It Will Happen Again – Prepare for Power Outages

Lauren Collins laughed when asked what the biggest mistake is that people make in a power outage.

“False assumptions,” she said. “Most of the time, we get it on and back quickly. But we still urge people to be prepared for days.”

It was bound to happen. It’s bound to happen again. Collins, the media spokesperson for Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH), and her counterpart, Seth Wheeler at the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, have advice for the next time area residents find themselves in the dark.

Collins likes to quote the old proverb, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The Boy Scouts say it even more succinctly, she added: “Be prepared!”

When the utility companies see in the forecast that a storm is imminent, they urge customers to prepare, Collins said. That includes the basics such as shopping for supplies. But also, she said, “You need to be aware of what you rely on power for.”

For example, homeowners who have a well may not realize that without electricity they can’t wash, make a cup of tea – or flush the toilet. “When you suspect an outage, be sure to get a supply of water, even if it means filling your bathtub,” Collins advised.

After the string of outages in the past 10 years, including a Mother’s Day flood, Easter flood, ice storm and a Snowtober, many Granite State residents invested in generators. But there are still safety procedures that must be observed, Collins said. “Make sure the generator is outside, away from your house,” she said. People are getting better about that, but still, Collins said, “One time is one time too many.”

It’s also imperative to make sure the generator is properly hooked up, Collins warned.

“That’s essential for your safety, your neighbors’ safety, and our workers’ safety,” she said.

Wheeler said one mistake customers make is not shutting things off. “Often they don’t go around the house and turn off all the appliances,” he said. “It’s important, especially when you have a lot of things on at once.”

Homeowners should leave one light “on” to let them know when the power comes back on, but other than that, they should turn things off. “When the power comes back on, there could be a temporary ‘surge’ from all that demand on the service,” he said.

Wheeler said, “Another thing to stress with generators is to have the transfer switch inspected. If you install the generator on your own, the Co-Op will come out and inspect it for free.”

It’s also important to have a generator properly vented, Wheeler noted. During the Thanksgiving storm and outage this past November, a woman in Nottingham died because she was running the generator from her garage and didn’t have it vented. “She died of carbon monoxide poisoning,” Wheeler said. Even keeping the garage door open isn’t good enough, he warned.

“We encourage people to locate them outside,” Wheeler said.

But Granite Staters as a whole are getting better at their storm preparation and response, and that’s a good thing, Collins said.

Older and middle-aged New Hampshire residents often note that there weren’t as many power outages in their youth, and Collins allowed that was probably true. “But the ‘now’ is that we have a lot more people, a lot more utility customers, a lot more circuits,” she said.

And a lot more trees, Collins said, pointing out that New Hampshire is the most forested state in the union.

People are also more dependent on electricity, she said. “If the power is out now, you feel it more,” she said. “Most of us are ‘plugged into’ something. We are far more inconvenienced.”

And Collins, mother of three, has a special tip for parents: Have a plan for the kids. “There is a stir-crazy component,” she said.

Tips from the PSNH Web site include the following:

• Never install a generator inside a home or in any other enclosed space – even if windows are wide open. Generator exhaust contains carbon monoxide, a poison you cannot see or smell. Using a generator indoors can kill within minutes.

• Locate a generator well away from your home, making sure exhaust cannot easily enter in through windows or doorways.

• Never try to power your house by plugging a portable generator into a household outlet. This can feed electricity back into the power lines – enough to electrocute a line worker, or a neighbor on the same circuit.

• The safe way to connect a generator to existing wiring is to have a licensed electrical contractor install a transfer switch. When improperly installed, home generators of any size – even “small” – can backfeed enough power onto the electrical grid, where it is “stepped up” to very high voltages.

The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative adds the following tips:

  Never touch a downed power line. Always assume every line is energized and dangerous.

• Stay away from downed wires and trees that might have wires caught in them.

• If you’re in a vehicle and downed wires are on the car or across the road, stay in your car until emergency crews arrive to handle the energized wire(s).

• Keep your distance from any downed power line.

• Don’t drive over downed lines, and if a downed line is in or near water, keep your distance from the water, even a little puddle.

• Whether a power line is down or not, don’t touch anything that might be in contact with it, such as a tree limb.

• Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. First use perishable food from the refrigerator. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours.

• Then use food from the freezer. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.

• Use non-perishable foods and staples after using food from the refrigerator and freezer.

• If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for freezer items.

• Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.

• Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment, including sensitive electronics.

• Turn off or disconnect any appliances (like stoves), equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.

• Leave one light turned on so you’ll know when the power comes back on.

• Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested

• Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

• The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire.

• Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.

• If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door.

• Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.

For more information, visit or