Safety Information for Short-term Power Outages or “Rolling Blackouts”

Reviewed Feb 16, 2021

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Summary

  • What is a “rolling blackout?”
  • How can I prepare before a blackout happens? 
  • What do I do during a blackout?

What is a “rolling blackout?”

A rolling blackout occurs when a power company turns off electricity to selected areas to save power. The areas are selected using sophisticated computer programs and models. The blackouts are typically for one hour, then the power is restored and another area is turned off. Hospitals, airport control towers, police stations and fire departments are often exempt from these rolling blackouts. These blackouts usually occur during peak energy usage times, usually between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, but they can happen at any time of day.

Blackouts may affect the same area more than once a day, and may exceed an hour’s duration.

Top safety tips for a blackout 

  • Only use a flashlight for emergency lighting. Never use candles!
  • Turn off electrical equipment you were using when the power went out.
  • Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Do not run a generator inside a home or garage.
  • If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home’s electrical system.

How can I prepare before a blackout happens? 

Assemble essential supplies, including:

  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Portable radio
  • At least one gallon of water
  • A small supply of food  

Due to the extreme risk of fire, do not use candles during a power outage.

  • If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water, leaving about an inch of space inside each one. (Remember, water expands as it freezes, so it is important to leave room in the container for the expanded water). Place the containers in the refrigerator and freezer. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out, by displacing air that can warm up quickly with water or ice that keeps cold for several hours without additional refrigeration.
  • If you use medication that requires refrigeration, most can be kept in a closed refrigerator for several hours without a problem. If unsure, check with your physician or pharmacist.
  • If you use a computer, keep files and operating systems backed up regularly. Consider buying extra batteries and a power converter if you use a laptop. Also, turn off all computers, monitors, printers, copiers, scanners and other devices when they’re not being used. That way, if the power goes out, this equipment will have already been safely shut down. Get a high-quality surge protector for all of your computer equipment. If you use the computer a lot, such as for a home business, consider purchasing and installing an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). Consult with your local computer equipment dealer about available equipment and costs.
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, find out where the manual release lever is located and learn how to operate it. Sometimes garage doors can be heavy, so get help to lift it. If you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home upon return from work, be sure to keep a key to your house with you, in case the garage door will not open.
  • Keep your car fuel tank at least half full because gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
  • Follow energy conservation measures to keep the use of electricity as low as possible, which can help power companies avoid imposing rolling blackouts.  

Specific information for people with disabilities

  • If you use a battery-operated wheelchair, life-support system or other power-dependent equipment, call your power company before rolling blackouts happen. Many utility companies keep a list and map of the locations of power-dependent customers in case of an emergency. Ask them what alternatives are available in your area. Contact the customer service department of your local utility company to learn if this service is available in your community.
  • If you use a motorized wheelchair or scooter, have an extra battery. A car battery also can be used with a wheelchair but will not last as long as a wheelchair’s deep-cycle battery. If available, store a lightweight manual wheelchair for backup.
  • If you are blind or have a visual disability, store a talking or Braille clock or large-print timepiece with extra batteries.
  • If you are deaf or have a hearing loss, consider getting a small portable battery-operated television set. Emergency broadcasts may give information in American Sign Language (ASL) or open captioning.  

Using a generator 

If you are considering obtaining a generator, get advice from a licensed professional, such as an electrician. Make sure the generator is listed with Underwriter’s Laboratories or a similar organization. Some municipalities, Air Quality Districts, or states have “air quality permit” requirements. A licensed electrician will be able to give you more information on these matters.

Always plan to keep the generator outdoors—never operate it inside, including the basement or garage. Do not hook up a generator directly to your home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Connecting a cord from the generator to a point on the permanent wiring system and backfeeding power to your home is an unsafe method to supply a building during a power outage.

What do I do during a blackout?

  • Turn off or disconnect any appliances, equipment (such as air conditioners) or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances such as the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace.
  • Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when your power returns.
  • Leave the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed to keep your food as fresh as possible. If you must eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.
  • Do not call 9-1-1 for information—only call to report a life-threatening emergency.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic signals will stop working during an outage, creating traffic congestion.
  • Remember that equipment such as automated teller machines (ATMs) and elevators may not work during a power outage.
  • If it is cold outside, put on layers of warm clothing. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.
  • Never use your oven as a source of heat. If the power may be out for a prolonged period, plan to go to another location (relative, friend or public facility) that has heat to keep warm.   
Source: American Red Cross

Summary

  • What is a “rolling blackout?”
  • How can I prepare before a blackout happens? 
  • What do I do during a blackout?

What is a “rolling blackout?”

A rolling blackout occurs when a power company turns off electricity to selected areas to save power. The areas are selected using sophisticated computer programs and models. The blackouts are typically for one hour, then the power is restored and another area is turned off. Hospitals, airport control towers, police stations and fire departments are often exempt from these rolling blackouts. These blackouts usually occur during peak energy usage times, usually between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, but they can happen at any time of day.

Blackouts may affect the same area more than once a day, and may exceed an hour’s duration.

Top safety tips for a blackout 

  • Only use a flashlight for emergency lighting. Never use candles!
  • Turn off electrical equipment you were using when the power went out.
  • Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Do not run a generator inside a home or garage.
  • If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home’s electrical system.

How can I prepare before a blackout happens? 

Assemble essential supplies, including:

  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Portable radio
  • At least one gallon of water
  • A small supply of food  

Due to the extreme risk of fire, do not use candles during a power outage.

  • If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water, leaving about an inch of space inside each one. (Remember, water expands as it freezes, so it is important to leave room in the container for the expanded water). Place the containers in the refrigerator and freezer. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out, by displacing air that can warm up quickly with water or ice that keeps cold for several hours without additional refrigeration.
  • If you use medication that requires refrigeration, most can be kept in a closed refrigerator for several hours without a problem. If unsure, check with your physician or pharmacist.
  • If you use a computer, keep files and operating systems backed up regularly. Consider buying extra batteries and a power converter if you use a laptop. Also, turn off all computers, monitors, printers, copiers, scanners and other devices when they’re not being used. That way, if the power goes out, this equipment will have already been safely shut down. Get a high-quality surge protector for all of your computer equipment. If you use the computer a lot, such as for a home business, consider purchasing and installing an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). Consult with your local computer equipment dealer about available equipment and costs.
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, find out where the manual release lever is located and learn how to operate it. Sometimes garage doors can be heavy, so get help to lift it. If you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home upon return from work, be sure to keep a key to your house with you, in case the garage door will not open.
  • Keep your car fuel tank at least half full because gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
  • Follow energy conservation measures to keep the use of electricity as low as possible, which can help power companies avoid imposing rolling blackouts.  

Specific information for people with disabilities

  • If you use a battery-operated wheelchair, life-support system or other power-dependent equipment, call your power company before rolling blackouts happen. Many utility companies keep a list and map of the locations of power-dependent customers in case of an emergency. Ask them what alternatives are available in your area. Contact the customer service department of your local utility company to learn if this service is available in your community.
  • If you use a motorized wheelchair or scooter, have an extra battery. A car battery also can be used with a wheelchair but will not last as long as a wheelchair’s deep-cycle battery. If available, store a lightweight manual wheelchair for backup.
  • If you are blind or have a visual disability, store a talking or Braille clock or large-print timepiece with extra batteries.
  • If you are deaf or have a hearing loss, consider getting a small portable battery-operated television set. Emergency broadcasts may give information in American Sign Language (ASL) or open captioning.  

Using a generator 

If you are considering obtaining a generator, get advice from a licensed professional, such as an electrician. Make sure the generator is listed with Underwriter’s Laboratories or a similar organization. Some municipalities, Air Quality Districts, or states have “air quality permit” requirements. A licensed electrician will be able to give you more information on these matters.

Always plan to keep the generator outdoors—never operate it inside, including the basement or garage. Do not hook up a generator directly to your home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Connecting a cord from the generator to a point on the permanent wiring system and backfeeding power to your home is an unsafe method to supply a building during a power outage.

What do I do during a blackout?

  • Turn off or disconnect any appliances, equipment (such as air conditioners) or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances such as the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace.
  • Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when your power returns.
  • Leave the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed to keep your food as fresh as possible. If you must eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.
  • Do not call 9-1-1 for information—only call to report a life-threatening emergency.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic signals will stop working during an outage, creating traffic congestion.
  • Remember that equipment such as automated teller machines (ATMs) and elevators may not work during a power outage.
  • If it is cold outside, put on layers of warm clothing. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.
  • Never use your oven as a source of heat. If the power may be out for a prolonged period, plan to go to another location (relative, friend or public facility) that has heat to keep warm.   
Source: American Red Cross

Summary

  • What is a “rolling blackout?”
  • How can I prepare before a blackout happens? 
  • What do I do during a blackout?

What is a “rolling blackout?”

A rolling blackout occurs when a power company turns off electricity to selected areas to save power. The areas are selected using sophisticated computer programs and models. The blackouts are typically for one hour, then the power is restored and another area is turned off. Hospitals, airport control towers, police stations and fire departments are often exempt from these rolling blackouts. These blackouts usually occur during peak energy usage times, usually between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, but they can happen at any time of day.

Blackouts may affect the same area more than once a day, and may exceed an hour’s duration.

Top safety tips for a blackout 

  • Only use a flashlight for emergency lighting. Never use candles!
  • Turn off electrical equipment you were using when the power went out.
  • Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Do not run a generator inside a home or garage.
  • If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home’s electrical system.

How can I prepare before a blackout happens? 

Assemble essential supplies, including:

  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Portable radio
  • At least one gallon of water
  • A small supply of food  

Due to the extreme risk of fire, do not use candles during a power outage.

  • If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water, leaving about an inch of space inside each one. (Remember, water expands as it freezes, so it is important to leave room in the container for the expanded water). Place the containers in the refrigerator and freezer. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out, by displacing air that can warm up quickly with water or ice that keeps cold for several hours without additional refrigeration.
  • If you use medication that requires refrigeration, most can be kept in a closed refrigerator for several hours without a problem. If unsure, check with your physician or pharmacist.
  • If you use a computer, keep files and operating systems backed up regularly. Consider buying extra batteries and a power converter if you use a laptop. Also, turn off all computers, monitors, printers, copiers, scanners and other devices when they’re not being used. That way, if the power goes out, this equipment will have already been safely shut down. Get a high-quality surge protector for all of your computer equipment. If you use the computer a lot, such as for a home business, consider purchasing and installing an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). Consult with your local computer equipment dealer about available equipment and costs.
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, find out where the manual release lever is located and learn how to operate it. Sometimes garage doors can be heavy, so get help to lift it. If you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home upon return from work, be sure to keep a key to your house with you, in case the garage door will not open.
  • Keep your car fuel tank at least half full because gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
  • Follow energy conservation measures to keep the use of electricity as low as possible, which can help power companies avoid imposing rolling blackouts.  

Specific information for people with disabilities

  • If you use a battery-operated wheelchair, life-support system or other power-dependent equipment, call your power company before rolling blackouts happen. Many utility companies keep a list and map of the locations of power-dependent customers in case of an emergency. Ask them what alternatives are available in your area. Contact the customer service department of your local utility company to learn if this service is available in your community.
  • If you use a motorized wheelchair or scooter, have an extra battery. A car battery also can be used with a wheelchair but will not last as long as a wheelchair’s deep-cycle battery. If available, store a lightweight manual wheelchair for backup.
  • If you are blind or have a visual disability, store a talking or Braille clock or large-print timepiece with extra batteries.
  • If you are deaf or have a hearing loss, consider getting a small portable battery-operated television set. Emergency broadcasts may give information in American Sign Language (ASL) or open captioning.  

Using a generator 

If you are considering obtaining a generator, get advice from a licensed professional, such as an electrician. Make sure the generator is listed with Underwriter’s Laboratories or a similar organization. Some municipalities, Air Quality Districts, or states have “air quality permit” requirements. A licensed electrician will be able to give you more information on these matters.

Always plan to keep the generator outdoors—never operate it inside, including the basement or garage. Do not hook up a generator directly to your home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Connecting a cord from the generator to a point on the permanent wiring system and backfeeding power to your home is an unsafe method to supply a building during a power outage.

What do I do during a blackout?

  • Turn off or disconnect any appliances, equipment (such as air conditioners) or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances such as the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace.
  • Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when your power returns.
  • Leave the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed to keep your food as fresh as possible. If you must eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.
  • Do not call 9-1-1 for information—only call to report a life-threatening emergency.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic signals will stop working during an outage, creating traffic congestion.
  • Remember that equipment such as automated teller machines (ATMs) and elevators may not work during a power outage.
  • If it is cold outside, put on layers of warm clothing. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors.
  • Never use your oven as a source of heat. If the power may be out for a prolonged period, plan to go to another location (relative, friend or public facility) that has heat to keep warm.   
Source: American Red Cross

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological, or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  

 

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