Power outages are an unfortunate reminder just how dependent we are on electricity for, well, almost everything.
Outages can deprive us of communications, heat and other necessities. During the winter in New England, power loss can be a serious threat to safety, not just an inconvenience. A power outage while no one is home can also disable security systems — leaving homes and other properties vulnerable to thieves or vandals.
Many things can cause an outage, according to a Massachusetts government instruction guide. New Englanders are familiar with weather-related causes, including snow, freezing rain, high winds, thunderstorms and hurricanes. These outages can happen in any season and can last for days or weeks, depending on the severity of the damage.
Year-Round Power Outages
Winter snow, ice and violent winds are major culprits for downed power lines in New England. Earlier this month, high storm winds left nearly 90,000 people without power in Eastern Massachusetts, as a local news station notes.
One Rhode Island news station reported that trees through the region “snapped like toothpicks” from the gusts, which exceeded 70 miles per hour. In the Ocean State, 25,000 people lost power. More than 11,000 Bay State residents remained without power the next day — along with 35,000 New Hampshire residents.
Such extreme weather events can hammer us throughout the year. Just last fall, a so-called nor’easter struck and left hundreds of thousands of New Englanders without power, as NPR notes. The article states the combo of “heavy rain, strong winds and floods” took out power across three states.
Both those incidents are dwarfed in comparison to the August 2003 blackout that affected not just Massachusetts, but states through the Northeast, as well as Canada. The incident started with a high voltage power line in Ohio brushing against some overgrown trees, says an article in Scientific American. The line shut down, starting a cascade of incidents that led to 50 million people losing power for up to two days. Other results included 11 deaths and a loss of some $6 billion.
Reducing Outage Risks
Given the unsteady state of the U.S. electric grid, the extremes of New England weather, and other factors, we know we’re vulnerable to outages at virtually any time. However, there are some steps you can take to be prepared (culled from government, Red Cross, and the HomeAdvisor websites).
- Inventory all critical electrical devices and appliances
- Store up batteries (or other power sources) where possible
- Enroll in local alert/warming systems
- Make preparations to have edible food and water available
- Watch weather reports regularly
- Make sure there is a flashlight for every household member — don’t use candles
- Have a generator? Make sure you understand the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning
One other thing to consider: If you have an alarm or monitoring/surveillance security system in your home or business, make sure they have backup power. Also, verify your security and fire services provider has communications redundancy. With backup communications, power loss won’t prevent alarm signals from going through. This will protect your property (if you are away or own a remote vacation or secondary home) and business no matter what happens with the weather.
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