It’s happened to all of us. You’re sitting in your cozy living room with your family, watching a movie, playing a game or reading a book and, poof, out goes the power.
Chicago’s extreme weather means a power outage can happen anytime: in the heat of the summer when everybody has the air conditioner cranked up; in the middle of a brutal winter storm, when ice and snow can weigh on power lines; and during a thunderstorm, when lightning hits a transformer.
Being prepared is the key to making that blackout safer and easier for you and your family. Follow these simple steps before an outage, and then know what precautions to take after the power goes out (and, even, when it comes back on).
Prepare for an Outage
Put together a basic emergency kit that you can have ready at all times, like the one suggested by FEMA. Items should include a battery-powered or hand-crank weather radio; a flashlight with extra batteries; and a three-day supply of nonperishable food and water per person.
- Create an emergency plan. Dangerous storms that accompany power outages can bring high winds, lightning and flash flooding. If your home is affected, it’s important that all family members know what to do in case of an emergency or an evacuation. Ready.gov offers a downloadable form to start your plan and suggests filling it out and keeping it with your emergency kit.
- Have a working phone. Access to a phone will be crucial for communication in case of an emergency. If you have a landline, a cordless unit won’t work during a power outage, so keep that old-school phone with a cord handy. If you’ve gone wireless, consider buying an emergency battery-powered charger for your cellphone. And don’t waste that battery. Once the power is out, save your cellphone for important calls (including letting ComEd know the power is out.)
- Pencils, paper, a deck of cards and some board games can help pass the time. While you’re building your basic kit, why not stash some electricity-free entertainment to go with it? The power could come back in a few minutes, a few hours or, in extreme cases, a few days. Though it’s inconvenient, look on the bright side — a power outage can be a time to unplug and reconnect with family the old-fashioned way.
During an Outage
- Check with your neighbors. Is yours the only place without power? See if the lights are out in the neighborhood. If it’s just your home, check the circuit breakers. If it’s a power outage, report it to ComEd.
- Don’t play with fire. Cook County Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management says you never use a gas stove for heat. And don’t use candles for light — use the flashlight from your supply kit.
- Stay cool. During a summer power outage, it can get pretty hot in your home without the use of air-conditioning or electric fans. The CDC recommends drinking plenty of fluids and limiting activity to avoid heat illness.
- Avoid carbon monoxide. If you have a grill, use it outside only, the CDC says. Don’t use it in the garage, even with the doors open, and make sure to move the grill away from your home — otherwise you risk carbon monoxide seeping indoors.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer closed. It will help keep the cold in. Food safety officials say if the power’s out for less than four hours, most of your refrigerated food should remain safe to eat.
When the power comes back on
- Check anything that needs to be reset. Clocks are the first thing that comes to mind, but make sure any alarms or smoke detectors that are hooked up to the power are still working
- Decide if the perishables are still safe to eat. Never taste food to determine whether it’s safe, foodsafety.gov says. The site offers a chart with details about assessing food stored in the fridge and freezer.
Once the power’s back on and everything is back to normal, don’t forget to replenish anything you used up from that basic supply kit.
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