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Loss of Utilities

Published on: 2/13/2013 4:18 PM
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Background, Safety Tips, Preparedness
 
Electrical power is like breathing: You don't really think about it until it is missing. Power is just "there," meeting your every need, constantly. It is only during a power failure, when you walk into a dark room and instinctively hit the useless light switch that you realize how important power is in your daily life. A wide variety of natural disasters here can cause long-term power outages: Earthquakes, large fires, tornadoes, and storms can take out the power for hours or days at a time. Even something as simple as a blown transformer or a car running into a utility pole can knock out the electricity in an entire neighborhood for a day or two. We are all dependent on electricity, so a power outage of more than a few minutes becomes very inconvenient. As the duration of a power failure stretches beyond an hour, there can be ramifications that that can be costly or dangerous.
 
Short-term power outages occur when electricity demand exceeds the available supply, they’re likely to occur more frequently in warm weather when many air conditioners are running. Energy is sometimes in short supply in California—a “rotating blackout” (planned short-term outage) occurs when the power service has to be temporarily interrupted in a selected area to save power. A “rotating blackout” typically occurs for an hour, then the power is restored and another area is turned off. You may receive little or no prior notice of an outage. Stay tuned to local news with battery-operated radios for current information when outages occur. And while the loss of power is a serious inconvenience, safety should be everyone’s main priority.
 
Safety Tips When the Power is Out:
 
  • Do not call 9-1-1 to ask about the power outage. Listen to the news radio stations in your area for updates.
  • Keep a list of emergency phone numbers near the phone.
  • Have a cell phone or hardwire telephone. Cordless phones will not work without electricity.
  • Only use a flashlight for emergency lighting. Due to the risk of fire, do not use candles during a power outage!
  • Turn off electrical equipment you were using when the power went out. This will help to prevent power surges when electricity is restored. The power surges may permanently damage electronic equipment and appliances.
  • Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer as much as possible to prevent food spoilage. Food should stay frozen for about one full day and fresh in the refrigerator for about four hours.
  • Do not run a gasoline-powered generator inside a home or garage.  If you do use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home’s electrical system.
  • Use extreme caution when driving. If traffic signals are out, treat them as a stop sign – come to a complete stop at every intersection and look before you proceed. Let the person on the right have the right-of-way.
  • Railroad crossings may not be working, either, so stop, look and listen before entering a crossing.
  • If you’re stuck in an elevator when the power goes out, stay put and waits for help. Never try to climb out between floors.
How Can I Prepare Before the Power Goes Out?  
 
Assemble essential supplies, including:
 
  • Flashlight Batteries
  • Portable radio
  • At least one gallon of water and a small supply of food.
  • If you have space in your refrigerator or freezer, consider filling plastic containers with water, leaving about an inch of space inside each one. (Remember, water expands as it freezes, so it is important to leave room in the container for the expanded water). Place the containers in the refrigerator and freezer. This chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold if the power goes out.
  • If you use medication that requires refrigeration, most can be kept in a closed refrigerator for several hours without a problem. If unsure, check with your physician or pharmacist.
  • If you use a computer, keep files and operating systems backed up regularly. Consider buying extra batteries and a power converter if you use a laptop computer. A power converter allows most laptops (12 volts or less) to be operated from the cigarette lighter of a vehicle. Also, turn off all computers, monitors, printers, copiers, scanners and other devices when they’re not being used. That way, if the power goes out, this equipment will have already been safely shut down. Get a high quality surge protector for all of your computer equipment. If you use the computer a lot, such as for a home business, consider purchasing and installing an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Consult with your local computer equipment dealer about available equipment and costs.
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, find out where the manual release lever is located and learn how to operate it. Sometimes garage doors can be heavy, so get help to lift it. If you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home upon return from work, be sure to keep a key to your house with you, in case the garage door will not open.
  • If you have a telephone instrument or system at home or at work that requires electricity to work (such as a cordless phone or answering machine), plan for alternate communication, including having a standard telephone handset, cellular telephone, radio, or pager. Remember, too, that some voice mail systems and remote dial-up servers for computer networks may not operate when the power is out where these systems are located. So even if you have power, your access to remote technology may be interrupted if the power that serves those areas is disrupted. Check with remote service providers to see if they have backup power systems, and how long those systems will operate.
  • Keep your car fuel tank at least half full because gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
  • Follow energy conservation measures to keep the use of electricity as low as possible, which can help power companies avoid imposing rolling blackouts.
After a Power Outage: 
 
Wait a few minutes before turning on major electric appliances. This will help eliminate problems that could occur if there’s a sharp increase in demand immediately after power is restored.  If you think that electric power has been restored to your area, but your home is still without power, call your local energy company or Pacific Gas and Electric Company at 1-800-743-5000 for information.