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Winter Utility Disruption Preparedness During COVID-19

February 03, 2021 10:15 AM
By: PEMA

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The first few months of the year in Pennsylvania can bring a wide variety of weather extremes, such as record warmth as we have seen in recent years, to ice storms and record cold stretches. One area most impacted by these weather extremes is utilities.

Check out a few common weather hazards that impact utilities during the winter months.

Cold: Cold weather can freeze pipes and make utility lines brittle, prime for disruption.

Ice: The weight of ice alone is enough to pull wires to the ground, bending poles and snapping wires. Ice on trees can also cause branches to contact wires or knock out the utility if the tree falls.

Snow: Heavy snow can create similar problems as ice to utilities, causing lines to be damaged or pulled to the ground.

Wind: High winds can pull down poles and wires.

What You Can Do

Often these winter utility hazards don’t work alone, with a combination of winter weather hazards impacting our utilities' ability to remain online. The weather hazards often create extended repair periods for workers who are also fighting these same hazards to access and make the repairs.

These actions can go a long way in preventing utility disruptions:

  • Winterize plumbing
  • Clear out dead branches and debris
  • Trim and/or remove trees

Power Outage Disruptions and Dangers

Extended power outages may impact the whole community and the economy. A power outage is when the electrical power goes out unexpectedly.

A power outage may:

  • Disrupt communications, water, and transportation
  • Close retail businesses, grocery stores, gas stations, ATMs, banks, and other services
  • Cause food spoilage and water contamination
  • Prevent the use of medical devices

How to Stay Safe When a Power Outage Threatens

Prepare NOW

  • Take an inventory of the items you need that rely on electricity.
  • Talk to your medical provider about a power outage plan for medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines; find out how long medication can be stored at higher temperatures and get specific guidance for any medications that are critical for life.
  • Plan for batteries and other alternatives to meet your needs when the power goes out.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors with battery backup in central locations on every level of your home.
  • Determine whether your home phone will work in a power outage and how long battery backup will last.
  • Review the supplies that are available in case of a power outage. Have flashlights with extra batteries for every household member. Have enough nonperishable food and water. Be sure to include hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to use in case you are unable to wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Include non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies and water for several days, in case services are cut off in your area. If you are able to, set aside items like soap, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfecting wipes, and general household cleaning supplies that you can use to disinfect surfaces you touch regularly. After a power outage, you may not have access to these supplies for days or even weeks.
  • Being prepared allows you to avoid unnecessary excursions and to address minor medical issues at home, alleviating the burden on urgent care centers and hospitals.
  • Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities. For those who can afford it, making essential purchases and slowly building up supplies in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips. This helps to protect those who are unable to procure essentials in advance of the pandemic and must shop more frequently.
  • Use a thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer so that you can know the temperature when the power is restored. Throw out food if the temperature is 40 degrees or higher.
  • Keep mobile phones and other electric equipment charged and car and generator gas tanks full.

Survive DURING

  • Keep freezers and refrigerators closed. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours. Use coolers with ice if necessary. Monitor temperatures with a thermometer.
  • Maintain food supplies that do not require refrigeration.
  • Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Generators, camp stoves, or charcoal grills should always be used outdoors, and at least 20 feet away from windows. Never use a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home.
  • Check on your neighbors. Older adults and young children are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
  • Go to a community location with power if heat or cold is extreme.
  • Turn off or disconnect appliances, equipment or electronics. Power may return with momentary surges or spikes that can cause damage.
  • If safe, go to an alternate location for heat
    • Check with your local officials for locations of cooling or warming centers; locations may have changed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • If you go to a public warming center, wear masks and keep at least six feet of space between you and individuals who are not a part of your immediate household.
    • Try to bring items that can help protect you and others in the warming center from COVID-19, such as two masks for each person age two or older in the household, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, and cleaning materials.
    • Review the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for “Going to a Public Disaster Shelter During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
    • Sign up for email updates about coronavirus from the CDC. Follow the latest guidelines from the CDC and your local authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Scroll to bottom of the web page.)

Be Safe AFTER

  • When in doubt, throw it out! Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more, or that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  • If the power is out for more than a day, discard any medication that should be refrigerated, unless the drug’s label says otherwise. Consult your doctor or pharmacist immediately for a new supply.
  • Continue taking steps to protect yourself from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, such as washing your hands often and cleaning commonly touched surfaces.
  • Engage virtually with your community through video and phone calls.

Know that it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed. Many people may already feel fear and anxiety about COVID-19 and the threat of a power outage can add additional stress. Follow CDC guidance for managing stress during a traumatic event including the pandemic.

Learn More

Learn more about staying safe during power outages:


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