The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) offered tips to residents as Winter Storm Harper approaches the Commonwealth as part of its ongoing Prepare Now utility awareness campaign.
“The combination of snow, ice, high winds and bitter cold temperatures has the potential to disrupt utility service,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “Time spent on planning and preparing before a storm can go a long way toward keeping yourself and your family safe when severe weather hits.”
During storm emergencies, the PUC continuously monitors utility issues and works closely with the Governor’s Office and the other state agencies involved in Pennsylvania’s coordinated storm response. Across the state, there is extensive behind-the-scenes work when storms are forecast, focused on quickly addressing problems and restoring service as rapidly as possible. Utilities are putting their severe weather plans into motion; crews and equipment are being positioned for quick response to outages; and communication with emergency management coordinators is enhanced.
The Commission also encourages residents to monitor storm forecasts and official information as this storm approaches, and to take steps to safeguard themselves and their families before, during and after any severe weather.
• Write down, print or save toll-free outage hotlines for your electric utility and/or your natural gas utility, which are listed on your monthly bills and posted on the PUC website.
• Save the website address for your utility’s outage reporting system, which can provide updates on repair and restoration efforts. Those electric utility outage sites and natural gas company websites are available on the PUC website.
• Keep cell phones charged, so you can contact your utility, other emergency services and family members during any power outage.
• Secure necessary food, medicine and other supplies, including batteries for flashlights.
Should you lose power during a storm, consider the following:
• Call your utility hotline to report outages – Do not assume that the utility already knows about your outage or that others have already called.
• Stay away from objects or puddles in contact with downed power lines.
• Do NOT touch or approach any fallen lines.
• Do NOT try to remove trees or limbs from power lines.
• Do NOT call 9-1-1 to report power outages. Those calls take dispatchers away from other emergencies and can also slow a storm response because you’re not talking directly to the utility.
• SPECIAL NOTE: If you have a downed power line or another hazardous situation, call 9-1-1 and then contact your utility.
Tips to help stay safe until power is restored:
• Use flashlights or battery-operated lanterns for emergency lighting. Do not use candles or other potential fire hazards.
• If you use a generator, do NOT run it inside a home or garage. Also, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator, not your home’s electrical system, which could shock or injure utility crews working on nearby power lines. Additional generator tips are available here.
• Turn off lights and electrical appliances (except for the refrigerator and freezer). When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment.
• After you turn the lights off, turn one lamp on so you will know when power is restored. Wait at least 15 minutes after power is restored before turning on other appliances.
• Check on elderly neighbors and those with special needs who might need additional assistance.
Consumers using natural gas appliances can also be impacted by storms:
• Electric power outages can affect gas furnaces and other appliances. If they do not function properly when power is restored, call a professional for service.
• If you smell natural gas, get everyone out of the building immediately.
• Leave the door open and do NOT use phones, switch lights or turn appliances on or off, or take any other action while inside the building.
• After you are safely outside, call 9-1-1 from your cell phone or neighbor’s home.
In addition to storm safety, the PUC’s Prepare Now campaign focuses on educating consumers about the availability of low-income programs; increasing consumer awareness of ways to reduce winter heating costs; educating consumers on energy conservation; encouraging consumers to check electric and natural gas bills and supplier contracts; and informing customers about PAPowerSwitch.com and PAGasSwitch.com as resources to shop for energy suppliers and learn more about efficiency and conservation measures.