Power outages can cause a number of safety concerns. They can disrupt communications, utilities, transportation, stores, gas stations and ATM's, and prevent your ability to use electrically powered medical devices. Knowing the following information can help you prepare before a power outage and during a power outage.
Preparing for a Power Outage
- Register life-sustaining and medical equipment with your utility company.
- Consider buying a generator. Follow installation instructions carefully. Keep your generator outside. Be sure to use a carbon monoxide detector indoors.
- Have a safe alternative heat source and supply of fuel. Never burn charcoal or use a generator indoors.
- If you own an electric garage door opener, know how to open the door without power.
- Have an emergency kit ready to go.
During a Power Outage
- Turn off lights and electrical appliances except for the refrigerator and freezer.
- Even if it is dark, turn light switches and buttons on lamps or appliances to the "off" position. Leave one light on to know when power is restored. Wait 15 minutes to turn on other appliances after power is restored.
- Unplug computers and other sensitive equipment to protect them from possible power surges when the power is restored.
- Conserve water, especially if you use well water.
- Never use gas ovens, gas ranges, barbecues or portable or propane heaters for indoor heating.
- Using a kerosene heater, gas lantern or stove inside the house can be dangerous. Maintain proper ventilation at all times to avoid a build up of toxic fumes, and be sure to have a carbon monoxide detector.
- Stay away from downed power lines and sagging trees with broken limbs.
When food is not kept cold or is not fully cooked the food can make you sick. More than 250 diseases can be caused by bacteria bacteria found in contaminated raw or uncooked food, such as meat, milk, eggs, fish, or shellfish. Keeping foods cold and cooking them properly can be challenging when dealing with a power outage.
Keep Food Safe
- Use and store food carefully to prevent foodborne illness when power outages make refrigeration unavailable.
- Use foods first that can spoil most rapidly.
- Keep doors to refrigerators and freezers closed.
- Use an ice chest packed with ice or snow to keep food cold. Buy dry ice to save frozen food. Do not handle dry ice with your bare hands. Use blocks or bags of ice to save refrigerator foods.
- Use caution if storing food outside during winter to keep it cold. The outside temperature varies, especially in the sun. Frozen food may thaw and refrigerator food may become warm enough to grow bacteria. Food stored outside must be secured from contamination by animals.
- If in doubt, throw it out. Throw out meat, seafood, dairy products and cooked food that does not feel cold.
- Never taste suspect food. Even if food looks and smells fine, illness-causing bacteria may be present.
What to Keep and What to Throw Out
If food is cold to the touch, and you know it has not been above 45 degrees Fahrenheit for more than an hour or two, it is probably safe to keep, use, or refreeze. Generally in cold weather, jams, jellies, butter/margarine, and condiments like ketchup, mustard, and relish can be kept if stored in cool areas.
Throw away all meat, seafood, dairy products, or cooked foods that don't feel cold to the touch. Even under proper refrigeration, many raw foods should be kept only three or four days before they are cooked, frozen, or thrown away.
Generator Use During a Power Outage
Don't overload your generator
- Determine the amount of power you will need to operate the things you plan to connect to the generator.
- Light bulb wattage indicates the power needed for lighting.
- Appliance and equipment labels indicate their power requirements.
- If you can't determine the amount of power you will need, ask an electrician.
- Make sure your generator produces more power than will be drawn by the things you connect to the generator, including the initial surge when it is turned on. If your generator does not produce enough power to operate everything at once, stagger the use of your equipment.
- If your equipment draws more power than the generator can produce, you may blow a fuse on the generator or damage the connected equipment.
Use your generator safely
- Incorrect generator use can lead to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution and fire. Follow the directions supplied with the generator.
Never use a portable generator indoors
- Never use a portable generator in a garage, carport, basement, crawl space or other enclosed or partially-enclosed area, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO-buildup in the home.
- If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away - do not delay!
- Install home CO alarms that are battery - operated or have battery back-up. Test batteries frequently and replace when needed.
Using your generator outdoors
- Place the generator away from windows, doors, and vents that could allow CO to come indoors.
- Generators should be at least 20 feet away from buildings. Even 20 feet away, air flow patterns could still blow carbon monoxide into homes through attic vents, windows, or doors, so it's very important to have a working carbon monoxide detector inside the home.
- To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry. Do not use in rain or wet conditions. Operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure. Make sure your hands are dry before touching the generator.
Use and store generator fuel safely
- Turn the generator off and let it cool before refueling. Gasoline spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
- Store generator fuel in an approved safety can outside of living areas in a locked shed or other protected area. Local laws may restrict use or storage of fuel. Ask your local fire department for information.
- If you spill fuel or do not seal its container properly, invisible vapors can travel along the ground and be ignited by an appliance's pilot light or arcs from electric switches in the appliance.
- Use the type of fuel recommended in the generator instructions or on its label.
Connect your generator correctly
- Plug appliances directly into the generator, or use a heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated (in watts or amps) at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance loads.
- Never try to power house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet, a practice known as "back feeding". It can lead to the electrocution of utility workers or neighbors served by the same utility transformer.
- The only safe way to connect a generator to house wiring is to have a qualified electrician install a power transfer switch.
The safest way to get emergency power
- Permanently installed stationary generators are the best way to provide home backup power during a power outage.
With extended power outages, drinking water wells that have electric pumps may have stagnant water in the well and distribution lines. When power returns and the well is put back into use, the water may be discolored. This is due to sediment in the well and water lines. Running the water until it is clear is usually all that is required before you can drink the water again. However, if there are concerns about the safety of the water, the well can be disinfected and/or tested prior to using it as a drinking water source.
Disinfection of a Well
- Run the water until it becomes clear.
- Estimate the number of gallons in the well (a 6-ince diameter well casing has 1.5 gallons per foot of water, a 36-inch diameter dug well casing has 50 gallons per foot of water), and use one half-cup bleach for every 30 gallons of water. To help in determining how much water is in the well casing, the "Water Well Report" may be helpful. If you don't have a report for your well, contact Washington State Department of Ecology for assistance.
- Example: If you have a well with a 6-inch casing that is 150 feet deep, with a water static level of 90 feet (water level is 90 feet below the surface) you will have 60 feet of water. 60 (feet of water) X 1.5 (gallons per foot of casing) = 90 gallons. Pour 1 ½ cups of liquid household bleach (5.25% chlorine) into the well. This will produce 50 ppm of chlorine to treat your well.
- Do not over-chlorinate and do not use bleach with additives such as “fresh scent.”
- Pour the required quantity of bleach into the well. Connect a garden hose to the nearest outside faucet and circulate the water through the hose and back into the well. This will mix the chlorine with the water and the pump will draw the chlorine to the bottom of the well. After you start smelling the chlorine in the water coming out of the hose, work the hose around to rinse the upper portion of the well with the disinfectant. (NOTE: If you cannot reach the well with a hose, you can rinse the upper portion of the casing by pouring chlorinated water down the inside of the case using a bucket. Mix 1 cup chlorine bleach per bucket of water.)
- Draw water at every water outlet connected to the system until a strong chlorine odor is perceptible, this includes showers, tubs, toilet tanks, and outside fixtures.
- Allow the disinfectant to remain in the system overnight (24 hours is preferable). Do not use the water during this time.
- Use one or more outside faucets to draw water out of the well to remove the chlorine. The well should be thoroughly and repeatedly flushed to remove the chlorine. All of the water lines should also be flushed.
- After you have thoroughly pumped the well to remove the chlorine, use the water for 3-4 days and then have a water sample tested for safety. During this time, the water can be used for laundry and bathing, but it should not be used until a water sample shows it is safe from contamination.
- A list of certified water testing laboratories can be obtained from the District.