Be prepared in case of power outages. CUB compiled these tips from a number of sources, including the Red Cross and Ready.gov.
What can I do to prepare for a power outage?
- Line up a support network. Keep a paper copy of a list of people (and their numbers) who can help you stay at home or evacuate during an extended power outage.
- Prepare an emergency kit that includes a first aid kit, one flashlight for each person in the home, extra batteries, food and water, a radio, extra cash and any important documents that might be helpful (a list of medications your family takes, important medical information, your support network list, etc.)
- Prepare a pet emergency kit to meet the needs of your companion animals.
- Have food and water ready. Stock up on non-perishable food and water supplies. You need about a gallon of water per person per day. Have coolers and ice ready to extend food refrigeration. Also, keep a thermometer in your fridge, freezer or cooler so you can monitor the food temperature when you need to.
- Determine whether your home phone will work in a power outage, and if it has a battery backup, how long that will last. Have communication devices that work without home power. (For example a crank or battery radio, chargers/batteries for your cellphones.)
- Talk to your doctor and medical device provider so you have a plan for how to deal with medicines that need refrigeration and medical devices powered by electricity. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures.
- Consider safe alternatives for lighting, cooking and elevators.
- Make sure you have weatherized your doors and windows to keep your home cool for as long as possible during an outage.
- Make sure that you have current surge protectors for household electronics.
- Keep your car gas tank at least half full.
What do I do during a power outage?
- Contact your support network. Let people in your network know that you are OK. Also, monitor alerts about the outage. (See below.)
- Keep your freezers and refrigerators closed as much as possible. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
- First, use perishable food from the refrigerator. Perishables should have a temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe to eat. (Use a food thermometer to check, and throw out the food if it’s 40 degrees or higher. When in doubt throw it out.) THEN use food from the freezer. And THEN use your non-perishable foods and staples.
- If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items. Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times. Monitor temperatures with a thermometer.
- Prevent power overloads and fire hazards. Unplug appliances and electronics to avoid power overloads or damage from power surges. Use flashlights, not candles. If any circuit breakers have been tripped, contact an electrician to inspect them before turning them on.
- Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Don’t use outdoor stoves indoors for cooking. If using a generator, keep it outside in a well-ventilated area away from windows.
- Evacuate if your home is too hot or too cold, or if you have medical needs that require power. Depending on the season, see if there’s a cooling center (equipped with power charging stations) or warming center near you.
- Beware of scams. In the past, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Attorney General’s office have warned people in storm-damaged areas to watch out for scammers looking to exploit homeowners and business owners who may be in need of repairs. Never pre-pay for repair services. If you are contacted and suspect fraud, report the incident to local law enforcement, or contact the Illinois AG’s Consumer Fraud Hotline at 1-800-386-5438; 1-800-964-3013 (TTY).
In the case of a power outage after a storm, follow these additional tips:
- Beware of strolling the neighborhood after a major storm. Stay away from fallen or low-hanging wires or anything they contact, and be especially cautious near metal fences.
- Stay alert for natural gas odors. If you smell natural gas, or if you hear a blowing or hissing noise, leave the area immediately and call your utility.
- Stay away from downed power lines. Don’t try to “help” utility workers by moving branches off the lines. Keep a safe distance (at least 10 feet) and call your utility: Ameren, 1-800-755-5000, or ComEd, 1-800-334-7661.
Where can I get information about outages?
Here’s the outage map from Ameren Illinois and here’s ComEd’s map. For easy access to information about your own home, set up an online account with your utility. (You can do that here for Ameren and here for ComEd.)
With the Ameren map, another option to get info about your home is to click on “Check Outage Status.” With the ComEd map, click “Search” at the left, and type in a zip code or address. When that area pops up you can click on an icon to get details on the outage (including an estimate of when power will be restored).
Note: CUB’s dedicated team of consumer advocates, at 1-800-669-5556, will help check your outage status if you do not have internet access.
If I’ve suffered an extended power outage, should I file a claim with the utility to get reimbursed for spoiled food and other losses?
Illinois law says that customers could be entitled to compensation for losses or damages directly related to the outage in the event of a power interruption that impacts more than 30,000 customers for four hours or more. (Also, local governments can get reimbursed for “emergency and contingency expenses” as a result of the outage.) Unfortunately, the utility is allowed to ask for an exemption from reimbursing customers for “unpreventable damage due to weather events or conditions.” (It never hurts to make your case to the utility. If you want to file a claim, here’s where you can get the claim forms for ComEd and Ameren.)
Where can I get more information?
Check out these resources:
- State of Illinois.
- Federal Government.
- American Red Cross (Also, food safety tips)
- Tips from the federal government about medical devices during an outage.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency tips on severe weather and power outages.
- National Weather Service, Chicago office. (Get alerts for Illinois.)
- ComEd Website
- Ameren Website
We all should be at our best at times like this, so please check on your neighbors to make sure they’re alright.
If you have questions, concerns or complaints, contact your utility first. If you don’t like the response you get, please call CUB at 1-800-669-5556. We’re here for you.