Tips on surviving power outages

Power outages are at the very least inconvenient disruptions to our lives. While your electric co-op does everything it can to reduce the possibility of an outage to your home or business, they do occur. This time of year we worry about ice and snow storm outages, but there are a ­variety of reasons outages can occur, including:

• Wind breaking tree limbs, causing them to come into contact power lines.
• Ice and snow building up on lines causing them to fail.
• Vehicles crashing into poles ­bringing the lines down.
• Contractors digging into underground lines.
• Animals such as squirrels and birds causing short circuits while ­climbing poles, transformers and fuses.
• Planned outages taking place for equipment maintenance and upgrades.

Those are just some of the more common reasons for power outages. Whatever the reason, rest assured your electric cooperative is working as fast as it can to get your power restored quickly and safely. While each electric cooperative has its own system for restoring power during an outage, many of the following steps will be similar at any utility.

The number one focus of your electric cooperative will always be public safety. This means crews will clear lines and equipment that could pose safety hazards to the public. Next, it will turn its attention to power ­generation ­facilities that generate the actual electricity that powers your home or ­business. After that comes transmission line repair. Transmission lines carry very high voltages to substations that transform energy into the elec­tricity that is usable in homes and businesses. The substation equipment will be next on the repair list. From there, come feeder lines that can serve one to 3,000 customers, tap lines that provide power to 20 to 30 homes or businesses, and then connections to individual customers.

During this process, the electric cooperative will generally first make repairs to facilities that are critical to public health and safety-such as ­hospitals, police and fire stations, water treatment plants and com­munication systems. It will then ­center its efforts on repairs that will get power restored to the largest number of ­customers. Many ­outages, like those caused by an accident, are relatively short. However, ­others like those caused by a tornado or ­hurricane, can be much longer. How long it takes to get your power restored depends on the extent of the storm’s destruction, the number of outages, and when it becomes safe for ­cooperative personnel to get to the damaged areas.

Whether long or short, it pays to know what to do when the power goes out so you can keep your family safe. Safe Electricity suggests you:
• Call your electric cooperative ­immediately to report the ­outage, especially if you are aware of a downed power line.
• Use safe alternative food ­preparations. A barbecue grill is an excellent way to prepare food. Always grill outside.
• Check on friends and relatives-especially children, seniors, and those with medical conditions or disabilities.
Have a storm kit (with items like flashlights, battery-operated radio, and first-aid supplies) prepared for use during power outages. Keep the kit in a cool, dry place and make sure all members of the ­family know where it is. Make sure your first-aid supplies include ­scissors, ­tweezers, safety pins, aspirin, eyewash and ­rubbing alcohol or ­hydrogen peroxide.
• Turn off electrical appliances and unplug major electronics, including computers and televisions. Power sometimes comes back in surges, which can damage electronics. Your circuits could overload when power returns if all your electronics are still plugged in and on. Leave one light on to indicate that power has been restored. Wait a few minutes and then turn on other appliances and ­equipment-one at a time.
• If you use a standby generator that is wired directly into your home’s electrical system, you must ­operate it with a transfer safety switch. This prevents electricity from ­traveling back through the power lines or what is known as backfeed. Backfeed creates a danger for anyone near lines, particularly crews working to restore power. A safety ­transfer switch is not needed only if ­appliances are plugged directly into the generator outlets.
• Generators should only be run outdoors with adequate ventilation to protect occupants from carbon ­monoxide poisoning.
• When outside, treat ALL downed and hanging lines as if they are ­energized electric lines. Stay away and warn others to stay away.

Molly Hall is Director of Safe Electricity. E-mail Safe Electricity is a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council.
Molly Hall is Director of Safe Electricity. E-mail Safe Electricity is a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council.

To find out more about keeping your family safe from electrical hazards, go to