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Ready or not, PG&E power shutoffs are coming

Marsha Hovey” width=
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos Hills emergency manager Marsha Hovey addresses questions and concerns at the Sept. 25 town hall meeting dedicated to discussing how to prepare in the event of a wildfire.

On a day last week when temperatures soared and PG&E cut power to nearly 50,000 customers in counties northeast of the Bay Area to reduce fire risk, a dozen Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents assembled to learn what they can do to prepare for the same event locally.

“We’re going to see it happen somewhere,” Los Altos Hills emergency manager Marsha Hovey warned attendees of the Sept. 25 community meeting at Los Altos Hills Town Hall.

To prevent a repeat of the deadly 2018 Camp Fire, which was sparked by PG&E transmission lines, the utility now implements proactive Public Safety Power Shutoffs when three weather conditions occur: temperatures climb above 80 degrees, humidity dips below 20% and winds blow stronger than 25 mph.

Based on an analysis of historical data going back 10 years, the National Weather Service determined such criteria will coincide an average of 1.2 times a year on the west side of Santa Clara Valley and an average of six times a year on the east side of the valley.

PG&E intends to provide customers with 24-hour notice of an impending shutoff by telephone call, email and text, Hovey said. Local residents registered with Alert SCC, the county’s emergency alert system, and Nixle, which provides warnings from municipalities and public safety departments, can also expect messages via those avenues as well as from news reports and social media.

“It will be difficult for you to miss that this is about to happen,” Hovey said.

Residents could be without power for between two to seven days as PG&E inspects transmission lines, so prepare now for that eventuality by pre-emptively identifying methods for charging cellphones, medical devices and refrigerators containing sensitive items such as infant formula and medicine, Hovey said. She recommends investing in backup “brick” battery packs. Generators are useful tools too, but they can’t be operated within enclosed areas due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

“There will be deaths related to this power outage because people are not fully informed,” she said.

Hovey’s checklist for preparing one’s house in the event of an actual wildfire evacuation warning is exhaustive, but it includes turning off natural gas and appliances and moving combustible materials inside into the center of rooms and those outside away from the home. Pack up a single vehicle with essentials and head out early to avoid the inevitable traffic jams that will plague a town of narrow, two-lane streets like Los Altos Hills. Expect smoke so dense the day will appear like night.

“Don’t wait for a personal invitation,” Hovey said. “If you feel like you can go now, go now. Just go.”

Recommended staples for emergency kits

Hovey recommended compiling an emergency kit with the following items.

• Batteries for flashlights

• An NOAA Weather Alert radio with Wireless Emergency Alert capability

• A fully charged backup battery pack

• Nonperishable food

• Drinking water

• 10-day supply of prescription medicines

• Printed copies of important documents like birth certificates and prescriptions

• Printed copies of emergency contact information

For an extensive list of tips related to preparing for a Public Safety Power Shutoff, visit losaltoshills.ca.gov/469/Public-Safety-Power-Shutoff.

For evacuation guidelines, visit losaltoshills.ca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2616/Los-Altos-Hills-Evacuation-Guidelines.

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