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Jan. 19, 2005

Tips for Weathering a Blackout

Safety Tips from the Local Emergency Planning Committee

In the past few columns, we've discussed alternate sources of heat and how to use them safely. In this column, we'll talk about how to keep warm when the power goes out. Be prepared by creating a Disaster Supplies Kit for your home. Essential items for a blackout include:

  • Flashlights with extra batteries. Avoid using candles for lighting; they can cause fires.
  • Portable radio with extra batteries so you can listen to news about the outage.
  • Three gallons of water per person for cooking and drinking.
  • A supply of non-perishable food for three days. Keep a non-electric can opener on hand.
  • Extra blankets and sleeping bags.
  • A week's supply of prescription medications.
  • A telephone that does not require electricity to operate. (Cordless phones will not work during a power outage.)

If you lose electrical service during the winter,

  • Notify your utility to determine area repair schedules.
  • Turn off or unplug lights and appliances to prevent a circuit overload when service is restored. Leave one light on to indicate power has been restored.
  • To help prevent freezing pipes, turn on faucets slightly. Running water will not freeze as quickly.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Food will keep six to nine hours in a refrigerator without spoiling. Frozen foods will keep about 24 hours.
  • Close off rooms in your home that you aren't using.
  • Use the phone for emergencies only. Listening to a portable radio can provide the latest information. Do not call 9-1-1 for information. Only call to report a life-threatening emergency.
  • Do not use charcoal to cook indoors. It can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide (CO) gas.
  • If you are using an alternate source of heat, make sure you are using it safely. Never operate a gas grill or generator inside your home, in your garage, or on an attached porch. Do not try to use your gas oven as a source of heat.

Generator Safety

If you choose to buy a generator, make sure you get one that is rated for the amount of power you think you will need. Look at the labels on lighting, appliances, and equipment you plan to connect to the generator to determine the amount of power that will be needed to operate the equipment.

Make sure your wiring system is disconnected from the utility service before operating the generator. When using a portable generator, make sure the main circuit breaker in your electric service panel box is in the OFF position. If you have a fuse box instead of breakers, pull out the main block, remove the fuses, and reinsert the empty block. This is necessary to prevent your generator's electricity from going back into the utility's system, which could endanger the lives of line crews and your neighbors. It's also required by the National Electrical Code.

The primary hazards to avoid when using a generator are carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic engine exhaust, electric shock or electrocution, and fire. Follow the directions supplied with the generator.

To avoid electrocution, keep the generator dry and do not use in rain or wet conditions. To protect the generator from moisture, operate it on a dry surface under an open canopy-like structure, such as under a tarp held up on poles. Dry your hands if wet before touching the generator.

The above information was provided by the American Red Cross, New York State Emergency Management Office, and Niagara Mohawk - a National Grid Company.

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