After being victims of the top two power outages in the United States in 2012 — the derecho and Hurricane Sandy — Washington area residents might be warily eyeing this year’s storm season, which, in the case of hurricanes, starts June 1.
And who can blame them? More than 3.8 million people in the District, Maryland and Virginia lost power at some point last year, according to the 2012 Blackout Tracker Report from Eaton, a power management company. Some were without electricity for as much as a week after the June derecho.
“It’s not if you are going to lose power, it’s really a matter of when,” says David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power.
Waldorf resident Bill Swanson, 66, was glad he had a generator when the derecho knocked out his power for three days last summer, because stores quickly sold out as people scrambled to power their homes in record heat. An experienced boater and longtime resident of the Washington area, Swanson says he has learned over time that it’s better to be prepared.
“We’re kind of used to the weather patterns in this area and . . . always thinking about it and looking for storms,” Swanson says. “Once you’ve lived through a three-foot snowstorm in this area and been paralyzed for a week, you kind of learn what to do and how important it is to take some precautions.”
Stock up on flashlights, batteries, water and food, in addition to any medical supplies you might need. Botkins also recommends homeowners invest in a battery-operated radio so they can listen to weather reports and news alerts during an outage.
Have one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, Botkins says. Also stock food for several days for everyone in the family and your pets. Botkins also suggests having a couple of cans of gasoline to fuel your car in case local filling stations lose power.
If you have a well or septic system that runs on electricity, have extra water to flush toilets, says Lance Gregory of the Virginia Health Department. Filling your bathtub in advance is fine for flushing toilets, but if you are going to use that water for washing hands, brushing teeth, cooking or drinking, Gregory says, boil it first to decontaminate it.
Check your battery supplies now, Duracell spokesman Win Sakdinan says. Everyone should have plenty of batteries in sizes AA, AAA, C and D. Sakdinan says it’s a good idea to have enough to power your radios and flashlights for a week. And make sure you have flashlights or headlamps for every person in the home to have his own, he said.
Fully charge your smartphone, tablet and laptop, and consider getting an Internet router that runs on batteries. Conserve energy in these devices by turning them off when you aren’t using them or putting them in battery conservation modes, Sakdinan said.
And when your power goes out, Botkins said, your first move should be to report the outage to your electric company. Don’t assume your neighbors have already called.
Total number of people affected by outages in D.C., Maryland and Virginia in 2012
Total number of outage incidents in Maryland and the District in 2012
Total number of outage incidents in Virginia in 2012
Eaton’s Blackout Tracker Annual Report for 2012