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Flipping the switch on power outages

Monday, April 16, 2018

Power outages happen, but families do not have to be left in the dark when the lights go out.

“Treat power outages like any other potential emergency by doing as much advanced preparation and planning as possible,” said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist. “Knowing ahead of time what to do and where to go will help you better manage during and after a power failure.”

Start by assembling or restocking an emergency preparedness kit with important supplies such as nonperishable food, a can opener, water, a flashlight, extra batteries, cash and a first-aid kit.

Homeowners with electric garage door openers also should take some time to find the manual release lever for that mechanism and know how to operate it.

Meanwhile, families should ensure the car’s gas tank is full and all cell phones are completely charged.

“Keep backup cell chargers in the house and in the car,” Peek said. “Be sure family members who rely on battery-operated or power-dependent items such as medical devices are included in the emergency plan.”

During a power outage, rely on flashlights for emergency lighting rather than candles, which could be fire hazards, and keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed to preserve chilled and frozen foods.

Most refrigerated food items can be kept safely for about 4 hours in a closed refrigerator, while a food in a full freezer will maintain its temperature for about 48 hours.

Other appliances should be turned off or disconnected to guard against potential power surges that could damage them.

“During a power outage in extremely hot weather, move to the lowest level of the house and wear lightweight, light colored clothing. If it gets too hot, you might be able go somewhere like a shopping mall or movie theatre,” Peek said. “In cooler weather, wear layers of clothing to keep warm.”

After the power is restored, check the refrigerator and freezer for spoiled food items. Perishable food that has been at 40F or more for 2 or more hours should be thrown away. If the food has been exposed to temperatures of 90F or above it should be discarded after one hour. Also discard any food that smells off or is an unusual color or texture.

Items in the freezer that are colder than 40F and covered with ice crystals can be safely refrozen though you may find the quality has deteriorated when they are used.

“Check with your doctor or a pharmacist if you think any of your medications were spoiled or compromised as a result of the power outage,” Peek said.

For more information about preparing for power outages and other emergencies, visit and contact the nearest county Extension office.

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