Coastside residents should prepare to be without electricity as PG&E aims to reduce fire danger by preemptively shutting off electrical power when the danger rises.
Dubbed by the utility company a Public Safety Power Shutoff, it’s part of a larger Community Wildfire Safety Program. During extreme weather, any of PG&E’s 5 million electric customers could have their power shut off.
“This year, in response to the rapidly changing environmental conditions in our state, we are expanding our Public Safety Power Shutoff program to include all electric lines that pass through high fire-threat areas — both distribution and transmission,” said PG&E spokeswoman Andrea Menniti.
As part of a coordinated wildfire safety and awareness campaign, San Diego Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison and PG&E are all under the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission to plan proactively to prevent major wildfires.
On Aug. 1, representatives from PG&E hosted an informational meeting in Half Moon Bay. It was one of many “pop-up” meetings the utility is hosting throughout the state to meet with customers, explain the program and tell people how to prepare.
Most likely to be shut off are lines that pass through areas that have been designated by the utilities commisssion as elevated or extreme wildfire risk. That includes portions of the Coastside, which have been identified in the state’s fire threat map, showing they are in an elevated or extreme fire-threat area, according to Menniti.
El Granada resident Laura Smith attended the meeting to learn more about how the program might impact her neighborhood. Smith was recently certified in Community Emergency Response Training and said she feels ready because of the training, but was still eager to learn more.
“I think if there is a power outage and there is no fire, it’s just a matter of riding it out,” Smith said. “But if it is more of a pressing emergency, that is when the CERT training kicks in.”
Many variables will factor into the PG&E decisions this summer. These include a National Weather Service red flag warning, humidity levels at 20 percent or below, winds forecast at a sustained 25 mph or wind gusts in excess of 45 mph and conditions that include dry fuel.
PG&E advisers, analysts, meteorologists and operations experts will be looking at the data gathered through the company’s Wildfire Safety Operations Center.
“As for who actually makes the call, it will be the PG&E officer who’s in charge that day, which is typically an executive,” Menniti said.
PG&E Public Safety Specialist Frank Fraone explained there have been three instances in which PG&E shut off power to certain communities since the program was announced. In each instance, power was restored within 30 hours.
“However, we do recommend people prepare for being without power for at least 48 hours,” Fraone said. “It’s no different than preparing for an earthquake.”
People are asked to build an emergency supply kit, plan for any medical needs, ensure backup generators are ready to operate, and designate an emergency meeting location.
City Manager Bob Nisbet said that in the event of a power outage, city buildings would remain functional with backup generators.
“If the need should arise and there is an immediate threat to public safety, the city may decide to activate the Emergency Operation Center, which will allow staff to activate volunteers and coordinate sheriff, fire, and public works to assess the safety of the community,” Nisbet said.
In order to turn the power back on, “We need to check every single line and pole by helicopter, by vehicle or by foot,” Fraone said. Fraone explained segments of the community would have power restored over time.
Smith said she was surprised to hear the timeline of turning the power back. “It was quicker than I had thought,” she said.
Cañada Cove resident Rex Andrea said he is particularly concerned about extended power outages because his neighborhood includes several people who use medical equipment that require power. PG&E is offering additional outreach to customers with special needs, according to Menniti.
PG&E hopes to notify customers as much as 48 hours before a power outage. Phone calls, text messages and emails are all methods of communication PG&E will use. Additionally, the utility company promises to notify public safety authorities, such as city and county officials and first responders.
Menniti explained in the case of places where there is one master meter, such as Cañada Cove, the property owner or landlord will be tasked with informing tenants of the potential power outage.
“Right now, we are asking customers to update their current information online,” Menniti said. At the Half Moon Bay event, there was a booth for people who wanted to update their information in company files.