Power outages can happen any time and for many different reasons. Loss of electricity can accompany almost any type of disaster that could happen in Madison County. We expect power outages during severe thunderstorms, high winds, tornadoes, floods, house fires, winter and ice storms. However, wildfires, problems at the power station, and overuse of power during a prolonged heat wave or cold spell, when these systems are running full blast day and night, can also trigger outages.
Most people don’t realize how much they rely on electricity until they are without it. This is especially true in the current technology-filled world. Many of us are bonded with an assortment of electronic devices that we use every waking hour.
Power outages can be limited to a neighborhood or be widespread. Lack of electricity is not only inconvenient when restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and banks are closed; it is downright dangerous when traffic lights are out because of no power. Even our water supply could be threatened during a long-term power outage.
Here are some ways to prepare for and cope with the inevitable loss of electricity before, during and after it happens.
Build an emergency kit. Include the following:
• Enough food that does not need to be refrigerated. Put aside enough to last each family member at least three days. Don’t forget the pets.
• One gallon of water per person per day, more for those with special needs like breastfeeding mothers or those taking certain medications. Prepare for at least three days and include enough for pets.
• Battery-powered or hand crank portable radio and a NOAA weather radio. Pack extra batteries for longer outages.
• Rechargeable or battery-operated flashlight with extra batteries
• First aid kit
• Whistle to signal for help
• Dust mask to help filter contaminated air.
• Plastic sheeting and duct tape to keep contaminated air from seeping in around doors and windows.
• Enough moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
• Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
• Manual can opener if food cans do not have pop-top tabs
• Local maps to find the location of community evacuation centers
• Cell phone car charger, inverter, or solar charger
• Specialty items like diapers, extra glasses, and prescription medications
For more ideas about what to put in an emergency kit visit www.ready.gov/basic-disaster-supplies-kit.
Make a family plan about how you will communicate with loved ones and where to meet if you are separated during an emergency or power outage.
Be ready to evacuate by keeping your gas tank at least a half full because gas stations will be affected. Keep extra cash on hand because ATMs and credit card machines won’t work.
Make sure you have a house key to get in, if you usually rely on a power garage door as the main entry into your home.
Know where the manual release is for an electric garage door opener and how to operate it.
During periods of high energy use, conserve energy every way possible to help the power company avoid blackouts.
If you know ahead of time, fill plastic containers with water to within an inch of the top (to allow for expansion when frozen) and put them in your refrigerator and freezer. This will help keep food cold during a shorter power outage.
Sign up for weather warning alerts through the local Sheriff’s Office. They can alert you automatically to approaching weather conditions that could result in power outages.
If you take medication that needs to be refrigerated, ask your doctor of pharmacist how long it will last in a closed refrigerator without power.
Get “Tech Ready” by downloading specific Apps and bookmarking important websites like American Red Cross and FEMA. Visit www.ready.gov/get-tech-ready to learn more.
Don’t open the refrigerator or freezer doors. Cold air will escape and the food will go bad faster.
Leave one light on, so that you know when the power is restored.
Use flashlights, not candles. Lit candles pose a high fire risk.
If it is very hot outside, keep cooler in the lowest level of your home. Wear lightweight clothes and drink plenty of water even before you feel thirsty.
If it is very cold outside, keep warm by wearing several layers of warm clothes. Do not use your gas oven to keep warm. The fumes could contain deadly carbon monoxide. If your home becomes too cold, try to find a place that has power and go there to stay warm.
Never operate a generator inside a house, garage, tent or any enclosed space.
If power is out for more than a day, do not eat any food that was in the refrigerator. It could have spoiled and could make you very sick. It is not worth taking a chance.
To learn more about how to prepare for, cope with and clean up after any type of emergency search for free on-line resources. One website with many short videos ranging from how to use a fire extinguisher or chainsaw to how to eradicate mold is www.JustInTimeDisasterTraining.org.
Ensuring the best outcome if the power goes out depends on knowing what to do and taking action before, during and after it happens.
Alexis Evans Comer is the Health Education Specialist/Special Projects/PIO, Safe Communities Coordinator and Wellness Coordinator for the Madison County-London City Health District. She can be reached at (740) 852-3065, ext. 1521.