When the Lights Go Out

Power outages are unpleasant, but planning can make them more tolerable

By Pam Blair

Woman wearing headlamp and reading book
Be prepared for the darkness when your electricity is interrupted. Photo by Mike Teegarden

Despite your utility’s best efforts to keep your power on, Mother Nature sometimes has the last word.

Fallen tree branches, swirling winds, freezing rain and heavy snow all can wreak havoc on the power system, toppling poles, bringing down lines and leaving members without electricity.

To better cope in the cold darkness, make sure your home is equipped with a power outage kit. It should include:

  • A flashlight and extra batteries. Have a flashlight, oil- or battery-powered lamp or lantern.
  • Candles and matches. Although you should not carry them around in the dark, candles are safe when set on a flat, stable, nonflammable surface.
  • A battery-powered radio. If the outage is lengthy or associated with another emergency situation, radio reports will provide regular updates.
  • Emergency phone numbers. Keep numbers for your utility, doctor, fire department and police easily accessible.
  • A telephone connected directly to the phone jack. Cordless phones and phones with answering machines rely on electricity to operate.
  • A first-aid kit and prescription medications. Make sure you have an ample supply of all medicines you regularly use. During a storm, road travel may not be possible for several days.
  • Extra blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothes. If you are without heat for an extended time, close off one room to live in, and layer clothes.
  • Clean drinking water. Fresh water isn’t always available when the power goes out—particularly if you rely on a well. Have at least 1 gallon for each person per day.
  • A manual can opener and nonperishable food. Canned or instant food and freeze-dried meals are good to have on hand, but often require hot water and/or a source of heat to prepare (a camp stove and fuel may be handy, but be sure to use it outdoors). Breakfast bars, crackers, peanut butter, and canned or dried fruit require no preparation.
  • A cooler for storing frequently used foods.
  • Food will keep several hours in a closed refrigerator, and up to two days in the freezer. It will spoil more quickly if the door is opened or the refrigerator or freezer isn’t full.
  • Firewood and kindling. If you have a fireplace or wood stove, make sure you have an adequate supply of wood and plenty of matches.

Steps to Take When an Outage Occurs

Before calling your utility to report an outage, make sure your house hasn’t blown a fuse or tripped a circuit breaker. Are your neighbor’s lights off, too?

When you report the service interruption, be prepared to give your name and address. If you are not able to reach a person by phone—for instance, the lines are busy—you may also log into your SmartHub account to report and monitor an outage.

Turn on an outside light so repair crews can see when power has been restored. Trip the breaker to space and water heaters to avoid damaging the equipment and overloading the system, and unplug voltage-sensitive equipment. When power returns, don’t turn everything on at once.

Please be patient, and keep in mind major problems must be fixed first.

For more information, visit our Outage page.