Heat waves and wildfires: How to prepare for internet outages

Robin Layton

Sep 21, 2022 — 6 min read

We show you how to keep connected during heat or fire emergencies; prep is key.

Wildfire smoke on mountain ridgeline with powerlines in the foreground.

As many Western state residents know, having wildfire evacuation and heat wave survival plans are key to making it safely through the hot, drought-prone summer and fall months. 

While you assemble your wildfire “go” bag with important documents, irreplaceable family photos, medicine and more, take a minute to think over your plan for accessing the internet while you are away from your home, as well as for your return.

With many of us working and learning from home, that structure is our entire world. But, with some preparation, you can keep in touch with your family and friends and stay connected to work or school, all while keeping safe during a heat wave-induced power outage and throughout wildfire season.

Too hot to handle

Temperatures across the Southwest can routinely reach 120+ degrees for weeks during summer heat waves. 

Sometimes, your home’s equipment can’t keep up. Air conditioners, swamp coolers and fans can only do so much. As interior temps reach 80 degrees or higher, even in a home with cooling mechanisms, that means the equipment in your home is overheating, too.

If your internet is slowing down or your Zoom call is breaking up, check the computer and router for overheating. 

According to softcom.net, “Inside residential homes or small business offices, consumer-grade routers used for home offices or family Wi-Fi signals can have issues with overheating if they are kept in a hot area. The most common fix for this issue is to move the router to a cooler location so it won’t have to power cycle down from overheating.” 

During these extreme-heat days, power companies will often conduct brownouts, which is when the flow of electricity is cut back to avoid a blackout, which is an actual power failure. Brownouts can last from a few minutes to several hours, so follow your power company on their social media platforms and sign up for any outage alerts they offer. 

If you live in a heat-sensitive area, your outdoor internet connection could keep you from accessing anything online.

Some Western state Starlink customers found themselves without internet during a heatwave of temperatures at or above 110 degrees. The company’s engineers responded to Reddit complaints with, “the dish is certified to operate from 22° below zero up to 104°F.” With temperatures often soaring higher than 104, that leaves quite a few customers in the lurch during a heatwave.

If you live in an area of extreme temps, consider getting a Wi-Fi hotspot added to your cellphone plan. If your ISP throttles or stops your connection for power outages or heat-related issues, you can regain a connection to the outside world with that hotspot. 

What’s being done to fix outages occurring during heat waves or fires?

With an aging power grid, containing or even eliminating outages in the U.S. will be difficult as climate change brings about more extreme weather patterns: Think the massive winter power outage in Texas, wildfires shutting down parts of California and extreme heat stretching power lines in Oregon. 

“I would probably give our power grid maybe a C minus,” Kyri Baker, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Recode. “It’s like this perfect storm of extreme temperatures, more electricity consumption, and aging infrastructure.”

Intentional blackouts have been used as a low-tech way to combat wildfires, but states like California are looking into other ways to prevent power company equipment from starting fires, such as the feasibility of burying power cables – a costly and long project. 

While state and federal agencies are tackling the larger issues, you can prepare yourself, your property and business for probable outages, and unfortunately, possible wildfires.

How you can prepare for disaster-related outages

You should always be prepared for a power outage or a natural disaster around your home or business. Some ISPs like Frontier offer their business customers the ability to keep communications open during a natural disaster with Frontier AnyWare, a voice network hosted on their cloud that allows customer calls to continue uninterrupted even if the facility is affected by a weather-related event. Many ISPs also have backup server options available, like the program offered by Cox. Business customers can sign up for Net Assurance, which also provides uninterrupted power during an outage.

Get familiar with your ISP’s storm preparedness plans, like the one Optimum provides. They answer frequently asked questions like:

“Once the power is restored in my home, how can I get my services back up and running?”

If power has been restored to your home and you’re still experiencing service interruptions, you may need to reset your equipment.

  • Unplug your equipment from its power source.
  • Wait 30 seconds.
  • Plug your equipment back into the power source.

Tips to help you prepare for emergencies

  • Recognize warnings and alerts: Have several ways to receive alerts. Download the FEMA app and receive real-time alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations nationwide.
  • Make sure everyone in your household knows and understands what to do if you need to quickly evacuate.  
  • Plan for power outages: Be familiar with your home’s utility boxes (electricity, water and gas), keep your cellphone and other devices charged, invest in a generator and follow safety precautions when operating it, keep important phone numbers written down, always have a supply of bottled water.
  • Review important documents like insurance policies and IDs.
  • Find an outdoor water source with a hose that can reach any area of your property.
  • Build a defensible space around your property in the event of fire. Less combustible material near your structures will keep the fire from spreading.

Sources: https://www.ready.gov/wildfires and https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/go-evacuation-guide/power-outage-information/

Wildfire prep

Unplugging from the day’s grind is nice, but it’s important to keep in touch with your local news platforms or social media accounts. Wildfires can spread within minutes, jump highways and land in the middle of a highly-populated area. If you live in an area prone to wildland fires, stay alert and follow these simple preparations:

  • Know your evacuation zone and routes: You may have to evacuate quickly due to a wildfire. Learn your evacuation routes, practice with your household and pets, as well as identify where you will go.
  • Not all shelters or hotels allow pets, so make sure you know where special pet shelters and evacuation centers are set up. Most wildfire-prone counties have them designated.
  • Have enough supplies for your household, include medication, disinfectant supplies, masks, pet supplies in your go bag or car trunk. Keep cash on hand in case a larger grid failure occurs and debit/credit cards are not able to be accessed. 

Heat wave prep

During a heat wave, you can help ease the power burden in your area by turning off any unnecessary appliances, unplugging power strips, using power-hungry devices like pool cleaners and large appliances during the late evening, drawing your drapes and keeping the interior lighting low. 

Other tips include:

  • Stay hydrated: The average person needs to drink about three-quarters of a gallon of fluid daily.
  • Stay away from sugary, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.
  • Gather water, medicine & emergency supplies.
  • Keep your home cool by covering windows with drapes/shades, weather-strip doors and windows, use window reflectors to direct heat back outside.
  • Go to a nearby neighbor, friend or relative who has air conditioning.
  • Check to see if shopping malls or public libraries are open.
  • Find out if your community plans to open public cooling centers for the elderly or very young. Share that information if you have elderly neighbors or relatives who may not know where to go.

Additional resources

Before disaster strikes, make sure you have prepared as best you can. There are plenty of free resources available to help you:

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Illustration of a father and daughter in a living room. The father is sitting in an armchair and reading a newspaper, and the daughter is playing with a toy on the floor.
Robin Layton

Written by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

Robin Layton is an editor for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. She built her internet industry expertise writing and editing for four years on the site, as well as on Allconnect’s sister site MYMOVE.com. … Read more

Joe Supan

Edited by:

Joe Supan

Principal Writer, Broadband Content

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