When the Lights Go Out

Cody Busch-Weiss, Writer

Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) are temporary shutoffs of electric power to certain areas by power utility companies. Most major utilities in California, including Pacific Gas & Electric in Northern California, South California Edison in southern California (including Santa Barbara), and San Diego Gas & Electric have been conducting PSPS to areas deemed to be high fire risk by the California Public Utilities Commission. Whenever the conditions are especially hot, dry, and windy, above-ground power lines may be deactivated in order to avoid sparking a fire.

The reason for the PSPS is that the utility companies could be held accountable for any fire damage caused by their equipment. Several recent wildfires, such as the 2018 Camp Fire, have been attributed to sparking power lines. As a result, some utilities such as PG&E have already filed for bankruptcy. To prevent fires caused by faulty electrical equipment, options could include upgrading the equipment or burying the power lines; however, it would cost many billions of dollars and many years to fully upgrade the lines. Instead, some utility companies have chosen to shut off power to high fire risk areas given certain conditions to prevent wildfires.

Depending on the severity and duration of the weather conditions, the shutoffs may last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Before power is restored, the utility company will send out an inspection team to check the lines and make sure they are still safe to use. Only then will power be restored. To date, an estimated 2 million people serviced by PG&E alone have been affected by PSPS. Since these outages are likely to continue for some time, it would serve all residents of potentially affected areas to prepare.
One great way to be ready is to create an emergency preparedness kit. This kit should include food, water, and medicine for you, all members of your family, and all pets for 3-5 days. Make sure the food is non-perishable and doesn’t require a stove, microwave, or toaster to heat. However, you can get a camp stove and gas to cook freeze-dried food. Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) are also a good option. Additionally, you should have a first aid kit, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, and a solar/crank charging unit, along with cables for all your devices. Coolers/ice chests and a can opener should also be considered. For more information, refer to SCE’s outage tips here.


The most important point is to have a plan for such outages. If there’s a PSPS, you could go out of town and visit family, stay at a hotel with power, or just stay at home and tough it out. You should also make sure to always have your car gassed (or charged) up, in case you need to leave in event of a PSPS.

Regardless of whether you are in a PSPS area or not, it’s always a great idea to be prepared for emergency situations.