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Before a Power Outage

Before  a Power Outage Graphic with number 1 and light bulb

As in any emergency, you are more likely to stay safe and comfortable if you’re ready with a plan, an emergency survival kit, and up-to-date information.

In anticipation of an electrical outage in particular:

  • Keep a non-cordless telephone in your home. It is likely to work even when the power is out.
  • Remember that equipment such as ATMS may not work, so always have sufficient cash on hand for at least a couple of days.
  • Be sure your plan includes backup power for anyone in your home who depends on electric-powered, life-sustaining equipment.
  • Keep on hand at least a two-day supply of ready-to-eat foods (meals and snacks with no cooking or cooling required), as well as water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights, and batteries.
  • Use a thermometer to confirm that your refrigerator maintains a temperature of 40° F or lower. A digital quick-response thermometer may be handy, too, if refrigeration is lost for more than a couple of hours, to see if chilled foods are still cold enough to use safely.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank at least half full. If your home loses heat or cooling for an extended period, you may need to evacuate, and pumps at gas stations won’t work without electricity.
  • Monitor local news. Power companies often issue an advance warning if, as in a severe cold or heat wave, the demand for electricity may exceed the supply. They may, for example, announce a schedule of rolling blackouts. They can turn off electricity to selected areas to save power on the grid as a whole. Each blackout typically lasts for about an hour; then the power is restored in that area and another area is turned off. Hospitals, airport control towers, police stations, and fire departments are often exempt from these rolling blackouts. They can happen at any time of day and may affect the same area more than once a day.

To receive information automatically, sign up for VT Alerts on your phone and desktop. Register on-line or call 540-231-HELP (4357). For the latest information from Virginia Tech:

Individuals on-campus who use a medically prescribed life-sustaining device should register with the Virginia Tech Electric Service (VTES) so they can be reached more quickly in a power outage. Call 540-231-6437.

Prepare your home

  • Be ready to keep perishables safely chilled without an electric refrigerator.
  • Most food and medications that require refrigeration will remain safe for use in a refrigerator that has lost power for as much as two or even four hours, if the door is kept closed. For more tips see In an Emergency from
  • If there is sufficient warning, fill jugs with water and freeze them to add to the time a refrigerator or freezer will maintain low temperatures.
  • Consider moving food to a cooler with extra ice. Inexpensive foam coolers work well.
  • Use high-quality surge protectors for your electronic devices. Back up computer files and operating systems. Consider buying extra batteries and a power converter if you use a laptop or notebook computer. Turn off all computers, monitors, printers, copiers, scanners, and other electronic devices when they are not in use.
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, find out where the manual release lever is located, and learn how to operate it. If you are planning to use a portable generator for backup power, have it installed by a trained, qualified electrician. Be sure that the main circuit breaker is OFF and locked out prior to starting the generator. This will help protect utility workers from possible electrocution.

For more information on power outages, see: