How to Deal With an Unexpected Power Outage

How to Deal With an Unexpected Power Outage

Mike Tyson
Sep 22, 2010

Frustration is a gentle way of describing the feeling you get when your power goes off. Last night I had the pleasure of coming home to a powerless block and confused neighbors huddled outside. To add insult to injury, it turns out the downtime was scheduled and we were never informed. We've already filled you in on some important tech gear to have in an emergency, but I figured now would be as good a time as any to share some tips on how to cope with your loss of power.

Have flashlights on hand
Coming into a pitch-black apartment can be a little disorienting. It's important not only to keep a flashlight (with working batteries) in the apartment but also helps to put it in a logical place. The two best places to store the flashlight are near the front door or the bedside. This way you're not fishing around for a flashlight when you come home or wake up to no electricity.

Talk to your neighbors.
If you live in an apartment building like I do, it is helpful to glean information from the neighbors. In my case, I quickly learned that the electric company was doing repair work outside and I needed to expect my power to be off from 7pm to 5am the next day. Of course, the more people you speak to the better chance you have to create an accurate portrait of the situation.

Talk to your landlords.
Supposedly, the person whose name is on the meter was informed by mail and by phone that my power would be suspended however, that warning was never passed down to the tenants. If you have any doubt about the quality of your landlord, it might be smart to speak with them about this very situation and stress that it is necessary they contact you whenever they hear similar information.

Deal with your perishables.
Taking care of your perishable food items in the refrigerator and freezer are a necessity if you believe you'll be without power for an extended period of time. Here is the USDA's information regarding how long food lasts in a refrigerator and freezer after the power goes off:

Always keep meat, poultry, fish, and eggs refrigerated at or below 40 °F and frozen food at or below 0 °F. This may be difficult when the power is out.

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic foot full freezer for 2 days. Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased. 

Take your work elsewhere.
If you have homework or other work you need to take care of that requires your laptop (or the very least, electricity) it would be best to scoot out to a bookstore or a coffee shop. On weekdays, many chain bookstores are open to around 10 and some coffee shops even later.

Have a backup place where you can stay.
Having a good friend or partner near by is really the best option when the power goes out. Thankfully, my girlfriend and I decided to stay at her place for the time being. I packed up my bag with all of the food in my refrigerator and headed to her apartment. A backup place to stay is especially important if you have a pet and your AC is out of service during those scorching summer days.

Take in the downtime!
If you don't have any immediate tasks you must fulfill or pets that require electricity, you have a perfect opportunity to enjoy the silence. Catch up on the day's newspaper, play a board game with your friend, or maybe invent a brilliant flashlight game to play with your cat.

[1st image via Mike McGrath and 2nd image via David D'Amico thanks to the Creative Commons license.]

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