Yes, of course you have a flashlight. But do you know where it is? Could you find it in the dark? Do you have extra batteries? Or a rechargeable (and fully charged) flashlight?
The dark can be scary for young children. Prepare them by playing a "lights-out" game to find the flashlight.
Keep candles and matches on hand. Remember, candles are romantic but potentially dangerous. Have solid, stable holders for them and be especially careful if there are children or pets around. Have a fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it.
If the Lights Go Off
If the lights go off, the first thing to do is determine whether it is really a power outage or a problem with your own breaker. Reach for your flashlight and check your main electric panel. If you have blown a fuse or tripped a breaker, one or more of the switches may be turned off. Simply turn it back on and power should be restored.
If it is not a fuse or a breaker, check to see whether power is out for your neighbors too. Power can be lost in a very localized area. For instance, houses that are served by the same pole-mounted power transformer will be dark, while houses next door are fully lit.
If it is an outage, call your utility and report it. Sometimes it can be hard to get through because other customers are also reporting interruptions. Please be patient. It is likely they already know about the problem and are working to fix it.
Cordless phones or extension phones that require connection to an electric outlet will not work during power outages. Models that only need to be plugged into the phone jack will work.
A battery radio lets you keep up with the news from the outside world. Make sure you have extra batteries. You could also use your car radio in an emergency, but remember the dangers of running a vehicle in an enclosed garage.
Turn Off Your Appliances
There are three reasons to turn off any appliances you were using when the power went out:
- Protecting your appliances: When power returns, there will be a surge of electrical energy that could damage sensitive equipment like computers, TVs or VCRs.
- Safety: It is easy to forget during an outage that you had a stove burner or an iron on. If you're away from home when electric service is restored, you can have a serious safety hazard.
- Helping your utility to restore service: Restarting appliances can use almost double the amount of electricity that they use when running normally. Think of the way lights dim briefly when the A/C fan comes on. Then imagine the power demands placed on the electric system when every customer needs more power than usual—all at the same time. When the main switches are re-energized, this demand can cause breakers to trip. It helps if you don't have all your appliances waiting to draw power the instant it is restored.
There are two options for how to turn off your appliances, both with advantages and disadvantages:
- The first option is to unplug them one by one, leaving one light on to let you know electricity has been restored. However, it is easy to miss an appliance, and awkward to get around in the dark.
- The second option is to turn off your main circuit breaker. This ensures that you will not overlook anything. It does mean you will have to keep an eye on streetlights outside to let you know that power has been restored.
If the outage is likely to be prolonged, and the weather is hot, prepare to stay cool as your house heats up:
- Drink plenty of water—your body stays cool more efficiently when well hydrated.
- Keep an eye on young children and the elderly for signs of heat exhaustion. Call 9-1-1 in case of a medical emergency.
- The basement is often cooler than the rest of the house, so you may want to gather your family there.
- Dress in loose, light clothing.
- Draw drapes or cover south-facing windows with blankets to keep heat out. However, you still need ventilation, especially if regular cold-air intake systems are not working. Keep a window open slightly for a breeze.
While it may be tempting, do not run extension cords to the home of a neighbor who still has power. It is a fire hazard.
Rethink Standby Generators
The choice to install a standby generator is yours. However, this equipment can be extremely dangerous if it is not connected properly and operated knowledgeably.
Residential consumers probably do not need a standby generator to cope with shorter outages. For a prolonged outage, you have the additional headache of storing enough fuel to operate it.