Most power outages are short. They may only last a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Now and then, however, you could face a more prolonged outage. Being prepared for a longer outage should help your family stay safe while the power’s out and properly return to using electricity in your home when the power comes back. Follow these six steps to prepare for and handle any prolonged power outages that could come your way.
1. Create an Outage Kit
The key to safely navigating a power outage — especially an extended outage — is being prepared before the outage happens. Create a home emergency kit that includes supplies you’ll need if the power goes out. Some things you might want to have in your kit include:
- Flashlights — either fully-charged rechargeable or battery-powered
- Extra batteries
- Candles in safe holders
- Lighter or matches
- Battery-operated or crank radio
- External battery packs/charging ports for cell phones and other small electronics
- Basic first aid kit
- A few bottled waters and non-perishable food items like granola bars
Store your outage or emergency kit in a place that’s easy to find and access if the power goes out and you’re left in the dark. The last thing you’ll want to do when the power goes out is rummage through boxes in the dark.
2. Practice for Power Outages
If you have small children or someone with special needs, like an elderly parent, living in your home, do a few tests runs so you know what to do when your power goes out. Small children are often scared of the dark and may panic if the power goes out at night. Store a child-sized flashlight in their room and teach them where to find it. This makes it easier for them to go right to their flashlight if the lights suddenly go out.
For households with someone who has special needs, like medical equipment that needs electricity, be sure you have a backup plan in case of a power outage. You might consider asking friends or family within driving distance if you can use their homes when the power goes out, as long as they have power.
3. Investigate Why the Power Is Out
When the power goes out, your first step after grabbing your outage kit should be to find out why it went out. Look out of the nearest window to see if your streetlights or neighbor’s homes still have power. If only your house is dark, you may have tripped a breaker. Find your electrical box and check if any breakers are off. If so, switch them back on to see if that restores power.
If your entire block is out of power, you can check with your electric company to see if they know about an outage. Many electric providers have outage maps and data on their websites so you can easily check on the status of your power from a cell phone. If no outage is reported, call your electric company and let them know an outage has occurred. They’ll likely send out a crew right away to identify the problem and restore power as soon as possible.
4. Unplug Electronics and Turn Off Lights
Go around your home to unplug electronics and turn off any lights that were on before the power went out. This is an important and often overlooked step during a power outage. Unplugging your electronics like your TV or microwave can help reduce potential damage to your electrical system or electronics when the power is restored.
When power comes back on after an outage, your home’s electrical system gets a surge of electricity. This surge can cause damage to electronics. You might want to leave one light on the inside and one light on the outside. The inside light will help you know when power is back on, and the outside light can help the power company’s crew know when they’ve restored power to your home.
5. Use Generators Safely
A standby generator can be an important tool to keep your power up and running if the power to the grid goes out. Generators also come with a lot of inherent risks. Know how to operate your generator safely before you need to use it during a power outage. Some essential generator safety tips include:
- Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Consider hiring an electrician to help you install a back-up home generator to your electrical panel.
- Never connect portable generators to your home’s electrical system.
- Always operate your generator outdoors in a well-ventilated area away from doors or windows.
- Never bring a running generator into your home, garage or basement.
- Connect lights or appliances directly to the generator.
Along with generators, you should never bring outdoor heating or cooking equipment into your home to help heat it. Things like propane camp stoves, charcoal grills, and outdoor heaters give off carbon monoxide and need to be used in well-ventilated, outdoor areas to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
6. Know What to Do When Power Comes Back
Short power outages will usually end with your lights and appliances coming back on in one wave. After a longer outage, however, you may need to take a few steps to restore power to your home safely. When the power returns, first inspect your home for damage. If there’s standing water in your basement, do not enter the water until you’re sure there are no live electrical wires that could electrify the water.
If you find no damage to your home, start plugging your appliances and electronics back in. Start with large appliances like your refrigerator and wait a few minutes before plugging in each new electronic. This will help your home’s electrical system safely send electricity to your electronics without surging. When your electronics are back on the grid, check your emergency kit and restock any supplies you may have used so you’re prepared for the next power outage.