Fllickr/NPS Climate Change Response

Marin could face a blackout lasting a week or more if Pacific Gas and Electric Co. implements a plan to switch off power to avoid a wildfire.

“County government is likely to be as impacted as any resident or business in the event of a shutdown,” Dan Eilerman, assistant county administrator, told supervisors Tuesday during a briefing on PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutdown program. “We really need to have a sense of urgency with regards to PSPS and what we’re doing to plan ahead for it.”

The sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services is developing an addition to the county’s emergency operations plan to prepare for such a blackout.

“We’re in a geographic area where preparedness is important,” said Tom Jordan, an OES coordinator. “This PSPS plan we’re discussing is a new lens on that preparedness need.”

The county has hired a consultant, Kelle Kroll Group, to assist in determining what the county’s most critical services are and how it will continue to provide them without electricity. Kelle Kroll Group is being paid $89,566 to develop a continuity-of-operations plan that will be applicable to any type of disaster or major disruption to county operations.

“So many elements of emergency planning depend on communications and electricity being available,” said Kelle Kroll, the group’s CEO.

Eilerman supplied a list of things likely to be affected by a blackout, such as telephones, cellular sites, water, lighting, cooling, computers, refrigeration, sanitation, gas pumps, ATMs, security systems, point-of-sale devices and schools.

Eilerman said he has been told that if a blackout knocked out water systems then the county’s schools would be forced to close.

Power shutdowns have already occurred across the state. On June 8, PG&E shut off power to 1,700 customers in parts of Yolo, Solano and Napa counties when high winds created “red flag” fire conditions.

“One of our concerns is if we have a significant PSPS outage in Marin it will also likely affect our surrounding counties,” Eilerman said.

The California Public Utility Commission has fire threat maps that designate three tiers of fire and transmission risk statewide.

“The red extreme risk area and the yellow high risk area really encapsulates much of Marin,” Eilerman said. “That is why we are taking this so seriously.”

PG&E has said that no single factor will trigger a power shutdown. Factors that will be considered include “red flag” warnings issued by the National Weather Service; low humidity levels; forecast sustained winds above 25 mph and wind gusts in excess of approximately 45 mph; the moisture content of the ground and live vegetation; and on-the-ground, real-time observations.

Eilerman said power typically won’t be restored immediately after the conditions that prompted the shutdown change. PG&E will still have to inspect its power lines for damage before turning the power back on.

“That restoration period could last two to four days in addition to the actual event period,” Eilerman said.

Both Eilerman and Jordan emphasized the critical need for individuals, families and businesses to develop their own plans for coping in the event of a power shutdown.

“County government is really going to be focused on public safety and those at most risk in our community,” Eilerman said.

Jordan said, “Having a plan is key because an alert is not going to do much if you’re not ready to actualize your personal and family response to it.”

Jordan also urged Marin residents to register for emergency alerts at AlertMarin.org. AlertMarin uses phone calls, Voice over IP, texts, emails and a smartphone app to reach people.

PG&E spokesman Mark van Gorder said it is difficult to get information about the shutdowns to members of the public who live in trailer parks or apartment buildings where one electrical meter serves multiple units. In such instances, PG&E only has contact information for the property owner.

“We’re really encouraging landlords to take the responsibility that they have as the communications channel from PG&E,” Van Gorder said.

Van Gorder said PG&E’s Medical Baseline customers, who have registered with the utility for the purpose of identifying themselves as being dependent on electricity for medical reasons, can be directly contacted by the utility.

Eilerman said the county plans to issue a letter to PG&E to formally request assistance in setting up a community resource center in Marin, where residents could charge their cellphones and get water in the event of a power shutdown.

The county is also looking for additional backup cooling center sites. The objective is to identify sites in the northern, central and southern parts of the county.

And Eilerman said the county needs to identify how many working generators it has and to stockpile fuel. The county must ensure that fire, police and emergency medical services personnel will have fuel for their vehicles.

“With climate change and the scale and frequency of wildfires in recent years,” Eilerman said, “this is really the new normal in California.”

(c)2019 The Marin Independent Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.