Power Outage Preparedness
We have become all so dependent on electrical power that we sometimes forget that without it life will become very difficult. “It just like extended camping.” Well not really. Without power not only will your cell phone and computers stop working but so will you refrigerators, electric stoves, hot water heaters, HVAC and heating units.
Generators will only last for a few weeks, without power you cannot refuel your fuel stores. Then you will be left in the darkness. For prolonged power outages (over 2 hours), there are steps you can take to minimize food loss, enhance your family safety and to keep all members of your household as comfortable as possible.
So as you can see there are a lot of things to do and to plan for. On csp.hesafety.org you will find checklists to ensure that you can minimize your risk during Power outages.
Pre – Disaster Checklist
· Locate and identify gas and water shut off valves and electrical disconnects. These should be written down in your family emergency plan.
· Check alternate power source generation (solar or generator)
· Check your Fuels supply and rotate out if needed.
· Check Fire wood supply levels.
· Check alternate cooking arrangements (grill, open pit gear, etc)
· Check proper operations of freezer thermometer
· Check proper operations of Refrigerator thermometer
· Fill up Hurricane Lamps with fuel
· Ensure you have coolers available. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers work well
· Water—one gallon per person, per day (7-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
· Food—non-perishable, easy-to prepare items (7-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
· Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
· Extra batteries
· First aid kit
· Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
· Multi-purpose tool
· Sanitation and personal hygiene items
· Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, deed/lease to home, birth certificates, insurance policies)
· Cell phone with chargers
· Family and emergency contact information
· Extra cash
· Keep your car’s gas tank full.
During a Power Outage
During a power outage it is time to fire up that generator if you have one. A few things you want to make sure of first. The generator needs to be located outside the home and far enough away from any windows as not to have the carbon monoxide come in the window. Also you what to make sure the power cable you run from your generator is weatherproof and it does not run through doors or windows, anything that can act as a pinch point and cut the cable. Also when refueling, please do not refuel a fuel tank over a hot engine, that is just asking for trouble and third degree burns. Gasoline vapors are extremely flammable.
Frozen and refrigerated food should be fine in any power failure lasting less than two hours. Some precautions may need to be taken if the power failure is expected to last more than two hours.
If the power goes out, a full freezer should still keep food frozen for 48 hours, and a half-full freezer should last 24 hours. These estimates are shortened if the door is opened, and the more the door is opened, the less effective the freezer will be. So that means keep the door shut as much as possible.
Perishable food or Non Frozen food must be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Without opening the door, the typical refrigerator should keep food cold for about four hours during a power failure. If the power is anticipated to be out longer than four hours, all eggs, dairy, meat, and fish should be packed into a cooler with ice. A digital, quick-read thermometer can be used to determine if food is cold enough. Discard any food warmer than 40 degrees.
· Always Remember Temperature Controls: Cold foods should be at 41degrees Fahrenheit or below. Hot foods should be at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
· Serve prepared, ready-to-eat perishable foods first.
· Perishable foods such as milk, meats and other foods normally stored under refrigeration will spoil rapidly without it. These foods, if still cold, should be used as quickly as possible.
· Prepared and other perishable foods should be discarded when safe refrigeration and hot holding temperatures cannot be maintained.
You can listen to a recorded USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) message on food safety during power outages by calling the 24-hour food safety hotline. The toll free number is 1-800-535-4555 .
Water purification system may not operate in a power failure. Your local water utility should be able to tell you if water safety will be affected. Remember the average person requires a gallon of water per day -- half to drink and half for other uses.
The best bet is to store bottled water for use in an emergency. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be used if boiled for at least one minute. Using other methods to purify water are not as effective. Remember, if chemical means are used to purify water, parasitic organisms are probably not removed.
Discontinue non-essential water usage. Do not drink cloudy or dirty water. Don’t be alarmed if chlorine level is higher than normal. Notify water officials of low or no water pressure.
Most cordless phones will not work during a power failure. Cell phones may or may work, that all depends on if the cell towers in your area continue to operate. Also cell phones can become overload during an emergency. Then common suggestion is if you have cell operations, then text or email is the preferred way to communicate. This is because these types of messages require less band with and are completed in much shorter time frames. Regular, landline telephones -- those that use only a phone line and do not require a power cord or batteries -- will continue to operate during most power failures. Keep at least one regular, old-fashion phone in the house for power failures.
There is a whole array out there of solar lighting solution. Check CSP equipment lists for some ideas. It is recommended that you use either solar lights or Hurricane Lamps. We need to get away from the idea that candles are a good source of light. They pose more of a fire risk then anything.
Board games and cards are the time tested best things around. For some families it will be the only time you will be able to get your kids off the electronics and spend some quality time with you (kinda like a captive audience) so make the best of it, cards and board games. That is why they need to be part of your emergency supplies.
Now here is were it gets to be like camping. Make a fire pit in the backyard. Barbecue until the power comes back on. If you have a gas stove, a power outage should not effect your cooking abilities. I do recommend that you use a kitchen lighter the ones with the long necks to light your burners if you have an electric strike on your gas stove.
Now that the power is out, this will mean that you are using hurricane lamps. Thus you must do what is called a fire watch every few hours. All you do to complete a fire watch is walk around your home and make sure nothing is burning. No smoke coming out of rooms and you have to visually check every room. Most smoke detectors are battery operated, so you should still have smoke detection, but do not rely on that alone.
· Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical
· Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment, including sensitive electronics.
· Turn off or disconnect any appliances (like stoves), equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.
· Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when the power comes back on.
· Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested.
Using generators safely
When using a portable generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a portable generator to a home’s electrical system.
If you are considering getting a generator, get advice from a professional, such as an electrician. Make sure that the generator you purchase is rated for the power that you think you will need.
Carbon Monoxide Kills
Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire.
Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.
If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door.
Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.
Stay Cool: During hot days, stay cool indoors and drink plenty of fluids.
Check on Neighbors: Check on elderly or medically dependent neighbors.
Monitor Radio and Television: Monitor battery- operated radio or television for current information on the outage.
Garage Doors & Security Gates: Know how to manually release and open any electric doors, like garage doors or security gates.
Anticipate Traffic Delays: Intersections should be treated as four-way stops when traffic lights are out.
When Power is restored
Do not touch any electrical power lines and keep your family away from them. Report downed power lines to the appropriate officials in your area.
Throw out unsafe food.
Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
Never taste food or rely on appearance or odor to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature too long, bacteria causing foodborne illnesses can start growing quickly. Some types of bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking.
If food in the freezer is colder than 40° F and has ice crystals on it, you can refreeze it.
If you are not sure food is cold enough, take its temperature with the food thermometer. Throw out any foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or feels warm to touch
Report Downed Power Lines: Stay at least 10 feet away from downed power lines as electricity might still be flowing through the lines.
For guidelines on refreezing food when the power comes back on, visit the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s page on Food Safety in an Emergency.
The following resources provide additional information on preparing for emergencies and determining if your food is safe after a power outage:
· Food Safety After a Power Outage, American Red Cross
Provides tips on safely storing your food and a chart to help you determine if your food is still safe.
· Keeping Food Safe in an Emergency, United States Department of Agriculture
Fact sheet and FAQs on food and water safety including guidance on when to discard perishable foods.
· Being Prepared, American Red Cross
Comprehensive site on preparing for emergencies including power outages.
· Food Safety Office, CDC
Comprehensive food safety information.
American Red Cross