How to survive a DTE power outage in Metro Detroit

Extended outages cause real hardship. Here’s your survival guide.

Frequent and prolonged power outages caused by DTE Energy have become a distressingly common problem for residents of Metro Detroit. These outages disrupt everyday life and leave individuals and families without essential services such as electricity.

Extended outages create significant hardship, impacting daily activities such as cooking, refrigeration, heating, and cooling. As a result, inconvenience and discomfort prevail.

During power outages, communication systems such as landline phones, cell towers, and internet services may become unavailable, making it a challenge to reach out to emergency services or stay connected with loved ones. Moreover, businesses and workplaces relying heavily on electricity may experience downtime, leading to financial losses and reduced productivity.

The impact of these outages extends to medical facilities like hospitals and clinics, jeopardizing critical patient care and life-saving equipment. Individuals depending on powered medical devices at home may face health risks, and medications that require refrigeration might spoil.

The effect of power outages is also felt on traffic lights and public transportation systems, leading to traffic congestion and disruptions in commuting. This becomes more problematic during extreme weather events such as heat waves or cold spells, as individuals become more vulnerable to the elements, increasing the risk of heatstroke or hypothermia. Researchers have warned about the dangers of a combined power outage and heatwave in Detroit for several years.

Extended power outages induce stress, anxiety, and frustration, especially if they persist significantly or occur frequently. Being prepared for potential power outages is the most effective way to ensure the safety and well-being of oneself and one’s family.

In this guide, we will delve into the challenges that arise from DTE Energy’s inadequate reliability performance and provide practical recommendations for coping with frequent and sustained power outages in Metro Detroit.

What is causing DTE’s poor reliability performance?

DTE is among the least-reliable utilities in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration information analyzed by the nonprofit advocacy group Citizens Utility Board of Michigan.

Michigan’s electric reliability performance is poor compared to the rest of the country. In 2021, Michigan ranked third in the country for how long it takes to restore customer power after an outage. “It has now become normal in Michigan every time there’s a storm, for hundreds of thousands of people to lose power, sometimes for days on end,” Art Reyes III, executive director of advocacy group We the People Michigan, told the Detroit News.

One cause that has received scrutiny is DTE’s failure to invest in essential maintenance of its distribution system, especially tree-trimming.  According to statements made by company officials during their year-end earnings report in 2022, DTE Energy reduced its operations budget to meet earnings projections. Unfortunately, this decision was made several months prior to a severe ice storm on February 22nd, which caused over 450,000 of their customers to lose power.

More severe and frequent extreme weather events driven by climate change with higher winds and more intense precipitation can also stress the grid and drive more frequent and more severe outages.

In September, state regulators ordered DTE to provide detailed information on its plans for improving reliability. So far, in 2023, DTE customers have suffered four major outages, with hundreds of thousands of customers impacted.

One possible but expensive solution would be burying power lines, which Consumers plans to start testing in six counties. DTE has said it’s not feasible to bury power lines, especially in older neighborhoods.

How can I stay informed and cope with inadequate communication?

The first step in surviving a power outage is to stay informed about the situation. DTE Energy’s official website and social media channels provide updates on power restoration efforts, but getting specific info on what’s happening in your community and when you can expect relief can be a challenge.

Surviving such situations requires finding alternative sources of information, such as relying on local news outlets or community groups for updates.

Keep a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio handy to listen to local news and updates. Alternatively, use your smartphone to access news websites or social media for updates, but remember that the internet may also be affected during prolonged power outages. Emergency chargers can be a lifesaver to top up your device.

During a power outage, neighbors can be a great source of support and information. Check on your neighbors, especially those who may be vulnerable or elderly. Pooling resources and sharing information can be beneficial for everyone involved.

How can I stay safe during a power outage? 

Safety is paramount during a power outage. Here are some basic safety tips:

  • If you see downed power lines, stay away and immediately report them to DTE Energy or local authorities.
  • Do not use a generator indoors. Generators emit carbon monoxide, a deadly gas. Keep them outside, away from windows, doors, and vents.
  • If you have a fireplace, use it safely with proper ventilation. If you have a portable heater, ensure it has safety features and keep it away from flammable materials.
  • If food may have spoiled, do not eat it. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Wait a few minutes before turning on lights, & plug in appliances one at a time.

A well-stocked emergency kit can make a significant difference during a power outage. Your emergency kit should include the following:

  • Flashlights and extra batteries: Avoid using candles, as they pose a fire hazard.
  • Battery-powered radio: This will help you stay informed about the situation.
  • Portable chargers and power banks: Keep your devices charged to stay connected.
  • Non-perishable food: Stock up on canned goods, dried fruits, nuts, and energy bars.
  • Bottled water: Aim for at least one gallon per person per day.
  • Manual can opener: In case your electric can opener is unusable.
  • First aid kit: Including necessary medications and medical supplies.
  • Warm blankets and extra clothing: Temperatures may drop during an outage.
  • Hygiene supplies: Such as wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and garbage bags.
  • Save emergency numbers, including DTE Energy’s hotline, local authorities, and nearby shelters, in your phone or on paper.

How can I stay warm (or cool)?

One of the most challenging aspects of a power outage is losing access to heating and cooling in your home, exposing you to frigid or hot temps that can sap your energy, make you uncomfortable, or pose a health risk.

Staying warm during a power outage in winter is crucial to ensure your comfort and safety. Without access to electricity for heating, it’s essential to take appropriate measures to retain body heat and create a cozy environment. Here are some tips for staying warm during a winter power outage:

Here are some tips for staying warm:

  • Dress in multiple layers to trap body heat. Start with a thermal or moisture-wicking base layer, add insulating layers like sweaters or fleece, and top it off with a windproof and waterproof outer layer.
  • Keep warm blankets and extra bedding on hand to snuggle up and stay warm—close curtains and blinds to provide additional insulation and prevent heat loss through windows.
  • Choose a smaller, well-insulated room to stay in during the outage. Close the doors and use draft stoppers to minimize heat loss.
  • If you have a battery-operated or fuel-powered space heater, use it wisely to create a cozy area within your home. Keep it away from flammable materials and never leave it unattended.
  • Utilize DIY heat sources such as candles, clay pots filled with sand, or terracotta heaters, but exercise extreme caution to prevent fires and ensure proper ventilation.
  • Create a makeshift fort using blankets and furniture to trap body heat and create a warmer space.
  • Wear a hat and warm socks to bed to help your body retain heat while you sleep.
  •  Use towels or blankets to block drafts coming from doors and windows. This will help retain heat and keep the cold air out.
  • Fill hot water bottles with warm water and place them under blankets or clothing to add extra warmth.
  • Consume hot beverages like tea, coffee, or warm water and eat warm meals using a gas stove, if available. Hot food will help raise your body temperature.
  • Engage in light physical activity to generate body heat. Do some indoor exercises to keep your blood flowing and stay warm.
  • If the sun is shining, open curtains and blinds during the day to allow sunlight to warm up your living space. Close them at night to retain heat.
  • Wet clothing can lead to a significant loss of body heat. Keep clothing and shoes dry during the outage.

Staying cool during a power outage, especially in hot and humid weather, is essential to prevent heat-related illnesses. Here are some tips to help you stay cool and comfortable:

  • Identify the shadiest spots in your home and spend time there. Basements or lower levels of your house are typically cooler than upper floors.
  • Battery-operated fans can provide some relief during a power outage. Place them strategically in areas where you spend the most time.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and help regulate your body temperature. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they can contribute to dehydration.
  • Use cool water to shower or take baths to help lower your body temperature.
  • Dampen a towel or piece of clothing with cool water and place it on your forehead, neck, or wrists. This can provide instant relief from the heat.
  • Position a batter-powered box fan near an open window to draw in cooler air if there’s a breeze outside. Cross ventilation can help circulate air and make your living space more comfortable.
  • Keep curtains, blinds, and shades closed during the day to block out direct sunlight and reduce indoor temperatures.
  • Opt for lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing to help your body dissipate heat more efficiently.
  • Apply cold or ice packs to pulse points like your wrists, ankles, and neck to cool down your body.
  • Minimize physical activity during the hottest parts of the day to conserve energy and reduce body heat.
  • If available, consider heading to public places like community centers or libraries that may have air conditioning during an outage. City of Detroit cooling centers are listed here.
  • Sleep on the lower floors of your home if possible, as heat tends to rise, making upper levels warmer.
  • Avoid using your oven or stove, as they generate heat. Opt for no-cook or cold meals during the outage.
  • Place a bowl of ice in front of a fan to create a makeshift evaporative cooler.

How can I get compensated for losses?

If you experience an extended outage, you may be entitled to a $35 credit from DTE for every day the outage continues. Under Michigan law, a customer is eligible for a credit if the utility fails to restore service within 120 hours under catastrophic conditions or within 16 hours under normal conditions. DTE will automatically determine your eligibility and post a bill credit.

What else should I know about a power outage in Metro Detroit?

Energy conservation is crucial to making your resources last longer during a power outage. Here are some tips to help you conserve energy:

  • Switch off lights, computers, TVs, and other non-essential electronics.
  • Power only critical appliances.
  • Keep fridge and freezer doors closed will help preserve the cold air inside.
  • During the day, open curtains and blinds to make the most of natural light.
  • Designate a single room to stay in to concentrate your resources.

Power outages can lead to voltage fluctuations and surges when power is restored. 

  • Protect your sensitive electronic devices by unplugging them during the outage.
  • Consider investing in surge protectors for essential appliances and electronics to prevent damage when the power comes back on.
  • Unplug most lights & appliances to prevent electrical overload.

Power outages can be long and tedious, especially for children. To pass the time and keep spirits up, engage in activities that don’t require electricity, such as:

  • Classic board and card games are great for family bonding.
  • Reading can be a wonderful escape.
  • Get creative with simple crafts or DIY activities.
  • If it’s safe, spend time outside and enjoy nature.


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