PG & E personnel lacked basic emergency management training before the 2019 California blackout

Image source: PG & E

Michael Rietke and Justin Pritchard

San Francisco (AP) — Most of the emergency personnel to manage the power outages of the country’s largest utility when Pacific Gas and Electric stopped supplying power to a large area of ​​Northern California, which is prone to wildfires, last fall. I learned the basics of emergency management in California. ..

In 2019, the utility planned to “turn off” the dilapidated power grid during the fall storm. This prevented the down line from burning. But of the hundreds of people who dealt with power outages from the Associated Press Emergency Operations Center, only a handful were trained in the disaster response playbooks that California had used for generations. The Associated Press has discovered.

As expected, the power outage in October 2019 disrupted the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the San Francisco Bay Area, disrupting more than two million people.

Computers went dark, phones stopped working, gas pumps, elevators, traffic lights, water pumps, stoves, and medical equipment stopped working. The list seemed to be endless.

Fast forward this fall. PG & E’s tagline for power outages is “smaller, shorter, smarter”. According to many explanations, the three power cuts so far have certainly been smooth.

This improvement reflects more than an infrastructure upgrade and a year of tweaking. PG & E sought training that it had ignored because it suffered from that failure and was requested by state regulators.

As the name implies, a standardized emergency management system helps large utilities and agencies as different as local counties enter public disasters with built-in plans. Blueprints cover a variety of issues, including how to share information and how to build an emergency operations center. It also creates a common vocabulary. This is an important tool given the conflict between jargon and acronyms as jurisdictions converge.

Responding to a disaster requires improvisation, like playing a jazz band, said Chris Godley, head of emergency management at Sonoma County, surrounded by fire. Last year’s untrained PG & E was like a stranger coming to the show with an instrument and “walking to the stage and jumping into the middle of the song.”

If the new player has the skill, it may work. Regarding emergency management, we did not do PG & E.

Others likened Dynamic to a team that appeared unaware of the rules of the game, or an aircraft pilot who did not communicate with air traffic control.

When PG & E tries to repair the damage caused by the recklessness and concealment of 10 years of criminals, which led to a wildfire that killed more than 140 people and destroyed nearly 28,000 homes and other buildings, utilities It becomes clear how unprepared it was. PG & E hashashed a $ 25.5 billion settlement in bankruptcy court for 17 months in return for bankruptcy devastation.

Hoping to avoid further disasters, PG & E hired state experts for an online session to adopt training and introduce a standardized emergency management system. By 2020, about 90% of the 676 workers in the emergency center had completed the required initial training, the utility told AP in a statement.

“We already know the value of this transition, and we hope that maturity will continue to evolve as we progress through the remaining phases of training,” the statement said.


A standardized emergency management system evolved from the devastating 1991 fire that struck the hills of Auckland across the bay from PG & E’s San Francisco headquarters.

Paralyzed by inadequate planning, the first responders from dozens of jurisdictions struggled with confusion, communication channel corruption or overload, and bottlenecks in narrow streets to tame the flames. Over 3,000 homes were burned down and 25 people were killed.

In the case of California, the response was 9/11, 10 years after the emergency communication system. This is a catalytic event organized before a disaster occurs.

But instead of learning California’s long-established languages ​​and customs, PG & E developed its own emergency management curriculum tailored to the utility industry when it began looking at ways to handle intentional power outages in 2018.

This was in contrast to training requirements at Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, the next largest utilities in California.

San Diego Gas and Electric considers a standardized emergency management system to be “absolutely basic” during a deliberate power outage, said Augie Ghio, a former firefighter and now head of emergency management for the company. I am.

“Everyone is trained, so there’s no confusion when triggering,” Ghio said.

PG & E describes San Diego Gas & Electric as a role model for managing planned outages.

However, in a January response by PG & E as part of a legal discovery in a state survey on power outages in 2019, Utility explained the criteria as follows: “PG & E typically assigns individuals with previous emergency management experience to a particular EOC (Emergency Operations Center) role, currently within the EOC organizational structure, prior emergency management experience, qualifications, or There are no positions that require certification. ”

In a statement to the AP, utilities said that “several” emergency management experts and leaders had independently researched standardized emergency management systems earlier this year. Asked for a specific number, PG & E did not answer.

It was “very important” last year that PG & E didn’t know the basic protocol, according to the chief of the state agency that regulates and investigates utilities.

“Everyone was basically acting as their co-pilot because they couldn’t control it,” said Rachel Peterson, acting secretary-general of the Public Utility Commission in California. I did. “Attorneys played a big role, but that’s not what you want in an emergency.”

According to a recently submitted document, the Commission’s investigation could continue until next year, but state officials quickly concluded that PG & E needed to train all emergency personnel.

The fact that they weren’t was a “tremendous failure of common sense,” said Megan Somogyi, a lawyer representing a coalition of local governments that pressured state regulators to hold PG & E accountable. I did.

Somogyi likened the complexity of managing intentional outages to the launch of an astronaut. In this case, without consulting an expert who has been there many times.

“I’m not going to use NASA research or launch pads,” she said. “You are building a rocket in your backyard and trying to send someone into space.”


Source: Associated Press

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