In my home state of California, we're facing a new seasonal weather disaster; planned power outages during high wind days. During the first few weeks of fall, we see high winds whip through the valleys. Combine this with months of sunny weather drying out wild grass and brush and you've created a recipe for dangerous fires.
Right now, major parts of Northern California are burning as the Kincade Fire spreads across Sonoma County. As of this writing, 30,000 acres are on fire with only 10% containment. Nearly 200,000 residents are being forced to evacuate.
Because these planned outages could last multiple days, there is a lot of preparation we need to do in order to wait it out in the dark. It's one thing to be without lights, and even a working refrigerator, but it's even harder to live somewhat normally when you don't even have a way to charge the phone you use to stay in communication with your family or need to keep life-saving home medical equipment running.
I've got some advice for how to prepare for planned outages, but these recommendations are good whether you live in an area affected by planned outages or your house is prone to blackouts of any kind.
Family safety first
The first thing you should prepare for is a plan for keeping in contact with family members in case of an emergency blackout.
- Make sure your children have an emergency contact outside of your neighborhood or city. They may need to call Grandma and Grandpa for advice on how to reach you if your phones are unreachable.
- Do you know where your pets are? Moms, dads, and kids may be accounted for, but the four-legged members of the family need checking in on as well. If you have to leave town because of a power outage, make sure you have proper transportation (like a pet carrier) for your furriest family members. Keep carriers in easy-to-find locations, just in case a power outage turns into an evacuation.
- Make sure your local electric utilities company has your current contact information. If power outages are planned, companies will send out notifications to their customers ahead of time. Visit your electric company's website or call to make sure the phone number and email address they have on file for you is up to date.
Emergency supply kit
Even if you aren't in a planned power outage area, an emergency supply kit is a good investment.
- Nonperishable food (canned goods) and water should be the first things you pack into your kit. Yes, you want batteries and flashlights, but food and water is top priority. I recommend packing a LifeStraw into your kit. If you run out of bottled water, the LifeStraw can filter contaminated water for emergency needs. Don't forget to include pet food!
- Flashlights are incredibly useful during power outages and much safer than candles. The best type of emergency flashlight is the kind that has a hand crank, so you don't have to worry about batteries. These days, a hand-crank flashlight with a phone charger is an ideal purchase.
- Speaking of batteries, you should keep a few packs in a variety of sizes for things you didn't consider you might need.
- A manual can opener is important to open those nonperishable cans of food. Without electricity, you won't be able to run your countertop can opener.
- Chargers, chargers, and more chargers. With zero electricity for a few days, or even weeks, at a time will be the death of your gadgets. You should not skimp on quality here. Get a top-of-the-line charger like the mophie powerstation AC, which can keep your phone charged for up to 100 hours, but also has an AC plug for laptops (don't use it unnecessarily, though, your phone is more important than your computer).
- Toss in some extra clothing in case you have to bug out of your house quickly. Clean socks and undies will make a big difference.
- Keep some cash in your emergency kit, about $100 if you can float it.
- Are you able to set aside extra medications? If so, stock up on a week's worth of emergency meds to ensure that you or your family members won't be without if the pharmacy is shut down.
Power generators are cumbersome and expensive, but they can also be a source of emergency energy when you really need it. If you're at-all considering getting one, do so way in advance of a planned power outage. They are the first to disappear off of hardware store shelves when the time comes. The state of California has specific generator regulations, but if you live outside of California, Briggs & Stratton makes a fantastic generator at a great price.
Just owning a power generator is not enough, though. Be sure you're properly stocked up on the necessary fuel for your generator and make sure it's clean and usable. Test it out every few months to ensure that it's in good working order.
Powered locks and doors
Do you know how to open your garage door without an electric door opener? You may need to learn the manual mechanics, if not.
Do you live in an apartment building that uses electronic fobs or keycards? Ask your property manager how they plan to prepare for an outage.
Do you normally take the elevator in your building? Do you know where the stairs are? Are you able to take the stairs? If not, consider staying with a friend or family member that lives closer to ground level.
Gas up the car
During power outages, gas stations are left in the dark, too. Don't wait until a blackout to gas up. If you know your neighborhood is going to go dark for a few days, gas up as soon as possible to avoid waiting in long lines at the last minute.
It's also a good idea to have a five-gallon gas can with fuel in it on hand in case you run out of gas and need to make an emergency trip somewhere.
What about in-home electronic medical equipment?
Durning a power outage, planned or not, homes with powered medical equipment are not given special power protection. A power generator can help with these emergency medical equipment needs, but it's better to transport the family member needing the equipment to a location where electricity flows freely.
Some electric companies offer a special program for homes with medical equipment, which can lower your monthly energy bill, but can also help get proper alerts further in advance of planned outages.
Contact your electric utilities company to see if there is a medical baseline program you qualify for. In some circumstances, the company will even plan home visits to registered customers to ensure they're made aware of planned outages and can prepare for them.
Being prepared for any potential disaster, whether it's a power outage, earthquake, hurricane, or tornado, is important. Remember to have a plan in place ahead of time that your family is familiar with in order to avoid confusion and stay safe. Keep an emergency kit, one for each member of the family, nearby with at least one gallon of water per-person per-day and keep your chargers charged so you can juice up your phones to stay in contact with the outside world.
Be careful out there and don't be afraid of the dark.
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