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March 3, 2021

Navigating PG&E’s public safety power shutoffs

In its second year of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), Pacific Gas and Electric Company has implemented greater organization to inform their customers of these events. PG&E has updated its PSPS procedure to affect fewer customers. It has also pledged to restore almost all electricity within 12 hours of severe weather passing, and instituted a new notification system. Despite these improvements, this past week an estimated 13,872 customers in Santa Cruz County were impacted by the latest round of PSPS. This power outage experienced by many community members will most likely be the first of many, in the company’s attempt to decrease fire risk.

PG&E assesses many factors in their decision to turn off power, among them:

  • A National Weather Service Red Flag Warning 
  • Humidity lower than 20% 
  • Sustained winds above 25 mph with gusts faster than 45 mph
  • Condition of dry fuel and vegetation
  • In-person observations from PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Operations Center and field crews

Although conditions can change unexpectedly, PG&E forecasts PSPS events up to seven days in advance and alerts customers to potential events when possible. This forecast is available at pge.com/weather. PG&E account holders can sign up for proactive texts, calls or emails at their specific address by visiting pge.com.  Non-account holders can sign up for ZIP code specific, real-time alerts by calling 1-877-900-0743 or texting “ENROLL” to 97633.

PG&E sends various notifications to those signed up. A “Watch” alert is sent twice, two days and one day before the event, to warn customers of a potential power shutoff. If conditions change, the PSPS can be deemed no longer necessary. A “Warning” alert is sent several hours before the PSPS, when the outage has been officially decided. Updates are sent out as PG&E revises its timeline for the PSPS. Finally, account holders receive a “Restored” alert when the event has finished.

Aside from keeping up-to-date on PG&E alerts, physical preparation is the best way to navigate a PSPS. Here are a few ways to prepare before the outage begins:

  • Keep ice on hand in the freezer
  • Set your fridge to the coldest setting
  • Stock up on shelf-stable foods
  • Charge all electronic devices, including portable chargers. Consider purchasing a solar powered charger
  • Pick up cash from the ATM, as local businesses won’t have electricity to use cards
  • Make a cooler, flashlights, candles, and batteries accessible
  • Check in with neighbors
  • Have a plan for medication that needs refrigeration
  • Research neighboring locations with Wi-Fi outside of the PSPS event

Visit pge.com/psps for information on alerts, forecasts, Community Resource Centers and more.