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We are living at a time when electricity is very close to being a physiological need- no wonder a power outage is among the most dreaded occurrences in most homes.
Think about it. Your pump needs electricity to pump water into your high-rise apartment. This means that in case the grid is down, all your water points run dry. Yes, this could include your toilet if it relies on electricity to flush waste into the sewage lines.
Your heating systems are also dead without electricity. Not to mention your freezers, fridges, lighting, and ACs. Even worse, you tend to lose connection with the rest of the world as your phones’ batteries die out by the minute.
It could also be a matter of life and death especially for people who heavily rely on electricity powered and battery-dependent medical devices and assistive technology including respirators, power wheelchairs, and home dialysis equipment.
There are different causes of power outages ranging from natural phenomena to human errors. And each affects the length of time it may take for the utility providers to restore the power back differently.
According to the US Department of Energy, the weather is the leading cause of power outages today. Think of storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, snow, and ice among others.
Falling trees caused by high winds or trimming by an unprofessional are common causes of interruptions too. Earthquakes, lightning, and excavation digging are other popular causes.
Can you survive without electricity? For urban areas and city dwellers whose lives are completely digitalized, the odds are that a prolonged power outage will literally bring their life to a dead stop.
Considering how dependent we are to electricity, it goes without saying that we need to always be prepared in case of an outage.
How to Prepare for a Power Outage
Here is a checklist of things you could do now to increase your family’s chances of pulling through a power outage that stretches for hours to days on end.
Prepare an emergency kit
The thing with a power outage is that you never know its exact cause and how long it will take for the power to be restored. That being said, it’s always important to treat it as an emergency and this calls for an emergency kit with all the necessary items that will help keep you and your family alive.
- Clean water– there should be 1 gallon per person per day. For a 3-day emergency, that should be at least 3 gallons per person for sanitation and drinking. There should be additional supply for your pets too.
- Food– there should be enough supply of non-perishable food to last the entire family at least 3 days. Examples of recommendable foods include canned meats, fruits, and vegetables, protein bars, dry cereal, and canned juices. Visit ready.gov for a full list.
- Manual can opener for the canned foods
- Cash– ATMs an POS systems may be down during this time too
- Battery-powered or hand crank emergency radio with NOAA weather alerts and tone alert
- Flashlight with a durable metallic or plastic case and an SOS mode at least
- First aid kit– well-stocked with pain killers, plasters of different sizes and shapes, sterile gauze dressings, non-alcoholic cleansing wipes, tweezers, scissors, sticky tape, and thermometer among other basic items
- Compatible spare batteries for all battery-powered devices
- An emergency whistle to help the rescue team locate you
- Emergency cell phone with a long-lasting battery plus charger
- Personal sanitation kit– moist towelettes and a wag bag (a waste collection bag with waste treatment powder)
- Dust mask to filter air in contaminated environments
- An adjustable wrench and/or pliers
- Local map
- A portable generator– with enough power to power most of your basic survival devices and appliances. This also calls for enough fuel supply to last at least 3 days.
- Books, papers, colored pencils, puzzles, and games to keep the kids engaged
You can find more information about how to prepare an emergency kit here.
Have an emergency plan
Working as a team in your family helps ease the chaos and tension that come with power outages. So, make this a family affair by drafting a role that each family member will carry out to make the entire process easy. For instance, you could have one unleashing the portable generator and someone else locating mobile phone chargers and flashlights.
This emergency plan should also include information such as where to converge in case of a blackout, and how to communicate too.
In addition, be keen to include alternative safe places that one could go in case their house becomes inhabitable, for instance, your neighbors’ house.
You should also share this emergency plan with your neighbors, friends, and extended family members so they can get to you easily.
Think of your pet
If the conditions are tough for you, chances are that they are much tougher for your pets. So, ensure that you include them in your emergency preparedness by preparing a kit with a first aid kit, food and water supplies, medications, and even a recent photo just in case they got lost. Find more information on RedCross’ pet disaster preparedness page.
Keep your portable generator ready
A portable generator offers a handy mini electrical power plant in case of an outage. It can help your family weather the storm by keeping the most crucial appliances running.
Here is a checklist of things you can do to ensure that the generator is always ready for the next storm:
- Ensure that it outputs enough wattage– if you are considering adding a portable generator to your emergency kit, ensure that it packs enough power for your basic appliances.
- Do regular tests on the generator to ensure that it is not only firing up easily but generating power as expected too.
- Check the oil level and always top it up or replace it whenever necessary.
- Stock fresh gasoline– gasoline tends to go bad after several months of storage (3-6 months). So, while it’s important to have several gallons ready, it’s also crucial to ensure that it is always fresh. You could use a stabilizer to keep the fuel fresh.
- Storage– always store the generator in an easily accessible location preferably where an abled adult can retrieve it alone if it’s not so heavy.
- Extension cord and transfer switch– if you live in areas that are prone to frequent outages, having a professional install a transfer switch is a smarter idea than having to reach for extension cords each time. Never plug your generator directly to an appliance outlet. It is illegal and dangerous to linemen trying to repair the grid.
- Keep it covered– after every test or use, let the generator cool down before taking it back to its safe location. Remember to cover it to prevent dirt and dust from settling on it.
- Always remember to:
- To use gas and diesel-powered generator outdoors
- Let it cool down before refuelling
- Disconnect power from the grid
- Ensure that it is running on a dry place
What to Do During a Power Outage
We constantly hope that there won’t be a power outage, but with so many variables, blackouts are inevitable. Therefore, the most important thing is to know what to do in case the worst happens.
Here are a few important tips:
- Notify your utility provider
In case of an outage that affects an entire neighborhood, inform your service provider first thing. Don’t assume that someone else will do that.
- Fire up your portable generator
If you have a backup generator, fire it up at once. Remember to turn off the power from the grid first, though. Check our generator safety tips for more detailed instructions on how to use a portable generator properly.
- Use flashlights, not candles
In case the grid is interrupted at night, and you don’t have a working generator, I’d suggest that you use flashlights as opposed to candles. The latter poses a fire hazard especially if you have kids and pets moving around. Besides, you might also not remember to put them off after electricity is back
- Turn off all the appliances that were on before the outage
When electricity is restored after an outage, it often goes through a tidal wave- a surge condition that can easily zap appliances that were left turned on.
- Let fridge and freezer doors remain closed
If the doors are not opened every now and then, the food in the fridge will be okay for up to 4 hours and for 24-48 in the freezer depending on how much food there is at that time (the fuller the better).
- Keep off downed utility lines
Never approach a grounded power line leave alone touching it. Report it to the police or service provider immediately
Floods, extreme weather events, and even animals can easily knock out your home’s power supply without warning. And everything gets chaotic in a fraction of a second; darkness looms everywhere, the food in the fridge starts threatening to go bad, and your garage door refuses to open.
You could argue that outages are few and often far between. But the fact is that they are pretty common, and are getting even more frequent as the grid ages and demand for more power increases. Therefore, the issue of whether or not you need a portable generator is no longer a debate. Depending on its size, a good conventional generator or inverter generator can keep most of your basic appliances such as fridges, freezers, ACs, computers, phones, and medical devices running till electricity is restored.