Cities have been meeting with the Alameda County Emergency Response office, and will be communicating with each other about problems that the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutdowns would cause in the Valley.
As PG&E customers learned with their June billings, the utility is trying to take an aggressive approach of prevention and cleanup of problems by shutting off power in some areas, so that work can be done to prevent sparking, which was the cause of the fire that killed 85 residents in Butte County last year, and caused unhealthy levels of smoke throughout the Valley.
Electricity is often mixed into power lines from various sources on the state’s power grid. The Valley may suffer the same outages that people near a likely fire location would.
There does not even need to be a wildfire to trigger the utility’s shutdown plan. Just a weather forecast showing a high fire danger, because of high temperatures and wind velocity, can do it.
The potential consequences of an outage, even for a day or two, can be costly, inconvenient and even life-threatening.
Experience with a two-day blackout in Calistoga near Napa wine country in mid-October shows what the Valley would be up against. Restaurants and food markets would close, after losing their refrigeration. PG&E’s insurance would not cover such an event, because it is a planned event, done as part of a long-term fire prevention plan.
Gas stations would shut down, with no electricity to run their pumps. Street lights will be out, creating more traffic hazards on roads, and traffic signals will have to be treated like 4-way stop signs. Without backup, fuel-fired generators schools would have to close. Day Care Centers would close, unless they had generators.
Perhaps the most vulnerable will be people with health problems who depend on electricity to run their machines. Hospitals may have generators as a matter of course for their patients, but homebound residents may be lacking them. Online, prices start at around $2,000 for a generator that serves a home.
PG&E promises 24 to 48 hours notice to customers through news media and on the PG&E website about when the firm will turn off the juice, but that estimated lead time could turn out to be much less. Local governments will be giving safety tips as part of preparedness for surprises.
VALLEY CITIES STARTING TO ADDRESS PROBLEM
The three Valley cities were asked by a reporter what solutions they plan for the challenges of a PG&E Public Safety Power Shutdown.
In Livermore, Stephanie Egidio, management analyst in the City Manager’s Office, said the city is devising specific procedures to address the power shutoffs. The directives will be integrated into the city’s Emergency Operations Plan. The city’s Public Information Officer will inform the public through television, radio, social media and the city’s website.
Livermore regularly updates its emergency management web pages to help residents prepare for emergencies. It can be found online at www.cityoflivermore.net/emergency.
Residents can also sign up for the County’s AC alert System at www.acgov.org/emergencysite.
Egidio said that people whose health requires them to operate machinery for their treatment “are encouraged to have a plan in place, and an alternate means of power.”
PG&E’s Medical Baseline Program offers a lower monthly rate and extra notifications in advance of a Public Safety Power Shutoff to those with a qualifying medical condition, said Egidio. Information is available by searching on a browser for www.pge.com.medical baseline.
Asked whether there will be any extra cost to the city, Egidio said that PG&E has not committed any reimbursement money for the shutoffs. As far as state support, power outages and interruptions do not meet the definition of a disaster for federal public assistance programs, so no federal or state money would be made available.
In Pleasanton, City Manager Nelson Fialho and Public Information Officer Cindy Chen responded by email that the city is already working with PG&E on addressing the approaching fire season.
The priority is for Pleasanton to be as well informed, prepared and trained as possible, so that essential services for residents are continuous during any emergency.
“We understand that some residents have medical and other considerations for which electricity is a necessity; we’re setting up processes to support them as well as ensure our medical care facilities remain in operation,” said the city’s email response.
Pleasanton has asked PG&E to “engage with the collective Tri-Valley cities so that we can build on our already collaborative efforts, and work together on emergency response in the event of power shutoffs. As just one example, we understand a transmission line can originate in one jurisdiction, but have impact beyond our individual city boundaries. As the Tri-Valley cities already work collectively on other important issues like legislation, transportation, and even our joint fire district with Livermore, we believe this approach will best serve all residents in Pleasanton and across the Tri-Valley.”
Pleasanton says that any impact on city finances is not known yet. One City Council priority is to build out the city’s Emergency Operations Center in order to give the best possible service during an emergency.
Pleasanton belongs to the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Statewide Emergency Management System (SEMS). The city can use those contacts to provide documentation leading to resource recovery following an emergency, says Pleasanton’s statement.
In Dublin, representatives from Pubic Works, police, and the fire department attended a PG&E presentation at the County Office of Emergency Services a week ago, said city spokeswoman Shari Jackman.
“The city has a comprehensive emergency management plan. If there is a shutdown, the county would take the lead in coordination and notification efforts. The city and its public safety agencies would work closely with the County, especially since we contract with Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and Alameda County Fire Department for our police and fire,” said Jackman.
There would be coordination with County agencies and local human services organizations to find and help the medically fragile, infirm, and other vulnerable members of the community.
The County has said that the Fairgrounds would be used as an emergency shelter, said Jackman.
“Locally, we have determined that the Dublin Senior Center would be the best place for our residents to go, as it is right next to a senior housing complex. We anticipate that we could get generators running to help those with medical devices. The County has stated that they would work quickly on providing fuel for generators and for emergency vehicles,” said Jackman.
MANTECA SHOWS HOW POLICIES MIGHT LOOK
A look at potential Valley policies may be seen in information provided by an early adopter in meeting any outage-related crisis. Manteca, 75 miles east of Livermore, with a population of 79,000, already is developing city policies on dealing with shutdowns.
The city’s website says it is a comprehensive plan, and the city is prepared to continue providing essential services for the entire duration of a power shutoff.
Charging stations are being established at the city’s four fire stations for residents who use powered medical equipment to stay alive.
Manteca residents should be aware of certain things for which they should be personally prepared. Residents will still have water and sewer service, but bans on non-essential water uses will exist. The bans would cover washing cars, sidewalks, structures, and landscaping.
With street lights and traffic signals out, intersections will be treated as 4-way stops. Emergency Services will continue to operate, but calls to 911 likely will be longer, so people should refrain from any non-essential calls.
The city will not be able to supply residents with bottled drinking water or food, says the website.