Five tips for staying safe and warm during a power outage

With a major winter storm blanketing many states, power outages have affected hundreds of thousands of people in recent days. And that poses countless risks, from the loss of heat to the lack of safe-to-consume food or water.

But there are things you can do to protect yourself in case of a power failure. Here are five tips that experts say to keep in mind.

The best offense is a good defense

The best time to deal with a power outage is before it happens — meaning before the storm’s arrival. That means having emergency supplies on hand, especially non-perishable food, clothing for staying warm (think hats, boots and wool socks), blankets and comforters aplenty, a battery-operated radio (with fresh batteries on hand) and flashlights for every member of the household (again, with fresh batteries). Make sure to fill jugs with water and to fill bathtubs, so you have plenty of H20. If you own a generator, be certain that you also have fuel for it. And if you’re planning on cooking outdoors with a grill (charcoal or gas) or camp stove, be certain you have the requisite fuel for those items as well.

Get the heat going before you lose it — and conserve it once the outage occurs

If it seems likely you will lose power in the coming hours, the Common Sense Home website advises that you set the temperature higher in your house in the meanwhile. “The warmer it is to start, the longer it will take to cool. This could include warming normally unused spaces in your home to create more thermal mass,” the site advises.

Once the power goes, do what you can to conserve heat. That means blocking drafts and limiting how often you open and close exterior doors. Also, Common Sense Home advises that you consider living as a family in one room during the outage as another heat-conserving method.

Be safe when it comes to your food

Here are some guidelines on whether food in your refrigerator and freezer will still be safe to consume, according to New York City’s health-department website. The site says: “Generally, food in a closed refrigerator will remain cold for 4 to 6 hours if it is unopened. If any perishable food (meat, poultry, fish, leftovers) in the refrigerator reached a temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more, dispose of it. A full freezer will stay frozen for 2 days, a half-full freezer will stay frozen for 1 day if the door remains closed. If the food in the freezer thawed and is no longer cold you should dispose of it.”

But it’s smart to also adhere to a broader guiding principle when it comes to food safety: When in doubt, throw it out.

Guard against carbon-monoxide poisoning

The rule is simple when it comes to avoiding carbon-monoxide poisoning: If you plan on using a generator or cooking outdoors with a grill or camp stove, make sure to keep such items at least 20 feet away from your home, according to the Ready.gov website. As an extra precaution, make sure you have working carbon-monoxide detectors, with battery backup, at every level in your home. Also, the site advises that you “Never use a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home.”

For people with special medical needs

If you use any electrical-powered medical equipment or take any medications that require refrigeration, Ready.gov advises that you talk to your medical provider about a plan to deal with power outages. The site also suggests that you “Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.”

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