Recently, California utility provider – Pacific Gas & Electric – began shutting off power to an estimated 2 million customers across large swaths of Northern and Central California in a planned outage that PG&E says is necessary to avoid wildfires.
PG&E gave residents in 34 counties advance warnings about the power cut, which it says would “proactively” reduce the dangerous effects of a potential “widespread, severe wind event” that is forecast.
In the past, PG&E transmission lines have been linked to wildfires that have devastated communities in California and the company has been wildly criticized for mismanagement and safety failures.
“The decision to turn off power was based on forecasts of dry, hot and windy weather including potential fire risk,” PG&E said in a statement about the outage.
California is at the peak of its wildfire season.
And the threat of strong wind gusts, paired with hot, dry weather raises the potential of trees being blown into power lines and sparking a fire.
The power shutoff lasted up to five days in some areas.
Sadly, during the power shutoff, a Northern California man dependent on an oxygen supply died, shortly after power cuts by PG&E affected his home.
Robert Mardis, 67, died roughly 12 minutes after PG&E cut power to his home and the surrounding area.
Fire personnel responded to a call around 3:40 a.m. and found Mardis unresponsive on the floor of his home, according to El Dorado County Interim Fire Chief Lloyd Ogan.
He was found wearing a nasal cannula, used to deliver oxygen to the nose, and was hooked up to a PPAP machine for that purpose.
Mardis’ family told local media he couldn’t reach his battery-powered tank in time.
For most folks, the power outage was a major inconvenience, but for Mardis, it had a deadly consequence.
PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Merlo said that the company did not have any details about the death and had not substantiated it.
Here’s the thing, could PG&E have spent the past few years preparing and updating equipment to reduce the chance of failure during high winds so it didn’t need to shut off power to 2 million people? I certainly believe so.
Not surprisingly, I believe the utility has been mismanaged and failed to take the necessary steps over the past few years to protect their infrastructure.
The problem is, it’s no secret that the U.S. is full of aging power grids, so your utility may not be far off from doing something similar to PG&E.
Considering this, I want to share with you a few tips to prepare for a planned power outage.
Garage door. Most likely, you have an automatic garage door opener, which won’t work when the power is out.
Prior to an outage, turn off power to your garage opener and make sure you are able to manually lift open the door.
The last thing you want is the door to be stuck open while the power is out, making it easier for criminals to get inside.
Turn off appliances. Ideally, you want to turn off major appliances such as air conditioners and washers/dryers prior to the outage.
This will prevent them from coming on unexpectedly when power is restored. In addition, turn off heat producing appliances such as ovens, stove tops and irons prior to the outage.
This will eliminate a fire hazard when power comes back on.
Don’t forget to protect sensitive electronic equipment such as televisions and computers with surge suppressors.
Unplug this equipment if it was in use when the power went out.
Notify security company. When the power goes on and off, there can oftentimes be false security alarms.
On the other hand, this may be a time when bad guys target homes since it appears that no one is home.
For this reason, you should contact your security company and let them know there is a planned power outage, but that they should still call you immediately if they detect an alarm going off.
Fuel up. When there is a planned power outage you not only need to prepare your home, but you need to prepare to be without services of surrounding businesses.
You should fuel up your car, generator, propane tank or any other type of fuel you will need since gas stations will most likely be closed.
Plus, make sure you have all your medications stocked up as well, since pharmacies may be unable to fill prescriptions.
Generators. Your main priority is to stay safe and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not use generators, camp stoves or charcoal grills inside.
Hopefully, utility companies will start to upgrade and prepare their electrical grids for future natural disasters, however, this will come at the cost of turning the power off to loyal customers, who have no say in the decision.