How to prepare for cold weather power outages


Special to Civitas Media



Cold weather can bring wind, snow and ice. But cold weather also might be the culprit behind power outages.

Sudden power outages can be inconvenient and troublesome. The potential danger of a power outage only escalates when one happens during the winter. It is relatively easy to recover from a short-term loss of power, but extensive power outages can compromise human health and safety.

Relatively recent storms such as Hurricane Sandy illustrated just how challenging it can be for people to go without power, particularly today, when many people have grown accustomed to having everything available at the flick of a switch.

Heavy, wet snow can weigh down power lines or cause branches to break and damage electric cables. Poor road conditions can make it challenging for power company crews to arrive in affected areas and make repairs, which can lead to prolonged power outages. Men and women must prepare for blackouts at any time of the year, but especially so when the temperatures dip. Here’s how to prepare for an extended power outage.

• Keep your home well-stocked with safety devices. Purchase flashlights and batteries and keep them in an easily accessible location. Solar-powered rechargeable batteries last longer than more traditional batteries, and if you pair them with LED flashlights, you can extend the usage time and have more light when needed. Store bottled water and nonperishable foods in a pantry or in the garage. Fill gas cans with gasoline and store in a safe location. Many portable generators require gasoline to run, and gas pumps may not work during a blackout.

• Have an alternative heat source at the ready. When the power goes out, so do furnaces, which usually require an electrically powered blower or pump to work. If you have a backup generator, you may be able to plug in a space heater to warm one room in the house. Otherwise, a fireplace can provide some heat. If you do not have power and no other heating source, make arrangements to leave your home and stay with relatives or friends.

• Assess your water needs. Homes that receive water from a municipal water source should be alright in terms of supply during a power outage. Those who have well water and rely on septic systems will probably find themselves without water during an outage. These systems require electricity to pump water into the home. Store barrels of fresh water to use for washing, cooking and flushing toilets. FEMA recommends storing a three-day supply of water, or roughly three gallons, per individual.

• Keep important papers handy. Make a folder with copies of phone numbers, policy account numbers, banking information, and similarly valuable information. Remember, during a power outage you may not have computer access, and your mobile phone will only last as long as your next charge. Keep physical documents handy in case you need to leave home or contact service providers.

• Create extra insulation. Use plastic on windows to keep out some of the chill. Wrap pipes with newspapers or insulation to help safeguard against freezing. Block drafts at the bottom of doors by using a door sock or rolled up towel. Keep the entire family in one room to maximize body heat.

• Dress appropriately for the cold. Wear layers to keep warm and pay attention to your extremities, which are most susceptible to frostbite. Watch for signs of hypothermia such as uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.

• Don’t overlook entertainment. Keep books, puzzles, arts and craft supplies cards, and board games on hand. Invite friends over to quell the boredom.

• Have an evacuation plan in place. Know where you will go if you cannot stay in your home. Find out if a friend or family member has room for you. Hotels and motels are another option, but they may be booked during an outage.

Power outages can occur at any time but are especially common when snow and ice accumulates. Preparing for such outages in advance is paramount to your health and safety.

Special to Civitas Media

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