Staying Safe During a Power Outage

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We’ve all been there. Going about our business when all suddenly the lights flicker and everything goes dark. Power outages happen from time to time. Whether someone runs into a telephone pole, a severe storm brings down a power line, or a rolling blackout shuts down an entire section of the grid, you’ll still be in the same place – the dark.

Steps to take in a power outage

To prepare for the next power outage that may affect your home, take a few simple actions to help you stay safe. 

  • Put several flashlights around the house in known places. Be sure to check them every so often to make sure the batteries are still working. If the power goes out, having several flashlights around the house will prevent you from having to search for one when you need it the most.
  • Contact your utility company. Call your local utility or, if possible, use your cell phone’s data plan to contact your utility company via their website. Reporting a power outage will help your company know which areas have been affected. 
  • Stay safe while you wait. While you’re waiting for the electricity to be restored, remember to take safety precautions to keep your household out of harm’s way. 

What to do first during an electrical outage

Power outages can be caused by natural weather events like tornadoes, winter storms, hurricanes, or other man-made causes like infrastructure work or fire prevention. If there’s a chance the power outage is only affecting your home, check that everything is in order before going any further. Once you have a flashlight in hand, check the electrical or fuse box. Fuses can be tripped if you happen to overload the system, such as using too much energy at once. If the power outage or blackout is widespread, contact your utility company.  

The next steps 

After you call your utility company and report the outage, there’s not much else to do but wait. Try to stay safe and comfortable, or get the family involved in a few power-free activities around the house, such as board games or puzzles. 

What is it safe to do when the power is out?

Sitting through a power outage will usually only be a temporary annoyance rather than a dangerous situation. However, an extended power outage can leave many people wondering what activities are safe to do around their homes. By making smart, cautious decisions, your whole family can stay safe and secure while waiting for the electricity to come back. 

Power outage safety FAQs

As always, use your best judgment when it comes to each individual situation surrounding your area’s power outage. Whether downed power lines and power surges can all affect what actions you should or should not take while the electricity is out. Here are a few common frequently asked questions regarding safety during a power outage:

Is it safe to shower or take a bath during a power outage? 

Yes, it is safe to bathe during a power outage. Be aware that your water heater, which uses electricity, will not be working, so you may only have chilly water after you use any water stored in your water tank. 

Is it safe to drink tap water during a power outage? 

Usually. Municipal water supplies are typically fine to use when the power is out. However, stay alert of local recommendations via news or the radio on whether it is safe to drink water during an electrical outage. Flooding, water line breaks, and local water purification systems can sometimes affect water quality during a power outage. 

Is it safe to eat food from the refrigerator during a power outage? 

Yes, for a while. It’s an innovative idea to limit opening and closing the refrigerator and freezer as much as possible to preserve your food. However, refrigerated perishable items will be safe to eat for up to four hours after a power outage. After four hours, meat, eggs, and dairy products should be disposed of because these items grow bacteria very quickly when not refrigerated.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines suggest that food can safely stay in a closed freezer for up to 48 hours if the freezer is full, or up to 24 hours if the freezer is half-full. 

Is it safe to go outside during a power outage? 

Maybe. Use your best judgment on whether to go outside when the power is out. If your area is experiencing severe weather or you see downed power lines near you, stay inside. Power lines on the ground are extremely dangerous, and it’s best to keep your distance. Also, if you do observe a downed line, you should immediately contact your utility company, even if you’ve already reported the outage.

Is it safe to burn candles during a power outage? 

Candles are a viable alternative for interior light during an outage, but lit candles should not be left unattended. If you were burning candles, be sure you extinguish all flames before you leave the room. 

Original publication date 11/5/2017.


Lisa Iscrupe is a writer and editor who specializes in energy, the deregulated electricity market, and solar power. Her work has been referenced by CNN, The Daily MBA, The Media Bulletin, and other national sources. Follow her at @lisaiscrupe.

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