Long term power outages can cause several problems, ranging from inconvenient to actively dangerous, and these issues can impact every aspect of your life.
Everyday activities, from heating your home to cooking food or communicating with the outside world must be managed through alternate means. With many areas across the U.S. at risk of power loss at various times of the year, it is important to be prepared in the event of an extended power outage.
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If you have time in advance, there are several steps you can take to help prepare your home and family. Even an imminent warning may give you an opportunity to take preparatory measures. If you do not have time to prepare in advance, there are ways to ensure you can keep your home as safe and comfortable as possible for the duration of the power outage, as well as the events that caused it.
Food can be one of the central issues of surviving a long-term power outage, as both storing and cooking food often requires power. You can address this issue in one or more of the following ways:
- Non-perishable food must be stored in a convenient location in your home, along with other emergency supplies.
- Freezer bags or containers filled with water can be frozen in advance and placed in the refrigerator and freezer to keep food cool.
- Use up perishable food first, as this may spoil if the storage temperature rises.
- Refrigerators and freezers must be kept closed as much as possible. A closed refrigerator can stay cold for around four hours, and a closed full freezer remains at the correct temperature for 48 hours.
- Cook with a gas stove if you are sure it is safe, or a grill. Grills must only be used outside, as they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if used indoors.
Keep a supply of water in your home. In a power outage event, fill your bathtub and any containers and buckets available with water as soon as possible. If you have a power-reliant pump system, this is a priority task as soon as you know there is a risk of a power outage. Closed containers can be used as drinking water, and the bathtub water can be used for cleaning and flushing the toilet. You can pour water into the toilet bowl to flush or remove the tank lid and refill it after flushing.
During a power outage, make sure to only use the generator outdoors. If used indoors, even in an attached garage, a generator can cause carbon monoxide poisoning and death within minutes. It is best to remove the generator at least 20 feet from your home. Make sure you have the correct gauge of cord, and that you know how to run the generator to your power supply or appliances correctly.
If you do not have a generator and need to charge a vital item such as a cell phone, consider using your car. If you purchase a large power inverter in advance, your car could even be used to power your refrigerator.
There are numerous safety risks associated with power outages. Remember, during a storm or power outage, emergency services must only be called for a serious emergency. Safety issues to be aware of include:
- Downed power lines are hazardous. Always assume these are live. Avoid them and call 911 to report them. If a power line falls on your vehicle, call 911 and stay inside the vehicle until help arrives.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly and can occur without warning as the gas is invisible and odorless. Use generators and grills outdoors and install carbon monoxide detectors with battery power.
- Power surges can occur when the power is switched back on. Unplug all appliances to avoid damage, unless they are being powered by a generator. If you do use a generator, leave appliances unplugged when not in use.
- Travel may not be safe during a power outage, and you must stay aware of any media alerts to this effect. Try to have your gas tank filled in advance, as gas pumps need power. Make sure you know how to open your garage door manually.
If you have any medication requiring refrigeration, speak with your doctor about what you can do in the event of a power outage. Keep a thermometer with the medication so you know if it becomes too warm to use. If there is any chance it may be unsafe after to use, it is better to throw it out.
Medical equipment requiring a power source must be discussed with your medical provider to establish an alternative plan for a power source in the event of a power outage. The fire department and the power company must be made aware of the fact you have power-reliant medical equipment. You may be able to receive assistance or be placed on a priority list for power reconnection.
Keep your laptop, cell phone and power banks charged in advance of a power outage and stay updated on media alerts for your safety. Installing a corded landline can be useful. You must know how long phone and laptop batteries last and be prepared to switch off your phone or use airplane mode to conserve the battery during the power outage. Have a written list of important numbers kept in a safe place so you can call them using another phone if your cell phone battery runs out.
Heating and Cooling
In cold weather, dress in multiple layers and use blankets to conserve heat. Use precautions when heating your home, and do not heat it with a gas burner. You can store food in a safe location outside to keep it cool. If it is warm, dress lightly and try to stay hydrated. In extreme temperatures of either heat or cold, try to find a location with power, such as a community center, provided you can travel safely.
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