Preparing for Power Outages

Tips for Surviving a Power Outage

power outage
Prepare a kit in advance of a power outage. © Big Stock Photo

You don't expect a power outage typically 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.

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. Here are tips to help you prepare for a power outage.


Buy Emergency Supplies

Don't wait for a power outage to buy emergency supplies. 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.

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.

Tape the following phone numbers to the bottom of your land-line telephone or inside a telephone book:


  • 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.

GO TO PAGE 2 OF 2: Caring for Pets During Power Outages.

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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