California: Here’s Your Guide to Surviving PG&E’s Shut-Off Nightmares (Updated 10/26)

This article is a living document, I’m adding to it when I can! Last update was 5:05pm 10/26/2019.

It’s spoopy season, which means it’s time to get out the sweaters and soups. Unfortunately, it also means it’s fire season. Due to high winds and dry conditions, PG&E pre-emptively shut off power on October 9th to large swathes of the Bay Area (for up to a week) in order to try and prevent fires (probably caused by their neglect, but never mind that). On 9:15 am on Tuesday morning (10/8), having been awoken by an alert saying power may be off as soon as midnight that night, I clicked to look at the outage map and enough people were looking at it that the site was going down pretty consistently.


And now it’s happening again, apparently. Shutoffs have already begun. You can look up if you’re expected to lose power here. You can also check these maps, in case PG&E handle their site as well as they handle the power.

In order to be prepared, here’s some tips I’ve collected from my own emergency awareness plan — many of these tips will also help in the case of earthquakes and fires, so hopefully they’re useful for you!

I am also aware that not everyone can afford to prepare at this level — it’s helpful to have a collective plan, especially with people in walking distance, so the cost can be spread out over a few folks.

Community Centers are available, though also pretty pathetic and only one per county, which seems absurd. Some are outside, for another thing. Oakland’s appeared to have 4 portapotties — for all of Alameda Country.

Short Term:

-Sign up for emergency alerts. There’s lots of places that send out emergency alerts for air quality, wildfire risk, power outages, earthquakes—signing up will save you checking Twitter and perhaps getting misinformation. That said, I also tend to check Twitter, because while it’s not always accurate, sometimes I get information faster that is pretty vital to have.

-You can text “enroll” 97633 to enroll in your zip or region-wide alerts for when/where PGE power will go off!

-Have hard copies of important phone numbers to help you make phone calls in an emergency, in case you can’t use your phone.

-If you can, try to have some cash on you. If electricity goes out, ATMs and credit/debit card readers will also be out, so having cash will help you get any necessities even without electricity.

-Refill your gas tank. Gas pumps require electricity to work, and if it’s out for a week, that could be a big issue!

-Grab extra batteries for any flashlights, external battery chargers (solar if possible!) for charging devices, and/or a power inverter for your car, if you have one. All of these will help you stay connected even without working wall sockets.

-I love my crank radio for emergency information. You can even get ones that are also a flashlight and a phone charger, which solves the battery issues.

-Freeze water in plastic containers (jars, sealable plastic takeout containers, even gallon sized plastic bags) to help keep food cold during a temporary outage. An unopened full freezer will keep stuff cold for 48 hours if left unopened (24 hours is half full, so fill up empty space with water) — an unopened fridge has about 4 hours.

-I’d suggest having shelf-stable food and drinking water for you and anyone you live with for at least 3 days. The water you use to keep stuff in your freezer cold can be part of this water! Also, if you have a camp stove, have that available in case. You could use this list of backpacking meals made from Trader Joe’s stuff as inspiration. Preppers have great lists you can use too, and you should be able to stock up at Grocery Outlet, Costco, and Food Maxx!

-Grab up some good face masks in case the air quality becomes bad again. P100 is best, if you can get them. Depending on your location, you could also get in touch with Mask Oakland. That said, people with breathing problems may find the masks make the problem worse — if that’s the case, try to find a few locations with good window seals and better air quality, like a library or an indoor mall, or you can seal up your house to help block the smoke out.

-Do you require an elevator for accessibility? You may need to find a friend to stay with or a motel to crash in. Sucks, I know, but you don’t want to end up trapped in your home.

-Do you have alternatives to any key fobs? Can you open your garage without power? A way to bypass electric gates? Make sure you can get in and out of important locations before the power is out!

-Be prepared for various natural disasters when it comes to your pets. Know where their records are (I keep them in a pocket on the carrier), along with a bowl for water, food, and a photo in case your pet gets lost.

Longer Term:

Do you have medical needs or devices that require electricity? Apply for the PG&E Medical Baseline program, which will grant you additional warnings ahead of a shutdown to help you make plans, and also get you a discount on your bill.

-You may be eligible to have any food stamp purchased food that was destroyed by the power outage replaced, but you will have to apply and that may take a while. Be aware it’s an option, though!

-Consider taking a first aid or street medic class to be able to do some basic medical care in an emergency.

-Get familiar with the evacuation and preparation checklists for both wildfires and earthquakes.

-Have some activities available for yourself, or for a group! I like to have 1, 2, and 4 person card based games in case there’s no electricity. A camping lantern can help give you enough light to play a game, and it’ll help pass time. Books are also good.

-Consider having a lifestraw on hand so you can filter any water and make it drinkable. They’re small enough to have on hand but super useful.

-In fact, while we’re at it? Have a go bag. I like to have a medic go bag on hand, as well as a go bag for if I need to leave my apartment. Make sure you have layers and sturdy comfortable shoes nearby. Populate your go bags with stuff from military surplus stores and dollar stores.

-Avoid using candles as your primary light source — better to use lanterns, headlamps wrapped around a clear emergency water jug, and other options that won’t catch on fire if jostled!

-Unplug electronics, or use surge protectors, so they don’t short out when the electricity comes back on. It’s not a bad idea to just leave one lamp on, though, so you can see when the power is back.

-Check on your neighbors and see how they’re doing, especially if they have children, anyone pregnant, elderly folks, people with disabilities, or other folks who may need a little extra help.

-Have your animals microchipped in case you’re separated. Some places will do it for cheap, so research your area to find what resources are available.

Support me and my work helping folks be prepared for emergencies via Patreon!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store