Overwhelmed the past two years by wildfires of historic numbers and intensity, California's major investor-owned power utilities on Monday unveiled a joint public information effort to heighten awareness and preparedness for the upcoming wildfire season.
Under the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the Power of Being Prepared campaign was developed by Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co.
The objective is to prepare citizens for extreme weather and the likelihood of electricity outages in high fire-risk areas that now include about 25% of the state's population. A multimedia and multilingual campaign has been created, including public service radio advertisements, preparedness resources, and a new website.
"It is a call to action for all Californians to take important steps to get ready before this year's wildfire season, such as creating a thorough emergency plan and updating their contact information with energy companies," the utilities said.
A recent report from Gov. Gavin Newsom's Wildfire Strike Force identified more than 25 million acres in the state as "very high or extreme" fire threat risks.
The information campaign seeks to get citizens prepared for preventive electric service shutoffs in the face of extreme high-risk conditions. It also urges them to identify backup charging and generation sources and ensure they are in safe working order; plan for emergency medical needs, pets/livestock, and a designated meeting location; build or re-stocking emergency kits; and update contact information with the utilities.
The most controversial part of the planning appears to be the energy companies turning off power to fire-prone areas during extreme weather events as a safety precaution.
"This is known as a Public Safety Power Shutoff that is more likely to occur in high fire-risk areas, but all Californians could be impacted by emergency events and need to be prepared with a plan," the utilities said.
The decision to turn off power is made by each energy company, based on a combination of factors, including high winds, low humidity, dry vegetation and conditions on the ground.
“Wildfires are a real and growing threat in California,” said American Red Cross’ Denise Everhart, Pacific Division disaster executive. “Now more than ever it is critical that Californians be ready for the unexpected and prepare their emergency kits, download the Red Cross Emergency app, outline a family plan and practice safety drills before the need arises."