How to survive PG&E’s planned power shutoff

Here are some tips to get ready for possibly widespread outages

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Against a growing chorus of red-flag alerts, wildfire warnings and ”severe wind events,” swaths of  Northern California on Tuesday braced for power outages as PG&E prepared to possibly cut service to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of fires sparking due to live downed power lines.

Thanks to a potentially devilish elixir of low humidity, warmer temperatures and gusty winds, the fire dangers may prompt the utility to shut down power in high-threat areas starting early Wednesday morning.

And they’re warning that some shutoffs could last as many as five days.

“This is shaping up to be one of the most severe dry wind events we’ve seen in our territory in recent years and we want our customers to be prepared for an extended outage that may last several days,” Michael Lewis, Senior Vice President, PG&E Electric Operations said in a statement.

“Our meteorological and operations teams continue to actively monitor the weather and this evolving situation, and we are working directly with state and local agencies to help prepare our customers and the public for this safety event. We want our customers to be aware that, based on this number, it could take several days to fully restore power after the weather passes and safety inspections are completed.”

So what happens if you’re one of the customers targeted by PG&E for a possible power cut-off? Here are some tips from the utility and other sources to prepare for the service disruptions and make it safely to the other side once the coast is clear:

Know if your area could be on the cut-off list

It’s a wide swath of Northern California: portions of counties that may be impacted include: Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lake, Mariposa, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba. PG&E said on Monday that they plan to begin power shutoffs in Napa County beginning early Wednesday morning that may extend five days or longer. You can find a map of the affected area here. And this map shows current power outages throughout PG&E’s service area.

Get a plan in place

Cynthia Shaw, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region chapter, stresses the importance of being prepared when a major like a widespread power shutoff is imminent.

“Have a disaster-preparedness kit ready to go because this power outage could last” for days, she says.  “Get enough water and food for all family members because you won’t be able to cook or use electricity. Charge your mobile-phone batteries in advance. If you have an electric car, charge it. If you have a regular car, have at least a half-tank of gas in it because without power gas stations won’t be able to pump gas. And know how to manually open your garage door.”

Shaw says that people with medical conditions whose treatment depends on a secure power supply should speak with their medical advisers now to be ready. That could mean simply having an ice chest full ready to go in case you have medicines that need to be refrigerator. “Some people have breathing machines or scooters or equipment for home oxygen and dialysis,” says Shaw. “Those folks should really talk to their medical professionals and figure out now what they’ll have to do or where they’ll have to temporarily move if they have to go a few days without electricity.”

Pay attention to social media

Follow PG&E, the weather service and local authorities such as your town’s police and fire departments on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates.

Get to know your friends at PG&E

Go here  to get the utility’s explanation of what exactly is going on this week with these “Public Safety Power Shuttoffs,” of PSPS in industry parlance. They order these things when “for public safety, it may be necessary for us to turn off electricity when gusty winds and dry conditions, combined with a heightened fire risk, are forecasted. While customers in high fire-threat areas are more likely to be affected, any of PG&E’s more than 5 million electric customers could have their power shut off. This is because the energy system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions.”

Take these steps in advance if you suspect your area’s power grid may be impacted

Go to PG&E’s help page now, before things start to get dicey. If your power goes out, check your circuit breakers and fuse boxes and see if your neighbors are affected before calling PG&E at 1-800-743-5002 to report the outage. You can also report the outage online. If you see a downed power line, assume it is energized and stay away. Call 911 immediately to report its location, and then call PG&E. Also . . .

  • Once your outage has been reported, you can call PG&E to get a status report and an anticipated time your power will be turned back on;
  • If you lose power overnight, you can call PG&E to request a wake-up call, as well as up-to-date information on your outage and time of restoration;
  • Remember that the utility’s phone lines will probably become very busy during major event like a force power shutoff, so be patient;
  • As you prepare for a power outage, keep important numbers (e.g. hospital, fire department, police, friends, relatives) near the phone;
  • Keep battery-operated flashlights and radios and extra batteries on hand;
  • Gather non-perishable food that doesn’t require cooking, as well as a manual can opener;
  • Freeze water-filled plastic jugs to make blocks of ice. Place them in the fridge and freezer to help prevent food from spoiling;
  • If you have a generator, make sure a licensed electrician properly installs it. Improperly installed generators pose a significant danger to our crews;

And if you have a generator . . .

PG&E offers these generator safety tips:

  • Before starting your generator, carefully read and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid serious harm to yourself and others;
  • Make sure the total electric load on your generator will not exceed the manufacturer’s rating;
  • Make sure your generator’s exhaust will vent safely;
  • Use the lowest wattage light bulbs that provide a safe level of light. The greater the load on your generator, the more fuel it will use;
  • Keep cords away so they don’t present a tripping hazard, especially in dimly lit doorways or halls. Never run cords under rugs or carpets where heat might build up or damaged cords may go unnoticed;
  • Extension cords must be properly sized to carry the electric load. Overloaded cords can overheat and cause fires or damage to equipment;
  • NOTE: You are responsible for any injuries or property damage from an improperly installed or operated generator.

Set up an emergency plan with friends and family

Preparing for a power shutoff is a bit like preparing for an earthquake: with electricity off, everything from using your landline to keeping your house lit at night to opening or closing your garage door can suddenly become a lot more complicated. For that reason, you should make a plan NOW, so you’ll be ready when and if the power goes out:

  • Identify out-of-area emergency contacts;
  • Decide where to reunite with loved ones after a disaster in case phone lines are down;
  • Write your plan on an emergency contact card and store in your phone along with important numbers for emergency resources in your area.
  • Check out this state of California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services website dedicated for other handy tips.

Suzanne Tateosian, the owner of a survival-kit supply store in Burlingame called Earth Shakes, says neighbors should be particularly aware of the needs of at-risk populations during a widespread power outage, including infant children and the elderly.

“For seniors, they should have their backup medications ready to go and refrigerated,” she says. ” You should also work with your neighbors, especially if some of them are elderly, to have a plan in place. For example, in some neighborhoods, the elderly will open their front shades each morning and if that doesn’t happen then other neighbors can check on them. Also, sharing house keys can be a tremendous help in case of a disaster.”

Like a power shutoff, “a quake could knock out power, possibly for days,” said Tateosian. “So have a plan in place and practice it so that everyone in the household or the neighborhood knows what to do.”

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