Posted by: Paulette Aniskoff, Director, Individual and Community Preparedness
Who would have thought the cold and blustery weather, along with the white fluffy stuff, would show up this soon? Although we are approaching the end of hurricane season, we were recently forced to shift our focus to winter weather risks as we were harshly reminded that disasters happen year-round.
While some may enjoy the colder weather and the accompanying snow, others like myself, prefer the warmer temperatures. Regardless of your view on cold and snow, now is the time of year when temperatures drop. It is also the time of year when gusting winds and accumulating ice and snow can bring power outages.
Simsbury, Conn., November 5, 2011 -- Utility crews work to restore power in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm. Some areas of Connecticut were without electricity for more than a week. FEMA is assisting government and residents recover from the storm and is providing food and water, as well as generators for some public buildings and nursing homes.
Power outages can accompany virtually every natural disaster and are more common than you’d think. Power grids, generating plants, transformer stations, power poles and even buried cables are vulnerable to the elements of natural disasters. The rare October Nor’easter that struck recently left approximately 3.2 million customers on the East Coast without power. The effects can be devastating and outage durations can last a couple of hours or a couple of weeks depending on the severity of the event and service options available in the affected area. (How we’re supporting Northeast states after the severe winter storm.)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released its Winter Outlook for this December through February, which will be influenced strongly by La Niña causing shifts in weather patterns across the country. But with no way to be 100 percent certain about the weather to come, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies 365 days a year.
One thing we can do, as community leaders and preparedness advocates, is to take the time to encourage organizations, communities, individuals and families to review their disaster plans and update their emergency kits. Below are a few considerations you can share with community members when discussing how to prepare for a power outage:
- Ensure you have a battery-powered or hand cranked radio to listen for emergency updates and news reports.
- Have flashlights or electric lanterns on hand to provide light; candles may add a spark of adventure during power failures, but they are dangerous fire hazards. Flashlights and electric lanterns require batteries so consider, during extended outages, keeping a supply of extra batteries.
- Remember, microwaves will not work! It’s important to keep a three- to 14-day supply of water and of nonperishable food such as ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables, canned juices, milk, and soup. Additionally, have a hand-operated can opener available. FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person per day.
Actions to take during a power outage:
- If using a portable generator during a power outage, it should always be operated outside, away from doors and windows to avoid dangerous carbon monoxide.
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to prevent food spoilage.
- During the winter, let the sun warm rooms during the day and close shades and curtains at night.
- Avoid plugging emergency generators into electric outlets or hooking them directly to your home's electrical system - they can feed electricity back into the power lines, putting you and line workers in danger.
- When the power comes back on, wait a few minutes before turning on major appliances, to help eliminate problems that could occur if there's a sharp increase in demand. If you think electric power has been restored to your area but your home is still without power, call your local power company.
Even if your community wasn’t affected by this recent winter-like storm, it’s still important to take the opportunity to inform your community about its risks and provide simple tips. Everyone can play a vital role in helping our communities prepare for severe winter weather.