Outage Survival Guide: What to Do When the Power Goes Out

By Hugo Mercer August 30, 2023

Tips for handling blackouts and ensuring safety during power outages

In today's technology-driven society, a power outage is more than a mere inconvenience. It hinders access to essentials such as food and medication preservation, evening illumination, thermal comfort and connection to emergency services. So what should you do to ensure safety when the lights go out?

Basic Precautions

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) emphasizes that the first priority should be to disconnect electrical appliances to prevent damage from potential power surges. Keep freezers and fridges closed to preserve cool temperatures for storing perishables. As an additional safeguard, switch off the main power breaker in your home. Also, avoid using any gadgets that have been exposed to water.

Beware of Carbon Monoxide

If the use of generators is necessary, make sure they are strictly placed outdoors and situated over 20 feet away from doors, windows, or any openings, regardless of whether they are shut. These devices can give off carbon monoxide, a lethal, odourless, colorless gas that can cause serious harm. "It claims the lives of hundreds of people every year and makes thousands more ill," according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They also advise installing battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors near sleep zones.

Avoid Consuming Contaminated Food and Medication

If food gets contaminated by floodwater, it should be thrown away immediately. Additionally, any refrigerated edibles that cross the 40 degrees Fahrenheit mark should be discarded, as per FEMA. If medications need refrigeration, ascertain the duration they can safely remain unrefrigerated.

Use Flashlights, Not Candles

During a blackout, it's safer to use flashlights rather than candles. If candles are unavoidable, keep them away from flammables, never leave them unattended and ensure a fire extinguisher is readily accessible.

Avoiding Floodwaters & Contacting Neighbors

The threat of getting swept away, electrocuted by submerged power lines and infection from dirty water make staying out of floodwaters crucial. When it's safe, check in on neighbors and loved ones, particularly those needing power-dependent medical equipment or those who are elderly and children.

Protect Your Pets

In severe weather conditions or evacuation scenarios, never abandon your pets or tie them outdoors. The CDC advises to check with local emergency management offices about pet-friendly shelters.

Keeping Power Consumption Minimal

In circumstances of rationed power, turn off and unplug nonessential lights and appliances. Avoid using high consumption appliances like ovens and washing machines. Thermostats should ideally be set to 68 degrees to avoid overloading the power grid and possibly causing additional blackouts or prolonging existing ones.