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Lights Out! | Fall 2004 Out Here Magazine

Be prepared for power outages

By Amy Green

When a fierce snowstorm toppled power poles like dominoes some 10 years ago, Donna McLean, of Mitchell, S.D., shrugged and figured electricity would be restored any minute. She wasn't prepared to spend two weeks without electricity.

Instead, McLean, 69, and her husband Don used a wood-burning stove to heat food, water, and themselves.


Your family survival kit also should include these items, says Kristi Turman, director of the South Dakota Emergency Management Agency:

  • Battery-powered radio
  • Flashlight
  • Nonperishable foods that don't require heating
  • Hand-held can opener
  • Paper plates and plastic eating utensils
  • Bottled water (enough for drinking and washing)
  • Extra cash
  • Blankets
  • Matches
  • Fire extinguisher
  • First-aid kit
  • Wrench for turning off gas and other utilities

"It was very upsetting," she says. "You think, 'Well, I'll turn on the radio' or 'I'll make a piece of toast,' and you don't even think about how you don't have any electricity."

In South Dakota, a winter power outage means more than digging up candles and flashlights. Severe weather has left parts of the state under 60 inches of snow — and residents in the dark and cold for weeks, as the McLeans well know.

Your winters may not be that dramatic, but don't underestimate how a little inclement weather can shut down a town.
A little planning can see you through nearly any natural disaster, says Kristi Turman, director of the South Dakota Emergency Management Agency.

"So much is provided by power," Turman says. "If it's gone, there's a lot of things that we can't do that we take for granted."
Power outages occur frequently during winter, when lines collapse under the weight of snow and ice. Tornados and other disasters also can leave large numbers without power, and California's rolling outages in recent years demonstrate how demand can overburden a system.

So, be prepared, Turman advises. Assemble a survival kit of batteries, bottled water, and supplies tailored to your family's needs — prescription medicines, baby food and diapers, pet supplies — to last each household member at least three days.

Do you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove? Then stock plenty of wood. These and other alternative heat sources should be maintained throughout the year to ensure they work properly and won't spark fires.

Before you know it, the lights will be back on. When the power was restored at the McLeans', Donna rejoiced — and hit the laundry.

Amy Green is a freelance journalist based in Nashville, Tenn.