Power moves: JEA ready to respond after Hurricane Idalia; Use your generator safely

JEA utility trucks (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville is under a local state of emergency as Hurricane Idalia approaches Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The city is asking everyone to prepare now before the storm makes landfall.

JEA’s CEO sent out a video Tuesday morning outlining the work crews are doing before the storm to be ready to help with recovery efforts.

This includes going through the city and trimming trees and preparing their trucks.

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“Our crews, meanwhile, have stocked their trucks with extra equipment and topped off fuel so they are ready to restore power and resolve water and wastewater issues, as quickly and safely as possible once the storm passes,” JEA CEO Jay Stowe said.

Winds can lead to damaging impacts on the power grid, and not everyone can afford a generator so thousands of residents could be without lights, air conditioning, internet and appliances until power crews can restore electricity.

Stowe said JEA has called in help from other areas to get power restored quickly.

“We also have been in touch with our public power partners and have crews heading our way from both Texas and Missouri to help us restore services after the storm,” Stowe said.

Stowe also emphasized the need for safety during and after the storm.

“Rest assured, we will not stop working until all utility services are restored to our customers,” he said. “Safety is one of our top priorities and we encourage you to make it one of your top priorities, too.”

JEA suspended shutoffs due to nonpayment starting Monday, Aug. 28.

Keeping your food fresh

There are steps you can take now, to help your food last in the fridge or freezer if you lose power.

Your refrigerator should maintain a safe temperature for up to four hours if it is tightly shut. You can also turn down the temperature now to help the cold air last longer. Just be sure the fridge doesn’t dip below 32 degrees -- it could freeze your eggs.

Food in the freezer lasts a bit longer. If your freezer is full, the food should stay good for up to two days.

It will only last one day if the freezer is only half full.

If your freezer isn’t packed, try to group the foods close together so they stay colder longer.

If the power does go out, keep the fridge and freezer doors shut. Opening them will let the cold air out.

A simple way to test if the food in your freezer has spoiled is the coin test. Fill a plastic container with water, then freeze it. Once the water is solid, place a penny or any coin on top, then close the door.

After the storm, check the coin. If it’s still on top of the ice -- you’re good.

If it sank to the bottom of the container -- then the ice melted during the storm and the food in the freezer is likely spoiled.

The FDA warns that meat and eggs will spoil if kept at 40 degrees for more than two hours.

For other foods, rely on your nose. If something smells rotten or rancid, throw it out.

Generator safety

When the power goes out due to the power of Mother Nature, a generator can make life after a storm much more comfortable. However, if used incorrectly it can also kill you. On average, 70 people are killed by generators yearly. In 2020, the leading cause of death from Hurricane Laura was generators.

Before the power goes out, look around and think about the appliances you will need.

Carbon Monoxide Safety (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)

Next, add the power requirements of the appliances and devices you will want to use. Check the back and sides for the manufacturer’s label with this info. If you plan on using lamps, add up the wattage of all the light bulbs you will use. To find the total amps you will need, divide watts by volts.

It is always best to leave some room for a power surge or choose a generator that produces more amps than you need.

Those steps will help you decide whether a portable generator will suffice. If your need is greater than a small, portable generator can supply, then you may need a whole-house generator.

The primary hazard to avoid when placing a generator is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from engine exhaust.

The generator should never run in your garage. Even with an open door, the risk of carbon monoxide or fire is too great -- don’t chance it!

Place your generator at least 6 feet away from your home, away from any door or window, with the exhaust facing away from your home.

An open canopy like a carport or a well-secured tarp or quick tent could be options to keep the generator dry while operating.

Avoid electrocution by keeping the generator dry and never operating in rain or standing water. Operate on a dry surface.

Check all connections and extension cords for cracks, frayed plastic of exposed wires and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin.

Connect appliances directly into the generator panel by using a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord that is rated at least equal to the sum of the connected appliance load.

For your safety, for the safety of your house and the safety of local line workers, never plug the generator into a wall or dryer outlet. This is called “backfeeding” power. Don’t do it.

Appliances can be plugged into the power source as needed. It may be necessary to stagger the operating times for various appliances to prevent overloads. Remember a chilled refrigerator will stay cool for several hours with the door closed.

It’s good practice to give the motor and the generator a spin before it’s really needed. If you can’t remember the last time the oil was changed, change it now. Also, have a quart or two handy to top off the levels between operations

At some point, the fuel in the tank will run out. Use extreme caution when refilling the tank.

Never fill a hot or running generator. Be sure to turn the generator off and let it cool to the touch before refueling. The area around the filling spout and tank should be cool enough to touch.

Speaking of fuel, always store fuel in an approved fuel storage can. Store fuel outside of living areas in a locked shed or other protected areas. To guard against accidental fire, do not store fuel in a garage.

About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.