Healthy Tahoe: Safely negotiate power outages

April Boyde

Power outages during or after winter storms have become a common occurrence in our region. When the power goes out, especially for prolonged periods of time, being prepared can help reduce anxiety and keep you and your family safe until the lights come back on.

Plan ahead. Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Remember the needs of your pets. Put flashlights where you can find them in the dark. Use flashlights and other battery-generated light sources rather than open flamed candles when walking around the house to prevent fires.

Prevent cold and freezing. Keep exterior doors shut and use towels to block cold air drafts coming in through window and door cracks. Learn how to prevent pipes from freezing, such as letting the cold water drip from the faucet at a trickle, and what to do to thaw them if they do freeze. 

Time your food. If the power is out for less than four hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer. An unopened refrigerator can keep your food safe for about four hours. A fully-stocked freezer can keep foods frozen for about 48 hours if unopened. Keep a supply of healthy, non-perishable foods on hand in case of a power outage.

Mind the invisible gas. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas that can be deadly if it builds up in your home. Generators, gas stoves, and other open-flame heat sources produce carbon monoxide and should not be used as a heat source or operated in an enclosed space. Place generators away from doors, windows, and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors. Make sure generators are properly ventilated and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Take time to read the owner’s manual. 

Symptoms of CO poisoning include dizziness, headache, nausea and confusion. The best defense against carbon monoxide poisoning is to install carbon monoxide alarms on every floor in your home. If the alarm sounds, move quickly to fresh air and call 911.

Plan for medical safety. Those who rely on power for medication and medical devices, such as supplemental oxygen, should plan for emergencies. Talk to your medical provider about a power outage plan for medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines. Find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life. Don’t wait to get medication refills as storms may cause dangerous delays in shipment. 

Coordinate directly with your oxygen provider to ensure you have adequate oxygen supply. Do not use backup oxygen as a primary source when power is available. Consider a backup power source such as a generator or portable battery power which can be used with a portable oxygen concentrator to elongate oxygen supply. 

Barton Home Health & Hospice providers work with each individual patient to develop an emergency action plan for power outages which includes critical information including emergency contacts, evacuation plans, and a checklist for greatest medical safety. 

Understand what official resources may be available to you. Check your City’s official media platforms regarding potential warming stations/shelters for prolonged outages. In South Lake Tahoe, community members and visitors are encouraged to reference the City of South Lake Tahoe’s website, Facebook page, and sign-up for City Alert Notifications by visiting, or texting your zip code to 38276. 

If you plan to head to a warming station, plan to bring clothing, medication, toiletries, baby food, formula, diapers, etc. Note that pets may be redirected to an animal shelter for separate care.

Check in on family, friends and neighbors, especially if they are elderly or if you think their power might be out. Those without power should consider staying with friends or family if the warming center is not an option.

April Boyde is the safety officer with Barton Health. To learn more about power outages and preparedness, visit If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.

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