Planned Power Outages Possible for CA Wildfire Areas

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, every year about 95 percent of all wildfires are caused by human negligence. Last year though, the immense losses from fire were caused by the utility company’s faulty transmission line equipment, resulting in 85 deaths.

This year, utilities are being proactive and plan on turning off the power when there is extreme weather such as high winds (including Red Flag warnings), low humidity, dry vegetation, or other fire threats, resulting in localized blackouts. Advanced notice will be given to the customers, but these forced blackouts could extend several days depending on the time for the extreme weather event to pass and how long the utility company needs to inspect and reenergize all of the power lines.

What should businesses and individuals do?

A catastrophic event can strike at any time. Businesses should not wait until the last minute to prepare or react to a catastrophe.

Here are some steps to consider if you are a business owner:

  • Identify critical business processes, equipment, systems, and supplies.
  • Have important telephone numbers and contact information readily available in hard copy.
  • Develop an action plan to restore equipment as quickly as possible or to temporarily reroute business.
  • Maintenance contracts play a key role in planning for the unexpected. Contact repair firms, rental companies, and other vendors in advance to arrange for service in an emergency.
  • Stock common spare parts for circuit breakers, refrigeration, air conditioning and heating equipment to expedite repairs. Ask your service technician to identify the most important items.
  • Have a business continuity plan, including a backup communications strategy to reach employees, service contractors and customers.
  • Have a well-written, comprehensive plan that can be followed without confusion. Document your emergency plan and update it regularly. Share the plan with all employees.
  • Have a step-by-step, well-written procedure on how to connect portable generators. This includes steps for disconnecting or turning off all electrical loads. Include specific steps for turning the loads back online when the power is restored. This will limit the exposure of the equipment to electrical surges.
  • Have your insurance agent or insurer’s contact information handy to report any post-event losses.

Steps individuals and businesses should keep in mind before a planned/forced outage:

  • Document start-up procedures for reenergizing machines.
  • Verify surge suppression in place for sensitive medical diagnostic equipment such as MRI machines and other electronic equipment. Establish that the main power switch is in the off position during the outage.
  • Verify that generators are tested and fully functional.
  • Occupancies with perishable goods and refrigeration should ensure that the units are tuned-up and tested and have adequate circuit protection in place. Devices such as under-voltage relays and phase protection devices are recommended.
  • Ensuring that UPS systems are functional along with the battery back-up systems.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC):

If a public safety power shutoff is needed due to extreme conditions, the utility will provide

early warning notifications, frequent updates on the situation, and safety inspections of all lines after the extreme weather has passed and prior to re-energization.

CPUC tips/plans to keep safe:

  • Ensure any backup generators are ready for use.
  • Plan for any medical needs such as refrigeration of medications or any equipment requiring power.
  • Make sure your emergency kit is stocked with flashlights, batteries and first aid supplies.
  • Start to look for a local facility or center that will accommodate you and your family’s needs for several days.

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© 2019 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey or constitute legal advice. HSB makes no warranties or representations as to the accuracy or completeness of the content herein. Under no circumstances shall HSB or any party involved in creating or delivering this article be liable to you for any loss or damage that results from the use of the information contained herein. Except as otherwise expressly permitted by HSB in writing, no portion of this article may be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any way. This article does not modify or invalidate any of the provisions, exclusions, terms or conditions of the applicable policy and endorsements. For specific terms and conditions, please refer to the applicable endorsement form.

Vincenzo Pagliuca

Vincenzo Pagliuca is a Principal Electrical Engineer for Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. Vincenzo assists the claims and underwriting departments by providing corrective action and risk solutions utilizing his expert knowledge and technical background. He has over 23 years of experience in electrical engineering as well as research and development.

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