Always be Prepared in Interior Alaska

September is Emergency Preparedness Month

By Kris Capps

September is Emergency Preparedness Month, which is a time to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time. Two unexpected wind storms in late July and August caused widespread outages, but two GVEA members in particular felt prepared to get by without power.

Krystal Lapp

Krystal Lapp. Photo by Todd Paris

Krystal Lapp and her family are used to living off the grid.

Just 7 months ago, she finally moved her family into town from Murphy Dome Road and signed up for electric service through Golden Valley Electric Association. So when big winds caused a massive outage across the Fairbanks area on July 25, it was her first outage ever.

Krystal works for Renewable Energy Systems in Fairbanks and has long used a home solar system with a battery backup and a small generator.

“When you’re off the grid, you are on your own,” she says. “Now, we are reliant on our GVEA linemen.”

Her 5 kids are also not used to being on the grid. When the power went out on July 25 they informed her that the generator must have died.

“They are so used to us living off solar and a generator,” she says.

Power outages in the past usually meant the generator needed additional maintenance. But this time, a neighbor’s tree was responsible for falling into a power line and cutting power. Electricity was out for the next 36 hours and there was really nothing the family could do to restore it themselves.

“It’s a little different relying on other people,” she says.

With 5 kids, and ongoing rescue and rehabilitation of multiple pet dogs and cats, her home uses plenty of power.

With no electricity, Krystal and her family knew exactly what to do to keep their home operating normally. The time of year - midsummer - made it pretty easy. Heating the house wasn’t really an issue. Her main concern was keeping a freezer full of fish frozen. A generator took care of that.

The freezer is new and tightly sealed so the generator just ran for four or five hours at a time. It didn’t have to run continuously. Battery backup took care of the water pump, lights, and Toyo stoves if heat was needed.

“We have propane on demand and we can still flush the toilet,” Krystal says.

Her kids are now learning about how their home gets power from GVEA.

“They understand electricity, but not how the grid works,” she says.

“We are pretty self-sufficient people,” she says. “It’s just business as usual for us.”

It was a first to have emergency workers come into the Steele Creek neighborhood to let people know the emergency 911 line was down.

“These are all new experiences for us, being in a fire service area,” she says. “Who would of thought? Someone will come to our house if it’s on fire.”

The benefit of planning ahead is that it takes away all the stress, she says.

“Basically if it is already anticipated, then it’s just like, oh, okay, I guess we’re gonna do this now,” she says. “It’s weird living in town.”

She believes education is key and she educates people about solar energy every day at her job with Renewable Energy Systems.

“My battery backup is not pretty, but it’s a workhorse and gets the job done,” she says. “You don’t have to have the most expensive, the best, or the prettiest looking system. Just find something reliable that functions.”

“I chose something that works for me,” she says. “Everyone is different.”

Gabriel LaMonte Cross

Gabriel LaMonte Cross. Photo by Grace Wilson

Whenever power goes out at his house in the Trainor Gate area in Fairbanks, Gabriel LaMonte Cross looks across the street. His neighbor keeps her Christmas lights on all day, every day, year round.

“If she doesn’t have lights on, there is a real problem,” he says.

On July 25, those Christmas lights were off.

He assessed his situation.

“I’ve got four refrigerators, one mini refrigerator and a freezer,” he says. “I cook a lot, I entertain a lot. Food is my life. That was my first concern.”

He wasn’t too worried though. Sometimes earthquakes cause short outages.

“I just kept thinking, ‘It’s gonna be back on, it’s gonna be back on,’” he recalls.

Then he really started worrying about whether his food would spoil. Gabriel runs a private catering service called Lion King Catering. Hence, he always has lots of ‘ingredients’ on hand. Items he was really intent on saving, he moved to the freezer.

“I was able to salvage everything I considered a precious commodity,” he says. “That was a good thing.”

“My next thought was my fish,” he says. “I have African Cichlids. They have to be kept at 80 degrees all the time. I was really doing a lot trying to keep airflow and watching the temperature, it was crazy.”

Luckily, the water temperature never dropped below 76 degrees and the tropical fish survived.

Throughout the 36-hour outage, Gabriel paid close attention to GVEA reports and he remained optimistic. A recent heart transplant recipient, he occasionally felt stressed wondering how long the outage would last or what else might happen. But he overcame that and he always believed in the GVEA linemen.

When the power came back on, he was ecstatic. “I was yelling at the peak of my range,” he says. “I was thinking about my fish and my food. Oh, thank you Lord, and God bless GVEA.”

“Everyone needs to have that GVEA number locked in their phone,” he says. “(907) 452-1151. I felt like GVEA did the best they could to get the power back on.”

A 20-year resident of Fairbanks, he expects these outages and he takes steps now to be ready for them.

“I invested in battery-operated candles all over the house,” he says. “Most are remote control. I push the remote and bam! I have light. I can see where I’m going upstairs, downstairs. They come in very handy.”

He plans to invest in a generator. He also keeps flashlights accessible. They help him check out his breaker when he investigates whether the outage is widespread or just his house.

“Those are some of the things I think are very beneficial for people to have and to know,” Gabriel says. “It’s good to be prepared.”

Always be Prepared

Lineman Journeyman Adam Bates works from a bucket truck to repair a downed line after a severe windstorm in late July.

During an outage, remember these tips to keep your food cold:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed
  • If the doors stay closed, food will stay safe for up to:
    • 4 hours in a refrigerator
    • 48 hours in a full freezer; 24 hours in a half-full freezer
  • If the power has been out for 4 hours, and a cooler and ice are available, put refrigerated perishable foods in the cooler. To keep them at 40º F or below, add ice or a cold source like frozen gel packs.

Severe storms (wind and snow) and vehicle accidents are typical causes of power outages in Interior Alaska.

Lengthy outages can lead to serious problems, such as frozen pipes, spoiled food and even danger to family pets, and livestock. Without heat, a house will freeze in just seven hours at -40°F.

Standby electric power from generators can keep your essential electric equipment operational during prolonged outages.

GVEA has prepared a book to help determine the appropriate generator to meet your needs.

Interested? Download the Generator Booklet (PDF)