Don't wait until the power goes out to start thinking, "Where's the flashlight?"
Power outages are becoming a fact of life around the country, at any time of year. Recent years have seen a number of strong storms and hurricanes knock out power to suburban and rural homes for days at a time. And blackouts also can be caused by accidents or short-circuits.
Here's a refresher on how to be ready:
What to have
James A. Judge II, a member of the American Red Cross' Scientific Advisory Council and executive director of Lake EMS Inc. in Mount Dora, Fla., recommends putting emergency supplies into a plastic storage bin and slipping it under your bed. That way, he said, you'll always know where to look.
He also suggests putting emergency supplies in an old suitcase with wheels. If you have to evacuate, "you have your kit on wheels," he said.
Think about your basic needs when outfitting the kit.
•Food and water. Judge recommends storing a gallon of water per day per person and keeping a two-week supply. He said water will keep for about six months if not exposed to heat. He also advises keeping unscented bleach on hand in case you have to chlorinate the water.
Stock up on nonperishable, easy-to-prepare foods for the same period of time: cans of fish, meat, fruits, vegetables and soups, as well as canned or boxed milk and juice. Remember to have a hand-operated (not electric) can opener, said Kit Selzer, a senior editor at Better Homes and Gardens.
You might also want a food thermometer to check the temperature of food in the refrigerator to see if it's safe to eat.
•Flashlights and extra batteries. Check the batteries every few months, Judge advises.
Emergency preparedness experts advise against using candles because of the fire risk.
•Medication: Put a week's supply of medication in your emergency kit; you may need it if you're evacuated. Don't forget a first aid kit, as well.
•Personal papers: In case of evacuation or damage to your property, it's helpful to have copies of important papers like birth certificates or insurance policies with you.
•Miscellaneous: Don't forget cellphone chargers, which you can use if you find a neighbor, library, coffee shop or other spot that has power and lets you plug in. Car chargers also can be helpful if you have to evacuate. Keep some cash on hand; ATMs need power, too, and you won't be able to withdraw funds from them if the bank also has been hit by the power outage. And to keep up with what's going on, Judge recommends a battery-operated radio and perhaps a NOAA weather radio, both with batteries. A multipurpose tool also might be handy.
What to do
Turn off and unplug appliances, computers, televisions and other electrical equipment so they won't be damaged by any power surges that might occur while power is being restored.
Avoid opening the refrigerator or freezer. Generally, food in the refrigerator will stay cold enough for four hours, while food in the freezer will remain frozen for 48 hours in a packed freezer or 24 hours in one that's half full. If it's in the middle of winter, consider burying food in the snow or putting it in the car to keep it cold.
Foods like eggs, mayonnaise, leftovers and soft cheeses are among the fastest to spoil, Selzer says.
"If you have food exposed to temperatures above 40 degrees or more it might not be safe to eat," Judge said. Use your thermometer to check.
Also, make sure you have gas in your car. You won't be able to fill up if gas stations are affected by the blackout.
Increasing numbers of people fed up with repeated power outages are purchasing generators. "Generators come in all sizes and shapes," Judge said. Some may be sufficient to run the refrigerator, some can run multiple appliances.
But they must be used properly. A generator should never be run inside a home, garage, crawl space or basement, Judge said, because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.