Lightning. Thunder. Maybe a window-rattling BOOM! And then…darkness.
Lightning-induced power outages can be as localized as your own home, or citywide in severe cases. And it isn’t just lightning that causes power outages – human error and malfunctions in technology have also caused disruptions of the power supply to millions of people.
A lengthy power outage that affects your home can also threaten your family’s safety or damage your property. And because a blackout’s impact is magnified in the winter, being prepared for a power outage and knowing what to do until power is restored is critical.
How to prepare for a power outage
- Have plenty of flashlights and fresh batteries on hand.
- Store extra clothes and blankets for when power and heat are lost.
- Stock up on extra food and water. Keep a manual can opener and food that doesn’t requires cooking – unless you have an alternate cooking source like a propane grill or camping stove with plenty of fuel.
- Have at least a week’s worth of prescription medications available.
- Have a first aid kit, list of emergency phone numbers and a charged mobile phone. If you have a land line, be sure it’s a corded phone – cordless phones don’t work when the power is out.
- Fill up car gas tanks and have cash on hand, since gas stations and banks may be out of service.
- Invest in a surge protector for your electronics.
- Regularly back up critical computer files.
- Have one or more coolers ready for perishable foods in case of long-term outages.
- If you have room, fill jugs of water an inch from the top and keep them in your freezer. If the power goes out, the frozen jugs will slow the defrosting of your freezer.
- Stock up on playing cards and board games. Playing games will help pass the time and keep everyone's mind off the situation.
Enduring a power outage
When a blackout first occurs:
- Unplug the TV, computer and other electronics to protect them from electrical surges.
- Give each family member a flashlight to use for trips to the bathroom or around the house.
- Have a battery-operated or hand-crank radio to monitor weather alerts and disaster instructions, as well as music and entertainment to help brighten the mood.
- Use water sparingly. For example, flush the toilet with leftover cooking or washing water.
- Eat and drink regularly to stay hydrated and help regulate your body temperature.
- Scan the area around your house for downed electrical lines.
- If you see sparks, hear crackling or spot a downed line moving, report it to your electric company – and stay away from it.
- Don't run a generator inside your home. They create deadly carbon monoxide.
- Leave one light in the "on" position so you know when power has resumed.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer closed. A half-full freezer will hold for up to 24 hours, a full one for 48 hours.
- Have everyone sleeping in one room, so the children won’t be frightened or disorientated if they wake up in the dark.
- During a winter blackout, store milk or other perishables in a cooler on a deck or porch, or in a garage.
- If using a gas generator, or a kerosene or gas stove, open a window a few inches to keep the house ventilated.
- Cover north-facing windows with heavy plastic. Arctic air usually sweeps down from the north and east.
- Place sheets, towels, or draft stoppers at the bottoms of poorly sealed doors or windows to keep frigid air out.
- Check out our suggested activities to keep calm and entertained until the power comes back on.
Recovering from a power outage
- Once power has been restored, check your frozen and refrigerated items with a thermometer to make sure they're still safe to eat.
- Before plugging in electronic equipment, be sure the electricity is fully restored.
- If you believe your home or belongings were damaged as a result of blackout conditions, gather documentation about your possible claim and contact your insurance company or agent.
Find out more on how to prepare for large-scale adverse events Catastrophe resource center.
FEMA | IBHS | American Red Cross | National Weather Service