Your Power Outage Emergency Kit Checklist
That’s the average length of time U.S. customers experience power interruptions each year according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Due in part to an antiquated infrastructure, the United States experiences more power outages than any other developed country. There’s a good chance you will eventually deal with a prolonged period without power.
Most outages we encounter last a handful of minutes before power is restored. That’s by design, as specialized electrical equipment instantaneously opens and closes a breaker to clear temporary short circuits.
Total system failures and blackouts, however, can last several hours or a couple of days, depending on severity. Power outages during extreme temperatures present even more risks to property and safety. Frozen pipes can burst, flooding the home. Pets and residents can overheat without air conditioning, or suffer hypothermia without heat. Existing health conditions that rely on electrical equipment or temperature-controlled medications become much harder to manage.
What causes a power outage?
Severe weather is the No. 1 cause of outages. When we think of power outages, thunderstorms or extreme weather events like earthquakes and hurricanes may come to mind. But high winds on sunny days and freezing rain and ice during winter months are just as likely to cut power.
Mother Nature is to blame in other ways, too. Birds nesting in sensitive equipment or squirrels chewing through a wire can put you in the dark. Dead tree branches can down power lines, and natural corrosion can cause electrical failures.
Equipment failures are common, in fact. Cables, connectors, and transformers fail for a variety of reasons, from faulty components to normal wear and tear. And human error – car accidents or digging before checking for lines, for example – can knock out the electricity for an extended period.
While extended outages are relatively rare, preparing for the unpredictable can help ensure the best outcome. Energy Harbor’s Power Outage Emergency Kit Checklist will walk you through all the steps you need to know to prepare for a prolonged power outage.
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During short outages, most of us struggle with boredom more than anything else. But longer outages present bigger challenges. Several items we take for granted become difficult or impossible to use.
The refrigerator and freezer stop preserving food. Electric pump-assisted faucets and toilets no longer work. Without a functioning electric-powered water heater, showers run cold.
Traveling, even to the grocery store around the corner, presents added dangers. Traffic lights are out or may flash red, creating confusion and congestion. Stores that don’t have generators for backup power most likely will be closed. And if they are open, it’s possible credit and debit systems won’t work. That’s one of the reasons why a power outage survival kit includes cash as an essential item.
Prepare for your next power outage
The best way to manage a power outage is to be prepared well before an outage even occurs. To do so requires commitment and a little bit of time and effort.
Prepare for the next power outage by following these four steps:
Build a Power Outage Emergency Kit
Every plan should start with an emergency kit for the entire family. The kit should include essentials like water, non-perishable foods, hand- or solar-powered communication tools, portable power supplies and a first aid kit. It might also include books, games, puzzles, and other ways to overcome boredom.
Consider your personal circumstances, too. Do you live alone? Have a small family? What essential items does a toddler require? And don’t forget about the family pet. Use Energy Harbor’s comprehensive Power Outage Emergency Kit Checklist to identify both essential and non-essential items.
What to do first when the lights go out
When the lights flicker and everything goes dark, most of us will spend the first few minutes waiting for the power to return. Rather than grumbling, get up and tackle these simple tasks to keep you and your home safe for the duration.
- Check to ensure everyone in the house is safe. Find your family members and bring them together in one room to distribute lights and other equipment. If it’s dark, use your cellphone flashlight to prevent injuries or falls.
- Retrieve your emergency kit. Check that your flashlights are operational and replace batteries if needed. Inventory your candles and LED lamps. Confirm your power banks and charging cables are ready for use. If it’s still light out, set up your battery-powered lights or candles in the most commonly used rooms so they are in place if the outage continues into the night. No emergency kit? Check out these nine power outage life hacks.
- Identify the cause. Unless the cause of the outage is obvious, like an active storm, check the circuit breakers to be sure they are all in the same position. If all the breakers are in the “on” position, turn off the main breaker and then switch it back “on.” If the power remains out, contact neighbors to confirm they are also experiencing an outage, or step outside and look for signs others on the street are without power.
- Call the power company. Report the outage to be sure the utility is aware of the issue and will dispatch a team to determine the cause and restore power.
- Unplug appliances and electronic devices from outlets. This will avoid potential damage from power surges when power returns.
- Secure the refrigerator. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours, and an unopened freezer will keep foods frozen for 24-48 hours. Resist opening either until power returns and post a sign on the doors as a reminder. There are exceptions, of course, like removing refrigerated medications to store in a more controlled environment.
- Beat the crowd. Consider a quick trip to the convenience store or gas station to stock up on bags of ice, batteries, and bottled water while supplies last. Be sure to bring cash from your emergency kit in case credit card machines are down.
- Transfer perishables to iced coolers. If the outage is nearing the four-hour mark, transfer perishable refrigerated foods to iced coolers to keep them under 40 degrees F. No room in the cooler? If it’s below 40 outside, move your perishables to a shaded spot or to a garage between 32 and 40 degrees.
- Check-in on friends, family, and vulnerable neighbors. Call to make sure they are safe and to reassure them you are, too. Reach out to elderly neighbors who may need assistance.
- If you have a generator for backup power, run it outdoors and away from windows. Most generators run on gasoline, which emits carbon monoxide as a byproduct when it burns. Carbon monoxide can quickly turn deadly.
Many homeowners today purchase home generators to provide power during an outage. A small generator can run a freezer and refrigerator, for example, as well as provide power to charge phones and turn on lights. Larger generators can power the entire home. If you’ve purchased a generator for backup power, be sure to contact an electrician to install a safe connection to your panel, determine what you can power with the generator, and practice how to use it. A fully assembled generator is worthless if it’s not correctly connected to the home, or if you aren’t comfortable using it before the power goes out.
Most generators run on gasoline, which emits carbon monoxide as a byproduct. Carbon monoxide can reach deadly levels relatively quickly, which is why homeowners should never operate a generator indoors, including in sheds or garages. Keep your generator away from open windows, doors, and vents, as well, to avoid carbon monoxide entering the home. Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors have a battery backup, and that you test your detectors monthly.
When power returns, plug in appliances and electronic devices, reset clocks, and, when it makes sense, check your home for storm or power surge damage.
Use a thermometer to check the refrigerator’s inside temperature. If it is above 40 degrees F – and likely has been for more than two hours – discard perishables and any other food that has an unusual odor or color. Also, discard medication meant to stay refrigerated unless otherwise instructed by your pharmacist.
Inventory the items in your Power Outage Emergency Kit Checklist. Replace any items you’ve used and recharge your power banks to be sure you are prepared for your next power outage.