How to handle a prolonged power outage

Published 12:19 pm Friday, January 17, 2020

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Accidents and storms can disrupt the electricity that powers everything in homes and businesses. A short-term loss of power can be a nuisance, but extended power outages can cause damage and may even be dangerous.

Widespread power outages are often anticipated during or after severe storms, which can disable entire power grids. Because damaged power lines and infrastructure must be carefully assessed after severe storms, it may take anywhere from hours to several days before power is fully restored.

The Food and Drug Administration says that food spoilage is one of the hazards of long-term power outages. If a storm is imminent, you can be proactive by freezing the contents of the refrigerator when possible so that items can stay at safe temperatures longer, advises the FDA. Food can remain safe for up to two hours at refrigerator temperature before it starts to spoil. Grouping food together in the freezer also can help it stay colder longer. Having extra ice on hand or freezing containers of water also can provide a chilling effect, as well as serve as a water supply if faucet water is unavailable — which can be a concern for those with well-pumped water.

Your barbecue can turn out to be your best friend during power outages. Many stoves, even gas ones, will not light because of electric ignitions. A gas camping stove or barbecue can serve as the primary place to cook food until power is restored. Always have a secondary propane tank on hand.

Keep plenty of bottled water on hand, especially if your water supply is well-fed and requires an electric pump to activate flow.

Stock up on blankets and warm clothing. Power outages during the winter can be especially challenging because of the lack of heat in a home. Family members can huddle together in small rooms to conserve heat. People with wood-burning stoves can use them to keep warm. Fireplaces tend to be more show than ambient heat providers, but they can still serve as a heat source in a pinch.

If you have a generator, run it safely. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says generators should be operated as far away from the house as possible to avoid deadly carbon monoxide fumes. Also, use appropriately-gauged, outdoor-rated extension cords to power up generators.

It is also important to stay put and avoid the road after a storm that causes a power outage. Wires may be down, traffic lights may not work and dangerous debris may be littering the roads. Hunkering down is the best approach until power is restored.