Power outages may not be high on your list of concerns in the grand scheme of things. However, they disrupt essential services throughout a community, such as communications and transportation. They can also mean your refrigerator, air conditioning, medical devices, and water all stop working.
Unfortunately, it looks like we may be in for more power outages this summer. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) issued a report last month about the energy emergencies we may see during this summer. The report lists the Midwest, Texas, and Southern California as the areas with the most concern, but electrical disruptions can occur anywhere. Long story short? Everyone should learn how to prep for a power outage.
What causes power outages?
Some of the most common causes of power outages are:
- Extreme heat. High temperatures increase wildfire risk that can cause downed transmission lines. Droughts can also wreak havoc with energy in areas that rely on hydropower.
- Weather. Heat isn’t the only weather event that might cause a power outage. High winds, lightning, and ice can too. In some cases, utilities shut off power in the interest of public safety.
- Equipment failure. Aging equipment can fail all on its own, but anything from a runaway car to a mischievous squirrel can cause damage and power outages.
- High demand. The summer months often mean more people using air conditioning, and that can cause supply shortages.
In many cases, being without power is inconvenient. But when it’s brought on by extreme weather conditions or goes on for a long time, a blackout can be a major problem. Here’s our tips on how to prepare for power outages.
What to do before a power outage
It’s important to develop a plan ahead of a blackout so that you aren’t left scrambling for the things you need. For example, you might want to:
- Put together a disaster kit. Your emergency preparedness kit might include items like flashlights, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, and an emergency radio.
- Get alternative charging methods for your electronics. Emergency radios, cell phone chargers, and flashlights are often solar-powered or use a hand crank. Another option for your phone is a battery pack that you keep charged and ready.
- Buy a gas-powered generator. According to Goal Zero, 61% of people want a reliable backup energy source, but only 15% actually have one.
- Have “extras” on hand. Extra batteries seem pretty obvious, but you may also want bags of ice in case you need to use a cooler and extra gas for your generator.
- Keep a full tank of gas. Gas pumps require electricity, and you want to have enough gas in your car to get you to safety should the need arise. While you’re checking your fuel gauge, take a minute to learn how to use the manual release lever on your electric garage door.
- Sign up for local alerts. Your area may have a notification system that texts you with emergency information, like where you can find warming or cooling shelters.
What to do during a power outage
Power outages can be risky situations. They disrupt your routine and can leave you quite literally in the dark. Here are some ways you can reduce the chance of problems for your family and home:
- Choose battery-operated lights. Candlelight is lovely, but using a flashlight or lantern minimizes your risk of a fire.
- Turn off all outlets except for one light. This lessens the likelihood of you overloading your circuits and damaging electronics if a power surge runs through the house when the electricity goes back on.
- Move to lower levels. During hot summer months, you may be able to stay cool by hanging out in the lower levels of your house. If not, consider going to a cooling shelter or shopping mall that is powered by backup generators to avoid dangerous heat.
- Keep generators outside. This can limit fire risk and help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. The same goes for charcoal grills and camp stoves. And never use a gas stove to heat your home.
- Limit trips to the refrigerator. Most freezers can keep their temperature for around 48 hours, but your fridge may only keep food cold for about four hours. Limiting the number of times you open and close your refrigerator door can help keep food from spoiling.
One important item to note: your home insurance most likely only covers power outage claims if the source of the outage originated on your property. Get more information in our article “Home Insurance and Power Outages: What’s Covered and What’s Not.”