Power Outages – Mitigation (Actions Before, During, After)


A widespread power outage can have a major impact on a community, compromising emergency services, water supplies, and the ability to purchase commodities like gasoline or food.

The following actions are some important recommendations that you can follow through each stage of a Power Outage emergency:[1] [2]

Actions Before: Increase Knowledge, Determine Risk, Safeguard, Plan

General All-Hazard Actions:

  • Determine the disaster risks in your locale and the hazards that accompany them.
  • Increase your knowledge about the emergency warning signals and alert notifications used in your community.
  • Instruct family members how to shut off water, gas and electricity to your house.
  • Make the necessary property preparations to reduce the damage from the hazard.
  • Acquire a backup generator in case of a prolonged power failure.
  • Check into insurance (property, health, life, and hazard type).
  • Make the necessary financial arrangements in case of a sudden evacuation and power outage that shuts down local ATMs and banks.
  • Organize important documents and records and store them in a portable lock box or safe-deposit box.
  • Perform home inventory video taping and store tape in a portable lock box or safe-deposit box.
  • Develop an Emergency Communication Plan with evacuation plan and ask an out-of-state person to serve as the "family contact".
  • Assemble a shelter-in-place Emergency Supplies Kit.
  • Assemble a mobile Emergency Supplies Kit that can serve as a “grab and go” bag?
  • Get a family member trained in first aid and CPR.
  • Make the necessary preparations and arrangements for pets, seniors, and the disabled.
  • Familiarize yourself with the emergency plans of your family member's employment building, school, day care center, or nursing home.

Hazard Specific Actions:

  • One or more coolers - inexpensive styrofoam coolers work well.
  • If you have a generator, don't put it inside. There is usually a rash of carbon monoxide poisonings from running generators in enclosed spaces like garages.
  • Assemble Emergency Supplies Kit to at least contain:
    • Water—one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
    • Food—non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
    • Flashlight (Do not use candles during a power outage due to the extreme risk of fire.)
    • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
    • Extra batteries
    • First aid kit
    • Medications (7-day supply) and required medical items
    • Multi-purpose tool
    • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
    • Cell phone with chargers
  • Have some emergency cash on hand. Even if stores are open, most will only be able to accept cash because of loss of power and/or data lines. Functioning ATM's are bound to have long lines and may be far away.  That is a problem when gasoline is in short supply, too.
  • If someone in your home is dependent on electric-powered, life-sustaining equipment, remember to include backup power in your evacuation plan
  • Keep a non-cordless telephone in your home. It is likely to work even when the power is out.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank full.

Actions During: Safety Basics, Evacuation, Shelter in Place

Food Safety During a Power Outage:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. First use perishable food from the refrigerator. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours.
  • Then use food from the freezer. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Use your non-perishable foods and staples after using food from the refrigerator and freezer.
  • If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items.
  • Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.

Electrical Equipment During a Blackout:

  • Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment, including sensitive electronics.
  • Turn off or disconnect any appliances (like stoves), equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.
  • Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when the power comes back on.
  • Run the generator only for critical functions to conserve fuel. Also, turn off the generator before refueling.
  • Have a battery-powered radio on hand-this is your lifeline. Be sure you have a good stock of batteries. Batteries, particularly D cells, may be in short supply.  Modern LED flashlights and lanterns will operate for an extended period of time on a few batteries.  And be sure you have a NOAA weather radio with a battery back-up. It may save your life, especially if a storm hits at night.

Carbon Monoxide Dangers:

  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

Other Tips:

  • Conserve water. Have a back-up supply of drinking water. There may be no power to water treatment facilities, pumps, or monitoring equipment. Along with hospitals those are often the first priorities for restoring power, but it is possible that safe drinking water may be in short supply for a while.
  • Conserve gasoline. It may be several days until gas stations are able to get generators and rig up to their pumps. Functioning gas stations may be in short supply, far away and have long lines.
  • Big box stores like Lowe's and Home Depot are usually prepared to do business in an emergency. They have backup power to their cash registers and bring in emergency supplies like generators quickly.

Actions After: Get Disaster Relief, Clean-up, Salvage

What to Do When the Power Comes Back On:

  • Do not touch any electrical power lines and keep your family and pets away from them. Report downed power lines to the appropriate officials in your area.

Throw Out Unsafe Food After a Blackout:

  • Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Never taste food or rely on appearance or odor to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature too long, bacteria causing food-borne illnesses can start growing quickly. Some types of bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking.
  • If food in the freezer is colder than 40° F and has ice crystals on it, you can refreeze it.
  • If you are not sure food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer. Throw out any foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or feels warm to touch.



  1. American Red Cross, CDC – Emergency Preparedness and Response, FEMA – Are You Ready? Guide, Ready.gov, Be a Force of Nature with NOAA’s Weather Ready Nation, National Weather Service Weather Safety
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