Last week's storms that devastated parts of the Mid-Atlantic region underscore the need for individual consumers to be prepared when disaster strikes.
And if the recent storms aren't enough to convince you, keep in mind that we are still early into hurricane season. Don't live along coastal areas? Well, just about everyone is vulnerable to some kind of natural disaster than can upset daily life, from tornadoes to earthquakes.
Being prepared is the best defense for such energy emergencies. The first step in being prepared is developing a weather emergency plan. The plan should include a list of important phone numbers that you can grab and take with you in case you need to quickly evacuate your home (i.e. doctors, family members, etc.). Of course, you probably have all these numbers stored in your cell phone but remember it may not work for days after the disaster.
The plan should also include an evacuation route, as well as an established meeting place in case you lose communication with loved ones. After the recent Washington storms, D.C. area residents found themselves driving well into Pennsylvania to find motels that had both vacancies and power.
Plan for three days of roughing it
Grab a backpack or purchase a large plastic bucket with a lid from a local hardware store or home center. Stuff the backpack or bucket with three days' worth of food and water. Other items should include a flashlight, battery powered/hand-cranked radio, first aid kit, money, medications and a CD or USB drive containing important documents. Store the kit in a place that is easily accessible in an emergency situation.
If disaster strikes and you find yourself without electricity and other utilities, turn off major appliances such as water heaters, stoves and air conditioning units. Unplug other appliances such as TVs, stereos, microwaves and computers. This will prevent damage to appliances and possible overloads to the system when power is restored. Leave one light on so you will be able to see when power is restored to your home.
Make sure you have a battery-operated or weather radio, multiple flashlights and a battery-operated clock and fan, along with extra batteries. Keep these items in a place when you can easily get to them.
If you have a portable generator, read the owners' manual and make sure you understand how it operates before trying to use it. Do not connect it directly to the electrical system of your home. Electricity could flow backward into the power lines and endanger lives. Either have a qualified electrician perform the work or plug appliances directly into the portable generator.
If you're running a portable generator, be sure to use properly rated extension cords.
Also, make sure the portable generator is properly vented to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not place a portable generator in your home or an enclosed space with limited ventilation like a garage or a screened porch. It needs to be far enough away from your house that you don't asphyxiate yourself and your family.
Also, be considerate of your neighbors. Try to site the generator so it doesn't asphyxiate or deafen those living nearby.
Familiarize yourself with your main electrical panel. You may have to turn off the main breaker or have to reset circuit breakers after an outage. Inspect the area around your electricity meter. If you detect or suspect any damage, call your local utility provider. Of course, the likelihood your utility will answer is slim to zero in most areas but it doesn't hurt to try.