At its open-to-the-public presentation on what to anticipate during “The Big One,” the Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Coalition’s meeting at Gig Harbor Fire Department Headquarters earlier this month received detailed preparedness advice from Peninsula Light’s Backup Power specialist Jonathan White.
PEP-C is a group of community members from Gig Harbor, Fox Island and the Key Peninsula who have long worked in coalition with Pierce County, Washington state, FEMA and other emergency preparedness entities and who volunteer to help community members prepare for major catastrophes and disasters and most specifically an anticipated major seismic event: the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and possible major tsunami, “the Big One.”
Summed up, the group’s motto is “YOYO,” or You’re On Your Own. When quake and tsunami hits, it is highly likely that members of our three communities will be cut off from the eastern side of Puget Sound and from each other for as long as 20 to 30 days.
A major concern is what to do when electric power fails. To address those concerns, White gave a 45-minute presentation on various types of backup and alternative electric power sources residents could acquire and the pros and cons of each type.
White reviewed four major power outages in our area over the past 25 years: the 1993 five-day windstorm, the 14-day 1996 ice storm, the seven-day 2006 rain and windstorm, and the three-day 2011 windstorm.
Pen Light has been working for years to reduce issues of power failures, with crews removing limbs and trees that might fall on and disrupt the overhead organization’s power network, White said.
“The most significant action has been to bury power lines,” he said.
Pen Light has buried more than 700 miles of power lines. Only 300 miles remain above ground at this point.
“Buried power lines have successfully reduced power outage durations and allowed for more rapid power recovery,” White said.
White detailed various types of backup power systems residents could use and the pros and cons of each. These included batteries, solar power, diesel, gas and propane power generators. He gave reasons for using one type over another.
The decision on what to use and for what equates to each person’s needs and level of comfort, such as water supply, heat, light, electronics and refrigeration. What is needed to live? What can be done without? Choosing an emergency power source or sources meeting those specific needs is critical as is learning how to use them.
A major hazard is connecting an alternative power source to an existing Pen Light power box. Before acquiring an alternative power system, White strongly encourages users to contact Pen Light to learn what to power, how to power, and what not to power.
“Battery power storage devices have been getting steadily better, lighter, safer and easier to use,” White said.
He also cautioned, citing lessons learned from a Pen Light disaster exercise, that planning should include conducting an exercises to see if the plan you have in mind when power fails will actually work. Learn not to put supplies and emergency equipment where they might be inaccessible. Having emergency food in the attic along with the backup batteries might not be a good idea if the house shifts on its foundation and is subject to collapse.
PEP-C invites interested persons to attend its Dec. 14 meeting at 10 a.m. at Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One, 10222 Bujacich Road NW, Gig Harbor.