PG&E to locals: Prepare for prolonged power outages
The PG&E power shutoff roadshow came through Kenwood, as a full house at the Kenwood fire station learned details about the utility’s aggressive, ramped-up measures to try and reduce the risk of wildfires.
The practical effect of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) program is that if fire conditions are ripe, certain areas could be without power for an undetermined number of days, depending on how long dangerous weather conditions last.
“It’s a very controversial program,” acknowledged Herman Hernandez, public affairs representative, as he spoke to a crowd of 75 on Aug. 11. “Even if you disagree with the program, it will be happening in your community…PSPS is a last resort, it’s not something we want to do.”
The program is an attempt to limit the potential for PG&E’s transmission and distribution equipment to be a contributing factor in wildfires. A number of the wildfires that have occurred in the last two years have been caused by PG&E equipment, according to CalFire investigations.
Many in the audience were concerned about the length of time they should expect to be without power, but Hernandez said it’s difficult to say.
The length of an intentional power outage depends on a number of factors, said Hernandez, such as the length of a severe weather event, the size of the geographic area affected, and the length of time it takes to reenergize miles of power lines, which have to be visually inspected to make sure they haven’t been damaged.
A number of factors have to be in place for PG&E to pull the trigger, including red flag warnings declared by the National Weather Service, humidity at 20 percent or lower, winds forecast at 25 miles per hour or higher, with wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour or more, dry vegetation, and real-time observations from PG&E personnel.
The most likely areas to have the power shut off are where distribution and transmission lines pass through areas PG&E calls Tier 2 (elevated risk for wildfire) and Tier 3 (extreme risk for wildfire).
Sixty percent of Sonoma County is considered Tier 2 and Tier 3. All of Sonoma Valley is Tier 2 and Tier 3, said Hernandez.
PG&E will have an early notification system for a PSPS, with a target of 48-72 hours being the “gold standard,” according to Hernandez.
In order to receive PG&E notification, you need to update your contact information by going to pge.com/mywildfirealerts.
Then, ideally, you will be notified 48 hours before the power is turned off, then 24 hours before, just before, during the power outage, and when power has been restored.
Also, said Hernandez, PG&E has the ability now to have a live map online within four days of a weather event where a customer can see whether or not they will be impacted by a PSPS.
Some in attendance at the Aug. 11 meeting wondered what happens to cell phone service after the power is off, and the potential of not being able to get any notifications from PG&E, as well as county emergency, fire and law enforcement personnel. Hernandez said it depends if the telecommunication equipment is de-energized as part of a PSPS. Normally this equipment only has a limited number of backup battery hours.
Hernandez and local fire personnel who were on hand emphasized the need to be ready for power outages, as well as a fire itself, and, if you plan to stay in your home during a PSPS, make sure you have enough food and water, medical supplies, radios, flashlights, supplies for your animals, etc.
If people have medical needs that require power, it is hoped there would be enough advanced notification of a PSPS so that people can plan accordingly.
“Please, please have a plan, you’ve got to have a plan” one audience member urged in general near the end of the meeting. “Make your go-bags, pay attention to the red flag warnings, have your medications ready...Don’t rely on anyone else to help you.”
That comment earned the speaker a loud round of applause.
Eight things you can do now to get ready for potential loss of power:1. Make sure PG&E has your current contact information. Update your contact information with PG&E online or call 866-743-6589. If you have lifesaving medical equipment:
• Verify that PG&E has you registered with their Medical Baseline Allowance program.
• Plan to have back-up power sources for all critical medical needs (including refrigerated lifesaving medications), and
• Have pre-established connections with nearby family or neighbors to assist if needed.
2. Have a back-up charging system for cell phones and keep devices fully charged at all times.
3. Consider alternate power generation choices for your home or critical business systems. Be sure to follow all safety instructions for stand-alone power generators. See Portable Generator Safety Tips for more information.
4. Identify a place you can go to cool off, if necessary.
5. Keep some cash on hand (credit/debit stations, and ATMs may be without power).
6. Check and update your emergency kit and supplies (include hard copies of critical information and life-saving prescriptions).
7. Learn more about Public Safety Power Shutoffs in your area and work with your neighbors to make sure everyone is ready.
8. Stay informed during disasters and sign up for SoCoAlerts.
Editor & Publisher