Everything You Need to Know About Public Safety Power Shutoffs
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
by: Kyle Michael, Duthie Power Services

Section: Trends and Tips

Southern California residents are aware of the unique “seasons” we experience here – June gloom, fire season, Santa Ana winds – but in recent years the timelines for these weather events are getting stretched or occurring at altogether surprising times. Longer and more extreme seasons not only exacerbate an already volatile fire season, but they also threaten our aging electrical grid in ways that impact every Californian. What’s one way they affect residents and business owners? Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). According to PG&E, a PSPS happens because, “High winds can cause trees or debris to damage electric lines and cause wildfires. As a result, we may need to turn off power during severe weather.”

The PSPS Warning System

The power company looks at several factors to determine whether a PSPS is necessary: low humidity levels, high winds, fuel conditions, red flag warnings, and real-time observations. Once the risk has been assessed, they initiate a warning system to allow consumers time to prepare. The warning system for a PSPS typically starts with a severe weather forecast a week ahead of time, followed by the power company alerting consumers one to two days ahead of the bad weather with potential times for when power will be shut off. Why exactly is power shut off if a community isn’t directly threatened by fires or inclement weather? Because of the grid. Your neighborhood may not be in a high-fire threat area, but if your power lines run through a more high-risk area your power will need to be shut off to prevent further damage to the power grid. Believe it or not, grid problems in Northern California can affect people as far south as San Diego. 

How to Prepare for a PSPS

Chances are if you’re in a high fire risk area, you know it. If you don’t know, the California Public Utilities Commission has identified regions with high wildfire risk and categorized them into two tiers: Tier 3 or extreme risk, and Tier 2 or elevated risk. Several online maps allow you to see whether your community falls into one of these categories. Now that you’re familiar with the risk, what can you do to ensure you’re not scrambling for a backup power source at the last minute? Installing a backup generator or having a portable generator you can safely function is essential, but here are a few other considerations to prioritize:
  1. Create an emergency kit
  2. Charge your cellphone and secure backup charging sources for any medical devices
  3. Create a list of emergency contacts 
  4. Keep a flashlight and extra batteries in an accessible area
  5. Stash some cash and gas for your car
  6. Make sure you know how to manually override any electric-powered doors or security systems

Thank you to Duthie Power Services, a 2021 BOMA San Diego Annual Supporting Partner, for providing this educational content!