The storm may blow through in a day, but the lights may stay out for a week — or more. An extended power outage can mean shivering — or sweating — in the dark and, in some cases, can be a threat to your health and safety. The key to staying safe and comfortable during an extended power outage is preparation and knowing what to do when the lights go out. And stay out.
BEFORE THE LIGHTS GO OUT
- Every household should already have an emergency preparedness kit that will meet the needs of you and your family for three days. Much of what you need to make it through an extended power outage will be on hand with the gear on the checklist found at Ready.gov, the emergency preparedness website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Northeast Utilities, New England’s largest utility system serving more than two million customers in three states, recommends putting together a “Lights Out Kit” that includes a flashlight for each family member, extra batteries, battery-powered radio and clock, bottled water, canned food, manual can opener, first aid kit and Sterno or a similar alcohol-based cooking fuel.
- Because cordless phones won’t work when the power is out, you should include an old-fashioned corded phone in the “Lights Out Kit.”
- Should anyone in the house use electrically powered life-support equipment or medical equipment, be sure to ask your physician about emergency battery backup systems.
- Clearly label fuses and circuit breakers in your main electricity box. Make sure you know how to safely reset your circuit breaker or change fuses. Keep extra fuses on hand.
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT
- Pull the plug on motor-driven appliances such as refrigerators and electronic gear such as computers and televisions to prevent a damaging electrical overload when power is restored.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. You may want to your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings in advance of the storm. Just remember to reset the temperatures when the storm blows past. Food in the freezer can stay frozen for two to four days, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. During an extended power outage, you can use blocks of dry ice in the freezer.
- Use extreme caution when using alternative heating or cooking sources. Never use camp stoves, charcoal-burning grills or propane/kerosene heaters indoors. Don’t use a gas stove or oven to heat the house. They all pose the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. More than 400 people a year die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
- If you use a portable generator, plug appliances into the generator. Connecting the generator directly to your home’s electrical system can send power up the line and kill a utility repairman working on the power lines. Generators produce deadly carbon monoxide, so be careful when placing it. Never refuel the generator while it is running.
Water, food, and clean air are important things to have if an emergency happens. Each family or individual's kit should be customized to meet specific needs, such as medications and infant formula. It should also be customized to include important family documents.
Recommended Supplies to Include in a Basic Kit:
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day, for drinking and sanitation
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Battery-powered radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert, and extra batteries for both
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First Aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Infant formula and diapers, if you have an infant
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Dust mask or cotton t-shirt, to help filter the air
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
Clothing and Bedding:
If you live in a cold weather climate, you must think about warmth. It is possible that the power will be out and you will not have heat. Rethink your clothing and bedding supplies to account for growing children and other family changes. One complete change of warm clothing and shoes per person, including:
- A jacket or coat
- Long pants
- A long sleeve shirt
- Sturdy shoes
- A hat and gloves
- A sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
Below are some other items for your family to consider adding to its supply kit. Some of these items, especially those marked with a * can be dangerous, so please have an adult collect these supplies.
- Emergency reference materials such as a first aid book or a print out of the information on www.ready.gov
- Rain gear
- Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils
- Cash or traveler's checks, change
- Paper towels
- Fire Extinguisher
- Matches in a waterproof container*
- Signal flare*
- Paper, pencil
- Personal hygiene items including feminine supplies
- Household chlorine bleach* - You can use bleach as a disinfectant (diluted nine parts water to one part bleach), or in an emergency, you can also use it to treat water. Use 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
- Medicine dropper
- Important Family Documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container