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Electric Power Problems: Outages

Our reliance on electric power is prodigious, and we don’t often think about it until, one day, it is denied to us—by lightning strikes, by downed lines, by sub-station malfunctions, or by “rolling” (planned) blackouts.

In our part of the world, especially at this time of year, the most common cause of power outages is thunderstorms, either by direct hit or by damage to power lines or substations—as recently occurred in Albuquerque, leaving some 128,000 New Mexicans at least briefly in the dark.

The ignominy of being without power—no TV, no computer, no game player, no kitchen stove—can be followed by power surges when the electricity is restored. To prevent that, be sure to unplug all your appliances when the power goes off, leaving one light on to indicate when power returns.

The first line of defense against power outages is something called an “uninterruptible power supply” (UPS). It is like a large surge protector, but it has a backup system that most surge protection devices lack: it provides 5–15 minutes of emergency power so that you have time to shut down your appliances and systems properly. A UPS can have as many as ten plugs, but not all of them are connected to the emergency power supply, so you should inventory your electrical devices and appliances to determine which ones you want or need to protect; include information on their locations and required wattage.

If the power outage is protracted, or if you experience frequent outages, you should consider acquiring an emergency power generator. These are usually powered by diesel fuel or gasoline, so you should also see that you have extra fuel supplies for it. You can run extension cords from the generator to critical equipment and portable lighting.

If you are especially concerned about the effects of power outages on your computer(s), you might consider switching to “cloud computing,” Any data stored in the cloud are completely protected against all electrical vicissitudes.

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