How To Prepare For Mandatory Power Outages Ahead Of Time If You Live In California

Prepare for power outages
Fiona Goodall/Getty Images News/Getty Images

While power outages due to weather are common, preemptively shutting off power ahead of bad weather in order to prevent an additional disaster is rare. But after 2018's devastating California wildfires, that's exactly what power companies are doing. If you live in one of the areas affected, knowing exactly how to prepare for mandatory power outages ahead of time is key.

The Los Angeles Times reported that California electric company PG&E planned the largest proactive power shut off ever in an attempt to reduce the chances of high winds and electrical equipment starting a fire. "As we have said throughout this process, PG&E shares the court’s focus on safety and recognizes that we must take a leading role in reducing the risk of wildfire throughout Northern and Central California," PG&E told the Los Angeles Times in an emailed statement. The move comes after the utility company said damage to its equipment could've contributed to some of the deadliest wildfires in history. In particular, the Camp Fire, which began Nov. 12, 2018, completely destroyed the Northern California town of Paradise and killed more than 85 people.

David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Many people in Northern California were not prepared for the latest outages that have already begun, and The New York Times described mass chaos as people scrambled to get supplies and protect everything from frozen breast milk to millions of dollars of research at UC Berkley. The paper reported that 2.5 million people in Northern California could be affected as power is turned off and restored based on wind conditions.

Most recently in Southern California, a new wildfire dubbed the Saddleridge Fire ignited Oct. 10, 2019 in the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles, and power companies in the area say there's a chance residents' power could be shut off, potentially affecting 170,000 people, USA Today reported. In addition, more than 34,000 people living in San Diego are also ask risk for power shut offs.

Most people don't realize how much they rely on electricity until it's gone. After a series of earthquakes earlier this year where I live in California, for example, I realized I was not at all prepared for an emergency. I have since put together a disaster kit that will allow me and my pets to survive for several days without electricity. By doing a little preparation in advance you can avoid panicking when the lights go out. Here's how to prepare:

Have An Emergency Kit

Southern California Edison recommends that everyone have a basic emergency survival kit. You can create your own or buy a pre-stocked one that comes with everything you need, including food and water. If you're creating your own kit, make sure to have at least a gallon of water per day per person, non-perishable meals that don't need to be kept cold or heated up, flashlights and batteries, a cooler with ice, a battery-operated radio, and solar phone chargers.

"Every home should have an emergency kit with supplies for at least 72 hours," Dan DiClerico, a home expert at HomeAdvisor, a company that connects people with home repair services, tells Bustle. "The kit should include water (three gallons per person), non-perishable food, a battery-powered or hand crank radio, a flashlight with extra batteries, a first-aid kit, dust masks, a whistle to signal for help, and a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities."

Because people fleeing a disaster often have no notice, I also have a go bag in my car with food, water, a first-aid kit, pet supplies, and clothes for a few days. These are clothes I don't miss and generally don't wear but will be happy to have if I don't have time to grab anything from home. Hopefully you will never need to use your emergency kit, but if you are left without power for an extended period of time you'll be glad you prepared ahead of time.

Disconnect Appliances, Computers, Etc.

During a power outage, PG&E recommends unplugging all appliances and electronic equipment to protect it in the event of a power surge. Leave one lamp plugged in and turned on though, so you'll be alerted when power is restored. After that you can plug in and restart your electronics and appliances one at a time. In addition, keep your refrigerator door closed as much as possible during an outage.

"Typically, your refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours and a full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours — as long as the freezer and refrigerator doors are kept closed," PG&E advised on its website. "Consider using coolers with ice to keep food cold and safe."

Create An Emergency Plan

Create an emergency plan with family and friends before disaster strikes. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Have you discussed with family and friends what you'll do during an emergency or extended power outage? Make sure you have a designated meeting area in the event you're separated from loved ones during an emergency. In addition, make sure you have a plan for your pets.

"In case of evacuation, make sure your alternative housing is pet-friendly," Dr. Angela Hughes, D.V.M, Ph.D.,Veterinary Geneticist at Mars Petcare, tells Bustle. "Create a list of friends or family whom you know will take in you and your pets, as well as pet-friendly hotels within a 100-mile radius in case you need to be out of your home for a few days."

Have A Checklist Handy

When things go sideways, it can be difficult to remember everything that needs to be done. In order to minimize chaos during a power outage, create a checklist of all of the things you'll need to do to ensure you're safe. Test flashlights, disconnect electronics, make sure you know where your emergency kit and important documents are, and that you are not in any danger.

Southern California Edison recommends familiarizing yourself with the location of your fuse box as well as water and gas line shut off procedures, too. In addition, make sure the gas tank in your car is at least half full. Finally, although stores my be open during power outages, they'll only be accepting cash. Make sure you have some.

Know How To Manually Open Your Garage


One thing people might not think of is how to get out of their garage if there is no electricity. Many garage doors are electric, and if you have one you've likely never had to open it manually. There actually is a way to do this. In its Home Guides section, news site SFGate offers a step-by-step guide for bypassing your garage door's electric opening mechanism. You might want to test it out ahead of time to make sure it's going to work.

While power outages are a huge headache, unfortunately in California the danger of fire caused by electrical equipment is real and can be deadly. I always adhere to the motto, hope for the best but prepare for the worst.


Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor

Dr. Angela Hughes, D.V.M, Ph.D., Global Scientific Advocacy Relations Senior Manager and Veterinary Geneticist at Mars Petcare