(NEWSnet/AP) – Extended power outages are inconvenient at any time – but are even more aggravating during extreme weather situations that may or may not be related to the electricity failure.

A possible record-breaking heat wave is settling in for a huge swath of the U.S. this week; even as some customers are newly affected by power outages from accompanying storms, or are still waiting for repairs from earlier severe weather damage.

What can you do to stay safe and comfortable if power outages prevent you from using fans and air conditioners?

Emergency response and medical experts share some tips.

How to Stay Cool

 

To avoid overheating, it’s key to stay hydrated. If your home is without water during a power outage, be sure to stock up on bottled water.

It’s also important to refrain from exertion, if possible. Avoid the sun, especially during the hottest part of the day, and stay in the shade when outside.

When it’s hot, the body cools off by sweating. Soaking T-shirts or other clothing with water, or frequently spraying your skin with water, can help boost this effect, said Zachary McKenna, post-doctoral fellow in the department of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern.

“That does two things that are pretty beneficial: One, you have the potential for all of that water to evaporate off the skin and actually cool the body. And two, it lowers the need for your own body to produce that sweat,” he said.

McKenna says such strategies could be particularly helpful for older people because our bodies produce less sweat as we age.

 

If the temperature inside your house during the day is the same, or warmer, than it is outside, you can open windows to increase air flow — but make sure to keep curtains closed, especially if windows are receiving direct sunlight, he added. At night, if temperatures drop, open windows help increase the flow of cooler air.

A number of communities from Phoenix, Ariz., to Toledo, Ohio, have announced community cooling shelters this week. For a list of currently open sites, contact your city, county or state emergency management agency. The City of New York's Emergency Management office, for example, has a special website listing cooling centers, tree-covered areas and other options for the public.

Keeping Cold Food Safe

 

If the power goes out, the food that’s in your refrigerator can keep cold for about four hours, and what’s in your freezer can keep cold for one to two days, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

If food that must be kept cold has been sitting at temperatures that go beyond the limits for refrigerated or frozen food, it should be thrown away so that you don’t give yourself food poisoning, according to FEMA. If any food in your fridge starts to have an unusual odor, texture or color, it should also be tossed.

You can transfer food to a cooler. But make sure there is enough ice or cold packs available to keep the temperature below 40 degrees, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has a list of recommendations for specific foods to look over in the aftermath of a power outage, such as soup, butter, jelly and pasta.

Cooking Safety

 

If using camp stoves or charcoal barbecues to cook, make sure to use the cookers outside and place them at least 20 feet away from windows, FEMA says.

How To Keep Phones Charged

 

One way to preserve a cellphone’s battery is to limit calling, texting and app use. Dimming the brightness of the display screen, or putting a phone in low power mode, can also help. Turning it off can also help save battery.

A number of vendors offer affordable solar-powered chargers for phones and other devices.

You can also charge your phone with a charger plugged into your car. But FEMA warns that you should always run your car outside, and not in an enclosed space like a garage, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

How to Keep Some Lights On

 

Battery-powered flashlights and lanterns should be used for lighting rather than candles, which can be a fire hazard. 

Solar-powered lights, such as those popular at campsites, also can be repurposed for use around the house.

Generator Use and Installation

 

Portable generators, which are typically fueled by gasoline and diesel, are a traditional option as an external power source during an outage. But should you have one, it is essential to know how to use one safely.

Generators should always be used outdoors, at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and garages, according to FEMA.

Those who use generators should install battery-powered carbon monoxide alarms inside their home, FEMA says, as the gas is odorless and colorless. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly.

Generators should be kept dry and protected from rain or flooding, as FEMA warns that touching a wet generator can cause electrical shock. Before refueling, make sure they have cooled down.

Heavy-duty extension cords should be used to connect appliances or devices to generators. And extra precaution should be taken when hooking up a generator to a home power source, as doing so could cause a dangerous surge in electricity, according to FEMA.

“You don’t want to hook your generator into your system without having an isolation switch to keep it from charging the power lines going out from your house,” said Kenneth Gray, a senior lecturer at the University of New Haven. “Because you may, as a result, electrocute people working in the area,” such as crews restoring downed power lines, he said.

Generator transfer switches and any other necessary equipment should be installed by an electrician, per FEMA recommendations.

A newer alternative to fuel generators is a solar powered generator, which is a large power bank that can be charged by solar or perhaps additional means and then the device can power phones, emergency lights or other small items.

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