Power Outage Risks

Power Outage Risks

Most power outages last for just a short time, but even with today’s modern and reliable electricity grid, major power failures can still happen. Extreme weather, natural disasters, equipment failure or even human error can lead to outages that last hours or even days. Here are some tips to help you prepare for and cope with an extended power outage.

Be Prepared

  • The most important preparation in every emergency situation is to have a plan ready in advance. Follow the tips on this site to build an emergency preparedness kit and develop an emergency preparedness plan.
  • Use surge protectors for your electronics and other sensitive electrical equipment (including computers, televisions, DVD players). Many power strips have surge protection built in.
  • Keep at least one flashlight and some spare batteries in an easy-to-find location in your home. Check periodically to ensure the emergency flashlight is in place and works. Hand-cranked flashlights can also be a useful backup option.
  • Ensure you have at least one telephone that does not need electricity to function. Most home cordless phones will not work in a power outage. If you have a cell phone, keep it charged.
  • Make sure the various fuses and circuit breakers in your main electricity box are clearly labelled. Be ready to turn off most of your electrical appliances and lights (it helps avoid an overloaded system when power is restored). Leave one light switched on so you will know when the power comes back on.
  • Install a backup generator to ensure electrical power is available in the event of a power outage. The generator should be wired to a transfer switch by a licensed electrician so it can be automatically or manually switched on in the event of power loss.
  • Keep a bag of ice cubes in your freezer. You will know there has been an extended power outage, if you return from a trip to find the ice has melted and refrozen in your absence. All the food in your freezer should be discarded in this case.

Survive a Power Outage

  • Use flashlights and battery-powered camping lanterns as your main source of lighting whenever possible. Candles can be used in an emergency, but you should exercise great caution due to the fire risk. Never leave burning candles unattended.
  • If you must leave your home, remember street lighting including traffic lights may not be working. Treat intersections the same way you would treat a four-way stop.
  • Never go near or touch fallen power lines. Stay at least ten metres (33 feet) away at all times. Call your local energy utility to alert them to the damage and keep family members away from fallen lines and downed trees that may have power lines tangled in them.
  • Never use camp stoves, barbecues or propane/kerosene heaters indoors. The risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning is too great. Use extra layers of clothing to keep warm.
  • Keep freezer and fridge doors closed as much as possible to keep the food inside cold longer. If you expect the power to be out for more than four hours, move all dairy products, meat and fish into the freezer and keep the door closed.
  • Keep children calm and occupied with board games, crafts and reading.

When Power is Restored

  • As power gets restored, the electrical system will require time to stabilize. Turn on your most essential appliances and lights first. Wait at least 10 minutes before reconnecting others.
  • Safely extinguish any candles. Return flashlights and other emergency supplies to your emergency preparedness kit.
  • Remember to reset all clocks, alarms and other timers.
  • Check food in your freezer and refrigerator. If the freezer door has been kept closed, food should stay frozen 24 to 36 hours, depending on the temperature outside. A food thermometer can indicate whether food in your refrigerator or freezer is still cold enough to be safe. Any perishable food warmer than 4°C (40°F) should be discarded. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Remember to check on your neighbours, especially the elderly and disabled.