Lights Out: Preparing for Extended Power Outages


January 26th, 2015

 

Most of us can, reluctantly, endure the occasional brief power outage. But an extended power outage (like some areas in the Northeast are expecting this week) can be a challenge. Especially when the experts are warning you of a high probability of lengthy power outages, it’s important to have a disaster plan in place.

 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) describes steps to take before, during, and after power outages, including conservation measures for areas subject to widespread utility brownouts or blackouts. Reminder: To prevent damage to electrical appliances as a result of power surges when power is restored, unplug any non-essential electrical appliances.

 

Medical Needs

Your family’s medical needs should top your emergency plan:

  • Prescriptions – Some drugs require refrigeration (for example, insulin, somatropin, and drugs that have been reconstituted). If electrical power has been off for a long time, the drug should be discarded. However, if the drug is absolutely necessary to sustain life (insulin, for example), it may be used until a new supply is available.Because temperature-sensitive drugs lose potency if not refrigerated, they should be replaced with a new supply as soon as possible. For example, insulin that is not refrigerated has a shorter shelf life than the labeled expiration date. (Please see the FDA’s Information Regarding Insulin Storage for more details.)If a contaminated product is considered medically necessary and would be difficult to replace quickly, you should contact a healthcare provider (for example, Red Cross, poison control, health departments, etc.) for guidance.If you are concerned about the efficacy or safety of a particular product, contact your pharmacist, healthcare provider, or the manufacturer’s customer service department.
  • Powered Medical Equipment – You may need a backup battery system for essential medical devices. The FDA offers tips for creating a personal emergency file for people who rely on electric-powered medical devices. Some communities have registration programs that place priority on restoring power to homes where medical equipment is in use. Check with your local authorities.

 

Refrigeration and Food Safety

  • Keep extra jugs of water in your refrigerator and blocks/bags of ice in your freezer. This will help to keep contents cold for longer periods of time.
  • If the power is out for less than 4 hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
  • If the power is out for longer than 4 hours, follow the CDC’s guidelines below:
    • For the freezer section – A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
    • For the refrigerated section – Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
    • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • For guidelines on refreezing food when the power comes back on, visit the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s page on Food Safety in an Emergency.

 

Generators

  • The American Red Cross offers tips on purchasing, installing, and safely using emergency generators. Take all necessary precautions to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning; don’t use a generator indoors, including in a basement or garage.
  • Keep in mind that in widespread catastrophes, gas stations may not have electricity to pump gas, so you may need to keep a supply of fuel for your generator on hand, requiring additional safe storage precautions.
  • Some whole-house generators use natural gas supplied from underground piping, which may be more dependable, except in earthquake zones.

 

Communications

  • Have a battery-powered emergency radio and extra batteries available.
  • Unless a widespread disruption takes out cell towers, your cell phone may continue to work in an emergency as long as you have a way to keep the battery charged.
  • Land lines / wired phones may also continue to work for phone sets that do not require batteries (i.e. Not portable). You may consider keeping an older phone on hand in case of emergency.

 

If you’re in the Northeast (Philly, NYC, Boston), you’ve most certainly heard the warnings about this week’s “Nor’easter”. It is expected to be a doozy and power outages are expected. Please take precautions to safeguard your family, your property, and/or your business.