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by Gail Kavanagh

Blackouts are a fact of life, and if you live in an area where these are frequent, you need to know how to be prepared. Even if you do not, a power blackout can occur anywhere at any time. So consider the following tips to make the whole experience less stressful.

1: When the lights go out, light is just what you need. But the flashlight in the closet is no use to you if the batteries are dead. So always make sure to store spare batteries right where you stash the flashlight. Keep it where is it can easily be found. But it shouldn’t be your only emergency light. Many people keep candles or kerosene lanterns (though these are not the safest option, particularly if you have young children). Also keep battery powered lanterns for emergencies, a good rechargeable lantern will cost about $30-40 and will provide light for at least six hours. If you live in an area prone to many blackouts it is a good idea to have more than one option.

2: Do not open the fridge or freezer while the blackout is on, your food will stay frozen if you do not open the freezer door. If the blackout goes longer than 48 hours, open the fridge door once to get out foods you may need such as sandwich meat, fruit or milk. If the blackout is a long one you may lose refrigerated food, so try to use up what you have. When the blackout ends, inspect the food in your fridge or freezer and clean it out thoroughly, discarding anything that has been contaminated.

3: Blackouts happen at the most inconvenient times, and if everything in your kitchen runs on electricity, you won’t even be able to make a cup of coffee. Hot water from the faucet can contain dissolved minerals, some of which may not be the best thing for you. So when a storm is coming you might want to think ahead. Keep a vacuum flask of hot water or ready made coffee in the kitchen. It will help to comfort you during a blackout. You can also use your gas powered or charcoal barbecue grill to prepare coffee and a meal, so keep a ready supply of fuel.

4: Buy a battery powered radio. Electric companies will keep you informed through local radio broadcasts, and you will know the time so you can keep the family to as normal a routine as possible. And if you have some kind of player that doesn’t need to be plugged in right away (cell phone or tablet) cheer everyone up with some music!

5: If young children are frightened, let them camp out in the living room for the night. This serves two purposes – it calms the children, and makes sure everyone is in one place if the blackout turns into a real emergency, requiring evacuation. For this reason also make sure everyone is dressed warmly or has sweaters and boots nearby.

6: If you have to use pantry food for a meal, make sure you have a simple manual can opener as you won’t be able to use the electric one. It may sound funny, but things like this are often overlooked. If you go electric on any everyday item, don’t throw the manual version away. Put it in your emergency drawer.

7: As soon as the blackout occurs turn off your computer, TV and other appliances (except the fridge). You don’t want a surge of power running through the house when the power comes back on.

8: Try to keep some cash around the house. If the forecast shows a big storm coming, you might want to take out a bit of money beforehand. ATMs will also go down in a general blackout and you won’t know how long it will continue. And always try to keep some change/money tucked away in the car for toll booths.

9: Keep your cellphone charged and make sure you make only emergency calls as the networks will likely be jammed.

10: Finally, if there is any likelihood of a power line down in your area, stay indoors until it is fixed. Don’t take any foolish risks, especially if it is dark and raining.

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