PG&E is planning to shut down electricity to the Sonoma Valley to prevent wildfires in the event of a major wind event that might knock down high-tension power lines. Their advisory says the electricity might be off for as many as four days to a week as they visually inspect every line for safety before they turn the electricity back on.
Consider what a week of no electricity will mean: no cell phone service, no internet, no working gasoline pumps, no credit card transactions, no proper refrigeration, no banking or ATM availability, limited water, and no lights; it means complete chaos. Yet, despite the advance notice and likely prospect of at least one such period, a comprehensive, governmental public-safety emergency plan, if it exists, remains a quiet secret. Rather than vigorously informing the public about the harsh reality of an electricity cut-off and what, if any, services will be available and provided, there is a deafening silence. We are facing an unprecedented and highly dangerous situation, and yet nobody seems terribly worried.
By this point in time, every citizen of Sonoma Valley and the City of Sonoma should know exactly what they can expect if the electricity is cut. Will the hospital be in operation and to what extent? Will law enforcement have an alternative communications network in place, and what will it be? Are plans in place for the distribution of water, food, and medical supplies, and if so, what are they? Schools will be closed, and businesses too, but how will information about any of this be conveyed to the public?
There are so many unanswered questions, but is that because there are no plans in place or is it because nobody knows what the plans are? Neither reason is acceptable and telling people to prepare because “you’ll be on your own” is no solution at all. What of the elderly who are too infirm to travel? How will prescriptions be filled for those with life-threatening medical conditions?
These and all the other issues that a loss of electricity creates should have long ago been examined, and the potential solutions and options communicated to the public, but only now, at their meeting of September 4th, is the City Council being asked to commit up to $81,000 for emergency preparedness like a cooling tent, electrical generators, and improved radio communications.
It is essential that a thoughtful and complete operational plan be in place well before chaos hits, and it’s government’s responsibility to create it and insure that people know what it is. Given the cut-off warning and its high likelihood of happening, an emergency plan should be government’s absolute #1 priority. If government does too little too late, chaos will turn to disaster; people will needlessly suffer, and some will die. There is simply no excuse for not turning the full attention of government to this matter; it’s more important than traffic, housing development, tourism, or any other business as usual.
Before long we will be in the midst of the dryness of September and October when gusty winds can create fast-moving firestorms. PG&E has decided on its strategy to avoid firestorms, but in its own way cutting off the electricity might be just as traumatic. The time for County and City government to take this threat seriously with proper planning is right now, without delay; any other response is irresponsible, dangerous and inexcusable.
— The Sun Editorial Board