image of nyc power outage

The tail end of Manhattanhenge kept the sky somewhat bright during the beginning of the July 13, 2009, power outage across portions of Manhattan, including Times Square and the Upper West Side. (VIEWPRESS/Getty Images)

When the power goes out in New York City, it’s a big deal. The NYC blackout of 1977, and the chaos that ensued during it, garnered huge headlines. An even bigger power failure in 2003 did, too. The recent outage on July 13, 2019 — which darkened Times Square and forced the cancellation of evening Broadway shows — was a potent reminder that occasionally, the lights (and elevators) do go out, especially with summer temperatures on the rise. So what should you do in a NYC power outage or blackout? Here’s a quick guide.

NYC Power Outage Tips: Basic Preparation

First, of course, keep your cell phone and laptop juiced to the max as much as possible. It’s just a smart thing to do in any circumstance, so you can monitor news and make and receive calls, if cell service isn’t affected. Here are some other things you should have in your apartment to make the outage a little easier.

  • Battery-operated cell phone charger. You should have one of these anyway, because running out of juice is never fun.
  • Battery-operated flashlights and lantern. Stock up on batteries in case it’s a long one. Also, don’t be tempted to use your cell phone’s flashlight, because that’s a sure way to drain its battery.
  • Candles. Obviously, make sure they are set in places that are safe and won’t cause a fire.
  • Freezer packs to keep food cold during an outage. But, if the outage strikes in the winter, you’re in luck — just stick the stuff out on your fire escape or patio.
  • Food. Make sure to have some canned goods on hand, like beans and tuna. They don’t go bad. And you can make things on the stovetop, like pasta and rice, if you have a gas stove. You’re out of luck if it’s electric. As for lighting the gas stove, you will need to do that by match.
  • Water. Have bottled water for drinking, and additionally, fill a big bucket with water. Use the bucket of water to help flush the toilet if your water stops running. You definitely don’t want to be stuck in your apartment during an outage with a backed-up toilet.
  • NYC emergency information app. Instead of sitting in the dark as to what’s going on, download the Notify NYC app. It will give you up-to-the-minute information about emergency situations and planned events in New York City. Make sure to enable location services, so you can be informed wherever you are in the city.
  • Miscellaneous:
    • Cash (registers will be out of service at restaurants and eateries).
    • Matches (to light candles and gas stoves).
    • Manual can opener (to open the beans and tuna).
    • Whistle (in case you get stuck inside an elevator or stairwell).
    • Books and magazines (to read and pass time by candlelight).

Whom to Call About a NYC Power Outage

First, make sure the loss of electricity is not due to the circuit board being flipped or a blown fuse out. Check your circuit box, or call the landlord to find out. If that’s not the case, then call one of the following local utility companies.

Tip: ConEd has a fantastic social media channel especially during times of crisis or emergency, so be sure to check their Twitter and Facebook pages for relevant updates.

  • For power and electricity outages, call the Con Edison 24-hour hotline: 1-800-75-CONED (752-6633) (TTY: 800-642-2308). You can also report an outage online on Con Edison’s website.
  • For heat and gas outages, call National Grid 24-hour hotline: 718-643-4050 (TTY: 718-237-2857)
  • If you live in New Jersey, call PSEG 24-hour hotline: 1-800-436-7734 (TTY: 631-755-6660)
Article continues below

You Might Enjoy These Articles, Too

How to Deal With a NYC Power Outage While in Your Apartment

Disconnect all appliances that will go on automatically when the power resumes (i.e., TVs, computers, coffee pots, etc.). If everything is plugged in when power resumes, it could cause an overload to the circuit and exacerbate the problem. It’s a good idea to leave one light on so you know when the electricity comes back.

Even though you’ll be bored and stressed, try to avoid mindless munchies! Standing in front of an open fridge and pondering your next snack is a recipe for food spoilage. So yes, it’s a good idea to keep the fridge doors closed as much as possible. Put anything that can spoil in the freezer and stack everything on top of each other to consolidate the cooling effect.

Note that an unopened refrigerator can keep foods cold for about four hours. A full freezer unopened will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it’s half full).

What to Do in Hot Weather When the Power Is Out

Keeping cool and preventing your food from spoiling is the name of the game during a summer power outage. More tips:

  • Keep windows cracked to allow a breeze, but covered with curtains to prevent heat from streaming in.
  • Drink water.
  • If you are on a high floor, avoid staying in your apartment during the day. Hang out in the lobby or basement, where it’s cooler.
  • Buy a cooler and fill it with ice from a bodega.
  • Wet a towel with cold water and put it around your neck.

Cold Weather Power Outage Tips

If you haven’t already, call your landlord and be sure he knows of the problem. Ask if there is a backup generator on the roof and if it can be kicked in. If not, ask if there is a battery-charged space heater available to use. If all else fails, here are some DIY tips.

  • Close the drapes or hang blankets in front of windows.
  • Line door and windowsills with blankets or heavy towels to prevent a draft.
  • Leave a drip running in the faucets to prevent frozen pipes.
  • Centralize your activity as much as possible in one room and keep the doors to other parts of the apartment closed. This will help centralize the warmth.
  • Bundle up!
  • Do not use your oven or gas stove for heat. Though this is tempting, heat and gas can be unpredictable in an outage, and you don’t want to risk an explosion.

See Manhattan and Brooklyn Rentals Under $2,800 Article continues below

Inspired to find your next place in New York? Whether you’re looking to rent or to buy, search NYC apartments on StreetEasy.