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Power Outages

Nearly any hazard, from technological failures to severe weather, can create the common secondary hazard: power outages.

Our daily lives depend on electricity.  It influences how we preserve and prepare food, send and receive information, stay in contact with people, and remain safe and healthy. 

In a disaster, power becomes all the more critical.

However, instances do occur – especially during hazard and emergency events – when the power goes out.  It is extremely important to prepare for times of power outages and to create redundant systems of gathering information, communicating with others, sustaining yourself and your family, and protecting yourself and your family from other hazards.

Review the tips below to learn how you and your family can be better prepared when the lights go out:

Prepare

  • Prepare and maintain your emergency supply kit. 
  • Make sure that you have flashlights, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, a NOAA All-Hazards Radio, and plenty of extra batteries.
  • Test and change out your batteries every 6 months.
  • Stock your kit with nonperishable food that will be easy to prepare without electricity.
  • Keep some extra cash in your kit.  Automated teller machines (ATMs) may not work during a power outage.
  • Gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps, so keep at least a half tank of fuel in your vehicles at all times.
  • Make a family emergency plan with details on how to contact each other and where everyone should meet if you are separated.
  • Back up computer files and operating systems.  Consider buying extra batteries and a power converter if you use a laptop computer.
  • Turn off all electronic devices when they are not in use.  Buy a high-quality surge protector for your electronic equipment.
  • If you or someone in your home has a special medical need that is dependent on electricity, always have a backup plan for events of prolonged outage.  If the situation becomes a medical emergency, call 911.
  • Know the location of the fuse box or circuit breaker in your home and learn how to reset the circuit or change a blown fuse, if necessary.
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, locate the manual release lever and learn how to operate it.
  • Consider purchasing a backup generator for your home for periods when the electricity may be out for an extended period of time.  Educate yourself on the type and size generator your home requires.
    • CAUTION: Follow the generator safety tips below and always carefully follow the instructions in the generator’s user manual. 
    •  Always have a qualified electrician install the generator and transfer switches to your home electrical system.  An improperly installed generator can be extremely dangerous to you, your family, and to service technicians who are trying to restore power to your area.
  • Keep your energy provider’s emergency contact number programmed in your phone and written down in an accessible place.  This number can typically be found on their website and on your monthly bill.
During a Power Outage

  • Report the outage to your energy provider using their emergency number. Do not call 911 or 311 to report a outage.
  • Listen to your battery-powered or hand-crank radio for information relating to the outage or the hazard event.
  • Turn on your battery-powered NOAA All-Hazards Radio to stay informed of any impending hazards.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.  The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened.  A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • If you choose to prepare your food with a camping stove or a gas or charcoal grill, only use it outside and be cautious of fire and gas hazards.
  • If you choose to use a generator for power, DO NOT run it in the house or garage.  Only operate it outdoors in an open area, away from windows, and away from any of your home’s ventilation sources.  Exhaust produced by the generator is deadly.
  • Make sure the main circuit breaker in the electric service panel box is in the OFF position, or in older electric service panel boxes, that the main fuse block is removed.  This is necessary to prevent the generator’s electricity from running back into the power lines and potentially endangering the lives of service technicians trying to restore power to your area.
  • Be cautious of any cords you plug into the generator for power.  Cords must be properly sized to prevent overheating or damage to your appliances.
  • Carefully follow all instructions in your user manual when operating the generator.
  • If you lose power during the summer, follow the tips on our Extreme Heat hazard page.
  • If you lose power during the winter, follow the tips our Severe Winter / Ice Storms page.
  • Stay away from downed power lines.  Call your energy provider’s emergency number to report the downed lines, or call 911.
  • Do not touch an object that is in contact with power lines, including tree limbs.  Remember tree limbs can conduct electricity.
  • If you are involved in a vehicle accident and a power line falls across your vehicle, stay inside until help arrives.  Your tires provide important insulation from the ground.
  • Understand that – depending on the severity and widespread area of the outage – it may take several hours to a few days to restore your power.  Be prepared for such events and know that utility crews are working on the issue.
After the Power is Restored

  • Determine if your food is safe for use.
  • If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on. If the freezer thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. You cannot rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
  • Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs or leftovers) that has been above 40°F for two hours or more.

Mitigate the Hazard

Trees are one of the primary causes of electric outages.  When branches grow into power lines, they can easily break or pull down lines during a high wind event or ice storm.  Keep trees away from power lines:

  • Practice smart planting and landscaping.  Do not plant tall trees beneath power lines.
  • Keep trees pruned away from power lines.
  • If trees are growing too close to power lines (within 10 feet), do not try to prune them yourself.  Contact your electric provider to schedule an inspection.
 
 
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