Sittin’ in the dark, what do you do now?

Yes, of course you have a flashlight. But do you know where it is? Could you find it in the dark? Do you have extra batteries? Or a rechargeable (and fully charged) flashlight? Have a back up generator? You will still need to have a flashlight on hand to help find your way.

We suggest having a special box that you keep fresh batteries, charging stations and flashlights in – if they are rechargeable, keep them charged. You never know when you will need them.

Think about how you and your family may react to being in the dark. Being in the dark can be a scary experience for children. Turn it into a game by playing “lights-out” when you have plenty of light so they learn how to find the flashlight stash in the dark. Stick a flashlight or headlamp in an empty clear, plastic jug to make a lamp that lights up a lot more than the small light on its own could.

Candles are a great (and romantic!) backup. But remember, safety first. Candles are open flames and can be potentially dangerous. Make sure your candle holders are sturdy.

Caught sitting in the dark with no flashlights or candles? Got a craft box? Break out the crayons and place in an upright position with a sturdy base that won’t catch on fire. A new crayon will burn for about 30 minutes. Feeling extra crafty since you have all the time on your hands now that you’re in the dark? Home-made candles can also be made by soaking a string or rope in olive oil. Even an orange can be turned into a candle.

So now that you’re no longer in the dark, take your flashlight (or crayon candle) and go investigate the cause of the outage if you don’t already know it (if its storming, then the cause is probably a downed power-line, in that case don’t go outside in the storm).

If  its not storming and the lights go off, the first thing to do is determine whether it is really a power outage or a problem with your own breaker. Check your main electric panel. If you have blown a fuse or tripped a breaker, one or more of the switches may be turned off. Simply turn it back on and power should be restored.

If it is not a fuse or a breaker, check to see whether that power is out for your neighbors, too. Power can be lost in a very localized area. For instance, houses that are served by the same pole-mounted power transformer will be dark, while houses next door are fully lit.

If it is an outage, call your utility company and report it. Sometimes it can be hard to get through because other customers are also reporting interruptions. Please be patient. It is likely they already know about the problem and are working to fix it.

Did you know that while cordless phones or extension phones that require connection to an electric outlet will not work during power outages, but models that only need to be plugged into the phone jack will work? Also, your cellphone should work if you have the capability and data to call.

Another thing to do is to go around and turn off  and unplug your appliance that were running during the time of the outage.

Why? Here are three reasons:

  • Protecting your appliances: When power returns, there will be a surge of electrical energy that could damage sensitive equipment like computers, laptops, or televisions.
  • Safety: It is easy to forget during an outage that you had a stove burner or an iron on. If you’re away from home when electric service is restored, you can have a serious safety hazard.
  • Helping your utility to restore service: Restarting appliances can use almost double the amount of electricity that they use when running normally. Think of the way lights dim briefly when the A/C fan comes on. Then imagine the power demands placed on the electric system when every customer needs more power than usual – all at the same time. When the main switches are re-energized, this demand can cause breakers to trip. It helps if you don’t have all your appliances waiting to draw power the instant it is restored.

There are two options for how to turn off your appliances, both with advantages and disadvantages:

  • The first option is to unplug them one by one, leaving one light on to let you know electricity has been restored. However, it is easy to miss an appliance, and awkward to get around in the dark.
  • The second option is to turn off your main circuit breaker. This ensures that you will not overlook anything. It does mean you will have to keep an eye on streetlights outside to let you know that power has been restored.

Other tips:

  • If the outage is likely to be prolonged, and the weather is hot, prepare to stay cool as your house heats up:
    • Drink plenty of water – your body stays cool more efficiently when well hydrated.
    • Keep an eye on young children and the elderly for signs of heat exhaustion. Call 9-1-1 in case of a medical emergency.
    • The basement is often cooler than the rest of the house, so you may want to gather your family there.
    • Dress in loose, light clothing.
    • Draw drapes or cover south-facing windows with blankets to keep heat out. However, you still need ventilation, especially if regular cold-air intake systems are not working. Keep a window open slightly for a breeze.
  • While it may be tempting, do not run extension cords to the home of a neighbor who still has power. It is a fire hazard.
  • The choice to install a standby generator is yours. However, this equipment can be extremely dangerous if it is not connected properly and operated knowledgeably.
  • Residential consumers probably do not need a standby generator to cope with shorter outages. For a prolonged outage, you have the additional headache of storing enough fuel to operate it.
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