Power problems

It’s important to know how to handle a power outage to keep everyone safe and comfortable until power can be restored.

Short-term power outages can be a minor inconvenience. A long-term power outage can cause a major disruption to daily life.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Electric Power Industry Report says interruptions in electric service vary by frequency and duration across the many electric distribution systems that serve the country. In 2016, the most recent year for data, customers experienced an average of 1.3 interruptions and went without power for around four hours.

When a storm strikes or an accident knocks out electric power lines or other infrastructure, it may take much longer for power to be restored. During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, more than eight million people lost power and outages lasted for days in some major cities. Outlying areas were without power for weeks, according to National Geographic. It’s important to know how to handle a power outage to keep everyone safe and comfortable until power can be restored.

Invest in a generator

If you live in an area that is affected by frequent power outages, a power generator may prove a worthwhile investment. Generators come in two basic types. A portable generator can be rolled into place and uses gasoline as fuel. Plug in a set number of household items, depending on the amount of power the appliance can accommodate. A whole-house generator can be hard-wired to a home’s electrical system and automatically engage should a power outage occur.

Prepare in advance

In anticipation of a power outage, stock up on battery-powered devices like flashlights, lanterns and radios. Charge mobile phones and other devices so they’re at 100% power.

Keep a cache of nonperishable food available and plan to use any perishable items that are in the refrigerator first. A refrigerator can keep food cold for about four hours after power has ceased, states Ready.gov, while a freezer can keep the temperature for about 48 hours if full. Packing these appliances with ice or frozen bottles of water can help.

Purchase books, board games and puzzles to have activities to pass the time until power resumes.

During a power outage

Report the power outage to the power company if it seems localized; otherwise, wait for updates to see who is affected.

Try to remain cool or warm if the HVAC system is not functioning. Pool resources by having everyone in the family gather in one room of the house. Older adults and children are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures.

Maintain food supplies that do not require refrigeration, including two gallons of bottled water per individual. People who take refrigerated medications should only ingest drugs that have been at room temperature until a new supply is available, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Power outages routinely occur and require planning and safety precautions until power is restored.