This week, California communities experienced the largest intentional blackout yet in the latest power company strategy for mitigating fire risk during extremely dry and windy conditions.
Intended to keep power lines from sparking potentially devastating fires, utility companies intentionally cut electrical power for nearly 1 million people — and their hospitals — across the state over the past few days (even more experienced the uncertainty of pending planned outages).
The question that should be at the top of every Californian’s mind is, “When does a public safety power shutoff jeopardize public safety?”
Hospitals, of course, are better prepared for these events than most other businesses and residents. You’ve got expertise, your staff is well trained, and you have backup generators — as a matter of course, your disaster preparedness plans and requirements kick in and you’re poised to continue caring for patients.
But we know that managing and sustaining the complex and life-saving work that happens in a hospital during a power outage is challenging and not without risk. Surgeries must be preemptively rescheduled, nurse shortages grow as workers are faced with addressing the needs of their own children and families, and all are on high alert to ensure the power backup plan holds. In the community, people in need of nursing homes and dialysis centers are at risk, diabetics with home refrigerators full of insulin are at risk, and people in need of home medical supports are at risk. Add the uncertainty about when power will be restored to public safety concerns, because longer term outages are fraught with greater risk.
Wildfires can be destructive, with devastating impact for the individuals and communities involved. The risk of fire is greater than it has ever been, but so too is the growing risk to health and safety caused by widespread power outages. If this is the power companies’ public safety strategy for California, it is unacceptable. The way the shutoffs have been rolled out and managed must change. Preventing the need for shutoffs in the first place is the goal.
Together, CHA and the Regional Associations will press the power companies, state government, and regulators for better. We’ve been working with Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and local government officials to ensure they grasp the obstacles you must overcome during power shutoffs, in order to continue providing seamless care. And we’ll press for additional solutions.
We want to hear about and collect your experiences. If your hospital has been affected by one of the public safety power shutoff events, please share your story with us via email.
In the meantime, thank you for standing strong for your communities. For hundreds of thousands of Californians this week, their homes and businesses were dark, but the lights were on — as always — at their local hospital.