Prepare yourself, your family for power failure

June 17, 2005|by LISA PREJEAN

Last week, when our electricity went out, my children were full of questions.

"What happened to the clocks?"

"What does the lightning have to do with the electric going out?"

"Our power lines are underground. Why does the storm affect us?"

"Daddy's an electrician. Why doesn't he just fix it?"

"Can we flush?"

The most frequently asked question was, "When is it coming back on?"

Their father and I were wondering the same thing. When all was said and done, we were without power from about 5:30 to 11:30 p.m.


Perhaps you were in the same boat. More than 2,000 customers in Maryland and 3,200 in Pennsylvania were affected by the storm, according to an Allegheny Power spokesman quoted in The Morning Herald the next day.

If you weren't affected by this storm, you've probably been affected by others and most likely will be again before summer ends.

The average customer in Maryland experiences one or two power interruptions annually, says Allen Staggers, communication manager for Allegheny Power.

People who live in the country experience the power interruptions more frequently.

"What happens in the rural areas is that any break in the path between you and the power source results in loss of power," Staggers says. "There's more length of line for something to go wrong, more opportunity for something to break that path of electricity."

It seems like the power goes out more often during summer storms than at any other time, and there's good reason for that, according to Staggers.

Sometimes the power goes out because lightning strikes power lines or lightning strikes a tree and the tree falls into the lines, Staggers says. Other times, high winds cause damage. If the damage occurs to an insulator at the top of the pole, that could cause a short circuit. Sometimes the circuit breakers can be reset from the power plant. Other times, linemen or linewomen need to go to the scene for repair work.

If the power outage occurs outside of typical working hours, it takes longer for the repair work to be done because workers are called in.

During a storm, it's important to be on the lookout for power lines that are touching the ground, Staggers says.

"Stay away from downed power lines and anything touching them," Staggers says. "There's no way to look at a power line and know whether it's energized."

An energized line may not be arcing or shooting sparks, he says.

When workers respond to a power outage, emergencies such as downed power lines that are a threat to people or property are taken care of first, Staggers says. Then power is restored to customers that provide needed public services, such as hospitals, fire stations and water or sewer facilities. Power is lastly restored to residential customers.

If your power goes out and you are a customer of Allegheny Power, call 1-800-255-3443 to report a total loss of power. If you see a downed power line, call 911 or Allegheny Power.

To be prepared for summer storms, have these items on hand:

  • Corded phone. A cordless phone won't work during a power outage. You also can't plug in your cell phone charger if the power's out.

  • Flashlight with extra batteries. Always keep this in the same place so you're not trying to find it in the dark.

  • Matches or a lighter kept out of the reach of children.

  • Candles that are not left unattended while burning. Also, be sure to blow them out before going to bed.

  • Battery-powered radio. Check the batteries in your radio from time to time to make sure you're prepared.

  • Several gallons of water, especially if you rely on a residential well.

  • Camping equipment, such as a camp stove, which comes in handy for cooking.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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