Power Outage Tips and Consumer Rights
If a power outage occurred today, is your household prepared? The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) provides this information about your rights, responsibilities, and tips for being prepared and staying safe during a power outage. Remember, downed wires can be deadly. Stay away from any downed lines.
Reporting the Outage
When your electricity goes out, you should contact your electric company immediately to report the outage. Utilities offer a variety of ways to report an outage via a phone call, the company’s website, text message, social media, or through the company’s app. In addition, some offer text alerts to keep you posted on estimated restoration of service. To learn more about these options, contact your utility directly.
During an outage unplug all major electronic appliances that are power sensitive, such as computers, stereos, and televisions or have them plugged into a power strip with at least 2,000 joules of surge protection. This will help protect them from a possible power surge when the power comes back on. Leave one lamp plugged in and turned on to alert you when service is restored.
When an outage occurs in colder months, customers should close doors to any rooms not being used to prevent heat loss. In warmer months, customers should close their blinds and curtains to keep the home cool.
Households should have a storm kit with a three-day supply of non-perishable food, one gallon of water per person per day, medications, a paper list of the medications and dosages for each family member, a cell phone with backup power, a battery-operated radio/TV, flashlight with extra batteries, and a manual can opener. A charged laptop or vehicle charger can charge most cell phones in a pinch.
Solar generators come in various sizes and can be recharged with portable solar panels or a car’s DC outlet. These devices can keep all your smaller items charged.
Plan for evacuation in extreme hot/cold weather. Know where to go for heating or cooling, like a community center or a friend or family member’s home. Keep a list of people who can help during an outage as well as a list of those who you may need to check on during an extended outage.
Remember that garage doors, locks or home elevators may not work during an outage. Have a plan on how to deal with these situations beforehand.
Customers with medical needs
Electric companies take certain factors into consideration when restoring power during an outage. In most cases, electric companies give preference to individuals who rely on life support devices, such as respirators, ventilators, or other medical equipment. However, there is no guarantee that these customers will receive power immediately, and they should always have a backup plan in place.
There are important steps that customers with special medical needs should take to ensure that their power is restored as quickly as possible.
- Register with the electric company. Electric companies offer a program to alert them to customers with critical needs.
By law, all companies are required to maintain and update their list of critical customers annually. Customers need to either send a letter or fill out an application from their electric company documenting their reliance on life support devices. Their doctor also must verify the need for immediate power. Caution: Being on a priority restoration list will not guarantee that power will be restored immediately. Customers should always have a backup plan.
- Consider using a backup generator. A permanent backup generator such as propane or natural gas can be useful. These should be professionally set up or installed and notify the utility that you have it. Never use a portable gasoline generator indoors or in an attached garage due to carbon monoxide risk.
Utilities are obligated to provide safe and reliable service to the public and explain the causes of widespread and frequent outages. Consumers experiencing frequent or lengthy outages should report them to the Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) at 1-800-686-7826. The PUCO provides reports related to outages on their website at www.puco.ohio.gov.
Below are clarifications for common myths OCC hears from consumers.
MYTH: Electric companies must compensate for spoiled food during an outage.
FACT: There’s no requirement for compensation. Keep food safe by keeping fridge/freezer doors closed, using a cooler with ice packs, and discarding perishables when in doubt.
MYTH: Utilities must issue service outage credits.
FACT: Generally, utility customers aren’t entitled to service outage credits.
MYTH: Priority is given to homes with older adults and young children during an outage.
FACT: Typically, restoration priorities aren’t based on the age of residents.
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