What to do when you experience a power outage? Our guide to preparation and recovery

Our guide to preparation and recovery

Author profile picture

Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

Author profile picture

Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

Ross h…

A storm is brewing, and it’s heading your way. Sometimes powerful winds or lightning strikes can lead to downed power lines or power surges.

Power outages can strike unexpectedly, disrupting our daily lives and challenging our comfort and safety. And research shows that they’re increasing both in frequency and in duration (from an average of 3.5 hours to now close to 7 hours)[1].

Whether caused by severe weather, equipment failure or other unforeseen circumstances, it's crucial to be prepared for such situations. In this article, we will discuss steps to take before, during and after a power outage to ensure your safety, protect your belongings and expedite the recovery process.

Before a power outage

A power outage can strike without warning, so it’s important to exercise preparedness. The first step is to make sure you have what you need now.

  1. Create an Emergency Kit: Keep your emergency preparedness kit somewhere that’s easy to access and that all family members are aware of. Make sure to have enough supplies to last for at least 72 hours. Assemble a comprehensive emergency kit that includes essential items such as:

    • Flashlights and battery-powered lanterns
    • Extra batteries
    • A first-aid kit
    • Non-perishable food
    • Water
  1. Charge electronic devices: If you are aware of a storm coming that might cause a blackout, there are other steps to take. Ensure that your electronic devices, such as cell phone, laptops and power banks, are fully charged before an outage occurs. This will help you stay connected and informed during the outage.

  2. Fill your gas tank: During and after a storm, gas stations can become backed up as people are powering their cars and generators. It’s a good idea to have a full gas tank, especially if you may be called to evacuate. You can also potentially use your vehicle to charge your devices if they run low.

  3. Backup power sources: Consider investing in backup power sources like portable generators or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems for critical electronic equipment. These can provide temporary power during an extended power outage.

  4. Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector. People using generators or gas stoves for heating during an extended power outage can inadvertently lead to carbon dioxide building up to dangerous levels. Having a carbon monoxide detector can help keep your home safe.

  5. Register with your state or utility company if you require medical assistance. If you have medical equipment or medical devices that require power, many states and some utility companies have ways you can register that status so help can be sent quicker in the event of an outage[2].

During a power outage

Once the electrical power is out, it’s time to put your emergency plan into action.

  1. Safety first: Prioritize safety by using flashlights instead of candles to avoid fire hazards. If you use a generator follow all generator safety tips and manufacturer’s instructions. Place it outdoors in a well-ventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

  2. Preserve food: Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to maintain the cold temperature and protect refrigerated foods. A full freezer can keep food frozen for up to 48 hours, while a half-full freezer can do so for 24 hours. Consider using coolers with ice packs for perishable items.

  3. Protect electronics: Turn off electronic devices to prevent damage from power surges when the electricity is restored. Use surge protectors to safeguard sensitive equipment like computers and TVs.

  4. Investigate the cause: If you aren’t sure what the cause of the power outage is, examine your circuit breaker to see if your electrical system was overloaded. Call your utility company to see if there is a known outage in your area. If yours is the only house affected, call an electrician to diagnose the issue.

After a power outage

Once your power is back in working order, after you breathe a sigh of relief, there are a few more steps to take.

  1. Gradual power restoration: When power is restored, wait a few minutes before turning on electronic devices. Gradual power restoration helps prevent a sudden surge that could damage equipment.

  2. Check food safety: Inspect perishable food items for signs of spoilage, such as an off smell or unusual texture. When in doubt, discard the food to avoid the risk of foodborne illness.

  3. Document damages: Take photographs or videos of any damage to your property or belongings. This documentation will be valuable when filing an insurance claim and can help expedite the claims process.

  4. File a home insurance claim: If the power outage results in damage to your home or possessions, review your insurance policy to determine what is covered. Common claims may include spoiled food, damage to electronics or structural damage caused by extreme weather conditions.

Wrapping up

Power outages are inconvenient and, in some cases, life-threatening. But with proper preparation and quick action, you can minimize the impact on your daily life. From assembling an emergency kit to protecting electronic devices and understanding the coverage of your home insurance policy, these steps will help you navigate power outages with greater ease and confidence. Stay informed, stay safe and be ready for whatever challenges may come your way.