“Try to consumeyour perishables right away,” says Ruth Santiago, an environmental lawyer from Salinas, Puerto Rico, who lost electricity for nearly two months after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017. Fishermen sometimes paid Santiago in fish for her legal services. After she lost power, she emptied her freezer and cooked a big seafood stew to share with neighbors. Your freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours. If you have forewarning and sufficient space, put water bottles in your freezer and refrigerator to help extend cooler temperatures. Prepare by keeping stores of canned food, bottled water, flashlights, solar lamps and cellphone chargers. Make use of the sun; Santiago took to brewing tea in a jar set outside.
Expect more power outages as climate change causes more extreme weather. Cellular service will be interrupted wherever cell towers lose electricity. “Go find a signal,” says Santiago, who often had to drive more than an hour to find one, so she could work in her car. If your water provider loses power, your toilets might not flush, and your tap will go dry. “Be ready to maybe not have water, banking services, gas pumps,” says Santiago, whose sister collected rainwater to flush her toilet. Come up with contingency plans if you rely on medical devices that require electricity or medicine that needs refrigeration. When Santiago’s mother, who has diabetes, couldn’t find any ice, a doctor suggested she keep her insulin in cold water, out of direct sunlight.
Only use a generator outside, away from windows, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a gas stove or oven as an indoor heater. Be proactive before things go dark. “Put pressure on your utility to invest in resilient solutions like distributed renewable energy and battery storage,” says Santiago, who installed solar panels on her rooftop that have protected her from the persistent outages that continue to plague Puerto Ricans. She is involved in a campaign to pressure the electric power authority to do the same across the whole island. If you do lose electricity, check on your neighbors, especially the elderly. Try to share whatever resources you have, whether that’s ice, a generator, a can of beans, a battery pack or even just a glass of sun tea.