Power outages can happen unexpectedly and may impact not only the community, but the economy as well.

Loss of power may disrupt communications, water supplies and transportation.

Modern-day retail businesses rely on power to conduct business. If a gas station is affected by the outage, gas pumps will not operate, ATM’s will not work for banking and other services. Refrigerated and frozen foods may spoil. Medical devices that rely on electricity will not function.

How can the public prepare for such circumstances? How do we stay safe and protected during an outage? Here are some tips from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

  • Keep freezers and refrigerators closed.
  • Use a generator, but ONLY outdoors and away from windows.
  • Do not use a gas stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Disconnect appliances and electronics to avoid damage from electrical surges.
  • Have alternate plans for refrigerating medicines or using power-dependent medical devices.
  • Check with local officials about heating and cooling locations open near you.

How to protect yourself during a power outage

Go to a community location with power if heat or cold is extreme.

Preparing for a power outage

Take an inventory of the items you need that rely on electricity.

Plan for batteries and other alternative power sources to meet your needs when the power goes out, such as a portable charger or power bank. Have flashlights for every household member. Determine whether your home phone will work in a power outage and how long battery backup will last.

Know your medical needs

Talk to your medical provider about a power outage plan for medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.

Using appliances during power outages

Install carbon monoxide detectors with battery backup in central locations on every level of your home.

Avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Generators, camp stoves and charcoal grills should always be used outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows. Never use a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home. Turn off or disconnect appliances, equipment, or electronics. Power may return with momentary surges or spikes that can cause damage.

Food storage

Have enough nonperishable food and water in storage for use during a power outage. Keep freezers and refrigerators closed.

The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if left unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours if left unopened. Use coolers with ice if necessary. Monitor temperatures with a thermometer. Throw out food if the temperature is 40 degrees or higher.

Generator safety

Generators can be helpful when the power goes out. However, it is important to know how to use them safely to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and other hazards.

  • Generators and fuel should always be used outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and attached garages.
  • Install working carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill you, your family and pets.
  • Keep the generator dry and protected from rain or flooding. Touching a wet generator or devices connected to it can cause electrical shock.
  • Use heavy-duty extension cords to connect the generator to appliances.
  • Let the generator cool before refueling. Fuel spilled on hot engine parts can ignite.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Returning after a power outage

When in doubt, throw it out! Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more, or that has an unusual odor, color or texture.

If the power is out for more than a day, discard any medication that should be refrigerated, unless the drug’s label states otherwise. Consult your doctor or pharmacist immediately for a new supply.

For more details the Department of Homeland Security has prepared this printable Power Outage Information Sheet.