Knowing what to do if the power goes out is becoming more important as extreme cold events in Texas, tropical storms in California, floods and storms in Michigan, and heat waves in most of the U.S. become more “normal” due to climate change. We’re all becoming more vulnerable to power outages regardless of where in the country we might reside, so it’s as important as ever to be prepared.
What to do if the power goes out
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It’s important we all have a plan to evacuate if circumstances call for it. But if you’re staying home, these are the things you should do to prepare for a potentially long power outage, as well as what to do if you’re currently experiencing one.
Write important phone numbers down
While they may seem quaint these days, a physical phone book with the most important phone numbers and addresses on your contact list and other public services is important if you find yourself in a situation without power long enough that your cell phone runs out of juice. Make sure to include:
- Family and friends
- Local hospital
- Police department
- Local school or library for supplies or shelter
Make sure to put your phone in power-saving mode to extend the battery as much as possible. If there are multiple cell phones in the household, just have one on at a time to make sure you always have a phone with a working battery. If you do leave your house to go to a local shelter, bring a power strip with you so you can charge multiple devices at the same time.
Report the outage to the utility company
Another important thing to do is to report the power outage to your utility company. This will help them know which areas are affected and potentially be able to pinpoint the cause of the outage and restore power more quickly.
You can still use your gas stove
If you have a gas stove, remember you can still use it to cook food and boil water (you might need to light the burner with a match or a lighter since the electric ignition will be out). Why boil water, you say? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some water purification systems may not be working properly, so it’s safest to boil your water (and then let it cool) before you drink it. As far as food goes, these are the CDC guidelines to follow if the power is out for more than two hours:
- For the Freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
- For the Refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
- Use a digital quick-response thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Don’t risk eating spoiled food for the sake of it not going to waste. If you have too much food that can spoil, remember that most homeowners insurance policies cover spoiled food during power outages. You can also share the food with neighbors.
Something you should not do is use your stove to heat your home (even if the power isn’t out). Gas stoves release dangerous indoor pollutants in the air, like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, that can be toxic to people and pets, according to the California Air Resource Board.
Have these essentials at home to be ready for a power outage:
Be careful using generators
Another potentially dangerous thing is using a generator indoors or in a garage. Remember that generators release carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that can kill you and anyone else indoors in as little as five minutes if the concentration is high enough. About 85 people die a year from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If you do have one and want to use it, do not use it indoors or in a garage—make sure to keep it at least 20 feet from the house and direct the exhaust away from the house. You can follow more generator safety from Ready.gov.
Unplug all your appliances
If you don’t have a generator to keep your appliances on, make sure to unplug all of them, including things like microwaves and refrigerators. Nothing you would risk losing should be left plugged into outlets. This is because there can be surges in the power lines once the utility company restores power if the power lines are damaged, leading to your appliances being fried from a sudden power surge. Alternatively, you can turn your circuit breaker off instead of unplugging everything. Just know that you will not notice when the power comes back on unless you can see street lights or other houses near you with the lights on.
Go to a shelter if needed
If you’re running out of supplies, or the home is too cold or too hot, know that most people will have some kind of public shelter nearby with supplies in the form of schools or libraries. Know what places you can go to before a power outage or try to get in contact with your local police station and ask them what your options are. Bring essential supplies like important documents with you.