Preparing for Power Outages

Tips for Surviving a Power Outage

Tree fallen on house after storm
••• Prepare a kit in advance of a power outage.

You usually don't expect a power outage before it happens. You never know when disaster may strike your home. I survived when my home in Ventura, CA, fell into the ocean. A few years later, my Minneapolis home was the target of a freak hailstorm, which ripped baseball-sized holes through my roof and siding. More recently, during a torrential winter rainstorm, a 35-foot birch tree slammed into my Land Park home in Sacramento, taking the power lines with it.

My husband says I am jinxed, but the truth is a tragedy could strike anybody at any time.

All three incidents shared a common trait: a power outage. Power lines are often the first thing to go out. Below are tips to help you prepare for a power outage.


Buy Emergency Supplies

Don't wait for a power outage to buy emergency supplies. Do it now. If your power goes out, it's likely other home owners in your area will be affected as well. In that event, many stores will be raided and emergency supplies will be hard to find.

Buy emergency supplies before an emergency happens. Many power outages are short-lived, but some may last days. Here are some things to consider for a long-term outage. Stock up on:


  • Candles, minimum four to five dozen.
  • Candle stick holders. In a pinch, I folded aluminum foil around the candle bases and wedged them into Sake cups.
  • Matches and disposable lighters.
  • Battery-powered space heater.
  • Flashlights and extra batteries.
  • Canned goods and dry food mixes. Check a camping store for food supplies.
  • Water and juices.
  • Extension cords, long enough to reach your neighbor's house.
  • Hand tools such as hammer, screwdriver and wood saw.
  • Seasoned firewood.
  • Water repellent tarps.
  • Extra blankets.
  • Paper plates, cups and plastic utensils.
  • First-aid kit
  • Fire Extinguisher


Pack an Emergency Bag

If a power outage strikes at 4 AM, you do not want to stumble around in the dark with a flashlight trying to pack a bag. You may not know how long a power outage will last, so pack for at least a couple days. Remember, to pack personal hygiene items such as soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Include medicines and vitamins. Don't forget underwear and socks!


How to Keep Your Family Warm

Cotton and wool clothing should not be worn in damp or wet environments because they do not wick away moisture or quickly dry, although wool will insulate even if wet. Good choices are fleece for winter and polyester for summer.


  • Wear double layers in cold climates, and keep your head covered to retain loss of heat.
  • Do not turn on a gas stove for heat.
  • Buy space heaters that automatically shut off if they are moved or fall over.
  • Put extra blankets or sleeping bags on your bed at night.
  • If your neighbors have power, ask to run an extension cord, but do not overload the circuit by plugging too many appliances into it.


Emergency Procedures During Power Outages

If you have more than one phone line coming into your home, consider switching service to two separate telephone companies.

Often, both services won't stop working simultaneously.

It's also a good idea for another family member to subscribe to a different cellphone carrier, just in case your primary carrier's cell towers stop operating.

If your home is flooded, on fire, squashed by a tree or any other type of emergency happens, immediately call the fire department. Program the number for your local police department into your cell phone because 911 might not ring at an emergency source from a cell. Consider taking out flood insurance if you don't already have it.

Enter the following emergency numbers into your cellphone contact list:


  • Fire department.
  • Telephone company(ies).
  • Utility companies.
  • Police department.


Refrigerated Food Safety

Refrigerated food must be kept at temperatures of 40 degrees to avoid spoiling. Do not taste food to figure out if it's safe to eat.


  • A closed refrigerator will keep food safe for about four hours.
  • A closed freezer will maintain food quality for about 48 hours if full, 24 hours if half full.
  • 50 pounds of dry ice will keep a freezer cold for two days.

If your power outage lasts longer than four to eight hours, discard the following items:


  • Eggs
  • Mayonnaise
  • Leftovers
  • Milk products (except butter)
  • Fresh meats, poultry and seafood
  • Soft cheeses, low-fat cheese and shredded cheese
  • Creamy-based dressings, gravy and spaghetti sauce

After an extended power outage, discard all previously frozen products except breads, nuts, hard cheeses, fruit juices.

Preparing for Power Outages with Pets

All domestic pets, whether feathered, finned or furry, require special care during a power outage. Fish do not adjust well to temperature changes in the tank, and it's dangerous to expose birds to drafts. Dogs and cats, especially, are sensitive to disruptions in their routines and home turf. Pets often can sense your anxiety as well.

Keeping your pets calm, warm and fed during a power outage is necessary for their well being and your own peace of mind. It's tough to maintain tranquility in the midst of chaos. But you know that your pets count on you to care for them, so it's natural that you would want to do whatever you can to help them survive a power outage.

Here are a few tips to help keep your pets safe during a power outage:

Prepare a Back-up Plan for an Aquarium

Fish need oxygen and, in colder weather, a tank heater. Keep a battery-operated air pump on hand for emergencies, but those work well only in 10- to 20-gallon fish tanks.

Here are power outage aquarium tips:

  • Wrap the tank in blankets if the temperature drops
  • Fish can survive for about 12 hours in 60-degree water.
  • Withhold food to reduce activity in the bank because activity will deplete oxygen.
  • In extreme cases, most fish can survive about 48 hours if placed into a plastic (not metal) bucket, which is filled with tank water and set near a heat source such as a fireplace.
  • Most aquarium stores will NOT take your fish due to liability issues if the fish were to die.

How to Keep Pet Birds Warm

Many exotic birds thrive in tropical climates with humidity. It is important to keep indoor birds in an environment that is not too dry.

  •          Fireplace smoke and space heaters can irritate a bird's respiratory system.
  •          Cover bird cages with plenty of blankets.
  •          Move bird cages away from drafts, exterior doors and windows.
  •          If necessary, take your birds to a friend's home.

Plan for Evacuation of Pets

In an emergency when time is of the essence, you can always grab pillowcases off the bed and stuff your cats inside each. Call in advance to locate a pet-friendly motel, so you will know where to go. A pet emergency plan is crucial.

Keep the following items within easy reach:

  •          Cat or bird carriers.
  •          Pet food and bowls.
  •          Litter boxes, litter and scoop. The top of one of my litter boxes can be removed and used.
  •          Dog leashes.
  •          Pet medicines.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

Sources: United States Food & Drug Administration, United States Department of Agriculture