Malibu skirted a threatened Southern California Edison (SCE) Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) last week, even as thousands of other customers across California were hit with planned blackouts during dangerous high fire conditions. More than two million people in Northern California were left in the dark for as long as 72 hours, angering Governor Gavin Newsom, but more importantly, leaving citizens vulnerable due to lack of electricity.

A PSPS, authorized by the state Public Utility Commission, allows SCE and other utilities to cut power in an effort to reduce wildfire risk. Fire ignitions from downed power lines are being blamed for causing deadly blazes across the state. While not widely popular, SCE says a PSPS is the plan of last resort only to be used during a Red Flag Warning accompanied by low humidity that makes for tinder dry conditions susceptible to sparks from electrical equipment.

Local authorities are urging residents to prepare for these intentional blackouts.

Without power, communications will be cut off for most without generators or backup batteries. Cell towers will be inoperable, traffic signals down, computers and television kaput. Businesses may be forced closed. Restaurant and grocery stores could lose valuable perishables. Gas stations would be inoperable.  

And, how about you at home? How will you fare without lights, air conditioning and power?

Vulnerable citizens are asked to prepare, since they will be affected the most—those who rely on electricity for medical devices, breathing apparatuses or refrigeration for medicines. 

Experts advise everyone to have an emergency preparedness kit for a PSPS or other disaster.

In a blackout:

• Know how to manually open garage doors and gates. With warning, consider opening them in advance.

• Use flashlights.

• Do not use candles that can blow over in wind and start a fire.

• Use a hand-crank or battery-operated radio.

• Consider investing in a satellite phone.

• Keep your refrigerator closed. A fridge can keep food cold for four hours. A full freezer unopened can keep its temperature for 48 hours. Throw away any food exposed to temperatures over 40 degrees for more than two hours.

Fill up gas tanks if you have advanced warning.

• Turn off and unplug electronics. Appliances in use during an outage can be damaged by surges once electricity is restored.

Leave one light on so you know when power is back.

Malibu’s Public Safety Manager Susan Dueñas urged all Malibu residents to start planning for the inevitable. 

“I strongly suggest anybody who is medically dependent on power, if you’re notified your area could be targeted for a power shut off, you need to make a plan for yourself,” Dueñas cautioned. “You need to consider possibly staying with somebody in a different area—family member, friend, during that time period when you’re vulnerable. There’s only so much any government agency could do to reach out, locate and assist every individual who is in their home. It’s much better for people to have a plan for themselves, even if it’s to proactively evacuate yourself to a safer area where you can rely on the power until that danger period is over.”

When a power shutoff occurs, it takes hours to days longer for restoration so utility crews can inspect hundreds of miles of line making sure no fronds or branches compromised equipment. 

If a power outage occurs during Malibu Senior Center operating hours—Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Friday until 4 p.m., seniors are welcome to use the center (which can operate on a generator). But there is a caveat, according to Dueñas. The center also doubles as the City’s Emergency Operations Center. 

“If we’re in a PSPS and we have a fire or other emergency, we could have a conflict. The Emergency Operation Center would have to take precedent,” the public safety manager said. “But, we would try to assist any seniors there, especially if they’re medically dependent on power. We would do what we could to assist them.” Dueñas added new PSPS pointers on the city’s website. To see them, go to malibucity.org/PSPS.

“This is an opportunity for people to think about how they would handle an outage because a PSPS is only one type of power outage,” Dueñas said. “We could have power outages for many other types of emergencies, such as fire or earthquake. Think through what is your best plan of action for an outage—for the kinds you know about in advance and the kind that might just surprise you. Look at your life and what your needs are and make a plan.”

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