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Power shutoffs can help prevent wildfires

An emergency checklist on a clipboard with batteries, a radio, a flashlight and other supplies.

Aug. 3, 2020— It's the hot, dry season again. And if you live in a state where wildfires are common, your utility company may sometimes need to turn off power to avoid sparking a blaze. This is called a public safety power shutoff.

Depending on the severity of the fire danger, a power shutoff could last for a few hours or several days in a row. That's why it's so important for your family to prepare.

Why do shutoffs happen?

Your power company monitors the fire danger in your area. When conditions are right for a wildfire, they may decide to turn off power to help prevent a fire. Those conditions can include things like:

  • High winds and gusts.
  • Low humidity.
  • Dry vegetation.
  • On-the-ground reports.
  • National Weather Service warnings.
  • A fire threat to electric infrastructure.

If there's going to be a shutoff, your power company will try to give you advance notice. So it's a good idea to call or visit their website and sign up to receive alerts.

How else to prepare

Here are six things you can do before a power shutoff to make sure everyone in your family can stay safe:

1. Build or restock your emergency supply kit. This should include food, water, flashlights, a radio, fresh batteries, first aid supplies and some cash. Don't forget grab-and-go items to protect against COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer and two cloth face masks for each person over age 2.

2. Make sure you can call for help. Keep your cellphones and other devices charged, and have a backup charger available if possible. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers handy too.

3. Plan for medical needs. Do you rely on electric or battery-dependent medical supplies, such as breathing machines, a power wheelchair or home dialysis? Make sure your power company is aware of your medical device. And consider getting a backup generator for your home. If you already have one, make sure you know how to operate it safely. Also, if you take medicines that require refrigeration, make a plan for keeping them cold in an outage.

4. Ready your transportation. If you have a car, keep the gas tank full. And learn how to manually open your garage door.

5. Know where to go if you need to evacuate. This could be an emergency shelter or the home of a friend or relative outside the area.

6. Don't forget about pets. Prepare a disaster kit with food, water and supplies for your animals. Make sure they wear collars and tags with up-to-date information and microchip them if possible. Have proper carriers for each pet. And keep in mind: Many emergency shelters don't take pets that aren't service animals. So make a plan to evacuate your pet safely to a separate location, if needed.

Learn more about making a family emergency plan in case of disaster.

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