Understanding the social impacts of power outages in North America: a systematic review

Adam X. Andresen, Liza C. Kurtz, David M. Hondula, Sara Meerow, Melanie Gall

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


As demand for electricity increases on an already strained electrical supply due to urbanization, population growth, and climate change, the likelihood of power outages will also increase. While researchers understand that the number of electrical grid disturbances is increasing, we do not adequately understand how increased power outages will affect a society that has become increasingly dependent on a reliable electric supply. This systematic review aims to understand how power outages have affected society, primarily through health impacts, and identify populations most vulnerable to power outages based on the conclusions from prior studies. Based on search parameters, 762 articles were initially identified, of which only 50 discussed the social impacts of power outages in North America. According to this literature, racial and ethnic minorities, especially Blacks or African Americans, those of lower socioeconomic status, children, older adults, and those living in rural areas experienced more significant impacts from previous power outages. Additionally, criminal activity increased during prolonged power outages with both pro-social and anti-social behaviors observed. Providing financial assistance or resources to replace spoiled goods can reduce crime. Future research on this topic must consider the financial effects of power outages, how power outage impacts seasonally vary, and the different durations of power outage impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number053004
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • North America
  • electrical grid failure
  • populations of concern
  • power outages
  • societal impacts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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