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During a Power Outage

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If there is a blackout on-campus

In most buildings only the alarm systems and emergency lighting are connected to a backup generator. These systems may experience a brief (less than 10-second) interruption as power is switched to an emergency generator or when power to the building is restored. Elevators usually will not function during a power outage.

General steps to take

Take actions first to preserve human and animal health and safety. Only while they remain secure, preserve property or research.

Remain calm and stay where you are unless there is an imminent threat to your safety (e.g. a fire). Since most power outages last less than 5 minutes, it may be best to remain in place, rather than attempt to evacuate the building. If you are in an unlit area, proceed with caution to an area that has emergency lighting. The backlighting on your cell phone may help you navigate. If you are trapped in an elevator, stay calm. Dial 911 to alert public safety officers of your location. Persons with disabilities should dial 911 for mobility assistance.

Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested. Keep clear of power lines. Check with local authorities to be sure your water is safe.

In hot weather, stay cool and drink plenty of fluids to prevent heat-related illness. In cold weather, wear layers of clothing, which help to keep in body heat.

To report an outage

If the outage is in a campus building during normal business hours, contact one of these Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities channels or the Virginia Tech Electric Service Business Office (540-231-6437, Option 1).

  • If power fails in a campus building after hours, call the Virginia Tech Police Department at 540-231-6411.
  • If a power outage occurs off-campus, call the local utility company.
  • Do not call 911 just to report an outage or to get more information.

Protect electrical equipment and appliances

To avoid damage from any surge when the power is restored, turn off and unplug non-essential electrical devices, especially voltage-sensitive equipment like computers. Leave one light turned on to let you know when the power comes back on. Keep the doors to refrigerators and freezers closed as much as possible to help them stay cold. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, use generators, pressure washers, grills, and similar items outdoors only.

Keep your food safe

  • Keep non-perishable food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours.
  • First use perishable food from the refrigerator, 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 your non-perishable foods and staples after using food from the refrigerator and freezer.
  • If it looks like the power outage will continue more than a couple of days, pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, gravy, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive, foam coolers work well.
  • Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of chilled food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any food that has a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Safe water

Use only bottled, boiled, or treated water until your supply is tested and found safe. If you use bottled water, be sure it came from a safe source. If you do not know that the water came from a safe source, you should boil or treat it before you use it. Check health department advisories on the safety of tap water. When power goes out, water purification systems may not be functioning fully. Boiling or treating water in your area may be recommended. Do not use potentially contaminated water to wash dishes, brush teeth, wash and prepare food, wash hands, make ice, or make baby formula. If possible, use baby formula that does not need to have water added. You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash hands. Boiling water, when practical, is the preferred way to kill harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute will kill most organisms. When boiling water is not practical, you can treat water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or unscented household chlorine bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite):

  • If you use chlorine tablets or iodine tablets, follow the directions that come with the tablets.
  • If you use household chlorine bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (~0.75 mL) of bleach per gallon of water if the water is clear. For cloudy water, add 1/4 teaspoon (~1.50 mL) of bleach per gallon. Mix the solution thoroughly and let it stand for about 30 minutes before using it.
  • Note: Treating water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or liquid bleach will not kill parasitic organisms.

Use a bleach solution to rinse water containers before reusing them. Use water storage tanks and other types of containers with caution. For example, fire truck storage tanks and previously used cans or bottles may be contaminated with microbes or chemicals. Do not rely on untested devices for decontaminating water.

Classroom and assembly spaces

  • Faculty and reception personnel should instruct the class/assembly to remain in place and await the restoration of power.
  • If power does not return in 15 minutes, an orderly evacuation should be attempted. Dial 911 for assistance in conducting an evacuation.

Residence halls

  • DO NOT use candles or other open flames for lighting or heat sources.
  • Turn off any appliances, including stoves, in order to prevent them restarting unattended when power is restored.


  • Once human and animal health and safety are secure, ensure experiments, equipment, and machinery are stabilized and safe.
  • Cease work, close containers in fume hoods and close the sash. In most buildings, the fume hoods are not connected to generator power. Do not use hazardous materials, or enter areas that require mechanical ventilation during the outage.
  • Avoid opening environmental room, refrigerator, or freezer doors until power is restored.
  • Maintain a log of equipment that must be reset, restarted, or that requires special attention following an outage.
  • For an extended power outage, consider consolidating materials in freezers and using dry ice. Order additional dry ice supplies immediately.
  • Equipment that runs unattended should be programmed to shut down safely and not restart when power returns.
  • After the outage, reset or restart equipment. Check air flow in hoods.

Generating power, space heating, or cooking

When using alternate sources of power, space heating, or cooking, beware of their primary hazards: carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock, and fire. Never use a generator, grill, camp stove, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate the unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors. 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.

Some generator precautions are:

  • If you are considering getting a generator, get advice from a professional, such as an electrician. Make sure that the generator you purchase is rated for the power that you think you will need.
  • When using a portable generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a portable generator to a home’s electrical system.

Extreme heat

  • Be aware of health risks in extreme heat. They include exhaustion, cramps, fainting, or even heat stroke. To reduce heat stress:
  • Drink a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes and at least one gallon each day. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. They both dehydrate the body.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Take frequent cool showers or baths.
  • If you feel dizzy, weak, or overheated, go to a cool place. Sit or lie down, drink water, and wash your face with cool water. If you don't feel better soon, get medical help quickly.
  • Work during cooler hours of the day when possible, or distribute the workload evenly throughout the day.

Heat stroke requires special precautions. It is the most serious heat illness. It happens when the body can’t control its own temperature and its temperature rises rapidly. Permanent disability or even death can result if emergency care is not given. Warning signs of heat stroke vary but can include:

  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness
  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)

If you suspect someone has heat stroke:

  • Immediately call for medical attention.
  • Get the person to a cooler area.
  • Cool the person rapidly by immersing him/her in cool water or a cool shower, or spraying or sponging him/her with cool water. If the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him/her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • Do not give the person alcohol to drink. Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • If emergency medical personnel do not arrive quickly, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.

Extreme cold

Be aware of health risks in extreme cold. To reduce cold stress:

  • Everyone, especially the elderly and ill, should have adequate food, clothing, shelter, and sources of heat.
  • Blankets can help, even in poorly heated rooms.
  • Wear layers of clothing and a hat, which help to keep in body heat.
  • Move around. Physical activity raises body temperature.
  • Avoid swimming or wading in water, which drains body heat. When entering water is necessary, if possible wear insulating boots and clothes, take frequent breaks out of the water, and quickly change back into dry clothes.

Hypothermia requires special precautions. It happens when a person’s core body temperature is lower than 35°C (95°F). Some of the warning signs of hypothermia are:

  • As the body temperature decreases, the person will be less awake and aware and may be confused and disoriented. Because of this, even a mildly hypothermic person might not think to help himself/herself.
  • A victim may be unconscious.

If you suspect someone is hypothermic:

  • Even someone who shows no signs of life should be brought quickly and carefully to a hospital or other medical facility.
  • Do not rub or massage the skin.
  • People who have severe hypothermia must be carefully rewarmed and their temperatures must be monitored.
  • Do not use direct heat or hot water to warm the person.
  • Give the person warm beverages to drink.
  • Do not give the person alcohol or cigarettes. Blood flow needs to be improved, and these slow blood flow.

Power line hazards and cars

  • If a power line falls on a car, you should stay inside the vehicle. This is the safest place to stay. Warn people not to touch the car or the line. Call or ask someone to call the local utility company and emergency services.
  • The only circumstance in which you should consider leaving a car that is in contact with a downed power line is if the vehicle catches on fire. Open the door. Do not step out of the car, or you may receive a shock. Instead, jump free of the car so that your body clears the vehicle before touching the ground. Shuffle away – taking very small steps, keeping your feet in constant contact with the ground and each other – until you are a safe distance (e.g., 50 feet) from the vehicle and downed wires.
  • As in all power-line related emergencies, call for help immediately by dialing 911 or call your electric utility company's Service Center/Dispatch Office.
  • Do not try to help someone else from the car while you are standing on the ground.

First aid for electrical shock

If you believe someone has been electrocuted:

  • Look first. Don’t touch. The person may still be in contact with the electrical source. Touching the person may pass the current through you.
  • Call or have someone else dial 911 for emergency medical help.
  • Turn off the source of electricity if possible. If not, move the source away from you and the affected person using a dry, non-conducting object (e.g., something made of cardboard, plastic or wood).
  • Once the person is free of the source of electricity, check the person's breathing and pulse. If either has stopped or seems dangerously slow or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately, if you have been trained and know how.
  • If the person is faint or pale or shows other signs of shock, lay the person down with the head slightly lower than the trunk of his or her body and the legs elevated.
  • Don’t touch burns, break blisters, or remove burned clothing. Electrical shock may cause burns inside the body, so be sure the person is taken to a doctor.

Worker safety during power recovery

Unless you are trained and authorized specifically for electrical work, stay well clear of all power lines.

During power outages, many people use portable electrical generators. If a portable generator is improperly sized, installed, or operated, it can send power back to the electrical lines. Backfeed electrical energy can seriously injure or kill repair workers or people in neighboring buildings. It is particularly a risk for electrical energy workers who respond to an outage. Electrocutions are the fifth leading cause of all reported occupational deaths.

Special precautions are recommended if you may come in contact with or in proximity to power lines, electrical components, and the moving parts of heavy machinery as power lines are reenergized and equipment reactivated. These precautions include:

  • Power lines should not be tested, repaired or otherwise accessed except by trained and authorized personnel.
  • Treat all power lines as “hot” unless the lines have been de-energized and grounded.

For more information on power outages, see: