PG&E website crash angered anxiety-filled customers amid power shutdown

PG&E learned an important lesson this week as its website crashed under the heavy volume of customers told to go there for power shutdown details. Hungry for that information, PG&E customers quickly overwhelmed the utility company's website.

That frustrated Morgan Monzon in San Jose.

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"I think it was like really bad 'cause people wanted to know and prepare for it," she said.

So, customers were kind of left in the dark, even as PG&E encouraged them to go to its website.

Laurie Giammona, PG&E's chief customer officer, acknowledged the problem late Thursday at a news briefing at its headquarters in San Francisco.

"We saw volume that we never expected to see at our website when we notified our customers," she said.

If anyone should understand the potential for a website to crash, it should be PG&E. Just like its overhead transmission lines, the internet and websites are subject to the same principles of supply, demand and overload.

RELATED: A look back at PG&E's history of blackouts

Ahmad Banafa is a professor at San Jose State and an expert on the internet and e-commerce. He says websites should anticipate traffic volume and perform reliability tests, a lesson learned by retailers who faced similar slowdowns and crashes in the early days of Black Friday sales. PG&E added bandwidth but still saw its sites crash. Customers tried to log in repeatedly, which only made the situation worse.

"It's not just you check that website once," Banafa said. "You check it multiple times, so every time you check it, you are actually a link to that website. So it's a catching up with the traffic that they have during that time."

Social media posts proliferated as customers' ire grew, finding it unacceptable, especially in the Bay Area, that PG&E underestimated website traffic.

Sky Stanfield wrote on Twitter, "It isn't a great sign for PG&E that their shutoff map website is crashing. If they didn't plan for that what else didn't they think of in this?"

"You don't know how many people are going to check it at that time," noted Prof. Banafa. "If it's spread over 24 hours, you can handle it."

For the latest stories about PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoff go here.
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