PG&E public safety power shutoff to affect up to 800,000 across northern, central, coastal California, starting Wednesday morning

This is a developing story. Check Harker Aquila for future updates.

Following predictions of dry, windy conditions and heightened fire risks, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) plans to shut off power to 800,000 customers in 34 northern, central and coastal counties across California, starting at midnight and potentially lasting through the end of the week. According to representatives from PG&E who spoke at a press conference this evening, these emergency measures were a “last resort” safety measure to prevent potential wildfires. 

Portions of the Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Cruz counties may be impacted, but maps of affected regions that were released by PG&E do not predict that any Harker campuses will experience power shutoffs. Although PG&E’s website is currently down due to a sevenfold increase in traffic, customers can check its Twitter page for county maps that detail which areas will likely be impacted by the shutoffs.

The power shutoffs, intended to reduce the risk of fire danger caused by broken power lines, are a part of the utility’s new Public Safety Power Shutoff program, which was established in response to previous years’ devastating wildfires.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for a “high risk situation” regarding a “strong offshore wind event” that will begin tonight and last as late as Friday for some regions of California, according to PG&E senior meteorologist Evan Duffy.

“These strong dry gusty winds are going to be combined with low relative humidity levels, and this leads to some dangerous fire weather,” Duffy said in a press conference today evening. “Most of the area is looking at very receptive conditions for large fire growth.”

These weather conditions, which PG&E says that its emergency operation center has been monitoring for the past few weeks, echo the conditions that led to the deadly wildfires in Oct. 2017, which burned more than 240,000 acres and nearly 9000 buildings in northern California, as reported by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“I think it makes sense that they want to take this much caution because they don’t want to start another natural disaster,” said Rashmi Iyer (12), who lives in a region of Saratoga that may be affected by the blackouts. “It’s a bit annoying, but I think there’s good reason for it.”

With no end date for the outages scheduled thus far, the company has organized a drop-in center in each affected county, which will contain restrooms, charging stations, bottled water and seating for up to 100 people.

Released by PG&E
Advice from PG&E on preparing for a power outage.

The Department of Homeland Security’s page suggests that students and faculty can prepare for the outage by charging up any power banks or batteries, visiting an ATM and a gas station before the outage shuts down cash machines and gas pumps, getting nonperishable food that does not require electric refrigeration and planning out travel commutes to accommodate any delays caused by heightened traffic.

Some nearby schools and colleges are forecasted to be directly affected by the power outage, including Saratoga High School and the University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley Vice Chancellor Marc Fischer emailed students this afternoon regarding the university’s decision to cancel classes schoolwide tomorrow. Internet connection across academic buildings and student housing is shut down, and all dining halls and athletic facilities are temporarily closed.

“My dorm will probably experience the power outage for the next four to five days because I live on the north side, which is especially impacted by the outage,” said Ashwin Rammohan (‘19), who is currently a freshman at UC Berkeley. “Our refrigerator won’t be working either, so we got some ice from the ice machine, and we’re going to use that to make sure our food doesn’t spoil.”

The Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District informed families that administration would conduct instruction in spaces with sufficient natural light on Wednesday and Thursday as long as the temperatures in classrooms did not pose a safety threat to students.  

“I understand why school is in session, but at the same time there is going to be a lot of commotion in the mornings especially with traffic signals which I’m really not looking forward to,” said Saratoga High School sophomore Nithya Koneru. “My house is also affected by the power outage, so hopefully they continue to have power at school tomorrow.”

The upper school will not be cancelling classes tomorrow as the campus will most likely not be affected by the power outages.