10 Things to do Before, During and After a Power Failure

power outagePower outages are hazards of home dwellers everywhere. An outage can result from a variety of causes, including storm damage and construction activity, especially where electrical wires are exposed above ground. Most outages are short-lived, and a power loss of two hours or less won’t ruin perishable foods. However, in the event of an extended outage, as with most things, the better you prepare, the easier you’ll get through it. Consult the following checklist to know what to do before, during and after the electricity goes out.

Before power goes out

First and foremost, prepare an emergency kit. Every home should have an emergency preparedness kit to meet the needs of family members for at least three days. Items to have for an outage include:
  • Flashlights and batteries for every family member
  • Extra batteries
  • Battery-powered radio and clock
  • Bottled water
  • Canned food
  • Manual can opener
  • First-aid kit
  • Sternos or similar heat source for cooking
Backup candles and matches should also be on your list of emergency items to keep on hand, but use caution with the open candle flame to avoid starting a fire. Get a landline and at least one traditional wall phone. Even when power fails, phone service usually continues. Make sure you have at least one traditional, corded wall phone, without a powered base, that will work even when the rest of your electronics are down. Have the number to your power company’s emergency line written on it or near it. Get to know your circuit box. If you’re not familiar with your home’s circuit box and its location already, there’s no time like the present. Practice re-setting switches, and know what they look like when tripped. If there’s not a listing already, complete a full listing of which circuit breaker powers which room. Depending upon its age, the box may use fuses, which you’ll need to learn how to change, and make sure you keep extras on hand. It’s also a good idea to know the location of your main water shutoff [link to flood prevention blog], in the event of bursting pipes. A roll of duct can prove handy in the event of leaks. If you rely on electrical life-support or other medical equipment, be sure to check with your doctor or equipment supplier about emergency power sources and battery packs. In remote areas that may suffer outages of a week or more, you may consider investing in a gas-powered generator. See below for safe generator usage. In advance of an oncoming storm, or scheduled construction outage, you may consider turning your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings. Just put a sticky note on the door to remind you to return them to normal.

When the power goes

When the house goes dark, your preparation will prove invaluable in helping everyone remain calm. Your first job is identifying the source of the outage. If streetlights and neighbors’ lights are out as well, it’s not rocket science to figure out your neighborhood, at least, is experiencing a blackout. Call your power company’s dedicated number to report outages. You may get an automated response listing areas with reported outages and estimated time of restoration. If power has not been cut due to lack of payment, it’s off to check the circuit box. Reset any tripped switches or replace any blown fuses. Otherwise, check outside to see if there’s construction work or some other digging that may be the cause. Next unplug refrigerators and other appliances and electronic gear such as computers and televisions to prevent damage from an electrical overload when power is restored. Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Food in the freezer can stay frozen for two to four days. During an extended power outage, you can use blocks of dry ice, if available. Use dairy and cooked items first, and discard after them after couple of days. For more information, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Use extreme caution when using alternative heating or cooking sources. Never use camp stoves, charcoal-burning grills or propane/kerosene heaters indoors. And do not use gas stovetops or ovens as heat sources. They all pose risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. If you have a generator, plug appliances directly into it. Connecting the generator directly to your home’s electrical system can send power up the line and kill a utility repairman working to restore power. Make sure to place the generator outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. More than 400 people die each year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be on the lookout for symptoms including headache, dizziness, nausea, chest pain, and confusion. Never refuel a generator while it’s running.

After power is restored

When the lights come back on, the first thing to do is inspect your freezer and especially refrigerator. If you detect any malodor or mold, it’s time for a good cleaning with a mold and mildew remover. In the event of leaking, be sure clean the gaskets. If you lowered the settings prior to a storm, be sure to reset them to normal. If outage was caused by storm, it’s wise to check your home exterior and yard for any damage. Make sure there are no hanging branches or uprooted trees that may pose danger. Your final duty is replenishing your emergency kit including food items and batteries. Make sure to store it in an easily accessible area that will remain dry. Note to get an extra amount of any items that ran short. Then pat yourself on the back for making sure you and your loved ones are ready in the event of another power outage. Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net Free Disaster Planning Checklist  


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