Power Outage Intended to Prevent Wildfires Will Affect Millions of Californians Who Use PG&E
The outage will impact 800,000 customers in Northern and Central California, and could last through Tuesday of next week. Because a customer could mean a business or residence that includes multiple people, the total number of people affected could reach the millions. It is the largest preventative power shutoff in state history, according to The Associated Press.
To reduce wildfire risk during the forecasted severe wind event, PG&E will implement a Public Safety Power Shutoff (#PSPS) in parts of northern, central and coastal counties. PG&E expects to begin turning off power later tonight, just after midnight. https://t.co/xIT52NtRGE pic.twitter.com/OJduogm3yZ— PG&E (@PGE4Me) October 8, 2019
The outage is an attempt to prevent tree limbs from knocking against power lines and sparking a blaze as strong winds follow a dry period.
"We implement this public safety power shutoff as a last resort," vice president of PG&E's Community Wildfire Safety Program Sumeet Singh said in a statement reported by CNN.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued red flag warnings for the North Bay Mountains and Valleys, East Bay Hills and East Bay Valleys starting Wednesday morning, according to CNN. This means that warm weather, low humidity and strong wind combine to increase fire risk.
"This is a recipe for explosive fire growth, if a fire starts," NWS said, as CNN reported. "Have your go back ready."
💨Updated wind forecast💨— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) October 8, 2019
🚩#RedFlagWarning takes 3 things:
💨Strong winds -✔️
🌿Dry vegetation (fuels) -✔️
💧Low humidity -✔️
This is a recipe for explosive🔥 fire growth, if a fire starts.
Have your go bag ready. #BePrepared #BeSafe #cawx pic.twitter.com/Dxv2hfr2Yh
PG&E's response to these conditions comes after it has been found responsible for 2018's Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in the state's history. Even before that determination, PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January because it faced so many lawsuits for wildfire damages.
Survivors of the Camp Fire, which scorched the town of Paradise, were skeptical of PG&E's action now.
"I understand their concerns but in my opinion it's too little too late, we already had our town burned to the ground," Ben Humphries, who lost his Paradise home in the Camp Fire and now lives in Oroville, told The Associated Press.
Another Paradise survivor, Jennifer Siemens, who also now lives in Oroville, questioned whether the shutoff was really the best solution.
"What's wrong with the power lines that they have to do this so much?" she asked The Associated Press. "We don't want any more fires, obviously, but I feel like they are going a little overboard."
Ultimately, the question is whether PG&E is capable of safely delivering power as the climate crisis makes wildfires more likely, The San Francisco Chronicle said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the utility had no choice in this instance, but also needed to upgrade in order to avoid situations like this in the future.
"No one is satisfied with this, no one is happy with this," he said, as The Associated Press reported.
The shutoff will impact 34 counties across the state and eight of nine counties in the Bay Area, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. Only San Francisco County itself will be spared.
So far, nearly 5,000 customers in Solano County have lost power, as have nearly 600 in Marin. The power outages will occur in stages north to south and were not supposed to impact the Bay Area until around noon Wednesday.
#PSPS map of impacted area of #MarinCounty (click to expand): PG&E expects to begin turning off pwr in some areas early Wed, just after midnight. The pwr will be turned off to communities in stages, depending on local timing of the severe wind conditions https://t.co/vtR0giB5AY pic.twitter.com/hN0aiVkTlH— PG&E (@PGE4Me) October 9, 2019
At one point, there was concern that the outages would close the Caldecott Tunnel on Highway 24 and the Devil's Slide tunnel on Highway 1 in San Mateo County, but generators were installed to keep them open, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system said train service would not be impacted by the outages, though some station escalators could lose power, CNN reported.
Update: BART anticipates no train service disruption due to PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) starting tomorrow.— SFBART (@SFBART) October 8, 2019
Select stations reliant on portable generators may face escalator outages.
BART has power redundancies to continue running trains.
The news also sent Californians to the gas pump and the supermarket to stock up.
"We sold out of lanterns this morning. The shelf is completely empty," Howard Gibbs, the manager at an Ace Hardware in Lafayette, 20 miles east of San Francisco, told The Associated Press. "We've got just a few flashlights left, and we're down to our last couple of propane tanks, too."
What Is Climate-Ready Infrastructure? Some Cities Are Starting to Adapt https://t.co/IOEumbHjJi— Matter of Trust (@MatterOfTrust) October 23, 2018
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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