Strong winds remind us not to depend on electricity

DOWNEY - Over the last couple of weeks the Southern California area has been buffeted by exceptionally strong winds and some cold temperatures.This isn't the first time our area has experienced a Santa Ana wind storm in December. However, the ferocity of the winds in some areas near the foothills was simply amazing. Thousands of trees were toppled and a great number of power poles were downed as well. Certain roadways in many communities were impassable for an extended period of time. Electrical power was out for thousands of people for several days. More than a thousand people were still without power one week after the storm. Many schools were closed the day after the windstorm. Some public facilities remain closed because of the damages. The wind caused destruction was broadcast by all of the news teams. City and utility crews were immediately called in to address the problems. Workers from out of the area were also dispatched to assist the local service crews. Private contractors chipped in to help with the damages on private property. The foothill cities struggled to keep their residents informed and safe. Evacuation shelters were set up and staffed. Distribution lines were established to hand out some emergency supplies like ice. Local hardware stores were busy selling tools to use for the clean up. Cities used their emergency notification systems to disseminate important information and help-line numbers. So what if it happened in Downey? What can we learn from our neighbor's experiences? When our electrical power is cut-off, many things in our houses don't work. Besides the obvious lights and plugs, our garage door opener won't work. Don't count on the forced air furnace; the electric powered blower won't move the warmed air. Our smoke detectors won't work unless we have a fresh battery back-up. Will your natural gas powered stove work without electricity? If it does, do you have a match to light the flame? If we have medical equipment that provides life-sustaining oxygen or other medical necessities, does the unit have a battery back-up (that works)? If our back-up power source doesn't work, what other options do we have? What can take the place of the electrical power? We can have a couple of extra blankets, a few flashlights and fuel for a fireplace (natural gas or firewood). Do we have a lantern or candles (careful with these!) to provide some light around the house? Some families may elect to obtain a generator and use it outdoors as a limited source of electricity. Hopefully we have some food and water stored in the house and a way to heat it (camp stove, etc). Our goal should be to stay in our (dark) home until the power is restored. Some residents may choose to leave the area. For those who do leave, be prepared to stop at all intersections with dark street signals and have a good idea of where you are going. There may be road closures and other traffic problems. If we must leave our home, we will need some fuel in our vehicles. Hopefully, we haven't run them until the tank is near empty. Gas stations typically close when the power goes down. We should have some cash on hand in the event we need to venture out to a store. Most retail stores do not have emergency generators. However, there is a chance they are doing a cash business until the power comes back on or they run out of stock. About those downed trees and power lines. Remember what happened last year in the Inland Empire ? Family members went to check on downed power lines, just outside their home, and three of the family members were electrocuted. When you cannot see very well, get a flashlight to illuminate your way. Remember to always stay away from down power lines. Just because power lines are not arching and sputtering doesn't mean they are dead or won't come back to life once the circuit breakers reset themselves. Finally, what about the downed trees? If we can physically do the work, do we have a few tools to cut-up and clean up the mess? If we can't do the work, do we have some contact numbers to call to get the job done? Have we discussed this situation with our neighbors beforehand? Perhaps we have a neighbor who could help us immediately. This weekend let's consider how we can improve the winter emergency preparedness for our home and our neighborhood. Be a volunteer, talk to your neighbors. You may find your efforts to be very rewarding. Your families and neighborhood will benefit as well. If you have comments or questions about this column, please send them to

********** Published: December 8, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 34