What to Do When the Power Goes Out

Jalesa Campbell
Updated Feb 25, 2021
4 min read
Power outages can happen at any time of the year, whether by tropical storm, thunderstorm, or snowstorm. It’s important to be ready year-round for a possible power outage. We’ve curated a list of important tips to remember in the event your power goes out.

How to Prep for Power Outages

  • Make a list of pertinent items that require electricity. This includes phones, computers/laptops, and also appliances. It’s always wise to try to keep devices like phones and laptops charged in case a power outage occurs so you can have a way to communicate with others. For appliances, you’ll want to disconnect them during an outage.
  • Buy batteries and supplies to use during the outage. Keep commonly sized batteries on hand for items like flashlights, spotlights, and even flameless candles. Also consider backup battery packs that can charge devices like your phone or tablet.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors. Invest in carbon monoxide detectors if you don’t already have them in your home to protect against dangerous gas levels. Remember that carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, so you won’t be able to detect it with your senses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors about five feet from the floor or on the ceiling.
  • Make sure you have fully-functioning smoke detectors. FEMA recommends testing your smoke detectors regularly, at least once each month with replacement every 10 years. You’ll want to make sure they’re fully functional in case of an emergency to help save your family and home.
  • Stock up on non-perishable foods and hygiene supplies. Try to keep a stock of non-perishable foods like canned goods on hand in your pantry in case of an outage. You should also keep bottled water, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, soap, a thermometer, and additional goods on hand. Hydration is important as well as the ability to sanitize when necessary.
  • Prepare blankets, coats, and layers of clothing. For staying warm, have layers of clothes, blankets, and coats on hand so you and loved ones can wrap up. It’s also a good idea to have towels on hand that you can use to help seal off doors to prevent drafts from coming in during cooler weather.
  • Stock up on medications in case of emergencies. Make sure you have essential medications on hand, such as for asthma, allergies, chronic conditions, and occasional illnesses. If a medical emergency happens during a power outage, call 911.
  • Have supplies on hand for keeping pets and animals warm. For indoor and outdoor pets, make sure they can stay warm — even pets are at risk of developing hypothermia. Consider pet coats or jackets if you have a dog or cat. If your pet lives outdoors or you have livestock, try to insulate where they stay with hay.
  • Consider investing in a generator. Generators, whether portable or non-portable, can be costly, but they can be convenient during an outage. Just make sure that you use the generator outdoors and keep it at least 20 feet away from the windows of your home. You don’t want to risk carbon monoxide poisoning, so make sure you follow best practices when using a generator.

What to Do During a Power Outage

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer closed. Retain as much coolness as possible in your refrigerator and freezer. Once food temperatures rise above 40 degrees or food has been left inside your refrigerator for two or more hours, it’s recommended to discard the food. Don’t take any chances or you may risk food poisoning.
  • Disconnect appliances. Unplug any appliances during an outage to prevent damage from surges and energy spikes.
  • Be careful if you light candles. While you can use candles for light, be careful that you have sufficient ventilation as candles do emit carbon monoxide. You’ll want to refrain from using candles in a poorly ventilated area of the house.
  • Check on your neighbors if possible. If conditions are permitting, check to make sure your neighbors are okay, especially if they are elderly or have children.
  • If conditions are too bad, leave but be careful. For conditions that are too rough to ride out at home, check with a family member, friend, or neighbor to see if they might be able to accommodate. You can also also find out if there’s a place in the community where you can go for access to power and sufficient supplies. Remember to be on the lookout for limbs, flood conditions, downed power lines, and other hazards.

What to Do After a Power Outage

  • Don’t take your chances on food. It might be tempting to taste-test food, but it’s better to discard food, especially perishable items like milk and eggs, once they have been without refrigeration for two or more hours.
  • Discard medication if it may no longer be safe to take. If you or a member of your household takes medication that needs to be refrigerated and it has not been refrigerated for more than 24 hours, Ready.gov recommends discarding it for safety reasons.
  • Blow out any candles. It’s easy to forget any candles that are burning once power is restored. Make sure you check every room to blow them out and prevent any fires.

5 Things You Should Not Do During a Power Outage

1. Do not use a gas stove to heat the home. With a gas stove, you could run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning by leaving the stove on and in the event the flame runs out. Additionally, the risk of having a home fire is present, so it’s better to avoid using your gas stove or oven for heating.

2. Do not use a vehicle to heat the home in your garage. Using your vehicle to warm up the house from the garage (and while also in the vehicle without proper ventilation) can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s safer to use a space heater in the home (not in the vicinity of flammable objects) or bundle up to stay warm.

3. Do not use a charcoal or gas grill indoors for heating. As with using a gas stove or vehicle to heat the home, do not bring a charcoal or gas grill inside for heating.

4. Don’t leave a wood fireplace or candles burning while you’re asleep. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), between 2014 and 2018, approximately 7,610 home fires were caused by candles. The NFPA also reports that about two in five home heating equipment fires have involved solid fuel. It’s easy to forget to blow out a candle before resting or to refrain from putting out the fireplace because of the warmth, but it’s critical for protecting lives.

5. Don’t use a generator indoors. We’ve mentioned it before, but please do not bring a generator indoors or use it within 20 feet of your home. The exhaust from a generator needs to be directed away from the home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

When to Seek Medical Assistance

If you or someone in your household begins to show signs of hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, or experiences complications due to a medical condition, call 911. To report an outage or find out details on when the power may be restored, contact your energy supplier. Below are common signs and symptoms to lookout for with hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Common signs of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Confusion
  • Slurring of speech
  • Memory loss
  • Tiredness

*Source: CDC

Common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Conusion
  • Vomiting
  • Upset stomach

*Source: CDC

Photo by groveb / GettyImages

Safety and Security Reporter

Jalesa Campbell

Jalesa is one of Safety.com's staff experts on home security, natural disasters, public safety, and family safety. She's been featured on Today.com and elsewhere.

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