On August 14, 2003, a large portion of the East Coast was suddenly and unexpectedly plunged into darkness. Although initially feared to be a terrorist attack on the nation's power grid, the outage was due to a combination of outdated power lines, summertime heat and human error. The confluence of these events caused 50 million people to lose power and became the largest blackout in North American history.
More recently, power outages due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 left residents without electricity for weeks amidst massive flooding and storm damage. Anticipating the hurricane's landfall, store shelves were raided by harried customers searching for batteries and bottled water to complete their emergency supply kits.
These memorable events highlight our dependence on electricity and the necessity to prepare for unexpectedly living without it. However, there are steps you can take to prepare. With the threat of unexpected and storm-related power outages always looming, enact these measures to ensure you and your family's safety.
Prepare now for an unexpected power outage
Stock up on essentials. Having these items already in your home will help with both severe storm preparations and unexpected blackouts. Keep these items in a designated "emergency supply kit" for easy access.
- Stock your home with several flashlights and the corresponding batteries. Flashlights are always the safer choice since candles pose the risk of accidental fires when emergency services may already be overwhelmed.
- Purchase a battery-powered radio. When access to television isn't possible, invest in a battery-powered radio to stay alert of any evacuation orders or status updates on the power outage.
- Buy a car charger for your cell phone. Since many Americans rely on cellphones in lieu of a corded landline phone, it is important to keep your cell fully charged. By purchasing a charger that attaches through your cigarette lighter or auxiliary plug (depending on the model of your vehicle); you can use your car as a supplementary power source to charge your phone. Also consider having an alternate non-corded landline phone for your home, which usually remain unaffected during power outages.
When a storm is approaching
Sometimes power outages are expected by the arrival of severe weather events such as hurricanes or heat waves. These are additional steps you can take to prepare your home for weather-related blackouts.
Keep at least ½ of a tank of gas in your car at all times. Many gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps. While it may seem inconvenient to make more frequent stops at the gas station, if you have a near-empty tank during a power outage you may lack the fuel to travel beyond an evacuation area in case of an emergency order.
Trim tree branches in your yard. It's a good idea to address any landscaping concerns before storm season begins in your area. When a storm is approaching your home, take note of the tree limbs on your property. If they hang over power lines, make sure to trim them before the storm hits. Doing so will decrease the chances your power will be cut by a fallen tree limbs.
Turn your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings. Lowering the temperature before you lose power will allow the refrigerator to keep acceptable temperatures for food longer. Eat perishable foods first, conserving canned or other non-perishable items for the possibility of a long-term outage.
During a power outage
After determining the cause of a power outage, use these measures to weather the outage safely.
If you own a generator, operate it safely. Never run a generator inside a home or garage, they produce potentially deadly carbon-monoxide fumes. Always keep running generators in an open and ventilated area. Also, do not directly connect the generator to your home's wiring. Plug all necessary appliances directly into the generator. When a generator is connected to a home's wiring, it can create a "back feed" into utility lines which can injure or kill anyone who is working to restore the power.
To maintain the refrigerated and frozen foods, keep fridge and freezer openings to a minimum. By not opening the door, you can keep the temperature lower for a longer period of time. Make a conscious effort before you open the fridge/freezer to plan what you will take out and close the door quickly. To increase the effectiveness of your powerless fridge, you can fill plastic containers with cold water and place inside the appliance. Not only does this increase your emergency water supply, it also helps keep the air cool inside the fridge to slow the spoilage of your food.
Unplug all appliances and leave only one light switched on. There is an added risk of power surges occurring that can destroy your appliances. Leave one light on in your home so you know when the power has returned.
In case of extreme temperatures, plan on visiting locations and businesses that are likely to have generators. For instance, power outages are common during heat waves. Plan on visiting shopping malls or movie theatres to keep cool and avoid heat stroke.
Follow these essential tips to help ensure the safety of you and your family from the unpredictability of power outages.