About a month ago, our household lost power in the middle of the night for a few hours. We could tell because we woke up extremely warm – the A/C had shut off, as had the ceiling fans. When it came back on, it came in surges, causing appliances to beep and jolt a few times, waking our 1-year-old son.
A couple weeks ago, after a storm in Northern Minnesota, some friends of ours were without power for 3 days and lost about 40 freshly cut fish fillets they had stocked in their freezer, along with a trash-sackful of other food.
In the rain-drenched Pacific Northwest, my mom and her husband have a generator which automatically comes on when the grid goes down. It gets used on a regular basis; the reality of where they live is that you’re going to lose power a few times a year.
While you may think that blackouts are few and far between, and you don’t need an article to tell you what to do and how to prepare, the reality is that they’re a pretty common occurrence. Because of the United States’ aging infrastructure, our rapidly increasing population, and a growing number of extreme weather events, the number of major grid failures (more than 50,000 households affected) in our country is doubling roughly every four years. In the early 2000s, large-scale grid outages occurred about 45 times per year, or around 3 per month across the entire country (surprising how low it is, isn’t it?). Now, there are large-scale outages almost daily.
Power outages are not an emergency that is geographically confined. Everyone, in every part of the country (and world), experiences them. The desert Southwest, tornado country, hurricane country (we’re coming up on hurricane season now!), and everywhere in between.
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In order to come out the other end of a power outage safely and comfortably, there are things you can do before, during, and after the electricity goes out. Follow the tips below, and your neighbors will be coming to you asking for advice the next time the grid goes down.
Before a lengthy power outage ever occurs, there are some steps you can take to ensure that when (not if) it does happen, you’ll be ready, and emerge out the other side with no, or minimal, harm done.
Have a stash of emergency supplies that includes a few outage-specific items.
Having a stash of emergency supplies on-hand at home is crucial no matter the dire scenario. There are a few things though that are related specifically to power outages that you should have handy, perhaps even in multiple places in the home/garage.
- Flashlights + batteries. Read our primer on flashlights, and get yourself at least a couple. Having at least one of the hand-crank, emergency variety is recommended, as they don’t require batteries.
- Radio. Either battery-powered or the hand-crank, emergency kind. With TV and wifi down, radio could be your only source of information during a power outage. If it’s battery-powered, be sure to have extra batteries stashed away.
- Cash. ATM, credit card, and POS (point-of-sale) machines are likely to be down for the count. Having some cash on hand for needed transactions will be handy (even if backup electricity systems are in place for some companies).
- Non-perishable foods. While always good to have on hand anyway, a supply of non-perishable, non-refrigerated foods (meals, too) is a necessity for lengthy power outages. If you have a gas stove, keep some food stocked that you can cook exclusively on a stovetop like soup and pasta. (Keep in mind that most modern gas stoves get their flame from an electric starter; you can start them with a match, just be careful.) If you have an electric stove, you’ll want to always have a stash of things like jerky and meal replacement bars. Or if you have a camp stove, you can use it to boil water for dehydrated meals.
- Bottled water. A blackout can compromise a city’s water purification systems, especially if the outage is prolonged. If your water becomes unsafe to drink, you’ll want to have some bottles of it available. Consider establishing a long-term supply as well for especially dire and prolonged emergencies.
Have extra batteries for computers/phones, or, separate charging solutions.
With as much as our world relies on computers, phones, and the internet of things, having backup systems in place for your electronics is a good idea. Extra computer/phone batteries are pretty cheap (except for Apple device owners…) and obviously easy to store and pack. Solar charging solutions are good for Apple device owners, as well as for those who wish to provide yet another layer of redundancy.
If you have a generator, know how to operate it and have extra fuel on hand.
Generator safety could be an entire article of its own (generators are one of the leading causes of carbon monoxide poisoning, especially during disasters), but for our purposes, if you have one, know how to safely and properly operate it. Don’t wait until the power is out to read the manual.
Also be sure to actually have the fuel on-hand for when an emergency occurs. Many are fueled by gasoline; some are propane powered, and solar models even exist.
Know how to use your manual garage release.
If you have an electric garage door opener (you probably do), it’s not going to work in a power outage. And the door won’t open manually unless you pull the release cord. It’s extremely easy, but something a lot of people have never learned.
Pull this cord, and you’ll be able to manually operate the garage door. Pull it back (towards the direction of the opener itself) to re-engage it.
Have a backup solution for essential, electrically operated medical devices.
If you require one of these devices, contact the manufacturer — they are sure to have procedures in place for when the power goes out. You should also contact the electric company and let them know you have essential medical devices in the home; you’ll get priority for restoration during power outages. It should also be noted that if you have a needed medical device, it’s prudent to invest in a generator that automatically turns on when the electrical grid goes down.