What to Do to Protect Yourself During a Power Outage

Key points

  • During a power outage, you may face a number of hazards that can affect your health and safety.
  • Follow these tips to help you prepare for and cope with sudden loss of power.

Protect your health during a power outage

Person holding a lit flashlight.
Protect your health and safety during a power outage.

During a power outage, you may face a number of hazards that can affect your health and safety. Follow these tips to help you prepare for and cope with sudden loss of power.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled.

When power outages occur during emergencies such as hurricanes or winter storms, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling, or cooking can cause CO to build up in a home, garage, or camper and to poison the people and animals inside.

Never use a generator or other gasoline-powered engines inside your home.

CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns, and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned and can die from breathing CO.

  • Never use a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.
  • Use an extension cord that is more than 20 feet long to keep the generator at a safe distance.
  • When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.

Heat or cool your home safely.

  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
  • If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.

Know the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Exposure to CO can cause loss of consciousness and death. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.

Know what to do‎

If someone shows signs of having carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 or your local Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 or consult a health care professional right away.

For more information, visit Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

Food, water, and medication safety

Food safety

Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible while the power is out.

  • A full freezer will keep food safe for 48 hours (24 hours if half-full) without power if you don't open the door.
  • Your refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours without power if you don't open the door.

Throw out the following foods:

  • All perishable foods (including meat, chicken and other poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) in your refrigerator when the power has been off for 4 hours or more.
  • All perishable foods in your freezer if they have thawed.

You can safely refreeze or cook food from the freezer if the food still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated. Check this FoodSafety.gov chart for a list of what foods you should throw out and foods you can refreeze.

For more information, visit Keep Food Safe After a Disaster.

Water safety

When power goes out, water purification systems may not be functioning fully. Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water. Your state, local, or tribal health department can make specific recommendations for boiling or treating water in your area.

For more information, visit Making Water Safe in an Emergency.

Medication safety

Some drugs require refrigeration to keep their strength, including many liquid drugs.

  • When the power is out for a day or more, throw away any medication that should be refrigerated, unless the drug's label says otherwise.
  • If a life depends on the refrigerated drug, but the medications have been at room temperature, use them only until a new supply is available.
  • Replace all refrigerated drugs as soon as possible.

Extreme heat and cold

Protect yourself and others from extreme heat.

Know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness

Be aware of yours and others' risk for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and fainting.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness. It happens when the body can't control its own temperature and its temperature rises rapidly. Sweating fails and the body cannot cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency care is not given. Visit Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness for more information on how to recognize symptoms and what to do if someone develops a heat-related illness.

To avoid heat stress, you should follow CDC's heat safety tips.

If air conditioning is not available in your home:

  • Contact your local health department or locate an air-conditioned shelter in your area.
  • Spend some time at a shopping mall or public library- even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help.
  • Take cool showers or baths.
  • Don't rely solely on fans to keep you cool. While electric fans might provide some comfort, when temperatures are really hot, they won't prevent heat-related illness.

Protect yourself and others from cold temperatures.

Prevent hypothermia.

Hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) is a dangerous condition that can happen when a person is exposed to extremely cold temperatures.

Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and what to do if someone shows signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If you notice any signs, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95° F, get medical attention immediately! If you are not able to get help right away, try to warm the person up and take additional steps to help the person while you wait for help.

For more information, visit Preventing Hypothermia.

Heat your home safely.

If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Have at least one of the following heat sources to keep you warm during a power outage:

  • Extra blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter coats
  • Fireplace that is up to code with plenty of dry firewood or a gas log fireplace
  • Portable space heaters or kerosene heaters. Check with your local fire department to make sure that kerosene heaters are legal in your area.

For additional safety tips, visit Safety Guidelines: During & After a Winter Storm.

Protect yourself from other hazards

Protect yourself and others from electrical hazards.

Take steps to protect yourself and others from electrical hazards you might encounter during a power outage, both inside and outside your home.

  • Never touch a fallen power line.
  • Do not drive through standing water if downed power lines are in the water.
  • If you believe someone has had electric shock, call or have someone else call 911 or emergency medical help.

For more information and safety tips, visit What to Do to Protect Yourself From Electrical Hazards.

Use flashlights instead of candles.

  • Use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, rather than candles, gas lanterns, or torches to minimize the risk of fire.
  • If you have to use candles, keep them away from anything that can catch fire. Always stay near lit candles.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy, and make sure your family knows how to use it. Read the National Fire Protection Association's tips for using fire extinguishers.

Don't siphon gasoline.

Gasoline may be in short supply, before, during, and after natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods. When there is not enough gasoline, people may want to take gasoline from one container and put it into another by siphoning. Siphoning is when you use your mouth or a pump to suck a liquid such as gasoline out of one container, such as a gas tank, through a funnel or tube and into another container.


Siphoning gasoline can harm your health. Do not try to siphon gasoline. It can cause serious injury or illness. If you do breathe gasoline fumes or swallow gasoline and feel ill, see a doctor and/or call the poison center for help at 1-800-222-1222

Possible injuries and illness from any form of siphoning include:

  • Burns and injury from unintentional combustion of gasoline and/or gasoline vapors. This may happen if the gasoline or its vapors come into contact with a lit cigarette or static electricity.
  • Confusion, drowsiness, headache or problems concentrating from breathing gasoline vapors
  • Irritation of skin, eye or mucus membranes on contact

Other possible injuries and illness from siphoning when you use your mouth for suction include:

  • Lung damage, if gasoline is inhaled into the lungs (aspiration) during mouth-based siphoning
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) signs and symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and stomach pain if any gasoline is swallowed
  • Irritation of mucous membranes inside your mouth, throat and stomach on contact