Attendees mainly concerned with public safety power shutoff program
Sonoma County residents gathered at the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa on June 27 to ask questions, get information and learn about PG&E’s extensive wildfire safety program, which includes their Public Safety Power Shutoff program (PSPS), accelerated inspections of electric infrastructure and enhanced vegetation management among other safety preparedness steps.
As Sonoma County enters the height of fire season PG&E is working to keep customers and residents informed and prepared when it comes to wildfires.
“We want people to know about all of these programs, we want people to be prepared,” said Deanna Contreras, a spokesperson for PG&E.
“Tonight we’re here to discuss our community wildfire safety program. There are a lot of different elements in that program...Those elements include new and enhanced safety measures that we’ve been doing, hardening the system, building resilience zones and also real time monitoring and intelligence and there are a lot of different examples in all of those different programs, but the one that I think is getting the most attention is the PSPS program.”
Certainly it was a main concern among residents, as several attendees said their biggest worry was the PSPS.
Sally Giovinco, who lives in Santa Rosa, attended the seminar to understand the PSPS.
Giovinco was interested in learning about the program and other general emergency preparedness tips.
“I need to be prepared in case something happens, I need to get an emergency kit,” Giovinco said. While her home was not impacted but the 2017 Sonoma Complex Fires, she said it was close.
“You would think a freeway would be a good break but then the fire jumped the freeway,” Giovinco said.
Susan Sloan a Larkfield resident and a county worker, said she was curious to learn about the power grids and how they would be affected by shutoffs or by a fire or wind events.
Another Larkfield resident who wished to remain unnamed, said he too came to the open house to learn about the shutoff program.
He had questions such as, ‘What kind of generator should I get for my home,’ ‘When will they do a shutoff,’ or ‘How should I preserve food in case of a shutoff?’
Contreras said PG&E is telling customers to have a plan in case there is a shutoff.
She said it is also important that customers make sure their contact information is up to date so if a shutoff is likely PG&E can notify the residents that may be impacted.
“The number one thing we are telling people is we need your updated contact information. If we do need to shut off the power, we want to give you ample notice — 48 hours notice, so we’re texting, doing automated phone calls and we’re emailing, but we have to make sure we have your correct phone number and contact information,” Contreras said.
In terms of when a shutoff would be likely, Contreras said the need to do a shutoff could be determined by a variety of things.
“There are a lot of different factors, there’s not one magic formula, not one special algorithm where it meets all of these criteria … But we take a look at different things like whether or not it’s a red flag warning day, if there’s low humidity levels, generally below 20%, if it’s very windy with sustained winds at 25 mph or wind gusts at 45 mph or higher, so we take a look at all that. Plus, is it dry on the ground, what are the observations on the ground?” Contreras explained.
According to the PG&E PSPS program brochure, power could be expected to be restored 24 to 48 hours after a shutoff.
Power would be restored once extreme weather has passed, once lines and systems are inspected and given the all clear or when damaged systems are repaired.
Another topic of discussion at Thursday’s event was their enhanced vegetation management plan.
“A lot of people in Sonoma County love their trees and PG&E loves trees, too. But, we want to keep our community safe, so we want to keep the proper clearance, or keep trees away from power lines,” Contreras said. “We are going above and beyond with the California Public Utilities Commission (CUPC) mandate as part of our enhanced vegetation management program.”
In addition to meeting the minimum vegetation clearance of 4 feet from power lines, the electric company is working to keep a clearance of 12 feet as well as clearing vegetation directly above power lines and addressing overhanging limbs and branches, according to its vegetation management brochure.
Marti Hoeft, who lives on three acres near Oakmont, said the safety step she has been working on the most is fire fuel reduction, keeping weeds and grass trimmed down.
While other attendees expressed concern about the power shut offs, the aspect that worries Hoeft the most is other people being careless, whether it’s tossing out a cigarette butt or failing to clear away fire fuel.
“We’re doing what we can, but we still can be vulnerable,” Hoeft said.
Hoeft said ever since the fires —she was evacuated for 13 days but did not lose her home — she’s been constantly reminding herself of a new mantra she came up with, “I’m not paranoid, but I am prepared.”
Hoeft said she has a “go bag” now with all of the supplies she may need, as well as a safety deposit box for precious items.
“I felt helpless, I didn’t know what to bring but now I do,” she said.
Hoeft added that she’s glad PG&E is holding these sort of informational events because having safety information makes her more comfortable at night.
Other safety steps
For real time monitoring and intelligence PG&E will actively monitor wildfire risks 24/7 from their wildfire safety operations center as well as install 1,300 new weather stations by 2022. They’re also working to support the installation of 600 high definition cameras by 2022 (images available at alterwildfire.org).
Wildfire safety inspections includes accelerated inspections of transmission and distribution poles and towers as well as substations. They’ll also conduct visual, on the ground inspections in addition to aerial inspection with drones and helicopters.
System hardening and creating resilience zones includes installing stronger and more resilient and covered poles across 7,100 line miles in the highest risk fire areas over the next 10 years, replacing equipment to further reduce fire risk and piloting new resilience zones in order to allow PG&E to provide electricity to central community resources during a power shutoff event.