How to survive a power outage

November 16th, 2014

How to survive a power outage – literally

We are coming up to the anniversary of last year’s Christmas ice storm and the lengthy power outage which followed. We learned some lessons last year, some folks having learned them the hard way. This seems like a good time to review basic safe practices for surviving an extended period of time without power.

We all tend to get a bit desperate when we’ve been without electricity for a few days, especially in the winter, when we have to keep our families and our houses warm. This often results in taking chances or trying to cut corners. Sometimes people just lack the necessary knowledge to do things safely.

Here are some guidelines to prevent burning down your house, asphyxiating yourself or your family, destroying your appliances, or being electrocuted.

1. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning/asphyxiation:

Never operate a barbecue indoors, even if you keep a window open.

Do not run a generator too close to the house or near a vent.

Do not run a generator indoors, not even in a garage or shed. If you go into the garage to re-fuel the generator, you could quickly be overcome by fumes.

 2. To avoid fires, explosions, or electric shock:

Do not run an inverter under the car hood – sparks can ignite fumes.

Inverters over 200 watts need to be wired directly to a battery, but they should always be far enough away to be well-ventilated and should be connected with appropriately sized wires.

Back feeding with your generator (i.e. feeding current into an outlet) can lead to lethal shock or fire. There is no safe way to do this and the consequences could be devastating.  You could ruin your appliances, burn down your house, or cause serious injury or death. Have the generator wired in correctly and inspected, or use a heavy-duty extension cord.

Be sure your generator is turned off and has cooled down before attempting to re-fuel.

Never leave candles or other open flames unattended. Be careful where you place them. Better still, use battery-operated lights.

Heat food carefully. Do not heat glass jars. It is always better to put food in a pot or pan for heating, but if you must heat it right in the can, always puncture one or two holes in the top, to avoid an explosion. This would undoubtedly lead to a sticky mess. More importantly, it could result in nasty burns, cuts from shrapnel, or eye injuries.

3. To avoid food poisoning:

Do not eat thawed meat, poultry, fish or eggs, milk or leftovers that were at room temperature for more than two hours (says Health Canada). The US FDA is more specific, saying that any refrigerated food which has been above 4 degrees Celsius for more than 2 hours should be discarded. When in doubt, throw it out.

Finally, it’s always best to plan ahead for an emergency. Be prepared. Particularly when it come to the operation of generators and inverters, choose your equipment wisely and be fully informed about its proper and safe operation.

Submitted by,

Martha Vowles
Grand Bay-Westfield Emergency Measures Organization