How to prepare for a power outage: What to do before a blackout

As the deadly heatwave continues to ravage the state, officials say Californians should be prepared for rolling blackouts.

The California Independent System Operator is asking people to take all possible actions to reduce their electricity consumption as much as possible, starting at 4:00 p.m. when another Flex Alert goes into effect. This includes unplugging appliances you’re not using, turning the air conditioner up to 78 degrees or off, and not leaving large appliances like your dishwasher and washing machine running until power demands drop.

Right now, usage is higher than ever as California grapples with triple-digit heat in some areas.

“Power demand is currently forecast at more than 52,000 megawatts (MW), a new historic all-time high for the power grid,” the agency said on Tuesday. Residents should be “prepared for possible rotating power outages Tuesday night as the hottest weather of this historic heatwave is expected to push power demand to an all-time high.” When outages are initiated, consumers can expect to receive notifications from electricity providers about affected areas and duration.”

That said, it’s a good time to prepare for a power outage. Check your flashlight batteries, cook a meal without cooking, and unpack your puzzles and board games. Here’s what else you can do before, during and after a power outage.


emergencies happen. In the event of a potential power outage — and any other natural or man-made disaster — you should have your basic emergency preparedness boxes checked. Have your emergency gear ready, including food, water, batteries, a fire extinguisher, cash, a hand-cranked NOAA radio, and a manual can opener (a full list is available here). If you’ve signed up for Unshaken, our earthquake preparedness newsletter series, a lot of this information will sound familiar. When you’re prepared for some kind of disaster, you’re prepared for any emergency.

Sign up for notifications from your electricity supplier and bookmark the outage map on their website. In many parts of Southern California this will be Southern California Edison which has an outage card here and you can sign up for email, SMS and phone alerts here. For the City of Los Angeles, check the LA Department of Water and Power water and power outage map here and click here for alerts. Here’s the San Diego Gas & Electric outage map and how to download the app with alerts. And here’s the outage map for Pacific Gas & Electric, which serves much of the rest of California, and where to sign up for these alerts.

Knowing in advance that you may lose power, there are a few things you can do to prepare for the outage.

  • Fill up your gas tank or charge your electric car battery in case the outage lasts longer than expected and you have to go elsewhere.
  • Make sure flashlights and smoke and carbon monoxide alarms have working batteries.
  • Charge your phone and devices together with an extra battery.

Plugging in a bunch of laptops, battery packs, and phones for charging before a Flex Alert or planned outage goes into effect might sound counterintuitive to what you should be doing when power demands have already increased. But it’s not, said Diane Castro, a spokeswoman for Southern California Edison.

“As soon as the flex alarm occurs, you should unplug the devices,” she said. “You can charge your phone before the Flex Alert. During those flex alerts, those peak times, you want to conserve energy.”

The same goes for your air conditioning: it’s fine to crank the thermostat up to pre-cool your place, then crank it up to 78 or higher (or turn it off entirely) during the flex alarm.

Estimate what your power needs might be during the outage and find out how to plan ahead:

  • Learn how to manually open your garage door or leave it open during the outage.
  • If you have limited mobility and use an elevator to get between floors, work with your household members or neighbors to devise a plan for exiting the building if necessary.
  • If you use medical electrical equipment, make sure they have fresh batteries and contact your doctor to discuss what to do if you lose power.
  • If someone in your household has to work or attend class, install apps like Zoom on your phone or find out how to use your phone as a WiFi hotspot.

If you have a non-corded phone on a traditional phone line, you can still use it if the power goes out. It’s a good idea to write down important phone numbers (doctor, neighbors, family members, maybe a co-worker or two) so you don’t have to rely on your smartphone when you’re running low on battery power.

Make sure you have some fun things to do around your house that don’t need to be plugged into an outlet. Puzzles, board games, a deck of cards, arts and crafts, books, pillow fort supplies — in other words, pull out all the things you did in early quarantine as you tried to avoid the news. And when dinnertime comes around, choose something that doesn’t require opening and closing the fridge or freezer a few times.


Use battery-powered light sources such as flashlights and lanterns. Despite their capricious appeal, candles are a bad idea during a power outage as they pose a fire hazard. It’s never a good time to start a fire in your home, but it’s especially unwise to do it when emergency services are likely already busy elsewhere.

If you use your car to charge your phone or other electronics, make sure you don’t do it in a closed garage and risk carbon monoxide poisoning. A safer option is to purchase a hand crank radio for your emergency kit, which also allows you to charge phones and other devices. Speaking of carbon monoxide risk, another big ban: do not operate a generator inside. Do not use a grill or propane stove or heater inside. Do not make fires indoors.

Keep your fridge and freezer closed for as long as possible. Every time you open them, you expel cold air and get closer to food spoilage, said Marilyn Jiménez, a regional communications manager for the American Red Cross’s Los Angeles area. When you get to the point where you need to access the food inside, first know what you’re going to eat and close the door as soon as possible.

“When you’re staying home and there’s an extended outage, you want to use perishable food from the fridge first and then the food from the freezer,” she said. “Food is safe to eat if it is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything beyond that should be thrown away, especially dairy products. If the outage lasts more than a day, prepare a cooler of ice for your frozen items and keep them cool and covered at all times.”

Use your phone or laptop only in emergencies. Yes, it can be difficult to entertain a family for hours without phones, video games, TVs, or music. But this isn’t a good time to drain your phone’s battery while listening to podcasts or playing Candy Crush. Reserve it for outage-related information only.

Pay attention to warnings from your electricity supplier. Tune to a radio station with all the news on your weather radio to listen for updates. In addition to your electric company’s website, California ISO posts updates on its website and on twitter.

If you had a few lights on before the power went out, turn off all but one. This way you know when the power returns but you don’t risk a surge that could blow up your devices. In general, Castro said, it’s a good idea to unplug anything that’s not plugged into a surge protector.

Don’t drive anywhere unless you absolutely have to, as the outage could also affect traffic signals. In extreme weather, you’ll know where to go when you can’t stay home. Most outages only affect small geographic areas, Castro said, so check if there’s a friend or family member who still has power and can pick you up. You can also search for cooling or heating centers near you. Before getting to this point, make sure windows and blinds are closed and any cracks are caulked.


Hooray! The power is back on. It’s time to take stock.

Your primary concern is making sure you and your family are safe, Castro said.


  • Make sure the devices are working and nothing has been affected by a power surge.
  • Plug in everything you unplugged. Anything associated with a timer, such as a plant growth lamp, will likely need to be reset.
  • Check that the food in your fridge and freezer is still at safe temperatures (maximum 40 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Reconnect your garage door opener if you have it set to manual.
  • Stay away from power lines.
  • Go through your emergency kit and add replacements for anything you’ve used to your shopping list.
  • Check on the neighbors and family nearby and make sure everyone is okay.

Then turn on some lights and relax. You did it.

About the Times Utility Journalism Team

This article is from the Times’ Utility Journalism team. Our mission is to be essential to the lives of people in Southern California by publishing information that solves problems, answers questions, and aids in decision making. We serve audiences in and around Los Angeles—including current Times subscribers and diverse communities whose needs have not been met by our coverage in the past.

How can we be useful to you and your community? Email Utility (at) or one of our journalists: Matt Ballinger, Jon Healey, Ada Tseng, Jessica Roy and Karen Garcia. How to prepare for a power outage: What to do before a blackout

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