After the recent historic winter storms that hit the Pacific Northwest in mid February, more than 400,000 Oregonians lost power according to Portland General Electric. Thousands of PGE customers were left in the dark for up to a week in some rural areas while PGE rushed to get the system back online. At least one Clackamas Community College employee was prepared.
“When we have a disaster, like the one that happened just a few weeks ago, the first thing we do is light the wood stove, because we live in a place where firewood will be just given to you,” said MaryJean Williams, who teaches in the communications department at CCC. “All you have to do is cut it and store it until you need it. We have years and years worth — probably between I would say six and ten years worth — of firewood stacked, and tarped, and covered on the perimeter of our property along the fence lines. Whenever it’s raining, one of the first things I instinctively do is light a fire, because that’s disaster resilience that would still keep us warm and heat water with no effort whatsoever. A big part of resilience is knowing what you’ve got and how to switch to it when the time comes, and that wood stove is really your best friend.”
Much of the damage came from freezing temperatures and winds causing things like trees and electrical poles to break. Even into March, PGE was working with many teams to make sure that those trees don’t cause any harm in the near future.
“We know that extended power outages make it very hard to work, to learn, to live,” said PGE president and CEO Maria Pope in a video uploaded Feb. 27, “And for that we are sorry. It is always our objective to restore power as quickly and most importantly as safely as possible. We are learning, we’re making changes and improvements to better serve you our customers.”
There had been ongoing tree removals happening on highway 99E between Canby and Oregon City along with the stretch of OR-213.
Many Oregonians realized after a day or two that power wasn’t going to come back as soon as they had hoped. Many rushed to the few gas stations that were open during the ice storm. Long lines stretched out to the street of people looking to get fuel to run their generators and cars. There had been reports of some people waiting hours just for the gas station to announce that they had run out of gasoline.
Williams and her husband Rick, who is an engineer, were extra prepared for this winter storm.
“Well, Rick and I live in rural Oregon City. We live in Redland, and we are accustomed out here to the power going up for up to three days at a time, which has happened several times in the last 20 years,” said MaryJean Williams, “We have a whole house backup generator. It kicks in, automatically, and that’s propane powered. And so what happens when the grid goes out for us is the lights dim for a minute, some non critical things go away. And the generator powers our furnace, our lights, our kitchen and our outlets so that we can use computers and things.”
The Williams family has spent years slowly building up their backup plan and they have shown just how important it is to have resilience in moments like these.
“We’ve been investing in this technology, a few $1,000 at a time for a long time probably at least 15 years,” said MaryJean Williams. “There’ll be a good tax rebate, so we’ll buy a batch of solar panels and take advantage of the federal subsidy for that, and then Rick will just keep his eye open for the best opportunity on the right generator, and then we got the whole house generator. You know he’s had a long time to develop what he calls a ‘gradual decay’.”
Rick Williams gave us a breakdown of their system:
The backup system will last about two to three days but the Williamses say that they are planning on getting an additional 500 gallon tank of propane that will last seven days. In combination with their gas generators they are looking at a total 14 days combined of off-grid power. Needless to say that they are ready for the next power outage.
Although they do have electrical backups, MaryJean said that a wood stove is something that everyone needs.
It’s important to always have a plan before a severe weather alert to be safe and prepared. www.weather.gov/ama/severesafetyplan has resources and tips to stay ahead of the game.
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