A Christmas Eve power outage last year that left much of Blaine County without electricity for more than 24 hours was a wakeup call for the Wood River Valley. With cold weather again dominating the region, public officials are now hoping to help prepare citizens for another possible winter emergency.
Last year's outage was caused by a so-called "perfect storm" of events that left 17,000 people without electricity. Grocery stores, hospitals and governmental institutions went into emergency backup procedures. Those with wood-burning stoves, fireplaces and generators fared better than those without. Many residents lost communication as cell phone and computer batteries died.
"We had the ice, extreme cold temperatures and high power use in the valley impacting the lines," said Vern Porter, Idaho Power vice president of engineering and operations following last year's outage.
The potential for all those factors still exists, leaving the Wood River Valley vulnerable to another widespread loss of electricity.
City mayors, law enforcement officials and county commissioners have officially declared this December "winter preparedness month," advising all valley residents to equip themselves with at least a three-day supply of food, water, medicine and warm shelter for winter survival.
"Everyone has the responsibility to be prepared for a minimum of three days," Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling stated in a news release. "Every household, business and institution needs an emergency plan for dealing with power outages or other storm-related emergencies."
Three days is the length of time that emergency management agencies in the U.S. say it is reasonable to expect citizens to get along without water or power. Relief workers will arrive after an emergency, but it could take days. Basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewage treatment and telephones may be cut off for extended periods.
In Idaho, citizens have the added concern of finding warmth in winter. For many residents who relied solely on electricity for heat last Christmas Eve, some were unable to drive to a warm place if they didn't have enough fuel in their automobiles. The gas pumps didn't work either.
Residents are advised not to use gas stoves to heat their homes, as they can release toxic fumes. Supplemental gas or oil heaters should be ventilated.
Many other details for winter emergency preparedness can be found at the Blaine County website, www.co.blaine.id.us.
Blaine County has enacted an emergency notification system for contacting thousands of citizens per minute in case of an emergency situation. Residents can provide their contact information on the county website to enlist in the E-911 emergency notification system.
Those without access to a computer can call 788-5555, ext. 1016, to provide contact information for the emergency notification system.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org