The area where my family lives known for strong spring storms and tornadoes. We recently have come through a very harsh winter, very cold temperatures, and lots of ice. We also live in an area that is situated on a major fault line – the “big one” in terms of earthquakes has been predicted for years, and we frequently have small tremors. Any of these conditions can bring on power outages, some lasting only a few seconds, others for much longer periods of time.
Sometimes, being “unplugged” can be a good thing. We focus more on family, spend time outdoors, or relax without turning to an electronic device. So, most of the time, if the power goes out for a short time, we see as a minor, somewhat frustrating, bump in the road. Sure, we can’t watch TV, the lights go out, we can’t use the Internet, but these things don’t really affect our quality of life very much. However, a long term power outage is a different story. Power outages after a hurricane, major storm, or large earthquake can be very significant, and your family needs to be prepared in order to get through it. Ideally, the impact in these situations would be lessened if each family had a backup generator, but that isn’t always possible. That’s why it’s important to take practical steps to be prepared.
Water is probably the biggest concern for most people, and one that should be taken seriously. Your emergency stash should have plenty of bottled water, both for cooking and drinking, enough to last several weeks. In our case, water to our home is provided by a well, which also runs off electricity. So a power outage for us also means no running water for drinking or preparing food. Bottled water has a long shelf life, and stacks well for storage. Additionally, if you are in an area serviced by a water treatment plant, during a power outage, it won’t be running properly and you may be under a “boil water” advisory before and once power is restored.
As far as food is concerned, food that is kept in the refrigerator or freezer would be of special concern. Keep the freezer and refrigerator doors closed as much as possible will keep things cold or frozen longer. In some cases a closed, full freezer could keep items frozen for up to two days. In the event that your power is off long term, some food may spoil regardless. One option would be to cook some frozen or refrigerated foods on a grill or camp stove if available to keep it from going to waste.
You should also have plenty of non-perishable food items on hand. Stock up on canned fruits and vegetables, nuts and dried fruit, canned meats/meals like ravioli or chili, instant coffee, granola bars, or cereal. You’ll also want to have a manual can opener to use with these items, too. Once the power comes back on, check the internal temperature of food inside the refrigerator. If it’s higher than 40 degrees, it should be thrown out. A good way to check for spoiled frozen food is to keep a bag of ice cubes in the freezer – after a power outage, if the bag of ice has melted and re-frozen – the food inside probably did the same, which means it needs to be thrown out as well.
If you rely solely on electricity to heat and cool your house, a long term power outage would definitely impact the environment in the home. Your emergency supplies should contain extra blankets, as well as clothing for layering for each family member. If you do not have an alternate heat source, like a gas fireplace or wood stove, dress in warm layers, and close off rooms that are not in use. Try to stay in one room as much as possible. Place extra blankets or quilts on beds to keep warm while sleeping. In summer, open windows to let in fresh air, and welcome any breeze that might come through. There are even personal battery operated fans that would also be useful. Make sure to have plenty of extra batteries for those, too.
If you have a family member who relies on an oxygen tank, breathing machine, suction machine, or other special medical equipment, talk with your medical care provider about emergency situations and how to handle those in regards to equipment. Also consult with your local fire and rescue department. They may have a list of residences with “special medical needs.” Make sure your home is on that list if you meet the criteria. Also, a home with an infant or toddler must make sure there is enough extra formula (and water to make it), if needed, jarred baby food, as well as diapers and wipes to last for several days. Knowing how to cloth diaper in an emergency would also be of help if you should run out of your supplies.
A few other things to have on hand during a long term power outage would be flashlights and extra batteries, a battery powered radio (also with extra batteries), and a fully charged cell phone, as electric cordless phones won’t work and land lines could also be down. You will also want to have the local numbers of police, fire, and rescue services, as well as that of your local power, water, and gas companies.
Being prepared for a long term power outage isn’t as daunting or difficult as you might imagine. All it takes is a little advance planning, careful attention to necessities, and being willing to make the best of a less than ideal situation. Are you prepared for a power outage?