Avoiding Surprises

It Is Wise to Be Prepared for Emergencies and Power Outages

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. Do your part and prepare for wildfires, inclement weather, and power outages.

Story and photo by Rodger Nichols

“The more you are prepared to help yourself and your neighbors in an emergency, the more that frees up emergency personnel to help people who didn’t prepare.”

Just before the pandemic hit in 2020, the above statement was released by the sheriffs of the Columbia River Gorge: Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill, Hood River County Sheriff Matt English, Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer, and Skamania County Sheriff Dave Brown.

With changing weather patterns bringing more and bigger wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters, being prepared is more prudent than ever.

September is National Disaster Preparedness Month—a perfect time to check your plans.

“There are three things you should do in advance,” says Barb Ayers, emergency services coordinator for Hood River County. “Have a ‘go bag’ packed and ready. Have a crank-operated or solar-powered radio to keep up with emergency instructions. Have a plan on where to meet if the disaster finds you in separate areas, along with backup spots if the first choices aren’t available, and where you plan to leave messages for each other.”

Barb suggests area residents sign up for Citizen Alert to be notified in case of evacuations.

Other tips to remember during an emergency:

  • Text rather than call on a cellphone. Texting takes less bandwidth.
  • Have maps of the area in case cell phones are down.
  • If you don’t have a hand-cranked radio, try a car radio.
  • Have an alternative charger for your cellphone, such as a solar charger.

It is also important to be prepared for a power outage.

Many Oregonians rarely experience unplanned power outages, thanks to mild weather and a robust utility grid. However, this means when the electricity goes out during a particularly nasty storm or areas are disconnected to protect against wildfires, residents may be unprepared.

The Oregon Energy Fund, a 30-year-old nonprofit that provides energy bill assistance to low-income Oregonians, has a list of do’s and don’ts to keep your home and family safe during a temporary power outage.

Do: Use flashlights and battery-powered appliances to see.

Keep multiple flashlights or battery-powered camp lights in strategic places around the house so you can easily find one in the dark. Check regularly to make sure the batteries still work. Replace them if necessary.

Don't: Use candles or indoor generators.

Who doesn’t love a cozy, candlelit room? The fire department, that’s who. While they might seem like a romantic way to get through a power outage, candles cause thousands of home fires each year and dozens of fatalities.

The risk of fire is particularly severe if your power has been disconnected due to high wildfire risk. However, the danger exists year-round. The highest number of candle-related fires each year is at Christmas.

Using a generator indoors can result in severe and even fatal carbon monoxide poisoning. If you own a generator, follow safety protocols by only operating it outdoors and 15 feet away from any structures.

Don't: Use the flashlight app on your phone.

The flashlight app on your cellphone can be helpful in a pinch, but the powerful light will quickly drain your battery. Using actual flashlights will help extend your phone life, which is important for checking for updates from your utility company or contacting emergency services. Consider buying an external battery charger for your phone for use in the event of a lengthy outage.

Do: Have an outage kit of hats, blankets, and batteries.

An unplanned power outage can mean your home rapidly loses its temperature. This can be particularly uncomfortable in the winter or during a cold snap. Ensure you and your family can stay warm by having a stocked, easily accessible outage kit with hats, blankets, and extra batteries.

Do: Stock up on water, canned food and a can opener.

Preparing meals without electric appliances, such as a stove or microwave, can be more than a little challenging. When you put together your outage kit, include a variety of nonperishable foods, such as canned beans and vegetables, granola bars, and peanut butter, along with plenty of bottled water. Don’t forget to toss in a spare can opener.

Do: Unplug your electronics.

There’s always the possibility of a power surge when the lights come back on. Protect your appliances and electronics by unplugging them right away.

Do: Contact your utility company.

Reporting a power outage to your energy provider can help the utility understand the extent of the outage, identify the source, and restore power efficiently. If your power is out, call the company or report the outage.

The number for Northern Wasco County PUD is (541) 296-2226. Program it into your phone.

Don't: Call 911.

Only call 911 during an emergency. Do not call to report a power outage or a downed power line.

Oregon utility providers are often able to restore power promptly during an outage. However, if it is unsafe to remain in your home, especially because of temperature concerns, call 211 or visit the 211 info website to find a cooling or warming center near you.

Are you prepared for a power outage?Northern Wasco County PUD agrees with local sheriffs and encourages you to plan now to free up emergency personnel to help those who didn’t prepare.