If you worry about power outages, you have good reason to in Houston.
We’ve seen it all – weather-related outages, planned outages, vehicle and construction accidents and even animals causing outages. Now as hurricane season and the summer heat are in full swing, Houstonians are likely to see more power outages this time of year.
Here are tips on what to do if a power outage happens in your area and how to prepare beforehand:
Create a plan before power goes out
You should take stock of items that rely on electricity before an outage occurs and talk to your medical provider if you rely on electricity for medical devices or to store medicine.
It’s important to find out how to store medication and how long it can sustain higher temperatures, according to Ready.gov, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security website focused on educating the public about disaster preparations.
“If the power is out for more than a day, discard any medication that should be refrigerated, unless the drug’s label says otherwise,” the website advises. “Consult your doctor or pharmacist immediately for a new supply.”
Additionally, during hurricane season experts recommend storing enough food and water for at least three days per person in your household and the same amount can be applied for pets.
“Following a disaster, there may be power outages that could last for several days,” according to the Ready campaign. “Stock canned foods, dry mixes and other staples that do not require refrigeration, cooking, water or special preparation. Be sure to include a manual can opener and eating utensils.”
A few types of emergency food supplies include:
- ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables
- protein or fruit bars
- dry cereal or granola
- peanut butter
- dried fruit
- canned juices
- non-perishable pasteurized milk
- high-energy foods
- food for infants
- comfort/stress foods
Additional items used for camping that might work for power outages include generators, flashlights, lanterns, propane camp stoves for cooking (make sure to use in well-ventilated areas), water storage containers or bottled water, shelf stable foods (packaged and dehydrated), and solar battery charger for phones, said Robin Riebel, customer training manager at The Home Depot.
The Ready website notes that refrigerators can maintain food cold for about four hours without power, and a full freezer will stay cool for about 48 hours.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas recommends you have ice and one or more coolers available for food. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice can keep a 10-cubic foot freezer below freezing for three to four days, according to Ready. If using dry ice, be sure it does not make direct contact with the food and use dry, heavy gloves to avoid injury.
You can monitor the temperature with a thermometer, and if temperatures rise above 40 degrees or higher, food would need to be tossed out.
For your phone, be sure to have a charged power bank available. Pack your important documents like medical information, emergency contact information, deed/lease, birth certificates, insurance policies and have extra cash.
Keep your pet in mind and be sure to have supplies for them too.
What to do immediately when a power outage occurs
During an outage, check your circuit breakers and fuse boxes to be sure that the outage isn’t solely an issue on your property. The utility commission recommends turning off and unplugging appliances to prevent a power surge from damaging appliances when power returns.
However, leave a single lamp on and plugged in to help you become aware of when power has been restored.
How to light your home during an outage
There are many ways to light up your home during a power outage, including the commonly recommended hand-held flashlights. The Ready site suggests having flashlights for every member of your household.
Additionally, the utility commission recommends having digital quick-response thermometers, radios, LED candles and extra batteries. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Corp. has various types of headlamps and lanterns for camping that can be used as well.
What to do if power is out for an extended period
If power is out for an extended period, you may consider using a portable generator. If you plan to use a generator learn how to use it prior to a disaster striking rather than during the height of an emergency.
Never use a portable generator indoors, said Mario Gallegos, public information officer for the Houston Fire Department.
Install carbon monoxide detectors with battery backup in central locations of your home. In addition to generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills should never be used indoors and should be placed at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and garages.
Be sure to keep the generator dry from rain or flooding to prevent electrical shock. Ready campaign also advises to let a generator cool down before refueling as fuel spilled on hot parts can ignite.
Using a portable generator indoors and in enclosed areas can lead to death from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In case you want to leave your home, you can relocate to the city of Houston’s multi-service centers to cool off during business hours Monday through Friday if your power goes out, said Fabian Guiterrez, public information officer for Houston Health Department.
How to work from home during an extended outage
If you work from home, Erin Reed, a career coach and owner of ER Resume Review, LLC, said it’s important to do some research before an outage occurs to determine places in your neighborhood that are likely to have backup power.
Those places might be libraries or community spots that have resources to generate power that individual residences may not, Reed said.
Additionally, using a wireless hotspot, which gives you access to the internet, can also help you work from home during an extended power outage. Many cell phone providers have it as part of your cell phone package.
Reed said to make sure computers and electronic devices have backup power, whether that be a portable or external charger.
Use the time without power to do things you may not be able to during the rush of your day-to-day job, she said.
“During an outage that could be the perfect opportunity to take time and like I like to say ‘go old school’ and just get out a pen and paper and work on those long-term projects that always seem to get put on the back burner,” Reed said. “And map out a plan or goals for those projects that don’t necessarily require electricity at the moment.”
Reed typically enjoys using OneDrive, a Microsoft cloud service that keeps files together across all devices, since it has all her documents and spreadsheets that she works on at work. She can still access it when she’s not plugged in, and can see the materials on her phone or laptop as well.
“So when you have all of your materials in multiple places, it makes it a lot easier should something happen,” she said.
Recovering from an outage
The utility commission recommends people avoid flooded areas and downed trees, and to call 911 to report locations of a downed power line. Additionally, CenterPoint Energy says you should remain at least 35 feet away from a downed powerline.
When power returns, turn appliances on in 15-minute increments to avoid overloading. Plug in your appliances before turning on the air conditioner when power is restored.
Discard any perishable items like meat, poultry, fish or eggs that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more.
How the Texas power grid stands for summer heat
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages 90 percent of the electricity usage in the state, is at an elevated risk for “insufficient operating reserves” in above-normal peak summer conditions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which cited a report from the North American Electric Reliability Corp.
“Resources are adequate for normal peak summer demand in ERCOT, which covers most of Texas,” according to the report. “However, there is a risk that dispatchable generation, such as generation from natural gas- or coal-fired power plants, in ERCOT may not be sufficient to meet electricity demand during an extreme heat wave with unusually low winds.”
In-mid June, ERCOT issued a voluntary conservation notice, asking Texans to reduce electricity use.
How to help the power grid conserve energy
To conserve energy, ERCOT recommends using ceiling fans and portable fans to circulate cool air in your residence. Closing blinds and curtains on windows receiving direct sunlight can also help.
If safe to do so, ERCOT recommends raising thermostats a degree or two. Avoid using large appliances, and unplug unnecessary appliances and lights. Electrical devices still plugged in can continue to use power despite being off.
Shut off pool pumps during peak hours and instead allow them to run early morning or overnight. For commercial businesses, turn off any lights or equipment when not in use or outside business hours.
Over the summer, using a microwave, outdoor grill or slow cooker can help prevent your home from heating up.
The utility commission recommends running washers, dryers and dishwashers in the early morning or after 7 p.m.
Sign up for notifications and alerts
ERCOT encourages people to sign up for grid condition notifications through the Texas Advisory and Notification System (TXANS) at TXANS (ercot.com). CenterPoint Energy recommends its customers to sign up for its Power Alert Service to receive free restoration time estimates and outage notifications on outages via phone, text or email.
According to its website, if an outage is due to a storm, CenterPoint Energy advises using the Power Alert Service or the Electrical Customer Outage Tracker rather than calling them for a status update.