Every summer, our neighborhood experiences a power outage at least one a month. These power outages seem to happen for all sorts of reasons. Car wrecks and construction mishaps can take out power lines, as well as animals who gnaw on the lines. Sudden wind storms and bad weather can cause lines to fall and topple over the poles. In some states, outages known as a rolling blackouts
are created to conserve energy and prevent the entire electrical grid from failing.
While a summer power outage typically last only a several hours, some outages can last late into the night which is really hard on a family. It’s especially tough during a heat wave when temperatures are in the triple digits. Since you’ll never know how long a power outage might last in your area, you should always be prepared for the worse.
Keep a stash of emergency supplies on hand
I keep my supplies in an old plastic crate on the shelf in my laundry room. This location works for us because it’s so easy to find in the dark. The items we keep in our crate are essential items for a power outage and include:
Batteries and flashlights for every member of the family
Portable radio; either a hand crank or battery operated
4 gallons of water
Granola bars and trail mix
Other things you can do to be prepared
In addition to the emergency kit, there are a few other things you should do to be prepared for a summer power outage. These include keeping several jugs of frozen water in the freezer, and switching out one of your cordless phones for one that directly plugs into the wall. A couple of rolls of duct tape and your winter blankets are also essential to cover large west and south facing windows. A roll of heavy duty, extra wide aluminum foil will work for smaller windows. If you have small kids in the house, stash a collection of never-been-opened kid activities to help keep them quietly engaged during the outage.
Plan for meals and how you will feed your family. During heat waves, it’s best to eat smaller, lighter meals that are low in protein. For things like Tuna Helper or mac and cheese, use a single burner propane camp stove. Coleman makes a great one for about $30; remember though, propane or kerosene stoves are only safe for outdoor use. Also keep a selection of easy to prepare, non perishable meals in your pantry. During a power outage, most stores will close down.
Unless you have a swimming pool, lots of shade trees, or easy access to a cooling shelter, the coolest place during the power outage is indoors. Rooms in the basement or the north side of the house are often the coolest, and the rooms your family should shift to when interior temperatures start to rise.
We also stash several of those silly, battery operated, water bottles with the built in fans. These things run about $3, but are a fun and effective in cooling down a hot child.
What to do once the power goes out
Once the power outage hits, the first step is to turn off the light switches, the air conditioning unit, TVs, computers, and electronic equipment at the power strip. Once the power returns, it could cause a surge that will damage equipment. Do leave one light on so you’ll know when the power has been restored.
With the air conditioning now off, the next step is to close blinds and drapes to keep the house cool. For windows of intense southern and western exposure, cover these with either blankets or the aluminum foil for a total sunblock. It sounds corny, but this will help keep the temperature of your home to around 84 degrees which is quite tolerable. Shutting doors also helps, and keeps the warmer air from moving into interior rooms. Move your family into the basement or the coolest room of the house.
Your family also should switch to loose, light weight clothes and drink plenty of water during the power outage, even if they don’t feel thirsty. Everyone should slow down and keep activity to a minimum since this will cause body temperatures to heat up quickly. Adults should avoid alcohol, including beer, since alcohol will dehydrate the body.
Transfer refrigerator type snacks such as yogurts and juice, to a small Playmate cooler. Then, leave the doors to your refrigerator and freezer closed, only opening the door briefly when it’s time fix meals. Remember during a heat wave, eat smaller meals and eat more frequently. Try to avoid meals that are rich in protein since protein increases metabolic heat.
As the temperatures start to heat up indoors, look to ways to cool down your family with water. Use the little spray bottles with the fans, or place wet towels around your neck. Take a cool bath or cool shower. Go outside for dip in the kiddie pool if one is available. Stay out of the sun, since sunburn can make it that much more difficult to cool down. Hook up the hose to a portable misting unit which can lower surrounding air temperatures by 30 degrees.
If the heat is too intense, take the bus to a mall, movie theater, or a cooling station. These places have generators that can keep the air conditioning running, even during a power outage. Several hours of air conditioned temperatures a day seems to reduces the amount of heat related illnesses, according to the Disaster Center.
For more information about heat waves and power outage preparedness, visit the website of the American Red Cross listed in the resource section.