. 

Medical Equipment at Home

Take stock of any medical equipment that requires electricity, including nebulizers and oxygen tanks. If these are essential, life-saving devices, you will need to have a plan in place for a power outage. Some options include purchasing a small generator, going to a local health care facility, or securing a place to stay in case of an emergency.

Consider contacting your utility providers and asking to be placed on their medically “at-risk” lists. These lists are utilized during emergency management planning to determine which customers need service restored most quickly. 

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Since both smoke and carbon monoxide can occur during a power outage, it’s essential to have enough units in good working order.

Smoke detectors should be installed on every floor of your home, in each bedroom, outside of sleeping areas, and in hallways, with a maximum distance of no more than 30 feet in between each one. You should also have at least one carbon monoxide detector installed on each level, including the basement.  All units should have battery backup and be tested monthly. 

Staying Connected

Since most of us rely on our phones for information, be sure to sign up for text alerts regarding outages and updates in your area. It’s also a good idea to have a few backup battery packs for any devices you’ll want to continue accessing.If you’ll need to check on others nearby, set up an agreed-upon method of communication in advance to ensure everyone stays safe. Have this information written down, as opposed to stored on a computer, and keep it near a flashlight. 

Should I Invest in a Generator?

Depending on where you live and what devices you need to have running, a generator may be a worthwhile investment. Some areas are more prone to frequent power outages and, if you reside in a more remote location, a generator can help your household ride out several days without power. 

Portable generators run on gasoline and plug directly into appliances that need power. They must be set up outside, at least 20 feet away from doors, windows, and vents.Permanent, or standby, generators are powerful enough to power an entire home during an outage. They come on automatically and can run for up to a few weeks without needing to be refueled.

Turn Utilities Off (or Back On)

If you are experiencing a power outage as a result of a natural disaster, it may be necessary to shut off some or all of your utilities. Before an outage strikes, make sure you know where each shut-off is located and how to turn them off. It’s helpful to mark each with a reflective sticker that you can easily find with a flashlight.

Once power has been restored, you may need to go around and turn some panels back on or reset your circuit breaker.

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