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Everything you need to know about Public Safety Power Shutoffs

Power pylon – overloaded electrical circuit causing electrical short.

What is a PSPS?

Southern California residents are aware of the unique “seasons” we experience here- June gloom, fire season, Santa Ana winds– but in recent years the timelines for these weather events are getting stretched or occurring at altogether surprising times. Take the Santa Anas, an annual wind evoking plenty of regional folklore and allergies galore, that typically start in October but whose season gets longer each year. June Gloom, as the name implies, typically starts in late spring/early summer, but it’s also been occurring later than expected.


Longer and more extreme seasons not only exacerbate an already volatile fire season, but they also threaten our aging electrical grid in ways that impact every Californian. What’s one way they affect residents and business owners? Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). According to PG&E, a PSPS happens because “High winds can cause trees or debris to damage electric lines and cause wildfires. As a result, we may need to turn off power during severe weather.”


The PSPS Warning System


The power company looks at several factors to determine whether a public safety power shutoff is necessary: low humidity levels, high winds, fuel conditions, red flag warnings, and real-time observations. Once the risk has been assessed, they initiate a warning system to allow consumers time to prepare.


The warning system for a PSPS typically starts with a severe weather forecast a week ahead of time, followed by the power company alerting consumers one to two days ahead of the bad weather with potential times for when power will be shut off. Why exactly is a California public safety power shut off needed if a community isn’t directly threatened by fires or inclement weather? Because of the grid.


Your neighborhood may not be in a high-fire threat area, but if your power lines run through a more high-risk area your power will need to be shut off to prevent further damage to the power grid. Believe it or not, grid problems in Northern California can affect people as far south as San Diego.


High Fire Risk Areas


Chances are if you’re in a high fire risk area, you know it. If you don’t know, the California Public Utilities Commission has identified regions with high wildfire risk and categorized them into two tiers: Tier 3 or extreme risk and Tier 2 or elevated risk. Several online maps allow you to see whether your community falls into one of these categories.


How to Prepare for a PSPS


Now that you’re familiar with the risk, what can you do to ensure you’re not scrambling for a backup power source at the last minute? For one, you can give Duthie Power a call to see if your home is a good candidate for a permanent standby generator. If you’re a renter or a homeowner who doesn’t have the five feet of clearance to safely install a permanent generator, you can also purchase a portable generator.


Other ways to prepare include:


  1. Create an emergency kit
  2. Charge your cellphone and secure backup charging sources for any medical devices
  3. Create a list of emergency contacts
  4. Keep a flashlight and extra batteries in an accessible area
  5. Stash some cash and gas for your car
  6. Make sure you know how to manually override any electric-powered doors or security systems


Now that you know what a Public Safety Power Shutoff is all about and how to prepare, what steps will you take to keep the lights on?

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