What to Do When the Lights Suddenly Go Out

Having established that ERCOT—the Electric Reliability Council of Texas—is anything but reliable, here are some tips on protecting expensive electronic devices when your power source becomes unreliable. These same techniques will also protect your gear from lightning strikes and power surges, even when your power source is reliable.

Just Unplug It

The safest thing you can do when uncertainty threatens is to unplug your Mac (and all other devices, including printers, routers, external storage devices, hubs, switches, etc.) from AC power if there is any chance of power fluctuations or outages.

If your Mac happens to be a laptop model, it’s safe to use on battery power but do not charge it (by plugging into AC power) until the likelihood of lightning strikes or power surges has passed.

By the way, if you use a power strip, disconnect it from AC power, even if it claims to offer surge protection. It’s been my experience that many power strips that claim to include surge protection have been fried along with their connected devices by severe power surges or lightning strikes.

Bottom line: If it appears that your home or office may lose power or suffer a power surge or lightning strike, my advice is to shut down your Mac and disconnect it (and other devices) from AC power until the danger passes.

Consider an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

Sadly, we can’t always be near our Macs when our power source becomes erratic or lightning threatens. If you’re likely to be away from your home (or office) when the power gets wonky, consider a UPS—Power Supply—for your Mac and peripherals.

A UPS is like a giant, smart battery that sits between your devices and their AC power. When the power goes out or fluctuates, the UPS switches instantly from AC to battery power, and your devices continue to work even after the power goes out.

While some UPS devices run until their batteries are expended and then shut your Mac down, many (if not most) connect to your Mac via USB. When a UPS is connected this way, you’ll see a new tab (called UPS) in your Energy Saver or Battery System Preferences panes, which lets you specify how long the UPS should run on battery power before gracefully shutting down your Mac.

Even though my Mac, cable modem, wi-fi router, powered hubs, and ethernet switches are connected to a UPS, I chose to err on the side of caution, disconnecting everything from AC power after the third blackout.

I’m happy to report that everything powered up and worked properly once the crisis had passed.

Batteries and Hot Spots

Here are two more tips that can help make power outages bearable:

  • Keep one or more fully charged external batteries for your iPhone or iPad handy, so you can read, listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, and play games until the power is restored.
  • Enable the personal hotspot on your iPhone (SettingsPersonal Hotspot) so your housemates can share your cellular Internet connection until power (and internet access) are restored.

I hope you find these tips useful the next time your power becomes unreliable or lightning threatens

One thought on “What to Do When the Lights Suddenly Go Out

  • Bob:
    Having spent most of my life (and nearly all of my professional life) living in tropical and sub-tropical low resource settings, I am quite familiar with uninterrupted power supplies, surge protectors, and the twin unpredictable but tech-lethal vagaries of lightening strikes and power surges – sometimes within the same hour! (You’ve gotta love the Monsoon). 
    My observation is that surge protectors tend to work quite well, but they’re often like the security detail, who will take the bullet in order to protect the principal. They die in the line of duty. There are parts of the world where no one with expensive equipment will plug their kit directly into a wall socket. Everything, including a non-surge rated UPS, will go through a surge protector. 
    In any case, this past year, having sat the entire year out in the USA, I’ve grown sloppy. I’ve got a few things plugged into surge protectors, like my MBP, and run my iPad Pro through my Mac as a power source, but I’ve got a lot of kit, including a bevy of HomePods strewn throughout the house, that are unshielded. 
    Once again, your sage advice is causing me to open up my Amazon app and pony up for some protection. My equipment, and Jeff Bezos, thank you. 

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