An extended power outage is not an uncommon occurrence, especially during the stormy season. All it takes is one bolt of lightning or downed tree to crash into a power line and plunge your entire neighborhood—or even your entire city—into complete darkness. Power is usually restored within a matter of minutes. But what if your power is out for hours, days or weeks?
It’s not an unlikely scenario. The United States’ electrical grid is old, fragile and woefully underfunded. Storms and natural disasters continually threaten our aging grid, some of which can potentially result in blackouts that leave Americans without power for weeks.
A little preparedness can go a long way in lessening the impact of an extended power outage on you and your family. Below, here are a few things you can do to better prepare for a power outage.
Make Your Food Last
Food spoilage is often a big concern during and after an extended power outage, and rightfully so. No one wants to get sent to the emergency room for food poisoning. In addition to stocking your pantry full of shelf-stable foods, it’s important to know how to keep perishable food cold in the case of a power outage.
- Avoid Opening the Refrigerator/Freezer Door – Try to limit how much you open the refrigerator/freezer door. Each time you open the door, you’re letting out precious cold air and, thereby, reducing the storage time of your perishable food.
- Know the Safety Threshold – A packed refrigerator can remain at a safe temperature for about four hours. A packed freezer can maintain a safe temperature for about 48 hours.
- Keep a Spare Cooler – If you’re coming up on four hours, transfer your perishable food items to a couple of hard coolers packed with ice. Be sure to read up on how to pack a cooler properly to keep your items cooler for as long as possible.
- Consider Using Dry Ice – Using dry ice in your cooler can also be beneficial in the case of an extended power outage. Dry ice (which is simply frozen carbon dioxide) is extremely cold and can keep your perishable foods colder for longer in an emergency. If you don’t know how to use dry ice in a cooler, don’t worry—it’s not complicated. Just be sure to handle dry ice with care (always use gloves) and use a cooler that is considered dry ice compatible.
Procure Safe Drinking Water
When the power goes out, your water purification system may be impacted. This largely depends on where you get your water. If you have city water, you’ll probably have water until the city water tower runs out. Private wells, on the other hand, require electricity to work properly.
- Stock Up on Bottled Water – No matter where you get your water from, it’s critical to have an emergency water supply ready. You should store at least one gallon of water per day for every person and pet in your household. Aim for a two-week supply for everyone.
- Have an Emergency Water Source – In the case of an extended power outage, you may need to source your water from nature. To ensure that your water is safe to drink, consider keeping water purification tablets and unscented liquid chlorine bleach in the house.
- Do Not Drink Carbonated/Caffeinated/Alcoholic Beverages – Don’t count these beverages as part of your water supply! Alcohol, caffeine and carbonated beverages will dehydrate your body faster and increase the need for regular drinking water.
Invest in Emergency Lighting
Once a power outage occurs, you’ll be left in the dark. The last thing you want to do is scramble through a dark house for a flashlight that doesn’t even work. Having multiple sources of emergency lighting is crucial to finding your way around for however long the power outage lasts.
- Flashlights – Pick up some quality flashlights that are made to last and store them in different areas of your house. This way, you’ll never be far from a light source when the power goes out.
- Glow Sticks – Glow sticks are a good source of temporary light for your home. Added bonus: the kids will love them.
- Solar Lights – In the case of a prolonged outage, you can bring your outdoor solar yard lights inside to light your home. Just remember to put them back outside during the day so they can recharge.
- Propane Lantern – Although it may be an old school lighting option, a propane lantern is a reliable source of light that you can use for any emergency.
Build a Blackout Bag
You’ve probably heard about a bug out bag before, but what about a blackout bag? It’s a similar concept. A blackout bag is simply an emergency kit stocked with items you’ll need in the event of an extended power outage. Although your kit should be personalized to suit your needs, there are a few essential items that we recommend stocking in your blackout bag.
- Flashlight – You should have several flashlights, one of which is stored in your blackout bag. Don’t forget batteries!
- Headlamp – Consider adding a quality headlamp to your blackout kit. It will be useful for when you’re rummaging around in the dark and need to use both hands.
- Portable Phone Charger – If your phone wasn’t fully charged before the power outage, you’ll be glad to have a portable phone charger to keep your cell phone alive.
- A Fan/Mister – Keep in mind that most power outages occur during the hot, humid months. If you live in the South, a fan/mister will help keep you cool when the AC stops working.
- Hand Warmers – Although power outages are more common in the summer, they can also happen in the winter. In addition to blankets and sleeping bags, make sure that you have enough hand warmers for everyone in your family.
- Medical Supplies – A first aid kit is a must-have for any blackout bag. If you or a family member is taking medications, consider stocking a few extra medications to get you through an extended power outage.
- Emergency Radio – An emergency radio is one of those items that you buy while hoping you’ll never need to use it. But, in case you find yourself in a crazy storm, an emergency radio can potentially save your life by giving you invaluable weather updates and other emergency alerts.
- Emergency Generator – OK, so you can’t exactly fit an emergency generator into a bag, but it’s something you may want to consider having in case the power goes out. A standby generator can supply emergency power to keep your household operating normally until electricity returns. Just remember to keep it away from the house to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best
While most power outages are nothing more than a minor inconvenience, prolonged blackouts can prove deadly. A little preparedness can do more than just reduce the impact of a power outage on your family. It can potentially save lives.
Author: Kyle Shaw is an avid outdoors man who has spent the last 4 years traveling and backpacking around the world. His favorite activities are fly fishing, hiking and snowboarding in these new places. Due to the current circumstances he has returned to his home base, Jackson Hole and has begun blogging about his experiences.