California’s largest energy provider on Wednesday began cutting power to customers across Northern and Central California because of heightened fire risk due to dry conditions and forecasts of high winds. PG&E’s planned blackouts may affect as many as 800,000 customers across nearly 3 dozen counties, with utility officials warning it may take 7 days to restore power to everyone.
PG&E is cutting the power to avoid a repeat of last year, when its equipment was blamed for starting a fire in the California foothills. The blackouts might spread to Southern California, as Southern California Edison warned it may also be shutting off power due to fire risk.
If you’re an area scheduled to lose power — or want to ensure you’re ready if the power does go out — you can take a handful of steps now to help your electronic devices last as long as possible during the outage.
Check if you’re in a planned blackout area
PG&E has a page you can check if you are in an area scheduled to lose power. The page is frequently unavailable, however, but you can find other maps to give you an idea if you’re in our out of an outage area.
Charge up before the power goes out
The goal is go into the outage with all your devices and energy sources topped off.
- If you have a portable power bank, make sure you’ve charged it up before the power goes out. A power bank won’t get you through a week of uninterrupted power, but if you may be able to get several days if turn on your phone to get updates then power it down again. And limit how often you check your phone. Each time you turn it on, you’re draining the battery.
- If you’ve got a portable solar charger that can charge your phone, have that ready.
- If you don’t have a power bank or solar charger, you still may have a source of power. You can use the battery in a laptop — either your current one or an older laptop you’ve retired — to power your phone during the blackout. You’ll need to find the right cables to make the connection, but you should be able to squeeze a few days of power for your phone. And if you are a group with multiple phones, consider having the group use just one shared phone at a time instead of having everyone’s phone turned on at the same time.
Conserve your phone’s battery
To make your phone battery last as long as possible, you can take a few steps to nurse your phone’s battery through the outage.
- First, turn off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS, unless those are required to get help in an emergency. You can keep your mobile connection on, because mobile carriers said their networks should be available through the blackout.
- Next, turn off push notifications and avoid streaming services, which takes a hit on a battery. And dim your display. Bright screens are great, but they draw a lot of power.
- If you don’t want to shut off your phone, switch to airplane mode, which turns off all the power-draining radios. Then if you want to make a call or send a message, take it out of airplane mode. And consider sending quick text messages instead of making calls, which can drag on and drain a battery.
For more battery-conserving ideas, see our guide for more on how to get your battery to last as long as possible through a blackout.
How else to survive a blackout
If you have an emergency go bag or kit, grab it because you’ll want to have handy any light sources, tools, cash and other supplies you’ve packed up for an emergency.
If you have time before the power goes out, you can take a few steps to ensure your phone can help you in an emergency.
And finally, to make it through however long you’re without power, here are 14 things you can do during a power outage.