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Michael J. Sykes of Columbia River PUD offers tips on dealing with power outages this winter.

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Michael J. SykesWith winter weather comes the threat of power outages.

Heavy rains and high winds are common culprits. Sometimes we are just at the mercy of Mother Nature.

With that in mind, it's important to know what to do during a power outage. Below, you'll find some pointers to help keep you safe and comfortable during an outage, as well as a couple of ways you can help our crews as they work to restore your power.

If your power goes out, we ask that you call us at 503-397-1844 to report the outage. During a widespread outage, it is possible you may have to wait on hold. We apologize for this inconvenience but ask for your patience. Your call helps us determine the extent and location of an outage.

There are times, however, when it's not necessary for you to call. If your power blinks off momentarily, comes back on, and stays on, you don't need to call. When this happens, it means our equipment — specifically, reclosers — are doing their job.

A recloser de-energizes the power lines if a limb falls on the line or if there is some other disruption. After a few moments, the recloser will try to re-energize the line. That way, for example, if a branch has fallen onto the line and then falls back off, your power will come back on. If the branch is still there, the recloser will de-energize the line again.

After you have called in your outage, it's helpful for you to turn on a porch light switch and a light switch inside your home. The porch light will help alert our crews when power is restored. By having a light turned on inside the home, you'll know easily as well.

Safety is a big concern during power outages. If you see a downed power line, always assume it is energized. Even if it's not sparking and might look like it's not energized, it very well could be.

Always stay away from downed power lines. That means don't drive over them, either. If you see a downed power line, please call us right away at 503-397-1844.

If you see our crews working to restore power, we ask that you please keep a safe distance. Their job is dangerous enough as it is without any distractions. While I know it is tempting to stop and ask them for updates, interruptions may slow down their restoration efforts. I assure you that when the power goes out, they are working as quickly as they can to safely restore power to as many people as possible.

Oftentimes, power outages coincide with cold weather. Please do not use a gas range to stay warm. Similarly, don't use camp stoves or charcoal grills indoors.

Instead, stay cozy by dressing in layers of warm clothing and using blankets. If you have a fireplace, please use it safely.

If you have a generator, please operate it safely. Never run a generator indoors. Instead, operate it outdoors in a well-ventilated area and be sure to keep the generator dry.

We recommend using a GenerLink transfer switch, which automatically disconnects your home from the power grid and connects it to your generator during an outage. We offer GenerLink service for $11 a month.

During an outage, you'll want to keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. This will keep the cold air inside. If you keep your fridge closed, it should keep its contents cold for about four hours. Your freezer should keep food cold for two days if it's full, and about a day if it's half-full.

During major outages, we post updates to our Facebook and Twitter pages. If you have battery and service available on your smartphone or tablet, you can stay up to date by following us on social media.

Michael J. Sykes is general manager of the Columbia River People's Utility District.

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