Light & Power
Emergency lighting is necessary for safety and for emotional and mental health. Light helps you see and avoid hazards. It can help you better see and understand your situation when a disaster happens. Have you ever been in a cave with absolutely no light? It can be disorienting at the very least.
Power outages are very common, especially during emergencies and disasters. Knowing what to do in a power outage situation can help you "Be Ready" for your own safety and the safety of others.
- Add electrical power and natural gas company phone numbers in your emergency contacts.
- Put flashlights, batteries, and chemical glow sticks in emergency kits.
- Store batteries in original packaging – not in flashlights, radios, or other electronic devices.
- Learn how to safely shut-off all of the utilities at your home and teach all responsible people how and when to do the same.
- Store a gas shut-off wrench near your outside gas meter.
- Have emergency chargers for mobile phones and other emergency communication equipment.
- Install safety lighting where needed around your home.
- Get power back-ups if someone uses life-saving electronic medical equipment.
- BONUS: Get a generator and learn how to safely use it to power larger appliances in your home.
Since the earliest of human history, people have been using light, trying to push back the darkness. Darkness breeds fear, uncertainty, and hides hazards and other dangers. Long periods of darkness can cause depression and confusion. Even the smallest amount of light can reveal safe paths, make tasks easier, and bring hope to a difficult situation.
One of the most common of emergency situations is a power outage. Whether it is from high winds and bad weather, extreme temperatures, or some mind of accident, it seems that most areas experience at lest a few power outages each year. At the very least, these are inconveniences that last for a few hours. If you have vital medical equipment or important electronics that are dependent on power, or the outage lasts longer than a few hours, this inconvenience quickly becomes a lot worse, possibly life threatening. Have essential supplies on hand to last a few days or even longer.
If the power goes out, the first thing to do is to grab your emergency flashlight. Darkness is disorienting and can be dangerous if you hurt yourself on an unseen obstacle or tripping hazard. Reliable flashlights need to be put in strategic locations around your house. Keep them near beds, in the kitchen, utility room, garage, and anywhere that is easily accessible in the dark. These are emergency flashlights only, not to be played with or taken for other projects and forgotten to be returned. Batteries need to be rotated every six months to prevent corrosion. Another option is to use rechargeable flashlights that stay in the wall outlet and automatically turn on in an outage. Again, put them throughout your home in area where they will be needed.
After getting a light, check the circuit breakers or the fuse box. Learn about resetting your circuit breaker with this video from Rocky Mountain Power. If there isn't a tripped breaker or a blown fuse, go outside and see if any of the neighbors' lights are on. If the neighbors' power is off as well, call your power company to report an outage. Put this number in your emergency contacts NOW so you don't have to try and find it when you need it.
Turn off all electrical equipment, computers, electronic devices, heaters, air conditioners, and appliances to prevent power surges in your devices and overloading the circuits in your home when power is restored. This can also be done at the circuit breaker. Turn off the individual breakers except, keep one breaker for one light switch in the on position so you know when power is restored. If you have vital medical equipment or important electronics that are dependent on power, get a back-up system in place now and make plans for the possibility of a power outage.
When the power returns, turn on the individual breakers one at a time to avoid overloading your home's circuits and the electrical system. If your lights are dim, flickering, or are excessively bright, turn off all of the breakers individually again. Call your power company, explain what is happening, and tell them there is still a problem. If everything is OK, turn on your porch light when power is back in service. After crews complete repairs, they patrol the area of the power failure to see if lights are on.
Light and Power for Emergency Kits
Many disasters and emergencies can cause a loss of electrical power. It is important to include in all emergency kits and around your home various forms of light for safety and mental/emotional health. Keep good, working flashlights in your disaster supply kits. There are many different kinds, but a battery powered, LED flashlight is small, inexpensive, bright, reliable, long battery life, and can last thousands of hours without needing to replace the bulbs. Some like a handheld flashlight, others prefer a small headlamp so they can be hands-free. Find what works for you and include it in your kit.
One problem with batteries is the possibility that they could corrode, destroying the device that they are in. It is important to NOT store batteries in the device you will use them in. Store batteries in their original packaging, or to save room in your kit, you can cover the contact points of the batteries and wrap them in plastic as shown in the picture. Then you can attach a small keychain or zipper pull flashlight to the outside of your kit to be able to help you find your main flashlight.
Light sticks are another great addition to your disaster supply kit. They are only good for one time use, but most last between eight and twelve hours. They are a great backup if your flashlight stops working since they do not depend on electrical power or circuitry to function. All you do is bend the stick until you feel the inner glass vial break, mixing the two chemicals. Shake the light stick to help the two chemicals combine, and the resulting solution glows inside of the stick. They work well in wet conditions, even underwater. Attach one to a young child's wrist, to a pet's collar, or to your disaster supply kit so you don't lose track of them in the dark. Chemical light sticks can be used to signal for help at night. Put a string through one end, then twirl it around, creating a large glowing circle that can be seen for miles.
In addition to light and batteries, keep a spare mobile phone charging cable in your kit that is compatible with your mobile phone. Even if you always keep your phone charged, eventually it will run out of power. You may be able to find an electrical outlet with power if you are evacuating the area, but if not, many emergency radios are hand crank or solar powered and have USB power ports on them. Include a small emergency radio with a power option in your kit.
Candle and Oil Lamp Safety
Battery operated flashlights and lamps are the safest to use for light in an emergency situation. The potential fire hazard and breathable toxins in the air from candles and oil lamps don't make them the safest choice. But in an emergency, you do the best you can with what you have. If you run out of batteries, you only option may be candles and/or oil lamps. If you must use them, be very cautious and practice fire safety at all times. Have extinguishers ready.
If your only option is to have an open flame in your home for light, keep it as small as possible. Never leave a candle alone. It you can't take it with you, blow it out and let it cool before you leave. Keep it away from children and pets, and a minimum of twelve inches away from anything combustible like curtains, blankets, or furniture. Only use a candle with a sturdy candle holder that won't tip over and is large enough to catch the melting wax. Beware of hot candle wax. It WILL burn you. For emergencies, you want to use a non-colored, non-perfumed candle. This minimizes the amount of toxins put into the air that you will be breathing. This is especially important if someone in your home has respiratory issues or allergies.
The safety of oil lamps is pretty much the same as for candles. Never leave it unattended, extinguish it before you go to sleep, keep it away from children and pets, and anything combustible. Use the highest quality, purest lamp oil without color or perfumes you can find. This will prevent harmful particles in the air you are breathing. Check to make sure it is rated as indoor safe. Only use it in a well ventilated area, and keep the extinguishers at the ready. Trim the wick of any loose or out of place fibers before filling. Never fill the lamp with oil when it is lit. When you need to fill the lamp, follow the manufacture's directions as to how much. Do not over fill. Use a funnel and wipe up any spills immediately. Allow an hour for the wick to become fully saturated before lighting. After lighting, roll the wick down to expose only about a quarter of an inch of wick. You will get a better flame and reduce smoke.
Propane and white gas or "Coleman" style lanterns are only to be used outside because of the toxic gases they produce. Always follow all cautions and instructions on the proper use of your light producing equipment.
Know when and how to safely shut off electricity, gas, and water at your house. Keep a working flashlight next to your bed. Store and rotate batteries. Keep extra phone chargers in emergency kits, at work, in vehicles, etc. Know how to safely use a generator. Never run a generator indoors or near a door or window. Only use gas heaters with proper ventilation.
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