Power Outages

The recent power outages on the east coast as a result of Hurricane Sandy remind us that prolonged power outages are not only an inconvenience – they can threaten health and cause economic hardship. There are things you can do to prepare for an outage and to help mitigate the damages that can result.

General Preventive Measures

  • Create a business continuity plan. Try to establish an alternate work site if your facility were to lose power or become damaged or inaccessible.
  • Make sure employee contact information is up-to-date.
  • Establish pre-arranged meeting points for staff and volunteers in the event telephone and cell phone communication is cut off.
  • Be sure you have an inventory of your property. This can easily be done by taking pictures or videos.
  • Back up important documents and computer files. One way to do this is to make a copy of your computer’s hard drive with cloning or imaging software. Put the backup on an external hard drive or a set of DVDs and store the hard drive or DVDs in a chest that is waterproof and fireproof, or in a safe deposit box. Alternatively, use an online service to back up your files “in the cloud.”
  • Be sure that pipes that are prone to freezing are insulated or wrapped with heat tape.
  • Put together an emergency kit in the event you lose power for an extended period of time. Include non-perishable food items, bottled water, first aid kit, disinfectant hand soap, and batteries. For a more complete list, please download our Emergency Kit Checklist.

Immediately Before a Potential Outage

  • Have your emergency kit, flashlights and battery-operated radio ready and accessible.
  • Disconnect appliances and other electrical items that will automatically go on when service is restored. Power surges can cause significant mechanical damage.
  • Before the storm arrives, fully charge your cellular phone and other electronic devices, as well as rechargeable batteries.
  • If you have a telephone system that requires electricity to work, such as a cordless phone or answering machine, plan for alternate communication. Have a standard telephone handset or fully-charged cellular phone as a back up.
  • Fill a bathtub or other large basin with water if you are on a well and a heavy storm is predicted. The water can be used for washing or flushing toilets.

During an Outage

  • If you have a refrigerator/freezer on premises, try not to open the doors. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold enough for a few hours. A freezer that is half full will hold for up to 24 hours; a full freezer will hold for 48 hours.
  • Try not to use candles, but if you do use them, please use extra caution.
  • If your heat goes out during a storm, close the door of rooms you do not need and dress in layers. If you need to use an alternate heating source such as a kerosene heater, fireplace or wood stove, be sure to have adequate ventilation to the outside. Without ventilation, carbon monoxide fumes can build up in your home and cause sickness or death. Never use a natural gas or propane stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Disconnect appliances, equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. Power surges can damage equipment such as computers, and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or heating system, when power comes back on.
  • If the outage is prolonged and the weather is cold, open faucets to a steady drip so pipes do not freeze.

After a Storm

  • Be extra cautious if you go outside to inspect for damage after a storm. Downed or hanging electrical wires can be hidden by trees or debris, and could be live. Never attempt to touch or moved downed lines.  Keep children and pets away from them.
  • Do not touch anything power lines are touching, such as tree branches or fences. Always assume a downed line is a live line. Call your utility company to report any outage-related problem.
  • If you’re cleaning storm debris, don’t pile it in the road or near utilities poles and equipment. This will only impede emergency responders.
  • If a power line falls on your car you are at risk of electrical shock – stay inside until a trained person removes the wire. If you are in danger and must leave the car, open a window and jump directly to the ground. Avoid contact with any metal part of the car.
  • Don’t use charcoal to cook or provide heat indoors – it gives off deadly carbon monoxide gas. Make sure all combustible-fuel space heaters are used with proper ventilation, and never use your gas or propane oven as a source of heat.

Generator Safety

  • A generator should only be used outside on stable ground and away from any windows and vents to prevent deadly fumes from entering the home through an opening.
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions. This will help you operate the generator as safely as possible.
  • Do not connect the generator to your home’s wiring. Power can flow out of your home into the electric system creating a hazard for crews working in the area.
  • Install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home. CO is an odorless, colorless gas produced by fuel combustion that can make you ill with flu-like symptoms and in extreme cases can be fatal. If you have CO detectors, makes sure the batteries are fresh.
  • Never fill the generator with fuel while it is running or still hot, and don’t store gasoline in your home.
  • You will not be able to use all appliances at once. You may have to turn off some appliances to avoid overload. And make sure any connected appliances are off before starting the generator.
  • Generators should be used for emergency standby power ONLY and for short periods of time. Your refrigerator does not need to run 24 hours a day to keep food fresh. Monitor the internal temperature, which should be kept at 40° or below.
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