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Emergency Tips: What To Do When The Power Goes Out

In the past century or so, we’ve come to depend on electricity for nearly all our basic needs: cooking, working, and functioning after sundown, in general. So, when the power is down, it can severely disrupt our daily lives and even pose a danger to our wellbeing. Power outages can happen due to extreme weather conditions, natural disasters, or problems with the electrical grid. 

In these unfortunate scenarios, it’s important to know how to keep yourself, your home, and your pets safe. Here are a few essential tips on what to do when the power goes out.

1. Extreme temperatures

Staying warm 

If the power happens to go out when it’s cold outside, your first concern should be to save as much heat as possible in your home. Firstly, cover all the windows and doors with blankets and put plastic tape over them to keep out drafts and conserve the heat in your home.

Emergency Tips: What To Do When The Power Goes Out, blankets

The next step is choosing a “warming room”, in which you will spend most of your time until the power comes back on. After all, one room is much easier to keep warm than the entire house. Choose a small room with few or no windows, as it will be the easiest to keep warm. Have everyone in your household, including the pets, bundle up in that room with blankets and hot water bottles. Body heat is helpful, too. 

One important warning: Do NOT use gas ovens, grills, or heaters indoors to stay warm! You’re sealed up in a room without proper air circulation, and doing so can cause a potentially deadly buildup of noxious gases.

Staying coolEmergency Tips: What To Do When The Power Goes Out, woman using electronic fan

The risk of heat exhaustion or a heat stroke isn’t to be taken lightly. Staying cool in hot weather is just as important as staying warm in cold weather. The first step to take if the power goes out in the summer is to cover the windows that directly face the sun with curtains or blankets. Here are a few more tips:

  • Stay hydrated! Water is essential for the body to cool itself.
  • Open the windows that are in the shade to let in a breeze.
  • Take a cool shower or a bath. If the water coming out of the cold tap is warm, add ice to your bath.
  • Cook outside on a grill instead of using the stove to keep your home cool.
  • Wear a wet bandana or cloth around your neck or head, and chill it occasionally with a magazine or a battery-powered fan.

Related: 9 Tips to Help Keep Your House Cool

2. Keeping food freshEmergency Tips: What To Do When The Power Goes Out, food cooler

If the power is out for a long period of time, the food in your fridge and freezer is at risk of becoming too warm and starting to grow dangerous bacteria. Here’s what you can do to ensure that your food stays chilled during a power outage: 

  • According to the FDA, food needs to be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) to prevent it from spoiling, so the temperature in your refrigerator should not exceed that. Your freezer should be at zero degrees Fahrenheit (-17.80 degrees Celsius) or below. Make sure that there is a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. This way, you can monitor the exact temperature.
  • If you can plan ahead, have some coolers on hand to store refrigerated food. Freeze containers with water like gallon jugs, as well as ice cubes and gel packs. Another option is to buy dry ice and block ice. These will help keep the temperature in the coolers low.
  •  Keep the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible. An average refrigerator is capable of maintaining the cold temperature for about 4 hours without power. A full freezer will hold its temperature for about 48 hours, but only 24 hours if it is half full.
  • If the food is left at temperatures above those recommended above, throw it out. Do not rely on the food’s appearance or smell, and certainly do not taste it to determine if it's safe. Eating food that wasn't kept at the proper temperature could cause illness, even if it was thoroughly cooked. Frozen food that still has ice crystals can be refrozen or cooked, but when in doubt, it’s better not to take any chances and dispose of it.
  • Keep a three-day supply of dry nonperishable food that doesn’t require refrigeration or cooking, like canned goods and boxed milk. Stock up on bottled water, too, just in case.


3. Water problemsEmergency Tips: What To Do When The Power Goes Out, faucet

When the power is out at your home, there's also a chance that it's out at the municipal water center. This means that you will be out of running water for some time. If you have a bathtub, fill it to stock up on water.  

The electricity outage may also render the water unsafe for you and your pets. Even if it looks clean, do check with the local authorities whether or not there is a boil alert in effect. If so, Diane Vukovic, a disaster preparedness expert, advises bringing the water to a full rolling boil for one minute. Continue boiling the water for 3 minutes, if you live at an elevation of 6,500 feet or more.

If your home uses well water, you will not have running water until the power is back on. One possible solution is to hook your well-pump to a gas-powered generator. Your local equipment rental service will usually offer these generators. 

4. Frozen pipes
Emergency Tips: What To Do When The Power Goes Out, frozen pipe

When the power goes out in very cold weather, pipes can easily become frozen, and they could even burst. To prevent it, you can leave all the cold water taps in the house on so that they are dripping. Even this small amount of water flowing through the pipes can prevent them from freezing solid.

However, this isn’t a good solution when running water is also a concern. In that case, “you’ll need to completely shut off your water at the main and drain water in the pipes. Collect it in clean buckets and pots so you can use it later,” says Vukociv.

5. Protect your appliancesEmergency Tips: What To Do When The Power Goes Out, plug

If you're expecting a power outage, remember to unplug all your electronics and appliances: TVs, computers, microwaves, and the like. When the power returns, there may be a power surge, which can damage anything that is still plugged in. It may also be a good idea to have a fully-charged power bank on hand so that you are able to call someone in case of an emergency.  

Share these important tips with your loved ones

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