When Will the Public Safety Power Shut-Offs Occur?


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In recent weeks, rumors of future blackouts have spread. Amongst all of the distress stemming from the fires, COVID-19, and more, the mention of these potential blackouts has been a concern for many. However, no clear answer has been given when they would occur. Under what conditions would PG&E decide to shut off the power? How long would the blackouts last? How often should the public expect to navigate them? How should we prepare? UHS News got in touch with PG&E Spokeswoman Deanna Contreras to find out. 

Contreras explained that “We may need to turn off power during severe weather for public safety to prevent such fires.  This is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS).” 

What weather conditions must be met for PG&E to conduct a PSPS? According to Ms. Contreras, factors that would elicit that response would include: 

  1. “Low humidity levels, generally 20% and below.”
  2. “A forecast of high winds, particularly sustained winds above 25 miles per hour and wind gusts above 45 miles per hour.” 
  3. “Dry material on the ground and low moisture content in live vegetation.”
  4. “A Red Flag Warning declared by the National Weather Service.”
  5. “Real-time ground observations from our Wildfire Safety Operations Center and from our crews working across the service territory.”

PG&E does not plan to shut off the power unless absolutely necessary. Ms. Contreras said, “We will only use PSPS events as a last resort when the weather forecast is so severe that people’s safety, lives, homes, and business may be in danger of significant wildfires.”

According to Ms. Contrereas, “We know that losing power disrupts lives, especially for those with medical needs, customers working from home, and students engaging in distance learning in response to novel coronavirus.” PG&E intends to reduce the length and impact of the blackouts, should they happen, in service of their customers. Ms. Contreras said, “We are focused on reducing PSPS events’ impact on our customers, without compromising safety. We will do this by reducing the number of customers affected and the length of time they are without power.” 

Ms. Contreras admitted that “While we can’t forecast how often severe weather will require PSPS events, given the increase in severe weather events seen in recent years, power will likely need to be turned off several times this year to protect public safety.” 

When asked how people should prepare for the blackouts, Ms. Contreras said, “The first thing is to have an emergency plan, which includes a plan for loss of power.” Ms. Contreras advises people to “…keep extra flashlights and batteries on hand.” 

For more information regarding the blackouts and how to prepare, she suggested visiting the PG&E Safety Action Center at www.safetyactioncenter.pge.com.com. Emergency checklists and other materials are also available. 

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