Power outages are a common part of life in the U.S. In New England, winter storms are an annual event, but they can even hit hard in Texas, as we saw in 2021. In the south and along much of the east coast, there are hurricanes. To the west of them, it's tornadoes. High power demand during extreme heat and cold can cause localized outages.
At home, you could have an outdated electrical system that causes the main fuse or circuit breaker to blow. In some cases, one blown light bulb can turn out the lights all over the house.
Let's look at the things you need to do right away to prepare for a power outage, as well as what to do when the power actually goes out.
Prepare Yourself for a Power Outage
Everyone should have a place where you keep some gear handy for a power outage. This can depend on where you live — in Minnesota you need to be ready for a winter storm, in Louisiana, you've got to prepare for hurricanes, and in Oklahoma, tornadoes. In a big city like Chicago or Los Angeles, you’ll still need a basic kit for localized outages due to an overloaded grid.
Your power outage kit should include:
- Flashlights for everyone in the family
- Battery operated radio
- Candles and matches (remember child safety and never leave lit candles unattended)
- Fresh batteries for all your electronics
- Power bank for your mobile devices such as cellphones
- Basic first-aid kit
- Paper list of contacts to call and check on or ask for help
- Bottled drinking water and nonperishable food
- A supply of blankets for winter and summer
- Baby supplies, if needed
- Things to entertain the kids and adults for a few hours — a deck of cards, some favorite books, and board games
- A bug-out bag for storm season, ready with clothes in case you need to go to a disaster center or other refuge
If someone has medical needs (such as keeping their insulin cold), consider their needs, too. Do you have a battery-powered cool box for this? If someone has a life support system, you should inform your utility company so they can prioritize your home for reconnection.
Prepare Your Home for a Power Outage
Besides having your own personal and family supplies, you should ensure your home is well equipped for an outage, as well.
Smoke and CO Detectors
Every home should have battery-powered smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. Battery-powered devices will remain powered when the main power is cut. Having such detectors working when the power switches back on will detect issues such as stoves or other potential fire hazards that have been left on during the outage.
The kitchen is always a critical spot for these, but bedrooms and the utility room or basement near major appliances are other key areas. Consider having a Notion Smart Self Monitoring Sensor in these areas to alert you anytime alarms go off.
Backup Power Supplies
If you have a gas-powered emergency generator, be sure it's installed correctly and properly wired in to protect the unit and the utility workers when they restore power to your home. A properly maintained generator can save you a lot of problems but can be dangerous if it isn't installed correctly and serviced regularly.
Winter freezes can happen almost anywhere. In a winter outage, it pays to have insulation on your water pipes to prevent the water from freezing and causing water damage. It's better to prevent the problem from occurring, but Notion self-monitoring sensors will alert you to help avoid costly water damage your pipes freeze. This means you can monitor for water intrusions from wherever you are, even if you're living elsewhere at the time. This gives you peace of mind that you can respond to problems promptly when far away.
Why Was There a Power Outage?
Start by checking your fuse box or circuit breaker. It may just be that a light bulb has popped or a bad appliance has tripped the main switch. You can locate what circuit has been tripped by unplugging all appliances, turning the main circuit breaker switch on, and then plugging in each appliance until the circuit switch for that area switches off. This will show you which appliance is faulty.
If inspection of the circuit breaker indicates that the problem is not specific to your home, confirm if other addresses nearby are affected. Look outside to see if street lights have switched off or if neighbors' lights are on. This is where your paper contacts list comes in handy. Call a neighbor, and if they have the same outage, check with the utility company to see if there is an area-wide outage. Utility companies offer alert services for such events. Sign up to them so you are among the first to know.
What To Do When the Electricity Goes Out
If a storm or wider power outage is in effect, put your home emergency plan for what to do in a power outage into operation. The next phase of your emergency plan is dependent on how serious the problem is.
In all cases, you should reach for your emergency power outage kit. Then, unplug all electric heaters, irons, and stoves in case you are out when power is restored. Air conditioning units should be switched off as well, as the sudden added load on the grid could blow your fuse box.
According to Consumer Reports, the average fridge will keep your food at a safe temperature for around four hours after the electricity supply is cut. Don’t open it unnecessarily and let out valuable cold air, but if you're expecting a long outage, you may need to open it to load everything into coolers. If you have a gas stove, you can use it to cook uncooked meat or other food that will perish quickly.
If someone in your household could be affected by the heat or cold due to their age or health condition, consider getting them to the home of a close contact with power or a public disaster shelter. For those with concerns about visiting such places during the COVID-19 pandemic, see guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the matter here.
Summer and winter months require different approaches. In summer, dress in light clothing as sweat can make you dehydrated. Get ready to cook your perishable food or move it to coolers more quickly.
In winter, dress appropriately using thin layers of clothes to adjust your warmth. Get everyone in the household into a small room with few windows and use that as your household base. Body warmth will be shared around. If using a kerosene or propane heater, follow the directions on ventilation so you don't suffocate on the fumes.
Extended Power Outages
If it becomes clear that you will have to leave your home due to a storm affecting the power grid, be sure you're prepared to be away.
Dispose of the perishable food that you haven’t cooked safely. Have your emergency kit in your bag. Pack appropriate clothes, pet food, and the other items you will need for a week or two away. As you leave the home, remember to avoid downed power lines — you don’t know if they have been shut off.
How to Stay Distracted
After a few hours, those extra goodies in your kit will really come in handy. A good source of family card games can be found here, and there might be a few everyone can try on a rainy Sunday without a power outage. Be sure you have a good supply of board games on hand to kill time. If you have a power bank for your mobile devices, you and the kids can use them for games and e-books, too.
A final thought for families is that kids love being given a bit of responsibility. If they feel they are part of what's happening, they aren’t worrying about what’s going on. Little, safe jobs can make all the difference.
Notion Makes Life Easier
Proper preparation prevents problems. You don’t need to have a fallout shelter with its own air and water supply to be ready for a power outage, but a half-hour considering a home emergency every few months could make things a lot easier.
A Notion smart monitoring system can provide added peace of mind, allowing for remote monitoring while you aren't home or you're away from a second home. Designed to monitor everything from leaks to low temperatures — and to alert you during internet outages (often a power outage indicator) — Notion devices can help you feel confident you will know if something goes wrong.