Resources for the Northern and Southern California power outages

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is in the opening phase of a very large, planned blackout in Northern California. This will affect some 800,000 customers, and already some 500,000 are without power today. This affects not just homes but stores, schools, and even hospitals will lose power for anywhere from 24 hours up to a week.

The outages are coming to Souther California, too, as SoCal Edison is already planning to cut power to 173,000 customers.

If you’re in the area affected by the PG&E outages, here is a list of resources for tracking them:

If you’re in the affected SoCal area, here are the links you should follow:

As is the case with PG&E, SoCal Edison’s website is under very heavy load, so you’ll probably have better luck staying current via external sources.

We will update these two lists as we run across other resources, so please alert us to anything we’re missing via comments or email.

Why is this happening?

These intentional outages are being done to reduce wildfire risk around power equipment in areas with high winds. PG&E has been warning about this possibility since last year, at least.

As for who’s to blame, some are making the case that this is PG&E’s fault for paying out stock dividends and otherwise enriching its investors and managers instead of doing the kind of maintenance work that would make these blackouts less necessary.

It’s also possible that the blackouts are a ploy by the utility to force the state government to grant more money for maintenance and upgrades.

Whatever the reason for the outages, we’re not even at the peak of the 2019 wildfire season, so California residents should expect that this is just the start of something that could be a lot bigger.

How to get ready

In planned power outage scenarios, where some select infrastructure is kept going and you can get a cell tower signal, information is the most critical prep of all. You’ll need to know what’s happening and where, and for that you need to keep your cell phone charged.

We spent over 100 hours testing the top portable USB solar panels, so there should be zero guesswork left for this pick. Scroll to the bottom to see all the test data that we published, or just look for our top picks at the beginning of the article.

Water should be near the top of your list, right under power. We subjected the top portable water containers to all sorts abuse — stacking, drop tests, carrying, etc. Our picks are good for scenarios from power outages to earthquakes, and everything in between.

We tested freeze-dried survival food for taste, nutrition, and value. Every house should have at least two weeks of food on hand.

Don’t neglect medicine and hygiene — especially since some hospitals in affected areas won’t have power. Our individual first-aid kit and home medical supplies lists were put together by some of the world’s top experts in survival medicine, and they’re broken into levels that you can buy progressively as you build up your supplies.

Finally, if you’re looking to get into off-grid power beyond just picking up a solar charger for your phone, then the beginner’s guide to off-grid power will help you make sense of all the terms, concepts, and products.

Some other tips to help you through the outage:

  • Check in with family and neighbors regularly.
  • Fill containers of water (~85% full) and place them in your freezer. They’ll help keep your freezer cold for longer, and when they thaw you can drink them.
  • The old “keep at least half a tank in your car” also applies to your critical comms gear, like cell phones and radios. Don’t let those batteries drain too far.
  • Have a plan to get out if things really start to look unsafe, and then actually get out when it’s called for. Your stuff can always be replaced.

Social media reports of gas lines, bare shelves

We’re tracking a number of prepper groups and other social media platforms where Northern California residents are posting pictures of the outages, and of gas lines and bare supermarket shelves.

There are some reports of a kind of pre-apocalyptic panic, which we won’t link, but it’s hard to know what’s internet hyperbole and what’s real.

If these outages hit some of the denser urban areas, then there could well be some amount of chaos. We’ll keep tabs on it and update if an are becomes unsafe.

You can follow along on the Twitter hashtag #poweroutage for news, reports from the ground, and random cool photos like this one of a lone donut shop with a generator and some power.

As with the resource lists, please contact us if you have any good accounts, hashtags, or forums where we can follow developments on the ground.

Update 10/9/19, 3:36PM CT: Slate reports from the outage that batteries and flashlights are flying off the shelves. People should’ve bought rechargeables.

Update 10/10/19, 9:23AM CT: I added a PG&E tweet listing resource centers to that last bullet point in the NorCal list.

It looks like people are rushing out at the last minute for “batteries, ice, and booze.” Again with the batteries! People, rechargeable NiMH batteries plus a USB charger plus a $40 solar panel will solve this battery problem once and for all. Just do it.

Update 10/10/19, 11:02AM CT: A story from this past summer: PG&E plans $11 million in performance bonuses for execs.

Here’s a reddit thread with locals talking about their experiences in the outage.

Added PG&E’s alternate outage tracking site, since the one they host is under load.

Update 10/11/19, 8:30PM CT:

Car and Driver: Electric-Car Owners Hard Hit by Massive California Power Shutdown