Power Outage

In today's world most of us are dependent on electricity to carry on our daily activities, whether it is our studio lights, machinery, and computers in the studio or heating, refrigeration, and our coffee maker at home. But, a widespread power outage can have a major impact on a community, compromising emergency services, water supplies, and the ability to purchase commodities like gasoline or food.

In 2011 a widespread outbreak of tornadoes took down TVA power transmission towers feeding the city of Huntsville, Alabama, plunging most of the city in darkness. This section contains some tips gained by observing how the residents of the city coped with a power disruption lasting most of a week.  Fortunately, emergency workers made heroic efforts to restore power much more quickly than anticipated, so loss of a safe water supply and other major disruptions was averted.

A few simple preparations and knowledge of what to do can make the difference between an adventure and a disaster.

Here are some tips for getting by in a widespread and extended power outage:

  • Don't open your refrigerator or freezer unnecessarily after power is off.

  • Always have a good cooler on hand-and ice in the freezer.

  • Get your food out of the refrigerator before it goes bad, and throw out anything that is questionable. If you get sick, it may be difficult to get emergency services.

  • Turn off power to your appliances, especially your stove and other things that could cause a fire or injury if they came on unexpectedly. Turn off power to HVAC, water heater and other heavy power users, to help avoid a spike in demand when the power comes back on. Leave a light or two on so you will know when you have power.

  • Have some emergency cash on hand. Even if stores are open, most will only be able to accept cash because of loss of power and/or data lines. Functioning ATM's are bound to have long lines and may be far away.  That is a problem when gasoline is in short supply, too.

  • Conserve water. Have a back-up supply of drinking water. There may be no power to water treatment facilities, pumps, or monitoring equipment. Along with hospitals those are often the the first priorities for restoring power, but it is possible that safe drinking water may be in short supply for a while.

  • Conserve gasoline. It may be several days until gas stations are able to get generators and rig up to their pumps. Functioning gas stations may be in short supply, far away and have long lines.

  • This should be a no-brainer: If you have a generator, don't put it inside. There is usually a rash of carbon monoxide poisonings from running generators in enclosed spaces like garages.

  • Don't try to rig up a portable generator to your house wiring. Besides being dangerous to you, the power goes back down the lines and line-workers get electrocuted.

  • Run the generator only for critical functions to conserve fuel. Also, turn off the generator before refueling.

  • Have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio on hand--this is your lifeline. And be sure you have a NOAA weather radio with a battery back-up. It may save your life, especially if a storm hits at night.

  • Be sure you have a good stock of batteries. Batteries, particularly D cells, may be in short supply.

  • Modern LED flashlights and lanterns will operate for an extended period of time on a few batteries. There are also solar-powered and hand-crank flashlights and lanterns available.

  • A portable cook stove or way to build a fire safely is handy if you require coffee, tea, or an occasional warm meal. Be sure to use it outdoors only!

  • If you are in a warm climate, you can heat water for bathing in the sun in a dark plastic container or garden hose. Truck stops sometimes advertise free showers to lure them in to buy gas.

  • Big box stores like Lowe's and Home Depot are usually prepared to do business in an emergency. They have backup power to their cash registers and bring in emergency supplies like generators quickly.

  • Keep your temper and cut EVERYONE lots of slack! 

Here are some additional resources for information on preparing for a power outage:

The American Red Cross has tips on Power Outage Preparedness.

Iowa State University published this fact sheet with tips for businesses: Power Outages and Your Business on their prep4agthreats.org website.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has safety tips to help you prepare for and cope with a sudden loss of power , including an excellent section on worker safety in a power outage.