Losing power at home—even if it’s just for a few minutes—is inconvenient at best, but it can quickly become dangerous even under everyday circumstances. Your local utility company works hard to keep their customers safe and restore power as soon as possible, but it’s a good idea to be prepared for extended outages, especially if they tend to occur more often at certain times of the year. A little preparation can make a big difference in your family’s safety and comfort when the lights and AC go out.
How Do Power Outages Happen?
Power outages happen for a variety of reasons. The cause can be mechanical like equipment failure, construction, or overloaded electricity mains. Outages can also occur as a result of natural hazards like extreme weather, such as hurricanes or ice storms, or natural disasters like earthquakes. Sometimes it can be as simple as an animal or a fallen tree disrupting a power line.
There are generally three types of outages—blackouts, brownouts, and rolling blackouts. Blackouts are the most severe. In a blackout, there is a total loss of power in your area. Brownouts are when there is only a short drop in the electricity supply. You may see the lights dim, or some electronic equipment may stop working.
There are also rolling blackouts, which are planned outages that happen when there’s too much demand on the electricity grid and not enough supply. To make up for the energy shortage, power companies will reduce power to one part of the grid to make sure the rest of the network doesn’t go offline as well. Customers are usually warned in advance when these happen, and ideally, they don’t last long.
Behind the Scenes: Getting the Power Back On
Depending on the situation, getting the lights back on can take a lot of work for utility companies. In the case of weather or natural disasters, there may be a lot of cleanup or safety issues to resolve before it’s possible to get things back online. It may be difficult to access damaged infrastructure due to flooding or other hazards.
Utilities work to get the most customers back online as quickly as possible. The first priority is always public health and safety—that means taking care of public services like hospitals, police, fire departments, and water treatment facilities. From there, power companies can focus on turning on the lights for residents like you.
Power grids are complex systems, and there can be a lot of logistical considerations behind the scenes such repairing transmission equipment and distribution lines. Unfortunately, this can sometimes result in extended outages for some customers. If you live in an area with a grid that covers a large area, this may take a long time and delay the return of power.
How to Find Out About Outages in Your Area?
If you’re wondering about power outages in your area, the best source of information is your local power company. They will provide up-to-date power outage reports for your area and can provide information about repair times and any emergency situations. Most companies have a hotline you can call for updates. If you’re a Just Energy customer and you’re currently experiencing an outage, report your power outage here.
Safety First: What to Do During a Power Outage?
Whether during an emergency or a short outage, being prepared for an outage means you have everything you need to get by for at least a few hours without power. Do a quick survey of your home and immediate area. Avoid anything that could be unsafe or put you or your home at risk.
For Sudden Outages
If the lights go out and you’re left in complete darkness, navigate around your home carefully to avoid tripping over obstacles or knocking things off shelves. You do not want to clean up broken glass in the dark. Similarly, if the lights go out when you’re in the shower, do your best to rinse off any remaining soap and tread carefully while you find clothes. If you know you have a lot of tripping hazards around your home, put on shoes or slippers to avoid stubbing your toes or stepping on wayward toys.
Take a peek out the window to see if your neighbors have power. If they don’t, you may be without power a little while as the utility company works to restore it. During storms or strong winds, stay inside. Downed power lines are a significant threat if they’re still live. Immediately call your local utility if you see something that could be hazardous like sparks flying from power lines or downed poles.
Preparing Your Home
Walk through your home , turning all your light switches to the off position. Unplug any appliances and electronics to prevent damage from electrical surges. Make sure you at least unplug your media center, any computers, and other expensive equipment. Leave one light switch on to signal when the power comes back on.
If you have a generator, keep it away from windows and never run it indoors. Likewise, never use camp stoves or charcoal grills inside your home. Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide from combustion can get trapped in your home and put you at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Keep a few flashlights within reach in the most used rooms in your home. Some good spots are near the front door, in the kitchen, and next to your bed. Make sure they have fresh batteries, and you have a supply of extras on hand as well. Be cautious using candles on surfaces that won’t budge like kitchen and bathroom counters.
A battery-powered or hand-crank radio is an essential tool for emergency preparedness. If you can’t charge your devices or connect to regular communication channels, a radio will tune you into weather and emergency updates in your area. Look for NOAA Weather Radios, which connect you to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s 24-hour national weather service.
During emergencies, especially in extreme weather, your home’s water supply could be at risk of contamination from sewage or flood waters. Safe drinking water is the first essential to make sure you have on hand. Make sure you have enough water for everyone in your household. It’s recommended to have at least one gallon per person, per day for at least three days. For a family of four, that’s a minimum of 12 gallons of drinking water.
Food is also a critical concern during longer power outages and emergencies. To keep your perishable foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or leftovers) fresh as long as possible, avoid opening your fridge and letting out any more cold air than is absolutely necessary. Even without power, refrigerators will keep your food cold for roughly four hours. A full freezer will stay cold for about 48 hours.
If your city is prone to outages, keep a few coolers at home. When the power goes out, you’ll have somewhere safe to store your perishables so you can eat them later. Get rid of any perishable food that has been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than two hours. Get rid of any perishable food that has been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than two hours.
Keep a supply of non-perishable food items on hand. These items should be easy-to-make and not require refrigeration, cooking, or water. Stock your home with a one-week supply, and have a three-day amount packed and ready to go if you’re expecting dangerous flooding and may need to evacuate.
Non-perishable Emergency Food Supplies
- Protein or fruit bars
- Dry cereal or granola
- Peanut butter
- Dried fruit
- Canned juices
Every home should have a standard first aid kit. For emergency situations, you should also have an extra supply of sanitation and personal hygiene items. If anyone in your home relies on medications, ensure you have a seven-day supply available, along with any necessary medical items.
During electrical outages, it’s a good idea to avoid any unnecessary travel. Street and traffic lights might be out in your neighborhood, and driving could be dangerous. However, in the event of severe weather or emergency, it may be necessary to leave your home.
Plan ahead and put an evacuation plan in place for your household so that everyone knows what to do. Part of that plan should be to keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your car at all times. Make sure to bring copies of personal documents—passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, medical information, proof of address, and the deed/lease to your home. Have a written list of family emergency contact information, extra cash, and maps of your area.
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For more information about preparing your home for power outages and emergencies, visit these resources or contact your local electricity provider.
1 American Red Cross. (2018). [online] http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/power-outage#Before [Accessed 20 Jul. 2018].
2 Ready.gov. (2018). Power Outages | Ready.gov. [online] Available at: https://www.ready.gov/power-outages [Accessed 20 Jul. 2018].
3 Energy.gov. (2018). Homeowners: Respond to Power Outages | Department of Energy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jul. 2018].