10 Things You Can Do to Prepare For an Extended Power Outage or Emergency
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10 Things You Can Do to Prepare For an Extended Power Outage or Emergency

How to prepare for an emergency or power outage.

There is always a possibility for a localized blackout during the summer due to severe thunderstorms, but in the winter you are more likely to have an extended power outage caused by heavy snows of ice that damaged power lines over a wider area. This will stretch repair crews thin trying to restore power to thousands of customers.

A major winter storm can be lethal. Winter storms bring ice, snow, cold temperatures, and often dangerous driving conditions in the northern parts of the United States. Even small amounts of snow and ice can cause severe problems for southern states where storms are infrequent.

While the chances are low that you may never have a power outage of more than 24 hours, there are 10 things that you can do that will lessen the effects for you, your family, and your pets if it does happen.

1. Food Storage

It is a good idea to have at least a week’s worth of food stored in your home per person. These foods do not need to be extravagant or similar to what you eat each meal, but they should be staples that you can use over time and replace them before the expiration dates. Canned foods work best, such as beans, vegetables, and soups. Dried items such as beans, rice, and dehydrated potatoes are also good. Honey lasts indefinitely and is a good option to replace sugar. Powdered milk, pasta, and canned tuna or salmon should also be kept on hand.

2. Water

You will need at least a gallon of water for each person per day. For a safe clean water supply purchase gallon water bottles and store in your pantry rotating them out as needed.

During a winter storm, you can use snow as a water source as long as it is off of the ground and clean. When ice is available, melt it, rather than snow. One cup of ice yields more water than one cup of snow. Ice also takes less time to melt.

You may want to reuse plastic soda bottles for water storage. Sanitize them first with a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach for a half gallon of water. Fill the bottles and shake; you can reuse the solution on additional bottles. Rinse with clean water and let dry. To store water, fill with tap water and close with cap making sure not to contaminate the cap by touching the inside. Mark the bottle with the date you stored it and it should last 6 months.

3. Power

Since all of the appliances will be useless without power, you will need to have a plan for preparing food and emergency communication. If using a generator do not use it in the house or the garage. Use caution when using candles as they pose a high risk for fire. Always keep batteries and flashlights available. You may also want to invest in a hand-crank emergency radio and flashlights. If you own your home, consider using a charcoal or gas grill for cooking food outside. In extreme situations, you can also use wood in your grill, but remove any hoses and propane tanks from the unit.

Hand Crank Radio

Hand Crank Flashlight

There are also solar powered back-up generators, but their effectiveness will be reduced in the winter months when the sun is lower in the sky or it is overcast.

4. Communication

Cell phones will most likely be available and land lines may be available, but only use these in case of an emergency. Cordless phones will soon lose their charge and become inoperable. Maintain your charge on your cell phone so that it will last as long as possible. Consider purchasing a battery operated cell phone charger. Do not call 9-1-1 unless it is a life threatening emergency as these lines need to stay open.

Solar Powered Cell Phone Charger

5. Money

Automated Teller Machines will not be working in a power outage and you may not be able to get to one anyway. Credit cards may not work in any stores if the power and phone lines are out. Keep an emergency stash of cash in a home safe.

6. Transportation

During a blackout traffic lights will be out and you will not be able to pump gasoline. Stay home if possible and if you must go out use a bike or walk instead of using your vehicle. Consider car pooling with neighbors if you need to venture out. If you have a shed, keep a 5 gallon gas can full at all times. Try to remember to fill your gas tank in your car especially if storms are expected.

7. Special Preparations for the Ill, Disabled, and Pets

Before a power outage you will need to contact your local electrical company and register your address so they know where you are located. They keep records of your address as well as the power operated equipment that you use. Have extra batteries for hearing aids and electric scooters. Make sure you have at least a 2 week supply of mediation in stock.

If you have an ill child the utility company will make your home a priority to restore power. Illnesses include asthma, diabetes, blindness, or other chronic illness. Any equipment that also requires power, like an oxygen generator is a consideration and you should notify your local utility supplier of this life threatening situation.

Pets will also require food and water so make sure that you have enough food and water to sustain them for at least a week.

8. Sanitation

You may not have any water pressure in your home so this will make toilet and sink usage problematic. Have a large container on hand to store used water from cooking or washing and use this to flush toilets. Pour about ¾ to 1 gallon of used water directly into the toilet bowl to flush solid waste down the soil line. Don’t fill the tank with the used water and flush as the soap or other debris can damage the mechanisms that you will have to repair or replace later.

Have bleach, ammonia, and distilled vinegar on hand to use to clean plumbing fixtures and surfaces.

9. Safety

Keep all your emergency preparation supplies in one location. Unplug sensitive electronics and computers. The reason for this is that when the power is restored there is usually a surge as they turn on individual parts of the grid. These surges can damage power supplies on electronic that will need to be replaced.

Keep one light on so you will know when electricity returns. Never attach a generator your main electrical panelboard unless you had an electrician install a manual transfer switch. If it is below freezing, you can store food outside in plastic containers or coolers.

If you still have natural gas service to your home, consider turning off any appliance that uses electronic ignition, such as water heaters, furnaces, boilers, or cook tops and ovens. You may accidentally try to use the gas but it will fail to ignite and pose an explosion hazard. If you do use your cook top for cooking, have matches or a propane lighter available to light the burner and keep track of its use.

10. Emergency Contact List

Have a hard copy of your list of contacts for your family, friends, neighbors, schools, and places of employment. Make sure your children know what to do in a blackout. Prepare in advance who will pick your children up during an emergency. Know your schools policy about non-family members picking up your children. If you care for an elderly relative or a disabled relative know how to get appropriate services for them.

Preparing ahead of time will save a lot of grief if you do have an extended power outage and it will allow you to assist others during times of emergency.

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Comments (5)

A comprehensive list if I may say so. One vote in!

Great information Daniel. During a power outage, is it safe to use matches to light a gas stove. Will the gas stove turn off properly with the electricity off. I don’t know how the electronic ignition might affect the gas going on or off in a blackout

Ranked #1 in Home Safety

Sam, Normally the gas is still controlled by the burner knobs. The electronic ignition and any exhaust fans or clocks are all that is powered. Matches will work but I would suggest unplugging the power cord and testing it out before an emergency.

Extremely well written article Dan. And thank you for visiting me at my article.


Thank you for this timely article! With regard to point 1, I recently blogged on http://allhazards.blogspot.com a detailed discussion on setting up a rolling food pantry, so that you not only have a food supply for disasters, but also use the food you buy, and get fringe benefits like being able to go shopping in your own garage!