Emergency Preparedness: What to Do During a Power Outage

Power outages can vary in duration, with most being resolved shortly after they occur, while others can extend for days or even weeks. These outages are commonly triggered by adverse weather conditions such as freezing rain, sleet storms, and strong winds, leading to damage to power infrastructure and lines. Additionally, extreme temperatures like cold snaps or heat waves can strain the electrical grid.

During a power outage, essential services like heating/air conditioning, lighting, hot water, and running water may become unavailable. If you rely on a cordless phone, you will also lose phone service. Without a battery-powered or crank radio, staying informed through news broadcasts might be challenging.

Home insurance may provide coverage for certain aspects related to power outages. However, it’s important to note that the specific coverage and terms may vary depending on the insurance policy and provider. Be sure to talk to your home insurance broker about your policy in the event of a power outage.

It is crucial for everyone to take responsibility for safeguarding their homes and families during a power outage. Here are some valuable tips on what to do during this type of emergency.

1. Before a Power Outage: Understand the Risks & Be Ready

In order to be well-prepared for a power outage, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the potential risks that are specific to your community and region. By gaining knowledge about these hazards, you can enhance your preparedness. Once you know the risks, here are some steps to take to stay prepared:

  • Install a non-electric standby stove or heater for power outages. Opt for heating units that don’t rely on electric motors, fans, or other electrical devices for operation. It’s essential to ensure proper ventilation by using the designated chimney flue specified for the stove or heater. Never connect multiple heating units to the same chimney flue simultaneously.
  • Maintain and prepare your wood-burning fireplace. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, make sure to have the chimney cleaned every fall to eliminate creosote build-up. This step not only prepares the fireplace for use but also reduces the risk of a chimney fire.
  • Professional installation for oil or gas standby heating units. If your standby heating unit utilizes the regular house oil or gas supply, it is crucial to have it connected by a certified tradesperson using shut-off valves. This ensures proper installation and safe operation.
  • Use an emergency generator. Before considering the use of an emergency generator during a power outage, consult with furnace, appliance, and lighting fixture dealers or manufacturers. They can provide information on power requirements and the correct operating procedures to follow. It’s essential to be well-informed and prepared to use a generator safely and effectively.

People with disabilities or who require assistance

If you have disabilities or require assistance, it’s essential to take into account how a power outage may impact you. Here are some key steps to ensure your safety and well-being:

  • Plan your evacuation route – If applicable, consider the absence of elevator service during a power outage. Take the time to determine an alternative evacuation route that suits your needs.
  • Arrange for a backup power supply – Make plans for a backup power supply to support essential medical equipment you rely on. This proactive step ensures uninterrupted access to critical devices during power outages.
  • Keep emergency supplies accessible – Always keep a flashlight and a charged cell phone within reach. These tools will enable you to signal for help in case of an emergency situation.
  • Establish a network to assist you – Create a network of individuals who can assist you and check on your well-being during an emergency. Having a reliable support system in place ensures that you receive the necessary aid when needed.
  • Enroll in a Medical Alert Program – Consider enrolling in a medical alert program that can automatically alert emergency responders if you become immobilized or require urgent medical attention. This additional layer of safety provides peace of mind.
  • Maintain a list of facilities and medical information – Keep an updated list of facilities in your area that provide life-sustaining equipment or treatment. Additionally, maintain a record of your medical conditions and required treatments. This information will be invaluable in emergency situations.
  • Notify property management if you reside in an apartment – If you live in an apartment, inform the property manager about your specific needs and any assistance you may require during a power outage. This enables them to plan and make necessary arrangements on your behalf, ensuring your safety and comfort.

2. During a Power Outage: Stay Calm & Follow Your Plan

First, determine if the power outage is isolated to your home by checking if your neighbours still have power. If their power is unaffected, examine your circuit breaker panel or fuse box. If the issue isn’t a tripped breaker or blown fuse, inspect the service wires leading to your house. If they are visibly damaged or on the ground, keep a distance of at least 10 meters and inform your electric supply authority. Keep their contact information, along with other emergency numbers, readily available near your phone.

If your neighbours are also experiencing a power outage:

  • Promptly notify your electric supply authority
  • Switch off all tools, appliances, and electronic equipment
  • Set the thermostat(s) for your home heating system to the minimum setting to prevent damage from a power surge when power is restored. Additionally, reducing the load on the electrical system facilitates easier power restoration.
  • Avoid opening your freezer or fridge unless absolutely necessary. A full freezer can keep food frozen for 24 to 36 hours if the door remains closed.
  • Never use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping heating equipment, or home generators indoors, as they emit carbon monoxide, which is odourless and can cause health problems and be life-threatening.
  • Use appropriate candle holders, never leave lit candles unattended, and keep them out of children’s reach. Always extinguish candles before going to bed.
  • Stay informed by listening to a battery-powered or crank radio for updates on the outage and guidance from authorities.
  • Ensure your home is equipped with a working carbon monoxide detector. If it is hard-wired to the house’s electrical supply, ensure it has a battery-powered backup.
  • Protect sensitive electrical appliances such as TVs, computers, and DVD players by using surge-protecting power bars.

Precautions when using a home generator

Home generators are a valuable resource for backup electricity during a power outage, but it is crucial to use them in strict adherence to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Connecting a backup generator to your home’s electrical system should only be done through an approved transfer panel and switch installed by a qualified electrician.

Plugging a generator directly into a wall outlet should never be attempted, as it can lead to severe injuries. When the current produced by the generator is fed back into the electrical lines and transformed to a higher voltage, it endangers the lives of utility workers who are working to restore power.

To ensure safe operation of a generator, it is important to:

  • Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
  • Use the generator outdoors in well-ventilated areas, far away from doors or windows, to prevent exhaust gases from entering the house.
  • Connect lights and appliances directly to the generator. If extension cords are necessary, use properly rated, CSA-approved cords.

In the event of a mandatory evacuation

During the winter months, there is a higher likelihood of evacuation due to plummeting temperatures that can render a house uninhabitable. While low temperatures can cause damage to a house, the most significant risk is to the plumbing system. If a standby heating system is in use, it is essential to ensure that no part of the plumbing system is susceptible to freezing.

In the event that evacuation becomes necessary:

  • Turn off the main breaker or switch in the circuit-breaker panel or power-supply box.
  • Shut off the water main where it enters the house, and protect the valve, inlet pipe, meter, or pump by using blankets or insulation material.
  • Drain the water from the plumbing system. Start from the top of the house by opening all taps and flushing toilets several times. Proceed to the basement and open the drain valve. To drain the hot water tank, attach a hose to the tank drain valve and direct it to the basement floor drain.
  • Note: If you drain a gas-fired water tank, make sure to extinguish the pilot light and contact the local gas supplier to relight it.
  • Disconnect washing machine hoses and drain them.
  • Minor amounts of water trapped in horizontal pipes are not a concern. Add a small amount of glycol or antifreeze to any remaining water in the toilet bowl, sink, and bathtub traps.
  • If your house is protected from groundwater by a sump pump, take appropriate measures to ensure it continues to operate or consider alternative methods to prevent water accumulation.

By following these precautions, you can help safeguard your house during an evacuation and minimize potential damage caused by freezing temperatures and the associated risks to the plumbing system.

3. After a Power Outage

Taking precautions after a power outage is of utmost importance to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals and the protection of their property. Power outages can cause various risks, including potential damage to electrical systems, appliances and the potential for hazards such as flooded basements or fire hazards.

  • Ensure the power is disconnected before entering a flooded basement.
  • Avoid using flooded appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes, or fuse-breaker panels until they have been inspected and cleaned by a qualified electrician.
  • If the furnace flue was removed, replace it and turn off the fuel supply to the standby heating unit.
  • Switch on the main electric switch after confirming that appliances, electric heaters, TVs, microwaves, computers, etc., have been unplugged to prevent damage from a power surge.
  • Allow the electrical system time to stabilize before reconnecting tools and appliances. Begin by adjusting the heating system thermostats, followed by reconnecting the fridge and freezer after a couple of minutes. Wait for 10 to 15 minutes before reconnecting all other tools and appliances.
  • Close the drain valve in the basement.
  • Turn on the water supply, starting with the lowest valves/taps and allowing air to escape from the upper taps.
  • Ensure the hot water heater is filled before turning on the power to it.
  • Check refrigerators, freezers, and cupboards for signs of spoiled food. If the freezer door remained closed, food should stay frozen for 24 to 36 hours, depending on the temperature. Once food begins to defrost, it should be cooked or discarded.
  • As a general precaution, keep a bag of ice cubes in the freezer. If you return home after a period of absence and find that the ice has melted and refrozen, it is likely that the food has spoiled. When in doubt, it is best to discard it.
  • Reset clocks, automatic timers, and alarms.
  • Replenish your emergency kit so that the necessary supplies are available for future use.

Stay Prepared With the Right Home Insurance

Power outages can lead to various damages, such as electrical system failures, appliance breakdowns, and potential hazards like floods or fires. Home insurance can cover the cost of repairs, replacements, and temporary living arrangements if necessary. It can also provide liability coverage in case of accidents or injuries related to the outage.

By having the right insurance coverage, homeowners can confidently navigate the challenges posed by power outages, knowing that they are protected against potential financial burdens.

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