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How to get through a power outage amid a heatwave

While California may not see a repeat of last summer's rolling blackouts, it's always good to know best practices for power shutoffs when the heat is on.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The operator of California’s power grid is asking residents to conserve power for a few hours Thursday evening as record-breaking heat blankets the West this week. 

The California Independent System Operator issued a Flex Alert for 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, June 17, to help relieve stress on the grid. It asks Californians to set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, turn off unnecessary lights and avoid use of major appliances. 

While the system's CEO says California is unlikely to see a repeat of last summer's rolling blackouts, it's always good to know best practices for power outages when the heat is on.

Three of the most important things to keep in mind are water, cooling, and refrigeration. 

Check out these tips below for how to handle a power shutoff:

What to do before a shutoff

  • Water, water, and more water. Aim for one gallon per person per day for up to a week. Humans can survive without water for only 3 days, but with the heat, it's best to over prepare. Don't forget about water for your pets!
  • Sign up for local alerts and PG&E/SMUD warning systems. Make sure your address and phone number are correct to receive the most updated information directly from the source.
  • Buy plenty of nonperishable foods. Go for canned or boxed foods that don’t need to be heated, such as canned fruit, beans, veggies and cereals.
  • Prepare to evacuate. We're not only in a heatwave, we are also dealing with an Elevated Fire Risk. Just ask these Elk Grove homeowners how quickly they needed to get out when flames encroached on their homes. You can prepare by packing a "go bag" with important documents, clothing, and a first-aid kit.
  • Talk to your doctor. Do you use medical devices powered by electricity for which you will need an alternative or generator? Have medication that needs refrigeration? Talk to a medical professional about how long those medications can be stored at high temperatures and what to do in the event of an outage.
  • Gas up the car. Gas stations run on electricity, so if there's a need to drive somewhere, you don't want to have to rely on finding an operational gas station. 
  • Buy a portable charger. Keeping your phone charged in an outage can be a life-saver. Make sure that the portable charger is fully charged as well!
  • Change the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is a major concern during power outages. Stay safe by making sure your detector is working properly.

What to do during a shutoff

  • Think cooling center. If there is nowhere else to go and your home is too hot, try checking out a local cooling center. Plus, don't forget about your pets! If it's too hot for you, it's too hot for them.
  • Keep food cold; keep the fridge and freezer closed. It may be tempting to open up the fridge or freezer for some cooling relief, but don't do it! In most freezers, food will stay frozen for one to three days and below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for another couple of days.
  • Use the car. If you need an emergency way to stay cool, hanging out in the car with the AC on can be a temporary solution. 
  • Unplug and switch off everything that runs on electricity. Power outages lead to power surges once power is switched back on. This can destroy your electronics if you don't take the necessary precautions.
  • Check in with your neighbors. Older adults and young children are especially vulnerable to heat illness in a heatwave.
  • Be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas and it can sicken or kill people during power outages. Only use generators outdoors and away from windows. Do not use a gas stove to heat your home. Make sure your carbon monoxide detector is working.

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