When the nation’s utility warned customers that it would cut off power for nearly two million people across Northern California, home to the world’s largest technology companies, people rushed out of their houses to buy portable generators.
It was the sight of empty store shelves, closed campuses, and shuttered offices as hundreds of people rushed to stock canned foods, batteries, and generators to prepare for a planned outage. Pacific Gas and Electric intentionally cut off power for their customers to prevent wildfires caused by high winds and low humidity running on dry vegetation.
Daniel Aldrich, a Northeastern University professor of Political Science, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs who co-directs the Masters in Security and Resilience Studies program, says,” When you have a utility providing power to millions of people, some of whom their lives depend on having access to electricity, whether it’s a hospital or someone’s home, and you’re shutting it down, you need to provide alternatives, suggestion, educations, and training to your population.”
Without any proper substitutes, the government took the decision that caused havoc and anxiety amongst people. The company has been cutting off electricity in phases for nearly 800,000 customers who are left in the dark, literally and figuratively, and left to fend for themselves. The company didn’t give enough time and information to prepare, even to those who are in crucial medical diagnosis and uses a home dialysis machine- the outage could be a matter of life or death.
The company should tell people initially so that alternatives could be made for those who have functional needs. They could offer vouchers for every block so that people can buy one generator or for every 1000 people they could provide information where they can find uninterrupted power. The core crisis is communication. This is a perfect example of how government entities are short of helping their citizens.
This wildfire could have been avoided by Pacific Gas and Energy several decades back by investing more in maintenance or cutting down trees, removing debris, and bushes in the rural areas where the fire started. The company could have also accepted their failures and coordinated with communities rather than going against them in court. Experts are suggesting that the scope of the fire season’s power crisis should speed up the state’s efforts and rethink its electrical infrastructure by creating more power grids, or solar power panels.