As eastern Oregon prepares for a potentially dangerous wildfire season, Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC) must prepare its member-owners for the threat of wildfires and the potential of power outages during times of extreme weather. In the interest of public safety, OTEC may need to shut off or de-energize its transmission and distribution lines to minimize potential wildfire ignition to protect members and the communities OTEC serves. This is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS).
Public Safety Power Shutoffs is a topic that has gotten a great deal of attention as the western United States has seen devastating wildfire seasons in recent years. Some utilities in the west and Pacific Northwest have implemented them, including during the Labor Day fires in Oregon in 2020, when extreme windstorms instigated catastrophic wildfires that burned more than 1.5 million acres, taking human life, and destroying thousands of homes.
There are several factors that may potentially necessitate a PSPS. OTEC vigilantly monitors local fire danger and extreme weather with the help of community partners, such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry. A combination of factors would influence the decision to take action and turn off power: Red Flag Warnings from the National Weather Service, sustained high winds, fire threat to OTEC’s electric infrastructure, on-the-ground observations, and public safety risk.
What OTEC Members Can Expect
If there is the potential for a PSPS, here is what you can expect:
- Early Warning Notification: OTEC will attempt to notify members in advance of a potential PSPS event via automated calls, press releases to local media, social media and OTEC’s website. OTEC will attempt to notify affected members again before shutting off power and throughout the event until power is restored. However, situations may prevent OTEC from providing notice as the actual onset of extreme weather conditions and other circumstances beyond OTEC’s control may disrupt coordination and notification efforts. OTEC receives its power from Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which may deenergize transmission lines with its own PSPS policy. If BPA initiates its own PSPS, it would be outside of OTEC’s control, but we would still work to notify affected members.
- Ongoing Updates: OTEC will provide ongoing updates throughout the PSPS through social media, local news outlets and the outage map on our website www.otec.coop.
- Safety Inspections: After extreme weather has passed, OTEC will inspect the lines/equipment in affected areas to determine if there is any damage to the electrical infrastructure. Any damaged equipment must be repaired before power can be safely restored. This process could take several days.
- Power Restoration: Power will remain out for as long as extreme and dangerous weather conditions pose a potential fire risk. Depending on the severity of the weather and other factors, power outages could last several hours or multiple days. That is why it is critically important for everyone to have an emergency plan in place, not just for a potential PSPS, but for any natural disaster.
How OTEC Members Can Prepare
- Update your contact information with OTEC via your online account or calling 541-523-3616.
- Have a personal safety plan in place for every member of your household, including a plan for your pets and/or livestock.
- Sign up for your county’s emergency notification system. You can find that by calling your county or you can find a list of OTEC-served counties at otec.coop/safety-first.
- Plan for any medical needs like medications that need to be refrigerated or devices that require power, such as oxygen tanks.
- Create or restock your emergency supply kit, including food, water, flashlights, a radio, fresh batteries, first aid supplies, and cash.
- Identify backup charging methods for phones and medical equipment.
- Know how to open your garage door manually.
- Ensure any backup generators are ready to operate safely.
- Identify the unique needs of your family and loved ones in the area for your emergency plan.
- Designate an emergency meeting location.
Generator Safety Tips
- Make sure to disconnect from OTEC’s system using an approved disconnect switch before using a generator to prevent backfeed, which could be deadly to utility workers attempting to turn power back on.
- Do not overload the generator, use it to only power essential appliances or equipment.
- Only operate the generator outside, not indoors. The generator could release carbon monoxide inside the house, which could be deadly.
- Try not to open your refrigerator during an outage, the food might remain safe up to four hours or longer.
- If you have a freezer, a freezer full of food should remain viable for up to 48 hours and 24 hours for a half-full freezer.
- OTEC is not responsible for spoiled food.
To clarify, a Public Safety Power Shutoff is a last resort option that will occur ONLY IF circumstances on the ground require it for safety of the communities OTEC serves. Red Flag Warnings are issued by the National Weather Service based on forecasts, which vary in accuracy-- no one can precisely predict weather events. Your power WILL REMAIN ON unless circumstances on the ground deem it unsafe to do so. OTEC’s message is to be prepared. We are closely monitoring winds and humidity levels. Our hope is to not need to activate a Public Safety Power Shutoff and will only do so if circumstances require.
Thank you for being ready and prepared just as you do when a winter ice storm or any other extreme weather event is in the forecast.
For a list of additional information and resources, please visit otec.coop/public-safety-power-shutoffs.