The biggest concern Manteca leaders are facing prepping for a potential PG&E induced emergency that could cut power to the city up to five days during extreme fire conditions is the real possibility of heat-caused illness and deaths.
It is why the city’s emergency response plan that has been put in place will — after initially calling back all off duty police and firefighters in the first few hours — will then have the city’s remaining employees not working to keep wastewater flowing and other essential services reporting back to work after power has been out for 12 hours.
Those workers will be placed in groupings of three to five people. Their job will be going door-to-door to Manteca’s 25,000 plus housing units to check on the welfare of city’s nearly 85,000 residents.
Manteca Fire Battalion Chief Dave Marques noted that during prolonged power outages on the East Coast during hot weather the primary problem has been people getting sick and even dying from not being able to stay cool in the heat.
If PG&E moves to cut power due to severe wildfire conditions in the Sierra foothills that are served by the same transmission lines that power Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy, Stockton, and parts of Ripon it will likely be when temperatures are high. That’s one of the determining factors PG&E is using for the call that they will make — and not state authorities — to de-energy power lines serving urban population centers as well as in rural areas.
During the 1996 Western North America Blackout that cut power to Manteca for more than 10 hours on a day that had a high of 108 degrees, Manteca Police dispatched Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) to check on the elderly in mobile home parks. Volunteers came across one elderly woman in El Rancho Mobile Home Park that was in the initial stages of heat stroke due to the lack of air conditioning in her mobile home. She was rushed to the hospital and ultimately recovered.
Marques noted when power had been knocked out a few years back to a large area of Stockton and Manteca Fire provided an engine and crew to help, they responded to 51 calls all related to medical emergencies triggered by the heat.
The city has asked PG&E for its list of customers in Manteca who have signed up with the utility under a program that makes the for-profit entity aware of people that rely on medical equipment that uses electricity to stay alive or avoid getting severely sick.
PG&E has refused to provide the list in advance to Manteca Fire officials citing the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that restricts access to individuals’ private medical information prevents them from doing so. However, PG&E has said if they do cut off power intentionally in the event of specific extreme wildfire conditions that they will send the list to city officials at that time.
PG&E representatives have also indicated they plan to dispatch their employees to homes of customers that rely on medical equipment if they do not respond to either phone calls or text messages at the point when PG&E makes a decision it plans to cut power within a short time frame. That is in advance of a deliberate 2 to 5 days power outage and not during the actual event.
Marques stressed that power outages planned by PG&E for system upgrades or related to new construction are not tied to the company’s extreme fire condition plan. He indicated in those cases customers are noticed in advance by mail and reminded in a follow up text or phone call that power is being cut.
There has only been one blackout tied to the PG&E plans since it was implemented following the wildfire that they concede their equipment likely started that killed 86 people, destroyed 14,000 homes and burned 5,000 other structures in Butte County during November. That was in Calistoga where the power was out for 12 hours.
Marques said experts differ on whether PG&E will actually follow through cutting off power to places like San Jose and Manteca when wildfire conditions warrant it in locations often 60 or so more miles away. Marques said Manteca and other cities have a responsibility to prepare for the eventuality given PG&E has advised they will turn off the power if necessary.
He did add that the scenario of the city going without power for days was never incorporated into Manteca’s emergency preparedness plan or that of many other communities. He said a prolonged power outrage tied to a major quake centered anywhere in California could trigger power outages. Preparing for a potential PG&E induced emergency has helped jurisdictions put plans in place to deal with prolonged power outages that could be caused by such a natural disaster.
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