Mother and daughter waiting out a power outage in a fort with flashlights

How to Prepare for a Power Outage

Updated August 1, 2020 . AmFam Team

Do you know what to do if there’s a long power outage in your area? Use this checklist so you know what to do before, during and after a power outage.

Whether planned or unexpected, a power outage can be frustrating, and after a big storm, they can be dangerous, too. Prepare in advance by creating an emergency power outage kit with the things you’ll need like flashlights, first aid kits, canned food and bottled water. Exactly what should you do before a power outage? We’ve got the answers you need to help your family be ready for a power outage.

First off, you’re going to need a safety plan for everyone involved, and we’ve got just the tips to help you know what to do when the lights go out. From monitoring the temperature in your refrigerator with a thermometer to keeping little ones safely occupied, here’s what you should do before, during and after a power outage.

What Should You Do Before a Power Outage?

Preparation for the unexpected is why you have insurance — being ready for a power outage is no different.

Having the supplies you need will make the experience more comfortable. And anticipating what you’ll need can help you with everything from saving your refrigerated food to avoiding a messy sump pump issue that can save you thousands.

Start by thinking through what an emergency kit should have to best serve your family and review this checklist for items to stock up on before a power outage takes you by surprise:

Wind-up powered weather radio

Look for weather radios that come with rechargeable batteries. A few minutes of winding up the charger can get you an hour of playback, and some come with solar cells that charge from a window sill during an extended power outage.

Flashlights, batteries and glowsticks

For safety, rely on energy efficient LED flashlights and opt for glowsticks instead of candles during a power outage. Remember to buy alkaline batteries for their long shelf life and get extras for other items in your kit, too.

A refrigerator thermometer

Pick up an inexpensive outdoor thermometer that you can place in your fridge after a power outage. With it, you’ll know when you need to add more ice to help keep your refrigerated groceries cool after the loss of power.

Non-perishable food

Stock up on snacks for the family and pets. If it’s a short power outage, it’s best to keep the fridge and freezer closed. If it’s likely to be a long one, start by eating the food in your fridge first.

Several gallons of water

Plan on storing at least one gallon of water per person per day. Ideally, you should have at least three days’ worth for each person in your household if there is no power in your house.

Solar-powered cell phone charger

Staying in touch is easier with a reliable cell phone battery. Be ready for a power outage by picking up a camping solar collector or battery pack (Opens in a new tab)to stay charged.


Keep everyone toasty warm if the power goes out during chilly weather.

First aid kit

Start with different sized bandages, scissors, tweezers, tape, antiseptics, pain relievers and distilled water. Be sure to stock your kit with a few days’ worth of medications that anyone in the home is taking regularly.

Battery-operated back up sump pump

This one might be costly, but the last thing you need to worry about is your basement flooding because your sump pump stopped working when the lights went out. Get on a contractor’s calendar and have a backup sump system installed before you need it.

Surge protectors

Sometimes, when the power goes out, it can come back on with a powerful surge that damages your electronics. Get a quote on our equipment breakdown coverage — it’s easily added to your homeonwers policy. If your expensive electronics are damaged by a covered event like a power surge, your savings can be better protected.

Power inverter for your car

This handy device turns your DC current from the car into AC current that can power a computer, phone, fridge or sump pump. If you’re going to be running your car during a power outage keep it outside to reduce the carbon monoxide risks.

How Can You Be Prepared for a Power Outage?

After you’ve got the physical things, you’ll need to be ready for a loss of electricity, it’s time to take on other tasks that will keep you safe in the aftermath of a storm that knocks out the power:

Contact list

Create a list of emergency services and contacts to keep in your supply box. Remember that you might not be home during the emergency, so the list should be inclusive enough for your kids or other family members to contact the people they need.

Deal with medical concerns

If you rely on an electrical medical device, connect with the maker and find out about battery backup systems. Your health insurance may help pay for it. Then, talk to the power company to request that you be placed on a medical priority service list so your power’s restored ASAP.

Keep cash on hand

If the power is going to be out in your area for an extended time, you might want to have some cash on hand. It’s not uncommon for stores to stay open during power outages, but they aren’t able to use their credit and debit card machines. 

Practice garage manual release

Don’t forget, your automatic garage door opener won’t work during a power outage. Knowing how to operate the manual release will give you the ability to come and go as needed.

Get a quote on a generator

If you’re thinking about a backup generator to prepare for power outages, get a quote from a licensed and bonded electrician. If you’re considering a portable generator, never run them inside a home or garage, and don’t connect them to your home’s electrical system.

Sign up for emergency services

FEMA publishes text messages that will keep you up-to-date on emergencies. You can also check to see if your local government and power company have similar services. It’s so much easier to plan and prepare when you have all the information available.

Get a quote for sump pump coverage

If you have a sump pump, talk to your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab)about adding sewer back-up and sump pump overflow coverage to your homeowners insurance. During the power outage, check your sump pump to make sure it’s not ready to overflow. Most sump pumps have a backup of some sort, but yours might require hand pumping to keep it clear.

Have a plan for the kids

Come up with some games, crafts and fun activities for the family. Help keep your children occupied — it’s the best way to calm their fears.

What to Do Before a Scheduled Power Outage

Sometimes power outages are planned. You’ll have a little warning to prepare and make the experience easier. If you know an outage is going to happen, take these steps in the prior to losing power:

Fill the tub with water

When the power goes out, you may lose water pressure. Did you know pouring a bucket of water into your toilet bowl can force a flush? It won’t refill, but it will remove any waste.

Charge phones

Your smart phone is already your lifeline to information, but it'll become even more important during a power outage. If you want the battery life to last longer, turn off unused apps and turn down the brightness of the screen. Try switching over to power saving mode for even longer battery life and charge any external travel batteries you’ve got.

Stock up on ice

Whether you buy ice or freeze water in plastic containers, you’ll appreciate it if your refrigerated food starts to warm up. Typically, an unopened fridge will keep food cold for about four hours. A closed, full freezer holds its temperature for about 48 hours. If you’re dealing with an extended power outage, you have some time to prepare before the ice becomes essential.

Stock up on food

Be sure you’ve got a big supply of nonperishable meals for emergencies. If you’re wondering what food to stock up on for a power outage, think about high calorie items, like energy bars and snacks with plenty of protein. Canned goods and freeze-dried meals are also great answers.

Fill the car with fuel

If you need to get somewhere, you might find that the gas stations aren’t working during the power outage. You could also be using your car to help power some of your key electronics, so a full tank plus a reserve tank can come in handy.

Check for local emergency shelters

See if your city or state has established any emergency procedures and look for details on warming or cooling centers. If the power is out for an extended period, you may need to seek shelter elsewhere.

What to Do During a Power Outage

Once the power outage starts, you don’t have to be stuck in the dark. A little planning and your power outage emergency kit has set you up to be comfortable and entertained. Now you just need to remember to follow these tips and wait it out:

Stay home

Try not to travel if possible. Street lights and stop lights won’t be functioning during a power outage — your safety on the road can be compromised. If you must go out and you see downed power lines, don’t go near them and be sure to report them to the utility company.

Leave a main light on

This way you know when the power comes back on.

Avoid opening the fridge

Prevent your perishable foods from spoiling by keeping your refrigerator and freezer activity to a minimum. Before opening either, plot out exactly what you’re going to do, and be quick about it. Be sure to restock melted ice while you’re in there.

What to Do After a Power Outage

Once the power’s been restored, it’s important to remember that dangers can still lurk in and around your home. From avoiding pooled water to steering clear of downed power lines, the aftermath of a storm can be tough to navigate safely. Look at these tips so you’ll know what to do after a power outage:

Document the damage

Once you know that everyone is safe, take a slow walk around your home — inside and out —just to check if there has been any damage. If your basement was flooded and standing water remains, safely photograph the damage and use the MyAmFam app to file a claim, or connect with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to file a claim.

Check your food in the fridge

Throw away food that may have spoiled, it’s not worth the risk. If you have food in the freezer that is colder than 40-degrees and has ice crystals on it, this is safe and can be refrozen. If you discover that your food has spoiled after a power outage, connect with your insurance agent to see if your homeowners policy covers food loss.

Check perishable medications

If you have medications that might be spoiled, contact your doctor to see what to do.

Restock your kit

Did you tap into your power outage emergency kit? If so, it’s best to replace missing items immediately so they’re there when you need them again.

Check in with contacts

In addition to taking care of your home and your family during a power outage, it’s always a good idea to report yourself as safe via social media or text to your extended family and friends. Be sure to inquire about their well-being to make sure they’re doing okay.

Get Customized Homeowners Coverage

The most important thing during any power outage is your safety and the safety of your family. If you’ve done some preparation, you should not only be able to keep everyone safe, but comfortable and entertained, too! It’s also a great idea to check with your agent to make sure you have a customized homeowners insurance policy that covers you the way you need it to.

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