For utilities in these states, the
unprecedented number and severity of
wildfires over the past three years has
brought prevention and planning to the
forefront. This disaster planning becomes
even more important as more and more
people move into these severe wildfire zones
and utilities provide essential services there.
First Steps to Prevention
Preventing wildfires is a first step. We
see that power lines may be linked to some
of these fires. In some cases, high winds
blow trees and other vegetation into power
lines, sparking fires. Other times, wind
blows live wires onto dry grass. To reduce
the chance of fires, power companies have
started expanding the distance between
trees and power lines. This additional
pruning makes a big difference in the
reduction in fire danger.
The next step is at the state level,
where the California Public Utilities
Commission has worked with energy
providers to establish the Public Safety
Power Shutoff (PSPS) program.
All energy providers serving
wildfire interface areas must participate
in this statewide program that calls for
energy utilities to “de-energize” the grid
when those four ingredients — high
temperatures, high winds, low humidity
and dry vegetation — are present.
Turning off the power during extreme
weather or wildfire conditions may help
keep communities safe from wildfires.
Powering Water Delivery
While PSPS’s aim is laudable, turning
off the power does create problems for
another aspect of firefighting — water
Firefighters need water to fight the
fire. Water utilities need power to provide
the water to firefighters.
So, what’s a water utility to do? There
is a lot you can do, and if you haven’t
already done so, now is the time!
Planning and coordination is the
number one priority. Determine if your
facility is in one of the high hazard areas and
subject to a possible PSPS. If it is, then talk to
your power provider. Coordinate planning
for notification when an event may occur.
Many power providers are working on
processes that could notify water utilities
up to 72 hours before a shutdown.
However, utilities still must be
prepared for shutdowns with little or no
notice due to rapidly changing weather
conditions. In that case, many utilities
publish or share distribution zone maps
that show service areas.
These electricity distribution zone
maps can be overlaid with water utility
station data in GIS systems to determine
which power zones are subject to
shutdowns and if any critical water
stations could be affected. If there is risk
of power shutdowns to critical water
stations, then now is the time to secure
alternate standby power sources that
would be put to use at a moment’s notice.
Coordinate with Fire Agencies
Most fire departments and agencies
simply expect the water to be there when
they need it. That means that water utilities
must reach out to CalFire, county and local
fire agencies to plan for PSPS events.
For example, San Jose Water holds
an annual meeting no later than May
each year with all fire, water, power and
emergency management agencies to
prepare for the oncoming fire season.We
bring in the National Weather Service to
give us a weather outlook as part of our
planning process. Together we plan and
share communications information. We
also make sure that everyone understands
the potential impacts of PSPS as part of
that planning process. Our utility has one
area where we lift water through six zones
to get to the wildfire interface.
Should a wildfire happen in your
area, find out where CalFire or the lead
fire agency is holding its fire cooperators’
meeting. You’ll want to have a water
utility representative at this location to
ensure that those fighting the fire have the
most up-to-date information on the status
of your utility.
Actions To Take Now
Wildfire season is upon us, so
planning now is critical. Determine
your utility’s alternate power now: Do
you have standby generation? Do you
Smoke from the
Thomas Fire in
into the sky as
seen from the
U.S. AIR NATIONAL
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