PG&E holds power shutoff drill in Orinda to prepare for wildfires

ORINDA, Calif. (KGO) -- PG&E is conducting a Public Safety Power Shutoff drill in Orinda Tuesday. The power will stay on but residents may see some PG&E activity in the air and on the ground.

"We're going to have a helicopter in the air patrolling the lines as they would during an actual Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). We will also be mobilizing crews from outside the area to make sure they are prepared and can arrive at the location in a timely matter. We'll have scenarios set up so we can test our employees in different ways and we are going to be doing internal communications that take practice to make sure that it is smooth and working well," said PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian.

The drill is part of a series of new safeguards to help prevent electricity from sparking wildfires after the company was found responsible for several wildfires in 2017 and 2018, including the deadly Camp Fire in Paradise that killed at least 85 people.

RELATED: PG&E shows off upgraded Wildfire Safety Operations Center

Monday the utility showed off their Wildfire Safety Utility Center, where a team of people constantly monitor conditions that could trigger a PSPS event. In order to shut off power, several conditions must be met, including a red flag warning declared by the National Weather Service, low humidity levels, a forecast of winds above 25 mph and gusts above 45 mph, and dry fuel on the ground.

"We're framing our power safety shutoff program around the concurrence of an elevated or heightened fire risk," said the program's principal meteorologist Scott Strenfel, "plus the concurrence of some sort of weather event, like an offshore Diablo or a mono-wind event like the Santa Ana's of Northern California."

The Mayor of Orinda says the city is working with PG&E and is aware of the drill. Mayor Inga Miller says Orinda is supportive of these possible power outages, saying officials need to do what they can to curb the likelihood of fire breaking out. But she also says these power outages will create an emergency and the city is preparing for that.

"Without power we suddenly have the power cut to our street lights, to our air conditioning. Our sister agency, the water district, can't pump water. These are very serious emergencies our city and East Bay Mud are planning for. We have a city task force here at city hall that is preparing- getting back up generators for street lights and the community center so there is a place to go for people who don't have air conditioning," the Mayor said.

RELATED: PG&E says power line inspections revealed 10,000 problems

Mayor Miller says residents also need to do their part to get ready.

"The drill is a reminder to all of us that we need a supply of water for two to five days. We need to be ready for not having electricity. If you can have a back-up generator to your air conditioning that's a wonderful thing. You may need one if you have certain medical devices," she said.
"If there is going to be the possibility of a wildfire, we want to shut off our power ahead of time to make sure we can potentially keep that wildfire from ever beginning," Sarkissian said.

But the power stayed on during Tuesday's drill.

"We can have a successful drill without shutting off the power. We would not do that to our customers for a drill. In this case we will be practicing as if the power is off but we don't need to physically turn the power off to do that," said Sarkissian.

The Mayor points out that if the power is ever shut off residents likely won't get a lot of notice so it is important to prepare.

Tuesday's drill runs from 8:15 a.m. to 2 p.m.

PG&E provides more than five million customers with electricity across the state.

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