Sound Advice From Someone Who’s Been Through Several Residential Blackouts
I think it’s safe to say we’ve all experienced the power going out at some time. In my neighborhood, the lights always go out for a few minutes when there is a storm. A blackout is a power outage for an extended period of time. These are usually caused by winter storms and disasters. Here is some sound advice from someone who’s been through several residential blackouts. Find out how to prepare before, during, and after a blackout.
Prepare Before a Blackout
The first way to prepare for an outage is to help prevent them. Look for hazards that could fall and damage the power lines on your property. The simple act of keeping trees pruned and in good health can not only save your home in a severe storm but also keep power in the neighborhood.
Having a family emergency plan is the most important part of being prepared. Time to get out a pencil and write down where the manual release lever for your garage door is, so you can get in and out without power. Also, now is a good time to hide a spare key outside, especially if you rely on using your garage as an entryway.
There is quite a list of supplies that are necessary to have in a disaster. Flashlights, a battery-operated radio (or hand cranked), and extra batteries are the most obvious. An alternate source for heat and cooking is a good option as well. Be sure not to BBQ or use kerosene lamps inside, as they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Plan for fuel to run it.
If it’s in the budget, a generator can make life seem normal. Be sure that you purchase a model that is UL approved (look for the symbol). If you do purchase a generator talk with a qualified electrician about how to use it and hook it up before you HAVE to use it. Store the instructions with your generator.
If there is a storm coming that has the potential to knock out the power then stock up on extras. Consider some of these:
- Diapers, formula, and other baby supplies.
- Keep cash on hand because your debit and credit won’t be an option if you have to buy something, the machines need a power source to work.
- Keep your car at least half full of gas. Remember gas pumps are electrically powered, so once the power is out all you can do is ration the fuel that you have.
- Having extra water is important since an outage can affect your local water treatment facility, making your water unsafe.
- Also, since you want to be able to eat, have a stock of pantry stable food that is easy and quick to heat. You need something that heats quickly to conserve your chosen emergency cooking fuel.
Refrigerator and Freezer
Make provisions for what you have in your fridge and freezer as well. Ice, in addition to being another source of water in a blackout, will also help keep your foods frozen longer. If you have a lot of extra space in your refrigerator or freezer, fill containers of water and leave at least an inch of headspace. Not only does this frozen water maintain the temperature of your fridge or freezer in a blackout, but it won’t have to use as much energy to keep things cool. Have a cooler on hand in case you really need to keep something cold, like certain medications.
What will you do with your electronic devices? Before the storm hits, back up your computer files and save yourself a heart attack if a surge fries your computer. Now is the time to get in the habit of turning electronics off when they aren’t in use and unplugging them. Not only does it prevent an expensive problem in the case of a surge, but it also conserves energy and reduces the demand when the power returns.
Be Safe During a Blackout
After you’ve pulled out the flashlights and everyone is gathered together, it’s time to kick into emergency gear.
- Determine the source – check your breaker box to see if the outage is a fuse or an outside issue. Next, check your neighbors (call or look outside) to determine the extent of the outage. Now is also a great time to check on those elderly neighbors who may not be able to safely maneuver in the dark, or could have fallen.
- Turn stuff off and unplug – start with your major appliances and electronics. This reduces the initial demand when the power is restored, but also prevents surges and fried electronics. Don’t just rely on surge protectors. Some sources recommend that you turn off the breaker to your water heater as well.
- Turn down your thermostat, unless you’re lucky enough to have gas powered heat, then make yourself warm and toasty.
- Turn off all your lights, except one light inside and one outside. This will alert you went the power returns, but also helps the electric company crews know when your power has been restored.
- Avoid candles during a blackout. Safety is the primary issue. You may feel candles are okay as long as there is constant supervision and they aren’t left burning while you sleep. Personally, I use a hurricane lamp and love the ambiance
- Avoid using the fridge or freezer, if possible
- A full freezer will last up to 48 hours, a half-full freezer will last up to 24 hours. But it’s best to use a food thermometer before cooking or eating anything from your fridge.
- Refrigerator time will vary although the amount of food you have will affect how long it lasts. More food – longer time.
- If you can get it, dry ice can be used to maintain the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer. Just follow the pamphlet instructions from the store.
- If it’s a cold winter day/night then you have a backup. Go pack your stuff in the snow outside. If you live in a rural area with lots of animals, be on guard. Also, keep an eye on any rise in temperatures so you can monitor food safety.
- Use generators safely – hopefully, you’ve read the instructions and spoken with a professional about how to safely use your generator. Be sure that you run it outside and that it is not connected directly to your home’s electrical system.
- Only use the phone in an emergency. If you see a downed power line call your electric company to report it. Don’t call 9-1-1 unless it’s an actual emergency (fire, health, etc).
- Listen to your battery-operated radio for updates and information.
- Avoid traveling – power outages don’t just affect homes and businesses but also traffic signals. Image driving in a 3rd world country where those signals are often ignored and you’ll probably want to stay home.
- Maintain a healthy body temperature – it is inconvenient when the power goes out on a nice day, but if it’s during freezing or scorching temperatures, you can get miserable fast.
- Enjoy yourself – play games, go for a walk (weather permitting), read a book, talk with your friends and family.
How to Prep For a City-Wide Blackout
First and foremost, it is important to follow all the important steps mentioned above. Being in a big city, like New York, for example, comes with some extra challenges apart from having to experience a blackout in a small town or somewhere in the countryside. With that said, here are the extras you should know if you live in such cities:
Know How to Get Around
During a blackout, it’s best to stay close to your home. Since streetlights and traffic lights won’t work, getting around by car will be super tedious. Cab services will most likely be occupied, and ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft will most likely have ridiculous surcharge prices.
Sure, busses and the subway might still run, but you might experience serious delays. The thing is, you’ll most likely have to make do on your own. With that said, just in case of a blackout, make sure to have an “escape route” in mind. Don’t stray too far from your workplace, home, or a friend’s house. That way, you’ll have a cozy place where you can sit and wait for the daytime or until the power comes back on.
If that’s not possible, then always have your smartphone charged and keep a spare external battery handy just in case. Be connected to the internet via mobile data to check Twitter and other platforms for useful tips from your local authorities. They usually give out information regarding bus delays and other options that you can take into consideration during a blackout.
Consider Taking a Class
Some cities have agencies that offer classes regarding blackouts and how you can help your community during such an event. For example, OEM in New York offers the city’s residents a spot on the Community Emergency Response Teams. These teams help out their neighborhoods during and after disasters with emergency preparedness information, staff assistance centers, and even crowd control.
Know Your Neighbors
One thing, and probably one of the most important of them all, is knowing who the people that live nearby are. City folk often forget how to form connections with people living in the same apartment complex, unlike country folk who basically know everyone in their nearby area. Do yourself a favor and start socializing more with the people that live near you. They may help you out much more than you can imagine in such a situation.
Celebrate After a Blackout
That one light that you left on in the house has sprung to life again. There’s a small party in the streets – or your living room – and your gratitude for electricity has increased 10 fold. Now what do you do:
- Do a little dance!
- Clean up the games and mess your family made. Bribe them – the TV won’t get plugged back in until everything has been picked up.
- Check the temperature of your food. If it is at or over 40 degrees for more than 2 hours throw it out. Ouch! It’s still safer than risking food poisoning. When in doubt throw it out.
- Don’t refreeze anything that doesn’t have ice crystals on it!
- Wait a while longer before turning things back on. Prioritize what gets plugged in first. This slowly increases the electrical demand to help reduce drains and surges on the system. It also gives you time to figure out if the power will stay on or wink out again.
- Check with local authorities before returning to your usual tap water.
Prepare now for winter storms and blackouts. You’ll be glad you did. What things do you do to prepare for storms? Have you ever prepped for a blackout before? If yes, please leave us a comment so that our entire community can learn from your first-hand experience.