Hours without electricity—how to prepare for it and what it means in practice
When the electricity goes out for a moment, the lights go out and the TV does not work either. But if the electricity is out for a longer period of time, many things become more difficult. It is good to be prepared for power outages, especially this winter. Learn how to prepare for a power outage in different functions of your home and society.
If the electricity is out for a few hours or the whole day, hunger will creep up on you sooner or later. However, the electric hob, oven, or microwave will not function during a power outage. Food can still be heated in the fireplace or in a camping stove, if available.
Food will stay evenly cool for up to two hours in the refrigerator, provided the refrigerator door is not opened. If the power outage lasts all day, refrigerated goods can be packed in a cooler bag and placed outside or on the balcony. Food in the freezer will remain frozen for a day or two if the door is not opened.
During a power outage lasting a few hours, smaller shops at least will have to close because the point-of-sale systems cannot operate long on backup power. It is a good idea to keep cash at home. If the power outages last a long time, even the bigger supermarkets will also gradually close their doors.
Stock up on cash and food that is easy to eat even when cold. Just in case, get some instant coffee that can also be mixed with cold water.
If the power outage lasts an hour or two, water supply may continue normally. However, there is always a risk that, in the event of major power outages, water supply will be disrupted, especially in places where the water supply requires a pressure rise. This is the case, for example, on the highest floors of blocks of flats.
The hot water storage tank will no longer heat hot domestic water, so you should skip the shower or bath. The use of water should be avoided anyway during a power outage, as drainage may only partially function. It is not possible to do the laundry or use the dishwasher, as even if there were water flow, the electrical appliances would not work. If you run the tap, place a bucket in the sink to catch the excess water.
The official instruction is not to use the toilet during a power outage. Wastewater from the sewer network is pumped toward the sewage treatment plant, but not all treatment plants are able to use backup power during a power outage. There is a risk that excess wastewater would have to be channelled directly into the terrain and water bodies. In blocks of flats, the sewers get blocked or flood into cellars.
Stock up on water in bottles or canisters. Do not pour water into the drain and avoid flushing the toilet.
Electric vehicles cannot be charged and rail traffic may not operate during power outages. Fuel will not be available from petrol stations in the power outage area. During long power outages, public transport halts completely when the buses and taxis run out of fuel.
Streetlights and traffic lights will not work. The roads will be dark and queues will form at crossings. The risk of minor collisions and accidents increases. It is therefore a good idea to avoid driving and traveling through congested cities during power outages. To ensure your own visibility, using battery-operated flashlights and reflectors are a good life insurance policy.
The lifts will not work. If the electricity goes out while you are in the lift, avoid panicking. Lift alarm communication systems often have backup batteries so that they can operate even during a power outage. There is also a service number on display in the lifts that can be called. Do not try to get out by force or on your own. You will not run out of oxygen in the lifts, and the lift will not fall during a power outage.
Avoid unnecessary driving and do not use the lift when a power outage warning is issued.
Ground source heat, district heating, oil burners, heat pumps, and direct electric heating—all these types of heating require electricity to operate. Only fireplaces or gas-operated auxiliary heating appliances can be used to heat a house even during a power outage. Be mindful of fire safety and carbon monoxide poisoning.
During a power outage lasting a couple of hours, the temperature will not drop radically if the windows or external doors are not needlessly opened. Do not let warm air escape even if the power outage cuts out the mechanical ventilation. The air quality may momentarily deteriorate, but not significantly.
Make sure that electrical appliances that pose a fire safety hazard, such as the hob, are switched off during a power outage. Such appliances that are left on can pose a fire hazard if the power returns unexpectedly while the occupants are away or sleeping.
Prepare for a lack of light with candles and battery-operated flashlights on hand. Battery-operated candle lanterns are also extremely long-lasting and functional. It is good to have a battery-operated headlamp for each family member.
Set aside batteries, flashlights, or headlamps. Turn off electrical appliances that can heat up. Do not open windows or doors unnecessarily.
Mobile phones and computers will continue to operate as long as they hold a charge, provided that the accumulators and backup power on telecommunication base stations are sufficient on a regional basis. If your family has multiple phones, it is recommended to use one phone at a time and conserve the other phones’ batteries during prolonged power outages. Avoid unnecessary web browsing and spending time on social media. An overloaded internet network runs slowly, as does the phone network. In extensive, prolonged power outages, the internet may cut out completely.
Use a battery-operated radio to keep up to date on the news and emergency announcements. The batteries in the radio last for a very long time, so you can leave the radio on the entire time. Follow the given instructions and do not unnecessarily overload the emergency centre. Do not call the emergency number only to report a power outage or a lost internet connection. However, the authorities can help if there is a real emergency. Because of backup power sources and their own fuel reserves, rescue units, the police, and the hospital will operate on a reduced scale.
Conserve your phone battery and avoid unnecessary use of the internet and calling. Only call the emergency centre in the event of a real emergency.
For more information on how to prepare for power outages, see Pahasti poikki (in Finnish only)