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How to Plan for Electrical Power Outages

Photo of New Your City in the dark due to lack of electricity. Electrical outages usually occur in the summer and winter months. In the summer they are due to high demand or generating plant outages. In the winter, high winds and ice storms break electrical lines causing longer-term outages. Outages can affect food storage as well as limit our ability to cool or heat our homes. Have 72 hour emergency kits on hand to help you out.

You never know how long an electrical outage will last, but plan for at least 72 hours. Listen to the Emergency Alert System (EAS) for updates. How you handle an outage will depend on the lenght of the outage. Review the information below to help with your outage planning. And visit our Emergency and Disaster Planning page.

Terminology

Familiarize yourself with these terms to learn about electrical outage emergencies.
  • Power Outage - Is the loss of the electricity to an area. The outage may be the result of a defect in a generating plant or damage to an electrical line. It could also be your utility's effort to balance available electricity in the grid. Outages may take one of three forms: blackout, brownout or dropout.
  • Blackout - When electricity is lost completely in an area.
  • Rolling Blackout - A way of rotating available electricity between districts or customers to avoid blackouts.
  • Brownout - When the voltage level drops below the minimum level for the electrical system. This may be done to prevent a full power outage.
  • Dropout - When the loss of electricity is only a few seconds.

Prior to a Power Outage:
  • Keep 72 hour emergency kits in your home with food and water.
  • If you have space in your freezer, fill plastic containers 90% full of water. This frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out.
  • If you use medication that needs to be kept cold, have a small ice chest to keep the medication cold for up to 72 hours.
  • Keep computers backed up regularly. Consider buying extra batteries if you use a laptop. Having a DC converter allows most laptops (12 volts or less) to be run off the cigarette lighter in a vehicle.
  • Get a surge protector for your computer with enough plugs for all your plug-ins.
  • If you use your computer for a home business, consider getting an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, learn how to open it manually. Be sure to keep a key to your house with you, in case the garage door will not open.
  • If you have a cordless phone or answering machine, consider getting a cellular phone or pager.
  • Make sure you have a battery powered radio/alarm clock or one with a battery backup.
  • Listen to your hand-crank or solar operated radio or television for outage updates.
  • Keep your car half full of gas since gas stations can't pump gas without electricity.
  • Conserve energy as this can help power companies avoid blackouts during periods of extreme heat.
During an Power Outage:
  • Turn off the TV and computer to prevent damage when the electricity comes back on. Consider leaving a light on to alert you when electricity is restored.
  • Gather your 72 hour kits to a central location for 72 hour protection.
  • Listen to your radio, television or NOAA Weather Radio for outage information.
  • Move items closer together in your refrigerator to slow warning during a 72 hour outage.
  • If the outage is a lengthy one (i.e., due to a hurricane or ice storm) eat your perishable foods first. Then use food from the freezer, and then canned or packaged goods with a long shelf-life.
  • Do not open the refrigerator or freezer unless necessary. In general, if food in your refrigerator get above 40 F, throw them out to prevent food related illnesses.
  • Secure survival candles so they will not tip over and start a fire.
  • If you use a generator, keep it outdoors. Never operate it inside a house, basement or garage. Do not wire a generator directly to your home's electrical panel by yourself. The safest thing to do is connect the equipment you want to run directly to the generator.