5. Prepare for an extended power outage.
Here’s the good news: Many power outages last less than an hour, says Russell. Still, they can go on for days. “If an extended outage is expected, it’s important to find out how long you should expect to be without power—and note that it may take hours or even days longer than anticipated for the power to come back on,” Russell says.
It may be easier to stay with friends and family—or in a hotel—if the power outage will be lengthy, especially for vulnerable people in your household, says Russell. “If this is not possible, make sure you have enough coolers and ice to keep your food and medicines refrigerated, and enough clothes and blankets to keep everyone warm during winter,” he says.
In some cases, you may have advanced notice that a power outage may occur. Use that to your advantage! Fully charge all cell phones and portable batteries. If you have a car, fill the tank, or fully charge the battery if you have an electric vehicle. Get ice for coolers. Stock up on nonperishable foods, such as canned goods, peanut butter, and protein bars.
“Preparing for an extended outage will ensure you can handle the shorter ones with ease,” says Russell.
Smart Tip: Don’t forget to take advantage of your car, which can be a great way to charge devices. “Your car is your biggest power source,” Halyburton says. You’ll just need to make sure you have a means to access that power—an inverter can convert your car’s DC power from the battery into the AC power that you need to charge your phone.
What to Do When the Power Goes Out
Take these simple steps when the power outage starts:
- Unplug your electronics. Doing so ensures that they won’t be damaged by any surges that accompany the power being restored.
- Turn off light switches. Leave on a single light or radio so you’ll know when the power is restored.
- Keep the fridge and freezer closed. An unopened refrigerator can keep food at a safe temperature for up to four hours, per the USDA. Food in a full freezer will stay frozen for 48 hours. Use a thermometer you can read without opening the door to make sure the temperature doesn’t rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the refrigerator or zero degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer. You can also use a thermometer to check the temperature of an individual food item before cooking or eating.
- Check on others. If you can safely do so, reach out to your neighbors. Older adults and young children may be especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures according to FEMA.
In general, your best bet is to stay put during a power outage if officials recommend it, says Halyburton. That way, you don’t have to drive on unlit roads or navigate intersections without traffic lights. However, if authorities say to evacuate or if the heat or cold is extreme, you should go to a community location or seek shelter elsewhere.