While nobody really knows when or if PG&E will cut power to large geographic areas as part of a wildfire prevention plan to stave off the kind of destructive blaze that destroyed the Northern California community of Paradise last year, Manteca city officials have some advice for residents concerned about up to five days of darkness – start preparing now.
That was the central message of a town hall meeting Tuesday night hosted by San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti and the Manteca Transit Center that included a presentation from a PG&E representative as well as the Manteca Fire Department Battalion Chief Dave Marques.
According to Marques, who has been tapped by the Manteca City Council to head up the emergency preparedness plan for the city as the window of fire season that could bring about widespread outages approaches, the most important thing to remember is that while essential city services like police and fire protection and water and sewer service will be maintained, the city will be unable to provide food or water to residents and resources will be stressed.
Currently, Marques said, the Manteca Senior Center is the designated shelter in the event of an emergency situation but as of right now the shelter does not have a backup generator that can power an air conditioner in order to make it a cooling center in the event of a multi-day outage during hot weather.
The site will have small generators, Marques said, so that people can connect necessarily medical equipment like oxygen tank pumps and CPAP machines, and while the city is trying to make plans to secure a generator for that facility, residents need to be prepared because the size of the power outage could mean that other cities are also vying for the same resources like generators and the fuel to power them.
Patti, who along with Supervisor Bob Elliott represent Manteca at the county level, encouraged residents to update their contact information with PG&E so that customers can be informed of potential outages as early as possible and to utilize existing county resources – like the website that the county office of emergency services is preparing to launch – to ensure that families are prepared for when the emergency strikes.
The nearly two-hour town hall included a number of questions from the public to a panel that included PG&E spokesperson Dylan George, Marquez, Patti, County OES Director Shellie Lima, and Manteca Police Lt. Paul Carmona, and the majority of the concern was about the installation of both portable and permanent generators that would allow for food storages to be maintained and potentially operate household systems like phones and air conditioners.
According to the Marques, the portable generators that have been a hot commodity in the community aren’t large enough to actually power an entire house and cannot be plugged into an entire house – residents can only run extension cords to power certain household appliances, like refrigerators.
Some residents were upset that the City of Manteca has, they claim, tightened the regulations around the installation of permanent generators that are powered by natural gas and are capable of running an entire house – imposing conditions, they say, that is driving up the price of the installation and making it almost impossible to afford.
Other residents complained that the sheer volume of people looking to purchase the whole-house generator units has driven up demand to the point that companies are backlogged as much as six months from installation – which theoretically should be past the end of fire season even though some of the largest forest fires in California have been seen in December.
Other interesting tidbits of information discussed and disclosed during the town hall included:
The need for people to conserve water during an extended power outage. While Marques said that taps will continue to flow, the city will be asking people to cut off all non-essential use of water – outdoor landscaping, etc. – as a way to conserve the water that is available in the system. He also noted that something like a series of multiple structure fires – like the ones the department battled earlier this month when four under-construction homes were ignited by what authorities now believe was an arsonist – could use all of the city’s readily available water and tax the system.
The need for people to ensure that portable generators are placed in a well-ventilated area away from windows or air intake areas to prevent illness and injury from toxic fumes put off by the generator. While the city does have an ordinance that limits the amount of sound that a generator can give off during nighttime hours, Marques said it’s unlikely that the ordinance would be enforced during a widespread outage.
For additional information about how to prepare for the outage, visit www.prepareforpowerdown.com and www.ready.gov. The San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services is preparing to launch www.sjready.org, which will have detailed, up-to-date information about emergency preparedness when it launches.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.