Although it doesn’t happen to most of us nearly as often anymore, 500,000 people in the United States still experience a loss of power for two hours or more on any given day of the week. Severe weather is the major cause of these outages (tornadoes, hurricanes, strong winds, wildfires and other natural causes), although equipment failures account for some. Power outages cost our economy nearly $80 billion every year. The effect on those at home ranges from the inconvenience of losing the air conditioner on a hot day to the serious potential impact on those who depend on electrically-powered medical equipment.
With today’s Smart Grid technology, oftentimes the only way we know something is happening is that the lights flicker. Most outages originate in the distribution system between the home and the neighborhood power substation, and when the grid senses a problem (like a downed power line or a blown transformer), it automatically reroutes the power around it. But if you are unfortunate enough to become one of the unlucky 500,000 one day, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If you have a smart meter and you lose power, chances are your utility company already knows. Check with your neighbors to see if they have power. If not, try to notify your energy provider to ensure they are aware of the problem. If the outage is limited to your home, check your circuit breaker panel or fuse box. If the problem is not a fuse or breaker, check the service wires leading to the house. If there is obvious damage or wires are on the ground, stay at least 25 feet away and notify your electric provider.Turn off air conditioning, all appliances, electronic equipment and tools to prevent a power surge when power is restored.
- Turn off all lights except one inside and one outside so both you and the power company crew outside will know that power has been restored to your location.
- Don’t open the refrigerator or freezer unless absolutely necessary (a full freezer will keep food frozen for 24-36 hours if the door remains closed).
- If it is dark, use flashlights instead of candles, if possible. If you have to use candles, be sure to use proper candle holders, never leave them unattended, and keep them out of the reach of children. Always extinguish them before going to sleep.
- In hot weather, put on lightweight, light-colored clothing and drink plenty of water. Put on layers of warm clothing if it is cold outside.
- Never use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping heating equipment or generators indoors. Never use the oven as a source of heat. If you use your vehicle as an alternate charging source for your electronic devices, move the vehicle out of the garage if you are going to let it idle.
- If you know the power is going to be out for an extended period and you are able to do so, consider moving to another location, such as the home of a friend or relative, hotel, or a public facility like the mall, movie theater, or designated cooling or warming shelter.
Admit it – we’re spoiled. We don’t like to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Unfortunately, life happens and sometimes all we can do is be prepared, be smart, be safe and make the best of it. When the lights go out, make yourself as comfortable as you can, take a nap, read a book, talk to your family members, play games with the kids, check on your neighbors or, weather permitting, get everyone out for an impromptu block party!