Don’t Get Left in the Dark – Be Ready for Winter Power Outages

Mother Nature has a way of dealing us surprises in winter, and among the aces up her flashlight_blogsleeve are weather-related power outages. Although we aggressively trim tree limbs near power lines and work to maintain reliability throughout the City, outages do occur. Here are some tips on how to be prepared for a power outage and avoid serious inconvenience.

  • Check your emergency preparedness kit for flashlights and fresh batteries
  • Have ice packs or plastic containers of water in your freezer to place in your refrigerator or a cooler to help keep food cold during an extended outage
  • Keep canned food on hand and have a manual can opener available
  • Keep some cash handy to buy ice or other necessities in case stores in an outage area are unable to process credit or electronic transactions
  • Have a battery-operated radio
  • Have a backup charging method for your phone or other mobile device such as an inexpensive vehicle USB adapter, battery power pack or solar power pack
  • Do not run your vehicle in a garage or enclosed space, or close to your home, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, know where the manual release lever is located and test it before there is an outage
  • Surge protectors on your electronic equipment can guard against damage if a surge occurs when power is restored

Power outages are a fact of life during winter weather and we all should be prepared to safely cope with them. Fortunately, cell phones and other mobile devices that work without household power can give you access to websites and Twitter for information during a power outage or weather emergency.

More information on emergency preparedness and what to do during a power outage is available at and on our website. Updates during a widespread power outage are available by visiting us on Twitter or via our website.

Beware – Downed Power Lines Can Be Deadly!

Downed power lines are very rare, but they can cause serious injury or death. They usually Downed Power Lineoccur during extreme weather or when a vehicle strikes a power pole. If you see a power line down, call 911 or 408.615.5640 immediately to report the problem.

Our friends at Puget Sound Energy in Washington put together a great video about what to do in the event you are in a car and come across downed power lines. Helpful general safety guidelines about downed lines are provided by the Electrical Safety Foundation Institute:

  • You cannot tell whether or not a power line is energized just by looking at it. You should assume that all downed power lines are live.
  • If you see a downed power line, move away from it and anything touching it. The ground around power lines – up to 35 feet away – may be energized.
  • The proper way to move away from the power line is to shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet together and on the ground at all times. This will minimize the potential for a strong electric shock.
  • If you see someone who is in direct or indirect contact with the downed line, do not touch the person. You could become the next victim. Call 911 for help.
  • Do not attempt to move a downed power line or anything else in contact with it by using an object such as a broom or stick. Even non-conductive materials like wood or cloth can conduct electricity if even slightly wet.
  • Be careful not to touch or step in water near where a downed power line is located.
  • Do not drive over downed power lines.
  • If your car comes in contact with a downed power line while you are inside, stay in the car. Honk your horn to summon help, but direct others to stay away from your car.
  • If you must leave your car because it is on fire, jump out of the vehicle with both feet together and avoid contact with both the car and the ground at the same time. Shuffle away from the car.

Again, check out the video from Puget Sound Energy and please share this information with others. It can keep them safe!

Call 811 Before You Dig!

811Eng_ver_RGBThe last thing anyone wants is a dangerous surprise while making a home improvement. Buried pipes give us convenient delivery of natural gas, water and electricity, but they also pose a serious threat if they are hit during any type of digging. The hazards lurk in front yards as well as backyards, and a mistake may not only cost you repair expenses, fines, and inconvenience – it can cause serious injury or even death.

Calling 811 two business days before you (or your contractor) dig connects you to a free call center that will take your project information and notify local utilities of your intention to break ground. Each utility will come out to your location within two business days and mark all underground facilities with temporary flags or spray paint at no cost.

Hitting a buried high-voltage power line, fiber optic cable, natural gas line or water pipe can be avoided. So call 8-1-1 before you:

  • install a sidewalk, steps or deck
  • dig a hole for a hedge, tree or fence
  • excavate for a pool
  • start any other project such as putting in a mailbox or adding a fountain.

Federal law requires you to call 8-1-1 two business days before you dig, and it just makes sense to make the call and be sure your project goes without any surprises.

Prevent Shocks and Fires at Home

Electrical problems in homes cause over 50,000 fires a year resulting in hundreds of BePowerSafe Hashtaginjuries and deaths. Many of these electrical malfunctions and accidents are preventable, and taking some time to inspect your home’s indoor electrical system is just a smart thing to do. A simple oversight like a frayed cord or unsafe outlet could cause you grief, and the  even a small amount of electricity can be fatal.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) are inexpensive outlets that prevent electric shocks and should be used in your kitchen, bathrooms, unfinished basement, garage, wet bars and near the laundry room tub. Here are some more tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about how you can prevent a problem:

  • Always turn off power at the circuit breaker box before working on your electrical system. (Hint: this is a good time to label or verify the labeling of your breakers so you know at a glance what they control.)
  • Replace any electric cords that are frayed, cracked or have exposed wires.
  • Do not place cords under rugs, across doorways, or any place where they can be stepped on. Don’t wrap cords tightly around any object.
  • If children are present, use safety covers on all unused outlets, including wall outlets, power strips and extension cords.
  • Do not use extension cords on a permanent basis, and never use metal such as nails or wire staples to hold a cord in place.
  • All electrical equipment, including kitchen appliances like toasters, should be located away from water and moisture sources.
  • Never overload a circuit.
  • If a light switch or outlet is warm, your lights flicker, you have blown fuses or tripped circuits, or you ever receive a slight shock that’s not from static electricity, call a qualified electrician to determine the problem.

Remember, if you have children in your home, you will need to pay special attention to home electrical safety. There are many more areas that you should check out in your home to be sure it’s electrically safe, and some great sources of more information are:

Keep the “ZAP” Out of Your Backyard Power Use

Most of us are pretty vigilant about how we use electricity inside our home, where a fire or stray spark can have catastrophic results. But how much attention is paid to those light switches, outdoor plugs, extension cords and electric tools used outdoors?

There are some common sense rules of thumb, such as not using metal ladders near electrical lines and turning your power off at the fuse box before working on any electric switches, light fixtures, wiring or other electrical components. But there’s a lot more to outdoor safety.

A key component of averting an electrical mishap is a GFCI – a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. A GFCI, or GFI, is an inexpensive electrical device that can either be installed in your electrical system or built into a power cord to protect you from severe electrical shocks. Consider having GFCIs installed in locations required by the National Electrical Code, such as kitchens, bathrooms, garages, unfinished basements and near laundry tubs or wet bar sinks.

Here are some more tips (and a great checklist!) from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to avoid electric shocks or fires:

  • Have GFCIs installed or plug in a portable GFCI when you use an outdoor outlet. GFCIs are sensitive to moisture and should be protected when used outdoors.
  • Have weatherproof covers installed and keep them closed on unused outlets and switches. If outlets must be used in wet weather, install a “weatherproof while in use” cover.
  • Use extension cords marked specifically for outdoor use, and be sure they are three-pronged and plug into a three-prong outlet. Without a ground prong, GFCIs won’t work and you become the grounding rod! Check for cracks or exposed wires and discard any cords that are defective.
  • Avoid using power tools in damp or wet locations. If a tool gets wet, unplug it before touching it. Let it dry thoroughly, and if it was immersed, have it tested at a qualified repair center before using it again.
  • Use battery-powered tools if possible.

To learn more about how a GFCI works, check out the short video from the Electric Safety Foundation International (ESFI).