Are You Prepared
For A Blackout?

Our town is notorious for power outages. Summer and winter, spring an fall. Sometimes the power seems to go out for no reason, sometimes cars slam into utility poles, and sometimes it's weather-related. Sometimes the outages last minutes, though most of them last several hours. We've been lucky that we've never had days long outages, though with some recent winter weather, I recognize that possibility.

Woman's hand holding flashlight

Over the years we've become fairly adept at dealing with the outages. The kids still freak out a little at first, but calm down more quickly now. There has developed a general process for us when the power out.

First things first

If it's late afternoon or evening when the power goes out, I first find my light source. We keep two flashlights in the same place. Yes, they can be used for other things, but it is a strict rule that they go back to the shelf in the closet where all of us can find them quickly.

Next, I check with the neighbors. Do they have power? If they do, then it's likely a breaker in out house and I go reset it. If they don't, I call the power company. I keep the power company's phone number in my cell phone so I never have to go searching for the number. The power company usually can tell me whether this is part of an isolated outage or more widespread. They also often have an estimated time to the power being restored, or call me back with that information.

Next I unplug vulnerable appliances and electronic equipment. While we have good surge protectors on most appliances and electronics, I sometimes unplug them anyway, just to be safe. One blown power supply on my computer taught me that.

In those first few moments of a power outage, unless you see tree limbs on power lines or other such true emergency, do not call 9-1-1. A simple power outage does not require that kind of emergency response.

Next things next

Then we get together additional light sources. We have camping lantern we keep accessible in the basement, headlamps (also for camping) that we can access. We have spare batteries at all times.

We also have candles about, but I am extremely careful with them around the kids. All the candles are contained in some way so the kids can't get to the open flame easily and I am the only one allowed to light them. A tea light at the bottom of a clear drinking glass or vase works well for candle containment.

After all those little efforts, we get our playing cards and board games, and just wait. The waiting actually can be fun.

Longer outages

Sometimes though, outages last longer. Sometimes the kids get restless and hungry. Sometimes the house starts to feel chilly.

While I try to avoid opening the fridge and freezer too much while the power it out, sometimes it's needed. We can usually put together a quick cold dinner from items in there.

We're lucky that we have a gas range and can light the stove manually for making pasta or tea or something else. I've burned a few things when cooking by lantern light, so be careful.

If you do not have a gas range, do not try to cook indoors. Just don't. If you have an outdoor grill, and the weather permits, you can do quite a bit of cooking with it - outdoors of course. Don't try to use a gas range for heating either.

As power outages drag on, especially in winter, your house may get colder. We have plenty of blankets and warm clothing and can survive several hours - maybe even overnight - in an unheated house, but sometimes that just becomes unreasonable. Perhaps there is a friend or family member in another town nearby that could put you up for the night. If the outage is widespread and part of a weather situation, your town or county may have emergency shelters set up. While they may not be the most comfortable of accommodations, they will be warm, so they should be considered.

Even longer outages

Sometimes outages last days or weeks. While rare, it can happen. Contact with your local emergency management organization is essential in these situations. They can help you learn about generator rental, and other resources for those affected by a wide-spread long-term outage.

When the power comes back

Once the power is back, take stock. If the outage was short, you may just need to plug in appliances and electronics, one by one. Put the flashlights and such away in their proper places. Long outages, and longer time out of your home, might require a cleaning out of the fridge and freezer, or other things. Lastly, think about what worked and didn't work in terms of managing the outage. What items and plans can you put in place now so the next time will be easier?

Oh, and put batteries on your shopping list.

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