DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: Power outage safety and preparedness

Local News

From frigid cold temperatures to heavy snow accumulations, winter weather is affecting many people across the United States. This year, mother nature adds another problem added to the list for thousands of Americans of the southern United States: power outages. 

Many residents in Texas, Oklahoma, and other southern states are experiencing unusual and unexpected winter weather conditions, leaving them without power for days.  

After seeing the southern natural disaster top headlines, Todd Meyers, Senior Communications
Representative from FirstEnergy says that residents of northwestern PA shouldn’t fear. As of February 19, there were zero power outages reported out of about 120,000 customers Penelec serves. The outage in Texas is a different situation than what we have here.


“In Texas, it’s more of a problem of the power Plants not being able to generate enough power for all
the customers throughout the state. Their power grid is constructed in a way that its only that state
itself. The power grid that we have on the east coast have lines that stretch outside the area and come back into the state so there’s able to be transfer of power. Texas is set up like an island, so they’re having a hard time importing back electricity,” explains Meyers.

However, that doesn’t mean we are permanently safe from mother nature. Potential outages can happen for residents of northwest PA at any point of the winter season.

“We’re dealing with things that are localized like ice storms and snowstorms especially at this time of year where we have trees that come into power lines and can knock out the power, damage infrastructure and sometimes we need to have customers be prepared for several days depending on how much damage there might be somewhere,” says Meyers. 

If you see damage that involves wires down, it’s important that you stay away from them and do not touch the downed wires. 

“We can have a lot of wires that wind up falling on the ground. It’s essential that people assume that those wires are energized powerlines. Stay away from them, keep kids away, and keep pets away,” says Meyers. 

PREPARE 

Taking advantage of the time that you have power to prepare for a potential outage is important. You can lose power when you least expect it.  

Meyers says to first report the outage right away. Don’t assume someone else has already done it.  

Call 1-888-LIGHTSS (with two “S”) to help Penelec locate the source. 

“That helps our system pinpoint where to look for where the wire might be damaged. We have thousands of miles of line and it helps us narrow those things down,” explains Meyers  

Meyers says to have food on hand that doesn’t require heat to prepare and bottled water. As for the food in your refrigerator and freezer, Meyers says to either leave those doors closed as long as possible to preserve them or try to use the items as quick as possible if you can. 

LIGHTING 

For safe lighting, use a flashlight and fresh batteries. Erie Fire Department Chief Fire Inspector Darren Hart recommends using a battery powered flashlight or battery powered lantern instead of using candles. “Use candles only as a last resort. If you are going to use a candle, make sure you have a foot of clearance around all combustibles. Don’t leave a candle unattended, and definitely do not go to sleep with a candle lit,” says Chief Hart. 

HEATING 

While some would do anything to keep warm against frigid temperatures, it’s also important to keep safety in mind when heating a house during an outage.  

Meyers recommends having a sleeping bag or blanket and moving into an interior room of you home. Chief Hart advises against extreme measures that involve heating with open flames such as camping stoves or charcoal and kerosene grills indoors. Beyond fire hazards, carbon monoxide poisoning can occur. “A lot of fires in the city over the years happen when people are heating their house using their stove or their oven. The open flame on the stove is too close to combustibles and next thing we know we have a major fire on hand,” says Chief Hart. 

You should also use caution if you are using a kerosene heater as a source of heat. 

“If you are using a kerosene heater, make sure you’re using the proper fuel. Many fires start from people using gasoline in those heaters instead of using kerosene.” says Chief Hart. 

GENERATORS 

Generators are another good option to keep on hand in the instance of a power outage. Scott Emricko, Store Manager of Lowes (store #2219) explains that there are different types of generators. 

  • Invertor Generator – These range from $600-$2200. “Invertor generators are small and compact. Those are not at full throttle the whole time which helps says on gas. It throttles up and down based on what you’re using”, says Emricko 
  • Standby (whole house) Generator  – Emricko says this generator is the safes and best one to prepare with. These generators range from $2500-$6000. “With this one you really don’t have to do anything, it’s already ready to go. You’re not putting gas in it or anything.” 
  • Portable (on wheels) generator –  Emricko issues caution with portable generators. “You don’t want to put these insides of a house because of the fumes and carbon monoxide issues. They have to be left outside.” 

The higher the wattage of the generator, the more stuff in your house you’ll be able to run. As always remember to be smart when using a generator. Don’t use gas powered generators in enclosed spaces such as basements or garages. Have a qualified electrician select and install your generator for your home, especially for the safety of line workers. 

“Keep our line workers safe. We’re out working on lines we believe are deenergized. If you have an incorrectly installed generator, it can take power, put it back through the transformer and back out onto the lines that we’ve been thinking are deenergized and can cause a safety hazard. It can injure our workers,” says Meyers.

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