Lights out: Preparing for power outages


Consider extended power outages when creating a disaster preparedness plan.


Most of us can, reluctantly, endure the occasional brief power outage from a weather event or other calamity.

But an extended power outage can be a challenge to our dependence on modern appliances and electronic devices, and disaster plans should take power loss into account. Lengthy power outages can result from many sources, and your disaster plans may change with the seasons:

  • weight of snow or ice downing lines in the winter
  • branches falling on wires during spring or summer storms
  • utility-driven blackouts or brownouts at any time of year

The Federal Emergency Management Agency describes steps to take before, during and after power outages, including conservation measures for areas subject to widespread utility brownouts or blackouts. Reminder: To prevent damage to electrical appliances as a result of power surges when power is restored, unplug any non-essential electrical appliances.

Special needs

Your family’s medical needs should top your emergency plan:

  • Prescriptions  ̶  Most refrigerated medicines will be fine for a few hours in the refrigerator, according to the website. After a longer outage, medications may lose their effectiveness. The Food and Drug Administration provides advice on medication safety following power outages.
  • Powered medical equipment  ̶  You may need a backup battery system for essential medical devices. The Food and Drug Administration offers tips for creating a personal emergency file for people who rely on electrically powered medical devices. Some communities have registration programs that place priority on restoring power to homes where medical equipment is in use. Check with your local authorities.

Refrigeration and food safety


  • The American Red Cross offers tips on purchasing, installing and safely using emergency generators. Take all necessary precautions to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning; don’t use a generator indoors, including in a basement or garage.
  • Keep in mind that in widespread catastrophes, gas stations may not have electricity to pump gas, so you may need to keep a supply of fuel for your generator on hand, requiring additional safe storage precautions.
  • Some whole-house generators use natural gas supplied from underground piping, which may be more dependable, except in earthquake zones.


  • Have a battery-powered emergency radio and extra batteries available.
  • Unless a widespread disruption takes out cell towers, your cell phone may continue to work in an emergency as long as you have batteries.
    • Stock extra phone batteries for emergencies, and keep a car charger on hand.
    • Hand-crank radios and phone chargers are also available for purchase.
    • Wired phones may also continue to work for phone sets that do not require batteries. You might consider keeping an older phone on hand to plug in during emergencies.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and policy service.

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