It happens. Even in 2017 with all our modern technology, you’re still not safe from the occasional blackout. And while a power outage can be fun for a brief period of time, the longer the outage drags on, the higher tensions will rise in your home and the more dangerous the outage can be for your family and possessions.
Causes of a power outage
A power outage is commonly caused by one of two occurrences. The first is a power shortage inside your home, caused by a tripped fuse or circuit breaker. The second is that the power lines themselves have been compromised in some way. This is commonly because of severe weather but could also be due to a construction-related accident or even the activity of animals.
To determine if the problem is exclusive to your home, look for clocks, battery chargers, lights, televisions and anything else that may have been left on. If you can’t find a working item in any room, call a neighbor or look out the window to see if the homes around you are dark as well. If they are not, then the power problem exists in your home and you simply need to flip the circuit breaker. Before doing so, however, be sure to turn off or unplug as many things as possible. In-home power outages are generally caused by overburdening the system, and the best way to ensure your system returns successfully is to alleviate that burden as much as possible.
If the problem exists in other homes in your neighborhood, then you have little choice but to play the waiting game. Contact your local utility to alert them of the problem but leave the actual repair to the experts. Repairing a power line is dangerous — potentially life-threatening — work, even for the most well-trained individuals.
Preparing for a power outage
A power outage can last less than an hour but it could also extend to days or even weeks and can affect millions of people. And the longer an outage goes, the more perishable possessions are in danger of being lost. If your outage should be of the latter variety, creating a plan before an outage occurs can help you survive for the time being. To protect your family and your possessions, follow these tips:
1. The right light source. Your home should have a couple of working flashlights — at least one per floor — and they should always be returned to the same location so you can find them in the dark. Flashlights are a safer lighting alternative than candles or oil lamps, especially if your home has fallen victim to a potential gas leak due to severe weather. Before the storm arrives, test your flashlights to be sure they work and keep batteries close by in case you need them.
2. Prepare for any emergency. Like your flashlight, it’s a good idea to have an emergency first aid kit ready and waiting in a location where it will be easy to find in the dark. This emergency safety kit from the American Red Cross is a good place to start, and you can add to your safety kit by including any relevant medications you may need, a list of emergency phone numbers and any other personal items you may call for in an emergency.
3. Invest in backup power options. If you can afford one, a backup generator can support your power needs in the event of a blackout. Make sure the generator has an automatic breaker to disconnect it from the home and have it installed by a certified electrician. If you cannot afford a permanent backup generator, invest in a portable, battery-powered generator. This smaller model will provide you with the same benefits for a shorter period of time but should be sufficient for all but the most severe power outages.
4. Stock up. If severe weather is on its way, it’s good to plan for any eventuality. A portable cooler filled with ice can help you keep food or medications cold so you don’t have to open your refrigerator or freezer. This is important because once the cold air escapes this appliance, your system will not be able to replace it until the power returns. In addition, if your home’s water arrives via an electric pump, stock up with at least one gallon of water per day to be sure you have enough fluid for your cooking and drinking needs.
An hour or two of a blackout is a minor hindrance, but if the outage continues it can make life much more difficult. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place. You may not be able to repair the damage yourself, but with your provisions handy, you can make the best of the situation until the power comes back on and life returns to normal.