Energy Adviser: Prepare now for power outages

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It will take a long time for the East Coast to completely recover from Superstorm Sandy. Our hearts go out to those who suffered in the devastation.

"Hopefully, it's a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Michael Getman, Clark Public Utilities safety manager.

But the storm is a reminder that no part of our country is immune from natural disasters. Here in the Northwest, the emergency could be an ice storm that knocks out power for hours or an earthquake that cuts off basic services for days.

As we saw in the Northeast earlier this month, loss of electricity is no minor inconvenience. Clark Public Utilities employees do their best to keep the lights on, but sometimes Mother Nature has her way.

You can take steps now to give yourself the peace of mind that comes with knowing you are prepared for an extended power outage, Getman said.

• Prepare a kit that includes a flashlight, fresh batteries, matches, firewood and kindling, blankets, sleeping bags, a battery-operated radio, a three-day supply of drinking water, a manual can opener, and a supply of nonperishable food such as cereal, peanut butter and crackers.

• Protect your electrical equipment with surge suppressors.

• If you have an automatic garage door, learn how to open it manually.

• Cordless phones won't work when the power goes out, so have at least one corded phone in your home.

• If you have a camp stove that you can use in your fireplace in an emergency, keep a supply of foods that require little heat to cook, such as canned stews, soups and spaghetti.

• Consider purchasing a portable generator. It won't create enough electricity to power your home, but you can use it to power individual appliances, such as a microwave to warm food.

If the lights go out, here's what you should do:

• Call the Clark Public Utilities PowerLine at 360-992-8000, an automated phone system that lets you report an outage and receive up-to-date information.

• Unplug all sensitive electrical equipment, including your refrigerator, washer and dryer, television, microwave and computer. Also turn down your furnace thermostat and turn off your water heater circuit breaker. If everything is turned on when the power returns, it might overload the system. Don't turn on any equipment again until lights have returned to their normal brightness.

• Keep freezer and refrigerator doors closed and cover those appliances with blankets. Food will stay frozen in a full freezer for about two days, and for one day in a freezer that's half-full. You can use dry ice to keep food frozen, but be sure to wear gloves when handling it and place a layer of cardboard or newspaper between the dry ice and your food. It takes 25 pounds of dry ice per 10 cubic feet of freezer space to keep food frozen for two to four days.

• Never burn charcoal briquettes indoors, even in your fireplace. And never run a generator indoors.

• Concentrate your emergency heating in the room with the fewest windows on the side of the house away from prevailing winds. Isolate the room from the rest of the house by keeping the doors closed or hanging bedding or heavy drapes over entryways.

• Conserve body heat. Put on extra clothing, including a hat. Two or three lightweight layers are warmer than one heavy layer. Also, avoid staying in one position too long. Exercise generates body heat.

And it always bears repeating, if you see a downed power line, stay at least 30 to 50 feet away and report it to the utility, Getman said.

Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.