Power shut-offs by PG&E necessitates awareness, preparedness
It’s wildfire season in California and, unsurprisingly, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has yet again caused trouble for the state after deciding to shut off power and electricity in 34 counties for an unspecified amount of time. These Public Safety Power Shut-Offs will last anywhere from several hours to several days — leaving many Californians insufficiently prepared.
Fueled by climate change, dry winds sweep through the state, causing the utility monopoly to shut off power in a proactive attempt to prevent its equipment from sparking potential wildfires from windblown powerlines. PG&E equipment malfunctions have previously wreaked havoc on the state, as in the case of the 2018 Camp Fire that decimated the town of Paradise, left 85 dead, burned over 150,000 acres and sent the company into bankruptcy. Instead of instituting an overhaul of its infrastructure to ensure this would never happen again, PG&E has instead opted to leave millions of Californians without power.
The shutdown, which went into effect in some areas of California early Wednesday morning, has already proven to be a huge nuisance for many and a potentially dangerous event for some of California’s most vulnerable populations. Officials have warned affected residents to drive carefully as traffic lights may be out, store sensitive medicine in cool places and stock up on water, food and gas — though parts of the state have already seen gas and generator shortages. PG&E has already said it will not reimburse individuals or businesses for losses caused by the outages, which seems a callous act of penny-pinching.
This unprecedented event should not be the new normal. If the company truly cares about keeping communities safe as it says it does, it will invest the time, energy and effort necessary to implement systems that can withstand strong winds — without any fear its shoddy equipment might cause another one of the deadliest fires of this decade.
The timeline of events related to these shutdowns brings additional cause for alarm at both a local and campus level. Initially, there were conflicting news reports about whether or not Davis would be affected by the outages and students were left largely uninformed, without updates or WarnMe alerts from the university. A tweet from the official UC Davis Twitter account stated that power on campus would not be affected, but if conditions changed the university would notify the campus community through WarnMe.
Thus far, the City of Davis does not appear to have been affected by the current shutdown, but the Editorial Board strongly believes the university should be proactive in its communication with the campus community in times of uncertainty such as this. Many students are unprepared for long-term power outages and do not know how to prepare for ones that could last several days, like the outages in Berkeley.
Any updates or guidance from the university at this time would have been appropriate. For students to stay informed and receive the most recent updates from nearby public safety departments, they might consider using the notification system Nixle, which sends relevant messages to users who text their zip code to 888777.
Additionally, the campus community should be aware that health experts are advising Californians to stay inside, as the conditions may carry smoke and dust from the Briceburg Fire near Yosemite National Park to other parts of the state, effectively increasing exposure to particle pollution for those outdoors. Taking proper precautions to protect and prioritize your health is an essential act, especially because living with more frequent occurrences of hazardous air quality is our new reality.
Climate change is no longer looming over our heads — we’re in the midst of a global climate calamity. We must acknowledge that the winds that are causing these fires are a direct result of climate change, this sad reality necessitates strong and decisive action from our leadership and serious investments from companies such as PG&E.
Written by: The Editorial Board