Power outages can pose a number of health threats. Without electricity it can be difficult to heat your home or cook safely, keep food refrigerated or obtain drinking water.
Before a Power Outage
- Register life-sustaining and medical equipment with your utility company.
- Consider buying a generator. When installing a generator, follow the instructions carefully. Keep your generator outside and run a cord inside. Don’t connect your generator to main service panels—it’s dangerous! Be sure to place a carbon monoxide detector indoors.
- Make sure your disaster preparedness kit contains light sticks, flashlights, a battery-powered radio with extra batteries and a wind-up clock.
- Have a corded telephone available — cordless phones will not work when the power is out.
- Have a safe alternative heat source and supply of fuel. Never burn charcoal or use a generator indoors.
- If you own an electric garage door opener, know how to open the door without power.
During a Power Outage
- Turn off lights and electrical appliances except for the refrigerator and freezer.
- Even if it is dark, turn light switches and buttons on lamps or appliances to the “off” position.
- Unplug computers and other sensitive equipment to protect them from possible surges when the power is restored.
- Leave one lamp on so you will know when power is restored. Wait at least 15 minutes after power is restored before turning on other appliances.
- Conserve water, especially if you use well water.
- Never use gas ovens, gas ranges, barbecues or portable or propane heaters for indoor heating—they use oxygen and create carbon monoxide that can cause suffocation.
- Candles can cause a fire. It’s far better to use battery-operated flashlights or glow sticks for lighting.
- Using a kerosene heater, gas lantern or stove inside the house can be dangerous. Maintain proper ventilation at all times to avoid a build up of toxic fumes, and be sure to have a carbon monoxide detector.
- Stay away from downed power lines and sagging trees with broken limbs.
Power outages may mean your refrigerator, stove, or microwave cannot work. When food is not kept cold or is not fully cooked the food can make you sick.
- Use and store food carefully to prevent foodborne illness when power outages make refrigeration unavailable.
- Use foods first that can spoil most rapidly.
- Keep doors to refrigerators and freezers closed. Your refrigerator’s freezer will keep food frozen for up to a day. A separate fully-loaded freezer will keep food frozen for two days.
- Use an ice chest packed with ice or snow to keep food cold. Buy dry ice to save frozen food. Do not handle dry ice with your bare hands. Use blocks or bags of ice to save refrigerator foods.
- Use caution if storing food outside during winter to keep it cold. The outside temperature varies, especially in the sun. Frozen food may thaw and refrigerator food may become warm enough to grow bacteria. Food stored outside must be secured from contamination by animals.
- If in doubt, throw it out. Throw out meat, seafood, dairy products and cooked food that does not feel cold.
- Never taste suspect food. Even if food looks and smells fine, illness-causing bacteria may be present.
Power outages can lead to drinking water system contamination. Boil your drinking water until your water provider tells you the water is okay.
Purifying Drinking Water
Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one full minute.
- Let the water cool before drinking.
- Add two drops of household bleach per gallon to maintain water quality while in storage.
Note: Cloudy water should be filtered before boiling. Filter cloudy water using coffee filters, paper towels, cheesecloth or a cotton plug in a funnel.
If you suspect the well water is unsafe because of chemicals, oils, poisonous substances, sewage or other contaminants, do not drink the water. Don’t drink water that is dark colored, has an odor or contains solid materials.
Washington State Department Health has provided information on Emergency Disinfection of Small Water Systems. More well water safety information is available from our Environmental Health Department at (509) 886-6400.