Anyone who lost power during the winter storms can tell you that the time to prepare for a power outage is before the storm starts. In 2013, the Public Service Commission ordered the major electric utilities to institute Vegetation Management Programs to protect power lines from downed tree limbs. This has helped reduce outages and improve recovery time, but unfortunately some outages are inevitable. With that in mind, I want to offer some advice on how to prepare for the next time you are left in the dark.
First, create an emergency kit. Include candles, matches or a lighter, a flashlight, non-rechargeable batteries (because you can’t recharge batteries while the power is off), and a car charger for your phone. Store your emergency kit where you can easily find it in the dark and check it regularly to make sure it is well stocked. Keep three days’ worth of non-perishable food on hand and enough bottled water to have one gallon per person, per day. Give special consideration to supplies for babies and pets.
Always keep a well-stocked first aid kit in the house. If any family members take prescription medication, keep at least a three-day supply on hand. Gel ice packs are a must if your meds must be kept cold. Learn to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke: lightheadedness, nausea, muscle weakness, rapid pulse or breathing, changes in blood pressure. And stay hydrated.
As soon as the power goes out, unplug your appliances, especially electronics such as TVs, computers, and printers to avoid damage from a surge when the power comes back on. Keep windows and doors closed as long as it’s cooler inside than it is outside. Cover your windows to keep sunlight out. Keep the freezer and refrigerator doors closed. Buy bags of ice, put them in the refrigerator and freezer to maintain cold as long as possible.
After the power comes back on, don’t rush to chill down the house. Set the thermostat a couple of degrees cooler than the house temperature and gradually lower it by a couple of degrees at a time. In the meantime, use fans to stay cool.
One last word of caution: if there is a downed power line near your home, stay away from it and call your utility. Let the pros do their job and keep you and yours safe.
Charlotte Lane is chair of the West Virginia Public Service Commission.