Power outages can come at any time and last a few minutes to a few weeks. When they occur, hydro companies and local authorities work tirelessly to restore power and keep us safe. In the meantime, being prepared will help keep you and your loved ones stay safe and more comfortable.
Click on the headings below to learn more about power outages as well as what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.
- Check these links to monitor power outage status or sign up to receive power outage notifications:
* If there is a potential for a power outage or if a power outage occurs, seek information from your hydro supplier. If possible (e.g. you have generator backup or your cell phone’s data still works) listen regularly to the radio or television or check online for the latest information.
Definitions, Types and Causes of Power Outages
Blackout: Results in total loss of power to an area. It is often the most serve form of power outage that can occur and may last from a few minutes to weeks depending on their nature. Blackouts where power stations have tripped can take a long time to recover.
Brownout: Occurs when there is a drop in voltage in an electrical power supply. This can occur when there is too much demand on the power supply.
Permanent Fault: Is a massive loss of power typically caused by a fault on a power line. Severe weather can cause these faults. Power is automatically restored once the fault is fixed.
Planned Outages: This happens when the hydro supplier has predetermined work to perform on the electrical system.
Power outages can be the result of a number of hazards such as:
- High winds
- Freezing rain
- Snow or sleet storms
- Accidents damaging the hydro system
- Planned outages
Health risks due to power outages are often associated with loss of electrical equipment that helps us stay healthy and safe. Spoiled food, private water treatment systems not operating, as well as the loss of heat or air conditioning are common health threats related to power outages. The improper use of fuel powered generators or heating devices can result in carbon monoxide poisoning. For vulnerable populations, power loss to medical devices (e.g. home oxygen supply concentrators) and medications requiring refrigeration (e.g. insulin) can further compound their problems during a power outage. Access to other health services such as mental health may also be disrupted.
- Communication systems may be disrupted. Cell phone towers may become overloaded or go down.
- Other critical infrastructure and services (e.g. water, sewage treatment, transportation, banks) may be disrupted.
- Businesses we often rely on may be closed (e.g. gas stations, grocery stores).
Click on the subheadings below for more information on how to protect yourself and your loved ones from power outages.
Before a power outage
- Have a 72 hour emergency kit stocked and ready.
- See if your hydro supplier offers notifications and/or alerts that you can sign up to receive.
- Purchase a back-up power supply (e.g. generator, solar, wind power, etc) that can handle the necessary hydro demand you require. Heating, refrigeration, freezers, well, septic and sump pumps as well as minimal lighting should be priority.
- Install carbon monoxide (CO) detectors with battery back-up. This is especially important if you intend to run gas generators or other fueled appliances.
- Install a non-electric standby stove or heater. Ensure it is adequately vented with the type of chimney flue specified for it. Never connect two heating units to the same chimney flue at the same time.
- If you have a wood-burning fireplace, have the chimney cleaned every fall in preparation for use and to eliminate creosote build-up which could ignite and cause a chimney fire.
- Those with a standby heating unit that uses the normal house oil or gas supply should be connected with shut-off valves by a certified tradesperson.
- Check with furnace, appliance and lighting fixture dealers or manufacturers regarding power requirements and proper operating procedures before purchasing and operating a generator.
- Ensure sump pumps have back-up battery power.
- Backup critical electronic files.
- Protect sensitive electrical appliances such as TVs, computers, and DVD players with a surge-protecting power bar.
People with disabilities or others requiring assistance
People relying on hydro for medical assistance should consider the following prior to a power outage:
- Your evacuation route — without elevator service (if applicable).
- Backup power supply for essential medical equipment.
- Having a 72 hr kit easily accessible including a battery-powered or crank radio, flashlight and a charged cell phone handy to get situational information and signal for help.
- Establishing a self-help network to assist and check on you during an emergency.
- Enrolling in a medical alert program that will signal for help if you are immobilized or you require immediate medical assistance.
- Keeping a list of facilities that provide life-sustaining equipment or treatment.
- Keeping a list of medical conditions and treatment easily accessible for first responders.
- If you live in an apartment, advise the property management that you may need assistance staying in your apartment or that you must be evacuated if there is a power outage. This will allow the property manager to plan and make the necessary arrangements on your behalf.
Food Safety in Preparation for a Power Outage
- Place an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. This will help you determine if food is safe during power outages. The refrigerator temperature should be 4°C or lower and the freezer should be -18°C or lower to keep food safe.
- Turn the refrigerator or freezer control to its coldest setting.
- Keep several freezer gel packs in your freezer.
- If there is space in your freezer, fill containers with water and freeze. These blocks of ice will help maintain temperatures. If your normal water supply is contaminated or unavailable, the melting ice will also supply drinking water.
- Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately. This helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
- Pack food tightly together in the freezer. This helps the food stay cold longer.
- Know where you can obtain block ice for use in your freezer and refrigerator.
- Keep coolers on hand to store refrigerated food in case the power goes out for more than four hours.
- If electrical power may be off for a long period of time, take food to a friend or neighbour’s where the power is on, if possible.
During a power outage
- First, check whether the power outage is limited to your home. If your neighbours’ power is still on, check your own circuit breaker panel or fuse box. If the problem is not a breaker or a fuse, check the service wires leading to the house. If they are obviously damaged or on the ground, stay at least 10-metres back and notify your electricity supplier. Keep the number along with other emergency numbers near your telephone.
- If your neighbours’ power is also out, notify your electricity supplier.
- Turn off all tools, appliances and electronic equipment, and turn the thermostat(s) for the home heating system down to prevent damage from a power surge when power is restored. Also, power can be restored more easily when there is not a heavy load on the electrical system.
- Turn off all lights, except one inside and one outside, so that both you and hydro crews outside know that power has been restored.
- Never use charcoal or gas barbecues, camping heating equipment, or home generators indoors. They give off carbon monoxide. Because you can’t smell or see it, carbon monoxide can cause health problems and is life-threatening.
- Make sure your home has a working carbon monoxide detector. If it is hard-wired to the house’s electrical supply, ensure it has a battery-powered backup.
- Battery powered lighting is preferred, however if using candles use proper candle holders. Never leave lit candles unattended and keep out of reach of children. Always extinguish candles before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Listen to your battery-powered or crank radio for information on the outage and advice from authorities.
- Report downed power lines to local authorities.
Food Safety During a Power Outage
- Note the time the power outage started in order to track how long your refrigerator(s) and freezer(s) have been without power; knowing this will help you determine which foods may be safe to eat and which ones are not.
- Keep the fridge and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep the food within a safe temperature range for as long as possible.
- A refrigerator without power should keep food cool for about four to six hours if the door is kept closed. A full freezer without power will keep items frozen for about two days. A half full freezer will keep items frozen for about one day.
- Place perishable items such as meats, dairy and seafood in the coldest section of the fridge. Better yet, meats and seafood may be stored in the freezer.
- Place ice inside fridges and freezers to help keep them cold.
- If the power stays out for a long time, buy block ice to keep the refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible.
- If possible transfer food to a friend or family member’s refrigerator or freezer that is operating.
- Contact your doctor or pharmacist for information about proper storage of medication that requires refrigeration such as insulin.
Breastfeeding and Expressed Breast Milk During Power Outages
- Breastfeeding is safe and convenient and continues to be so during emergencies; no special precautions are required. If you have expressed breast milk stored the following precautions should be taken:
- Freshly expressed breast milk should not be left at room temperature (16-29°C / 60-85°F) for more than four hours. If you have expressed breastmilk stored in the fridge during a power outage, evaluate each container of stored human milk once power has been restored. If the power has been off for more than 4 hours, throw it out.
- If you have expressed breastmilk stored in the freezer during a power outage, keep it in the freezer. Evaluate each container of stored human milk once power has been restored. Partially defrosted milk with the presence of ice crystals may be re-frozen. In the absence of ice crystals, expressed milk should be thrown out.
Infant Formula Preparation During Power Outages
- If your infant is fed formula you may need to change the way you prepare infant formula during a power outage.
- All water used to prepare powdered infant formula or concentrated liquid formula should be sterilized (boiled for at least two minutes) prior to use. This includes commercially available plain bottled water and water from a safe drinking water source. Consider using powdered infant formula as the container does not require refrigeration after opening.
- If you do not have a safe water source or if you can’t boil water, use ready-to-feed liquid formula and disposable nipples.
- All infant feeding and preparation equipment (e.g. feeding cups, bottles, rings and teats) should be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized (e.g. immersed in boiling water for at least two minutes) before use.
- If your water is unsafe (potential for chemical contamination of the drinking water system) use commercially available, plain bottled water to clean and sterilize equipment.
- Make up only enough formula for use right away. Once you’ve started feeding a bottle of formula, the bottle should be used within two hours. Throw out any leftovers.
- If you have formula already prepared, keep it in the fridge and use within 24 hours. If the power has been off for four hours or more; throw it out.
For additional information on the preparation and storage of infant formula please see the guidelines in the Infant Formula: What you need to know booklet.
If you have to evacuate
Evacuation is more likely during winter months, when plummeting temperatures can make a house uninhabitable. Although a house can be damaged by low temperatures, the major threat is to the plumbing system. If a standby heating system is used, check to see that no part of the plumbing system can freeze. If the house must be evacuated, protect it by taking the following precautions:
- Turn off the main breaker or switch of the circuit-breaker panel or power-supply box.
- Turn off the water main where it enters the house. Protect the valve, inlet pipe, and meter or pump with blankets or insulation material.
- Drain the water from your plumbing system. Starting at the top of the house, open all taps, and flush toilets several times.
- Go to the basement and open the drain valve. Drain your hot water tank by attaching a hose to the tank drain valve and running it to the basement floor drain. Note: If you drain a gas-fired water tank, the pilot light should be turned out.
- Unhook washing machine hoses and drain.
A back-up generator may only be connected to your home’s electrical system through an approved transfer panel and switch that has been installed by a qualified electrician. Never plug a generator into a wall outlet as serious injury can result when the current produced by the home generator is fed back into the electrical lines and transformed to a higher voltage. This can endanger the lives of utility employees working to restore power.
After a power outage
- Check on family, friends and neighbours who may require assistance.
- Do not enter a flooded basement unless you are sure the power is disconnected.
- Do not use flooded appliances, electrical outlets, switch boxes or fuse-breaker panels until they have been checked and cleaned by a qualified electrician.
- Replace the furnace flue (if removed) and turn off the fuel to the standby heating unit.
- Switch on the main electric switch (before, check to ensure appliances, electric heaters, TVs, microwaves, computers, etc. were unplugged to prevent damage from a power surge).
- Give the electrical system a chance to stabilize before reconnecting tools and appliances. Turn the heating-system thermostats up first, followed in a couple of minutes by reconnection of the fridge and freezer. Wait 10 to 15 minutes before reconnecting all other tools and appliances.
- Close the drain valve in the basement.
- Turn on the water supply. Close lowest valves/taps first and allow air to escape from upper taps.
Flush all lines by letting the water run for two minutes.
- Make sure that the hot water heater is filled before turning on the power to it.
- For those with private water treatment systems, check on treatment equipment to make sure it is operational before using the water to:
- Drink (this includes pets as well as people)
- Wash fruits and vegetables
- Make infant formula
- Make juice, coffee or ice cubes
- Brush teeth
- Conduct any other activity where you may consume the water
If your water treatment system is not operational or you are uncertain if it is working, bottled or boiled water should be used for the activities listed above. If dishes are hand washed they should be washed and rinsed in hot tap water, soaked in a weak solution of unscented household bleach and water – 1 oz (30 ml) of bleach mixed with 3 gallons (13.5 litres) of water – for one minute and air dried. Alternatively, dishwashers with a hot water cycle reaching 82°C or higher will be safe to use. Dishwashers that do not have this hot water cycle may be used, but dishes should be soaked in the bleach solution after being washed. All water using devices (e.g. ice machines, dishwashers directly connected to the plumbing) should be drained, flushed and sanitized in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines prior to reuse.
- As a general precaution, keep a bag of ice cubes in the freezer.
- If you return home after a period of absence and the ice has melted and refrozen, there is a good chance that the food is spoiled. When in doubt, throw it out!
- Restock your emergency kit so the supplies will be there when needed again.
Food Safety After a Power Outage
- Check the temperature of perishable foods, and consider how long the food may have been out of the safe temperature range (Note: the danger zone is greater than 4°C to less than 60°C). If a fridge or freezer has been without power for an extended period of time, and you are unsure about the safety of your perishable foods, discard them.
- Throw out any perishables that have been sitting in the fridge or freezer at 4°C or higher for more than two hours.
- Discard any food that has an obvious strange colour or odour. However, harmful bacteria can multiply in food without making the food appear or smell bad. Never taste food to determine its safety.
- Evaluate each item in your freezer separately. You may safely refreeze foods if they still contain ice crystals or if they have been kept at 4°C or below for no more than two days. Partial thawing and refreezing of these foods may reduce the quality of the food, but the food will remain safe to eat.
- The following foods are more likely to cause foodborne illness and should be discarded if stored above 4°C (40°F) for two hours or more:
- raw or cooked meat, poultry, seafood and luncheon meats
- casseroles, stews or soups
- milk and soft cheeses
- prepared infant formula or open jars of baby food
- homemade mayonnaise or dressings
- cooked pasta, potatoes, rice or vegetables
- salads made with any of these foods
- Foods that can be stored above 4°C (40°F) for several days include:
- butter and margarine
- hard or processed cheese
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- mustard, ketchup, olives
- salad dressings, peanut butter, barbeque sauce
- jam and jellies
- bread, rolls, bagels, cakes (without cream or custard), cookies and muffins
- Remember the golden rule of food safety: When in doubt, throw it out.