The devastating California wildfires in 2018 left communities reeling, hundreds homeless, and dozens dead. Although natural weather factors were certainly a factor, downed power lines operated by utility companies like Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) were partly to blame. In fact, PG&E has said that one of its transmission lines was probably responsible for the most destructive wildfire in state history, the Camp Fire, which killed more than 80 people in the town of Paradise, California.
After receiving mounting blame and insurance claims--and subsequently going bankrupt last year--PG&E took extra safety precautions in preparation for this year’s wildfire season. However, as far too many of PG&E customers recently learned, these precautions have lead to additional issues and financial losses.
Beginning early in the morning on October 9, PG&E shut off power to many customers located in Northern and Central Californians--approximately two million of them. Despite the fact that PG&E said they would give people enough warning ahead of time, most were caught off guard by the blackout. According to the CEO Bill Johnson, the systems the company uses to alert residents and businesses that they would lose power didn’t work as planned.
Many of these PG&E customers were unfortunately unprepared for the blackout (despite the warning we shared last spring in this Survival Scout). Grocery stores were overwhelmed with last minute shoppers, schools and businesses were forced to shut down, and without operating traffic lights, many roads were hazardous to navigate.
Four days later, all but about 12,000 residences had power restored. Four days is a long time without power. Adding fuel to the fire, PG&E recently warned that there could be ten more years of planned shut-offs while it updates equipment to prevent future wildfires. A second round of outages started October 23rd. A third a possibly even more impactful round of cutoffs are expected the weekend of October 26th-27th to millions. If you live in California now, or in other states that may soon adopt similar practices, the importance of preparing for power outages is more important than ever.
Fox News notes that many seeking to be president in 2020 have already embraced some of the same policies that have brought blackouts to California – and could bring power outages and shortages to OUR ENTIRE NATION should one of them become the next president.
These candidates think California is a model state and that government control is superior to the free market in determining our energy choices. It’s a safe bet to say that California’s energy nightmare could become a national nightmare depending on who is president starting in 2021.
That’s why I’m covering cover ways to handle a blackout, planned or unplanned. I’ll also provide examples of how people got creative in accessing basic resources during these most recent occurrences in California.
Let’s dive in...
General blackout preparedness principles
Even though PG&E’s warning systems didn’t work as planned, the company had been hinting at these planned blackouts for months. It’s on you and your family to pay attention and plan ahead--even if a planned blackout doesn’t seem imminent. Keep the following pieces of advice in mind when preparing for a power outage--planned or unplanned:
- Keep your smartphone fully charged as often as possible.
- Stock up on essential items such as batteries, first aid kits, portable radios, and water purifiers.
- Never let your car’s gas tank dip below half full. Gas pumps rely on electricity to function, and may be out of service during a prolonged blackout.
- ATMs and credit card machines won’t work without power, so keep a reserve of cash hidden at home.
- In order to avoid food spoilage, try not to open your freezer of fridge doors. A freezer can keep food safe for up to 48 if the door is unopened, and a fridge can maintain cool temperatures for about four hours if the door is not opened.
- Stock up on enough nonperishable foods and drinking water to last you and your family for at least 3-5 days.
- Store necessary medications and prepare an emergency power source for any medical devices that require electricity.
Sometimes, despite best-laid plans, you may find yourself lacking basic necessities or cut off from essential resources at work or home. This past month, California residents found several additional creative strategies as they lived through the blackout. Read on to discover several inspiring examples…
Refrigerator foods spoil - quickly
The electric power cutoffs provided hundreds of thousands of examples of why households need to have a non-perishable emergency food supply on hand.
According to the Sacramento Bee, "Sharon Fox, 76, said she lost almost all of the perishable food she had just purchased during a recent trip to Costco, including frozen salmon for herself and corn dogs and sliders she keeps on hand for when her two grandsons visit. She estimated all the food she lost cost hundreds of dollars."
Those are hard-earned dollars she will never recoup. It is essential households have long-term food storage, that lasts up to 25 years and doesn't need refrigeration, stocked and ready.
Fox will prepare differently for the next time this happens. “We’re alive. Our bodies and homes are safe,” she said, chuckling. “Our souls, we’re still working on.”
Use alternative light sources
Performing even the most basic daily functions such as getting dressed and preparing food requires light. When a power outage hits, you’ll want to have several back-up lighting options, For example, The New York Times published a photo of Julio Camacho, an employee at a restaurant in Oakland, California, who prepared food in the kitchen using a battery-operated headlamp. In addition to a headlamp, it’s advisable to have a supply of flashlights, candles, and matches stored at home and work.
Use social media to find ideas and support
During times of chaos and disaster, social media communities such as Facebook Groups can be a helpful resource to barter for items, share ideas, and offer support. For example, the New York Times that a Facebook group called Bay Area Breastfeeding Support was used as a resource for mothers to exchange ideas for how to continue breastfeeding and storing their supply for milk. Ideas included…
- Using outlets inside their cars
- Finding neighbors who hadn’t lost power and could store milk in their freezers
- Purchasing dry ice and storing it with milk in a cooler
If you have young children or sick relatives dependent upon energy sources for things like breastfeeding or respiration, you may find it valuable to join these local online groups ahead of time and build a community of support. You never know when you may need it.
Use your car as a power source
Fun fact: According to ABC News, you can turn your car into an emergency generator “by using a power inverter that turns DC current from your vehicle to AC current to power home devices from your car.” As I mentioned above, some cars also have an outlet that can be used to charge your phone and other devices.
For example, The New York Times shared that Sue Warhaftig, a massage therapist who lives in Mill Valley, California, used her family’s camper van parked in their driveway to cook meals.
Rent a porta-potty
When the power goes, many times toilets will, if they run off of an electric pump. Inc reported a story about CEO Charlie Moyer, who decided to rent a porta-potty for his employees when the toilets at their facility stopped functioning. Consider doing the same for your house if you find your toilets stop working. The last thing you want to worry about is a lack of sanitation and undesirable smells at home.
With high winds on the horizon, PG&E recently shared that another round of planned outages may be in store for later this month. And Edison, another utility company, is considering planned outages in Southern California. Couple that with the planned outages over the course of the next ten years, and there is an even greater reason to take precautionary steps sooner rather than later.
Keep the advice shared today in mind, add yours in the comments below, and have a great weekend. Stay alert, friends - those that know what's coming are using today to prepare.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply