What to Do When the Power Goes Out

power lines


Welcome to the “new normal.” Though this phrase may suffer from a touch of premature fatalism, the reality it acknowledges has been hitting homes across California for the past month. Power outages – some, a part of California public utility PG&E’s “Public Safety Power Shutoff” (PSPS), and others a result of wildfires or historic winds – are no longer relegated to Marin County’s darkest and stormiest nights.

Instead, we must now accept that with the changing of the leaves comes a real risk that our homes may be without power for days on end. In hopes of consolidating as much useful information into one place as possible, we’ve assembled a guide to answer the numerous questions that often arise when the lights go out.

For the latest information on power outages, register for PG&E’s outage alerts and track current outages with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Outage Map project.


Have you heard that a power outage is on the way? Here’s what you can do to make sure you’re as prepared as possible. 

1. Freeze bottles of water. This will allow you to continue to access cold water once your refrigerator/freezer goes off.

2. Keep flashlights/lanterns (and fresh batteries) in an easy-to-find location.

3. Ensure you have non-perishable food items available. If you have pets at home, make sure they’ll have a supply of food available as well. Don’t own an internal thermometer? Grab one of those as well to keep track of your fridge once the power goes.

4. Charge all necessary electronic devices (i.e. cell phones, medical devices, etc.) beforehand to ensure as much battery life as possible is available following the outage. 


1. Try not to drive. Power outages mean that traffic stoplights may not be working as normal, so the less cars on the road, the better. If you do need to get behind the wheel, remember that unlit traffic lights should be treated as a four-way stop.

2. Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed. One can expect a refrigerator to keep food cold for four hours following a power outage. Meanwhile, a full freezer should last 48 hours before food is considered spoiled. Not sure if you’re food is still okay? Do a temperature check with an internal thermometer. If it reads above 40 degrees, the contents within are not suitable for consumption. For more information about when to toss what in your refrigerator, try this in-depth infographic courtesy of the USDA.

3. If you own a gas-powered generator, never operate it indoors, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Use them outdoors only – if the surrounding outdoors aren’t safe, keep the generator off.

4. Power outages also mean that auto-igniters on gas appliances will no longer function. Those with gas stoves can cook by means of lighting the burner with a match, but extreme caution is warranted.

5. The viability of cell phones is tied to whether the cell towers they rely on have power. This means that one can reasonably hope to have cell service during an outage, although recent outages have affected cell towers. Given different service providers utilize different towers, check with neighbors to see if their phones still work is a good strategy (and let neighbors know if you still have service as well).

6. Wi-Fi is provided by a resident’s in-home modem, so if the power is out, so is the wi-fi. Those with data plans are subject to the same conditions as outlined above, meaning internet generated by a data plan should work as long as the towers that feed your phone have power. 


1. English and Spanish-speaking residents are encouraged to call “211” with any non-emergency questions relating to medical devices, community resource center and charging center locations, and referrals to other social services. Reserve calls to “911” for true life-threatening emergencies.

2. Another option for to help medically-vulnerable Californians during power shutoffs has been established with the new non-emergency hotline (833) 284-3473.

3. If phone services are not working, emergency personnel are available at a number of Marin County Public Safety Utilities. For a full list, visit www.marincounty.org/emergency. Reminder: those suffering from medical emergencies should be brought directly to the hospital. Available facilities:

  • Novato Community Hospital (165 Rowland Way, Novato)
  • Kaiser Hospital (99 Monticello, San Rafael)
  • Marin Health Medical Center aka Marin General (250 Bon Air Road, Kentfield)

4. While one should expect many businesses to be closed in the event of a power outage, a list of open pharmacies and grocery stores (and what form of payment they’re able to take) is also available and regularly updated here.

5. In need of a place to charge your phone? Marin County has you covered there as well. Be sure to bring your own plug! Hours of operation for each station can be found here. The current list of available charging stations is as follows:

  • Bolinas Fire Department, 100 Mesa Road
  • Corte Madera Recreation Center, 498 Tamalpais Drive 
  • Corte Madera: Town Hall, 300 Tamalpais Drive
  • Fairfax Police Station, 142 Bolinas Rd (Open 24 hours)
  • (Larkspur) Central Marin Police Station, 250 Doherty Drive (Open 24 hours)
  • Mill Valley Community Center, 180 Camino Alto
  • (Novato) Margaret Todd Sr. Center, 1560 Hill Road 
  • San Anselmo Library, 110 Tunstead 
  • San Rafael Community Center, 618 B Street
  • San Rafael City Hall (Overflow Option), 1400 Fifth Ave
  • Sausalito City Hall, 420 Litho Street

PG&E has also established three community resource centers to provide charging stations, snacks, and bottled water.

  • (San Rafael) Albert J. Boro Community Center, 50 Canal Street 
  • Marin City Health & Wellness Center, 630 Drake Avenue
  • (Novato) 115 San Pablo Avenue

For more information, check out our Marin County specific article on the power outages.

Zack RuskinZack Ruskin writes on music, cannabis, and culture. His bylines include Vanity FairBillboardEntertainment WeeklyVarietyMerry Jane, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Danielle, and their cat, McCovey.