As the deadly heatwave continues to rage across the state, officials say Californians should be ready for rolling blackouts.
The California Independent System Operator is asking people to take all possible measures to reduce their power consumption as much as possible from 4 p.m., when another Flex Alert goes into effect. That includes unplugging appliances you’re not using, turning the air conditioning on or off at 78 degrees, and putting off large appliances like your dishwasher and washing machine until power demand subsides.
Right now, usage is higher than ever as California experiences triple-digit heat in some areas.
“Electricity demand is currently forecast to exceed 52,000 megawatts (MW), a new all-time high for the power grid,” the agency said Tuesday. Residents should “be ready for possible rotating power outages on Tuesday night as the hottest weather from this historic heat wave is expected to push electricity demand to an all-time high. If power outages occur, consumers can expect notifications from energy suppliers about the affected areas and the length of time.”
That means it’s a good time to prepare to lose power. Check your flashlight batteries, prepare a no-cook meal and solve your puzzles and board games. Here’s what else you can do before, during and after a power outage.
Emergencies happen. For a potential power outage — and any other natural or man-made disaster that can strike — you’ll want your basic emergency preparedness boxes checked. Have your emergency kit supplies ready, including food, water, batteries, a fire extinguisher, cash, a NOAA radio with hand crank, and a manual can opener (you can find a full list here). If you’ve signed up for Unshaken, our earthquake preparedness newsletter series, much of this information will sound familiar. If you’re prepared for any kind of disaster, you’ll be well equipped to handle any emergency.
Sign up for alerts from your electricity supplier and bookmark the website’s outage map. In a lot of Southern California, that will be the Southern California Edison, who has an outage map here and you can sign up for email, text, and phone alerts here. In the city of Los Angeles, you can view the LA Department of Water and Power outage map here and click here for alerts. Here’s the San Diego Gas & Electric outage map and how to download the alerts app. And here’s the outage map for Pacific Gas & Electric, which serves much of the rest of California, and where you can sign up for those alerts.
If you know ahead of time that you may lose power, there are things you can do to cope with the outage.
- Fill your gas tank or charge your electric car battery in case the outage lasts longer than expected and you have to go elsewhere.
- Double check that flashlights and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors have working batteries.
- Charge your phone and devices along with an extra battery pack.
Plugging in a bunch of laptops, batteries, and phones to charge before a Flex Alert or planned outage takes effect may sound counterintuitive to what you should be doing when energy demand is already rising. But it isn’t, said Diane Castro, a spokesperson for Edison in Southern California.
“Once the Flex Alert happens, you want to disconnect the devices,” she said. “You can charge your phone before the Flex Alert. It is during those Flex Alerts, those peak hours, that you want to save energy.”
The same goes for your air conditioning: it’s fine to turn the thermostat to pre-cool your place, then set it to 78 or higher (or turn it off completely) during the Flex Alert.
Anticipate your power needs during the power outage and think about how to plan ahead:
- Learn how to manually open or leave your garage door open during the malfunction.
- If you have walking difficulties and use an elevator to get between floors, work with your family members or neighbors to come up with a plan to get you out of the building if necessary.
- If you use electrical medical devices, make sure they have new batteries and contact your doctor to discuss what to do in the event of a power outage.
- If someone in your household has to work or go to class, install apps like Zoom on your phone or find out how to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
If you have a non-wired phone on a traditional phone line, you can still use it if the power goes out. It’s a good idea to write down crucial phone numbers (doctor, neighbors, relatives, maybe a coworker or two) so you don’t have to rely on your smartphone when battery capacity is scarce.
Make sure you have some fun things to do in your home that don’t need to be plugged in. Puzzles, board games, a deck of cards, crafts, books, pillow fort materials — in other words, break all the things you did in early quarantine when you tried to avoid the news. And when it’s dinner time, choose something that doesn’t require you to open and close the fridge or freezer several times.
Use battery-operated light sources such as flashlights and lanterns. Despite their moody appearance, candles are a bad idea during a blackout because they are a fire hazard. It’s never a good time to start a fire in your home, but it’s particularly unwise to do it if emergency services are probably already busy elsewhere.
If you use your car to charge your phone or other electronics, make sure you don’t do it in a closed garage and risk carbon monoxide poisoning. A safer option is to buy a hand crank for your emergency kit that will also allow you to charge phones and other devices. Speaking of carbon monoxide risk, another big don’t: Don’t run a generator indoors. Do not use a grill or propane stove or heater inside. Do not make a fire indoors.
Keep your fridge and freezer closed for as long as possible. Every time you open them, you release cold air and get closer to food spoilage, said Marilyn Jiménez, a regional communications manager for the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. When you get to the point where you need to access the food there, first know what you are going to eat and close the door as soon as possible.
“If you’re staying at home and there’s a long-term outage, you’ll want to use perishable foods from the refrigerator first and then the frozen foods,” she said. “Food is safe to eat if it has a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Anything higher than that you want to throw away, especially dairy products. If the outage lasts longer than a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your frozen products and always keep them cool and covered.”
Do not use your phone or laptop except for emergencies. Yes, keeping a family occupied for hours without phones, video games, TV or music can be a chore. But this isn’t a good time to drain your phone’s battery while listening to podcasts or playing Candy Crush. Reserve it only for outage information.
Pay attention to the warnings of your electricity company. Tune in to a full news radio station on your weather radio to listen for updates. In addition to your electric utility’s website, California ISO provides updates on its site and on Twitter.
If you had a lot of lights on before the power went out, turn off all but one of them. That way, you know when the power comes back, but you don’t run the risk of a power surge that could cause your devices to fail. In general, Castro said, it’s a good idea to unplug anything that isn’t connected to a surge protector.
Do not drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary, as the interference can also affect traffic lights. In extreme weather, know where to go if you can’t stay at home anymore. Most outages only affect small geographic areas, Castro said, so check to see if there’s a friend or family member who still has power who can catch you. You can also search for cooling or heating centers in your area. Before you get to that point, make sure windows and blinds are closed and any cracks sealed.
Hurrah! The power is back on. It’s time to take stock.
Your main concern is making sure you and your family are safe, Castro said.
- Make sure appliances are working and nothing has been affected by a power surge.
- Plug in everything you’ve unplugged. Anything that was connected to a timer, such as a plant grow light, probably needs to be reset.
- Check that the food in your refrigerator and freezer is still at safe temperatures (maximum 40 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Reconnect your garage door opener if you have it set to manual.
- Stay away from power lines.
- Go through your emergency kit and add replacements for whatever you’ve been using to your grocery list.
- Check with neighbors and family in the area and make sure everyone is okay.
Then turn on some lights and relax. You made it.
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