Our society relies on electricity for heat, food, and medical needs. Even some gas appliances need electricity to run. And when a power outage follows another emergency—like a tornado, or winter storm – that makes it even more important to be prepared in advance.
“We don't realize how dependent we are on power until we are without it,” says Karen Sell, RN and Columbus Community Hospital’s Disaster Preparedness Chairperson. “Sudden power outages can and do happen in Wisconsin. Are you ready?”
Power Outage Safety
- Discard food if the temperature in your refrigerator exceeds 40 degrees for more than two hours.
- Stay away from downed power lines and anything they are in contact with such as fences or buildings.
- Never drive over downed power lines; they may be energized.
- Never use charcoal or gas grills inside a structure. You may be overcome by carbon monoxide.
“Coping with a power outage can be frustrating. If an outage is two hours or less we do not need to be concerned about perishable food,” explained Sell. “Having a large cooler and ice on hand can allow you to pack ice around perishable food. Keeping non-perishable food that can be consumed safely is ideal.”
Sell also encourages us to to plan ahead and know what you would do or where you would go in an extended power outage. “When outages are prolonged in extreme heat or cold we need to be concerned about hypothermia and overheating. You can keep a generator as a backup system, just remember to follow appropriate use to avoid carbon-monoxide poisoning and fires,” she added.
Besides being prepared, Sell asks us to know when to say “I need help.” “No one wants to leave the comfort of their home, but sometimes it is unavoidable,” said Sell. “When the power is out for days and you need to relocate with family or friends, it is ideal to have a plan.”
Sell encourages us to prepare before disaster strikes by visiting Do1Thing.com. Do 1 Thing is a non-profit organization that wants to help build stronger communities. The website offers a 12-step program, with one step to complete each month, in an effort to prepare individuals, businesses, and communities for all hazards and to become disaster resilient.
Do1Thing.com offers this step:
- Be able to safely meet your basic needs during an electrical outage.
- Have flashlights ready in an easily accessible place and check batteries in flashlights and radios.
- When the lights go out, the safest way to provide emergency lighting is with flashlights or battery-powered lanterns. Keep flashlights with fresh batteries in several places throughout your home and check them for proper operation regularly. Always keep a supply of extra batteries. Think about buying a rechargeable flashlight. Batteries might be hard to find in a disaster. If you must use candles, be sure to use them safely. Never leave candles burning unattended.
- Acquire and learn how to safely use a portable generator.
Using a properly connected generator of adequate size during a power outage will reduce or almost eliminate the impact a power outage has on your life. Before you buy a generator, talk to an electrician about the size and type you need. Think about what you want your generator to run. Generators can be used to keep food cool, provide lights and electricity for phones and television, power furnace blowers and pumps.
The best way to use a portable generator is to connect it to your home using a transfer switch installed by a licensed electrician. This will keep the power from overloading the wiring in your home. It will also keep the power from your generator from traveling back into the power lines, which can injure or kill people working on power lines, or can unexpectedly re-energize downed power lines near your home. You may also connect equipment directly to the outlets on the generator, but be sure that any extension cords are of the proper length and gauge to handle the power requirements.
Remember: Always run generators outside. Never use a generator inside a house, in a basement, or garage. Never use a cord from a generator to backfeed a circuit in your house.
Create a power outage plan and decide what you can do before, during and after a power outage to minimize the effect on your household.
Before the power goes out:
- Fill empty space in freezer with containers of water. Frozen water will displace air and keep food cold longer. Remember to leave space in containers for ice to expand.
- Have at least one phone with a handset cord in your home. Many cordless phones will not work in a power outage.
- If you have an automatic garage door opener, learn how to use the manual release and open your garage door manually.
- Try to keep your car’s gas tank at least half full. Many gas stations will not be in operation during a power outage. Fill up your tank if a major storm is predicted.
- Make sure you have a car or lighter plug cord for your cell phone. If you use special healthcare equipment like oxygen generators or dialysis equipment, notify your power company.
After the power goes out:
- Unplug major appliances and electronics. When the power comes back on, there may be power spikes that can damage large appliances or delicate electronics.
- Do not open refrigerators or freezers any more than necessary. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for approximately 4 hours, an unopened freezer will keep food frozen for approximately 24 hours.
- Use a battery-powered radio to stay informed.