POWEROUT

Power Outages

Safety tips to help you prepare for and cope with sudden loss of power.

What You Need to Know When the Power Goes Out Unexpectedly

HIGHLIGHTS

  • To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, use generators, pressure washers, grills, and similar items outdoors only.
  • If the power is out longer than two hours, throw away food that has a temperature higher than 40°F.
  • Check with local authorities to be sure your water is safe.
  • In hot weather, stay cool and drink plenty of fluids to prevent heat-related illness.
  • Wear layers of clothing, which help to keep in body heat.
  • Avoid power lines and use electric tools and appliances safely to prevent electrical shock.

On This Page

CDC offers these tips to help you prepare for and cope with sudden loss of power.

Food Safety

If the power is out for less than 2 hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer.

If the power is out for longer than 2 hours, follow the guidelines below:

  • For the Freezer section: A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
  • For the Refrigerated section: Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
  • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

For guidelines on refreezing food when the power comes back on, visit the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s page on Food Safety in an Emergency.

The following resources provide additional information on preparing for emergencies and determining if your food is safe after a power outage:

Safe Drinking Water

When power goes out, water purification systems may not be functioning fully. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water. Your state, local, or tribal health department can make specific recommendations for boiling or treating water in your area. Here are some general rules concerning water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene. Remember:

  • Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. If possible, use baby formula that does not need to have water added.
  • If you use bottled water, be sure it came from a safe source. If you do not know that the water came from a safe source, you should boil or treat it before you use it. Use only bottled, boiled, or treated water until your supply is tested and found safe.
  • Boiling water, when practical, is the preferred way to kill harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute will kill most organisms.
  • If you don’t have clean, safe, bottled water and if boiling is not possible, you often can make water safer to drink by using a disinfectant, such as unscented household chlorine bleach, iodine, or chlorine dioxide tablets. These can kill most harmful organisms, such as viruses and bacteria. However, only chlorine dioxide tablets are effective in controlling more resistant organisms, such as the parasite Cryptosporidium.

 

To disinfect water:  

    • Filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter OR allow it to settle.
      • When using household chlorine bleach:
        • Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops; about 0.625 milliliters) of unscented liquid household chlorine (5–6%) bleach for each gallon of clear water (or 2 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of clear water). Add 1/4 teaspoon (or 16 drops; about 1.50 milliliters) of bleach for each gallon of cloudy water (or 4 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of cloudy water).
        • Stir the mixture well.
        • Let it stand for 30 minutes or longer before you use it.
        • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.
      • When using iodine:
        • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
        • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.
      • When using chlorine dioxide tablets:
        • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
        • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.
    • Draw off the clear water.

Extreme Heat

Be aware of yours and others’ risk for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and fainting. To avoid heat stress, you should:

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      • Drink a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes and at least one gallon each day.
        • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. They both dehydrate the body.
      • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
      • Take frequent cool showers or baths.
      • If you feel dizzy, weak, or overheated, go to a cool place. Sit or lie down, drink water, and wash your face with cool water. If you don't feel better soon, get medical help quickly.
      • Work during cooler hours of the day when possible, or distribute the workload evenly throughout the day.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness. It happens when the body can’t control its own temperature and its temperature rises rapidly. Sweating fails and the body cannot cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency care is not given.

Warning signs of heat stroke vary but can include:


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                • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
                • Rapid, strong pulse
                • Throbbing headache
                • Dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness
                • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)

If you suspect someone has heat stroke, follow these instructions:

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                • Immediately call for medical attention.
                • Get the person to a cooler area.
                • Cool the person rapidly by immersing him/her cool water or a cool shower, or spraying or sponging him/her with cool water. If the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him/her vigorously.
                • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
                • Do not give the person alcohol to drink. Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
                • If emergency medical personnel do not arrive quickly, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.


First Aid for Electrical Shock

If you believe someone has been electrocuted take the following steps:

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      1. Look first. Don’t touch. The person may still be in contact with the electrical source. Touching the person may pass the current through you.
      2. Call or have someone else call 911 or emergency medical help.
      3. Turn off the source of electricity if possible. If not, move the source away from you and the affected person using a nonconducting object made of cardboard, plastic or wood.
      4. Once the person is free of the source of electricity, check the person's breathing and pulse. If either has stopped or seems dangerously slow or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.
      5. If the person is faint or pale or shows other signs of shock, lay the person down with the head slightly lower than the trunk of his or her body and the legs elevated.
      6. Don’t touch burns, break blisters, or remove burned clothing. Electrical shock may cause burns inside the body, so be sure the person is taken to a doctor.

Power Line Hazards and Cars

If a power line falls on a car, you should stay inside the vehicle. This is the safest place to stay. Warn people not to touch the car or the line. Call or ask someone to call the local utility company and emergency services.

The only circumstance in which you should consider leaving a car that is in contact with a downed power line is if the vehicle catches on fire. Open the door. Do not step out of the car. You may receive a shock. Instead, jump free of the car so that your body clears the vehicle before touching the ground. Once you clear the car, shuffle at least 50 feet away, with both feet on the ground.

As in all power line related emergencies, call for help immediately by dialing 911 or call your electric utility company's Service Center/Dispatch Office.

Do not try to help someone else from the car while you are standing on the ground.

Avoid Carbon Monoxide

For important information about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning during a power outage, see Returning Home After a Disaster: Be Healthy and Safe, Protect Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Fact Sheet (from CDC's National Center for Environmental Health [NCEH]).

Safety at Work During Power Recovery

As power returns after an outage, people at work may be at risk of electrical or traumatic injuries as power lines are reenergized and equipment is reactivated. CDC recommends that employers and employees be aware of those risks and take protective steps if they are in contact with or in proximity to power lines, electrical components, and the moving parts of heavy machinery.

Be Prepared for an Emergency

CDC recommends that people make an emergency plan that includes a disaster supply kit. This kit should include enough water, dried and canned food, and emergency supplies (flashlights, batteries, first-aid supplies, prescription medicines, and a digital thermometer) to last at least 3 days. Use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles, gas lanterns, or torches (to minimize the risk of fire).

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This is an important message from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During a power outage, never use generators, grills, or other gasoline-, propane-, or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, garage, or carport or near doors, windows, or vents. They produce carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that kills more than 500 Americans each year. If your home is damaged, stay with friends or family or in a shelter. To learn more, call the CDC at 800-CDC-INFO.