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What to do during an outage, from safety to kids to food

Image of young girl using a flashlight to read a book

Is the power just out at your home? What if it lasts awhile?

Power outages can occur at any time. Being properly prepared for an outage is important to you and your family's safety and comfort.

If your power goes out, first check to see if your neighbours have power or if the street lights are still on. If the outage appears limited to your home, check your circuit breaker panel or fuse box. If power is out for neighbouring buildings and homes, check to see if the outage has already been reported by visiting bchydro.com on your mobile device to see the latest outage status.

If we're not already aware of the outage in your area, report the outage by calling 1 888 POWER ON (1 888 769 3766) or *HYDRO (*49376) on your mobile phone.

Turn off lights, appliances, and electronic devices to help reduce the demand on the electric system. This makes it easier for crews to restore power. If you have a porch light or other outdoor lighting, leave one outdoor light switched on so that crews can easily identify when your home's power has been restored.

See our infographic about how we restore your power.

Options for lighting the way in the dark

Keep a few flashlights in different areas around your home. You never know where you might be during an outage, and trying to find your way in the dark can result in injuries.

A battery-powered plug-in LED night light is a great option for hallways and common areas in your home, such as the kitchen or family room. These night lights have built in rechargeable batteries and a light that will turn on automatically when the power goes out. They can also be unplugged and used as a flashlight once fully charged.  

Some other options to light things up in the dark:

  • Headlamps provide a hands-free source of light that can help when performing tasks without having to juggle a flashlight.
  • Battery-powered LED lanterns, typically used for camping, provide an excellent source of light to illuminate a large area.
  • Tap lights,  battery-operated, are a great option for smaller spaces such as a bathroom. They illuminate a wider area than the more direct light that comes from a flashlight.
  • Hand crank flashlights don't require batteries – just crank the handle to charge the flashlight. Depending on the model, the light will stay on anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours.

Tips for staying informed and extending your battery life

You can access the latest power outage information – including maps of outage areas and estimated restoration times &na from your mobile device at bchydro.com/outages.

A mobile app like TuneIn Radio is a great alternative if you don't have a battery-powered radio handy. It allows you to access local radio stations to stay informed during an outage or emergency.

Worried about your mobile device losing its charge during an outage? Purchase a battery powered charger to keep it going, even when the power is out.

Other ways to help extend your phone or tablet's battery life:

  • Don't turn it off. You might think that the best way to preserve battery life is to just power off the device. The truth is your tablet or phone actually uses more power turning off and on, so putting it into sleep mode is best.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS features and push notifications. These features will drain your battery very quickly. For a quick way to turn off all these features at once, select your device's airplane mode option.
  • Turn the brightness of the display to the lowest setting possible. The back light is what makes your phone or tablet easier to read but it also uses a lot of battery power. Turn it down to the lowest setting to help your device last longer.
  • Close apps and other functions. Properly close an app when you're not using it as it still might be running in the background and using up power (and possibly data).

How long will my food last during an outage?

If the power is out for less than four hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed to prevent the cold air from escaping and your food cold for longer.

If the power is out for longer than four hours, follow these guidelines:

  • A freezer that is fully packed will hold food safely for 48 hours. A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours.
    • Tip: Keeping containers of water in your freezer or fridge is a good way to fill up extra space if they aren't fully stocked. This this will also help your freezer and fridge use less electricity and run more efficiently.
  • Pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice.
  • Food may be safely refrozen if the food still contains ice crystals or is at 4°C or below.

Here's a general list of what foods are safe to consume and what you should discard of when an outage lasts for more than 4 hours:

Food Held above 4°C for over 4 hours
Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes Discard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Soft cheeses (blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella etc.), low-fat cheeses, shredded cheeses Discard
Hard cheeses (Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano etc.), processed cheeses, grated cheese in a can or jar Safe
Dairy products (milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk etc.) Discard
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products Discard
Fresh fruits (cut/sliced), cooked vegetables, tofu, pre-washed greens Discard
Fruit juices, raw vegetables, canned fruit, fresh fruits Safe
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish Discard if above 10°C for over 8 hours
Peanut butter, jelly, vinegar-based dressings relish, taco sauce, mustard, ketchup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, Hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces (oyster sauce), creamy-based dressings Discard
Cooked pasta, fresh pasta, rice, potatoes Discard

Source: United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service

Cooking on a charcoal or gas barbeque outdoors can be a good option when the power is out. But never use it or any camping heating or cooking equipment, or home generators indoors. They give off carbon monoxide, which can cause health problems and be life-threatening. Learn more about using portable generators safely.

Staying comfortable and entertained to help pass the time

One of the most difficult parts of a power outage can be that the devices that we have become dependent on for our entertainment aren't available.

Here are some ideas to help you pass the time when the lights go out:

  • Take advantage of fewer distractions to spend some quality time with your family.
  • Read a book by flashlight, do a puzzle, play a board game, or a game of cards.
  • Go see a movie at the theatre, go out for dinner or visit a friend whose home has power.
    • Tip: Remember to use caution when driving in areas affected by the outage, and use the four-way stop procedure at intersections without working traffic lights.

Keep warm during an outage – especially in the colder winter months – by snuggling up and layering on clothes or blankets if it's chilly.

Learn more about preparing your home for an outage.