Updated: October 8, 2019
For many Northern California businesses, the probability of an extended PG&E outage has increased in the past year.
This is because PG&E implemented a program called Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) in order to be more proactive about the company’s part in wildfire prevention.
Different from an unplanned PG&E power outage that happens as a result of an unexpected event, the purpose of PSPS is to trigger a PG&E outage as a preemptive measure. The goal is to prevent PG&E infrastructure components from starting or exacerbating a wildfire when weather conditions pose a high fire danger.
While PSPS is well-intentioned, one of the consequences is that your business may suddenly be left without power for an extended period of time—possibly more than a week.
Why so long?
PG&E outages triggered by the PSPS program will last until PG&E and/or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) believes the area is no longer at high risk for a wildfire. In addition, PG&E has stated that full restoration of power requires visual inspection of all transmission and distribution lines throughout the affected areas.
If your business is located in an area of Northern California that is rated as high risk for wildfires, this means you are more likely to be affected by a preventative PG&E outage.
In October of 2019, the CEO of PG&E said that planned outages could last for the next decade.
Below we’ll look at exactly which parts of Northern California are most likely to be affected by PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs, what other types of events may result in your business losing power and what you can do to protect your business in both the short and long term from power outages.
Areas Most Likely To Be Affected By PSPS
The California Public Utilities Commission has created a fire threat map that shows the areas in California that are the highest risk for wildfires. These areas are also the most likely to be affected by a preventative PG&E power outage:
Businesses in the Central Valley are less likely to be affected by this particular type of outage due to the relative lack of tall, dry vegatation. However, if your business is in the Tier 2 or Tier 3 Fire Threat Area, you could be subject to extended PSPS power outages.
Update: On October 7, 2019, PG&E issued this press release that said the company “may begin implementing a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) to more than 600,000 customers across portions of nearly 30 northern, central, coastal and Bay Area counties.” On the same date, PG&E published this map of potentially affected areas.
We also found this Google My Map:
How To Protect Your Business From An Extended PG&E Outage
The best way to protect your business from an extended PG&E power outage is to have one or more systems is place that will prevent damage and data loss to your business’s computers and other power-sensitive equipment.
None of the following options are mutually exclusive. You can use any combination of these systems to protect your business from the effects power outages.
Most of us don’t give a second thought to the power strips below our desks that have a half-dozen different pieces of gear plugged into them. Aside from allowing us to plug in multiple devices simultaneously, surge protectors (power strips) serve a more important function.
A power surge occurs when there is an increase in voltage significantly above the designated level in a flow of electricity. Standard home and office wiring in the United States is 120 volts. If the voltage spikes above 120 when power is restored, a surge protector helps prevent damage to your electronics.
If you aren’t using surge protectors in your office, these are a quick and inexpensive first step to prevent equipment damage and data loss from variations in electrical current.
UPS: Uninterruptible Power Supplies
A step up from regular surge protectors, an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) contains a battery that provides short-term power to devices plugged into it.
In the event of a PG&E outage, a UPS allows for an orderly shutdown of servers and desktop computers. A sudden computer shutdown can sometimes result in data corruption. UPS systems also have built-in surge protection. They are available in a wide range of configurations and price points.
Generators are a longer term solution when there is an extended power outage. Businesses in more remote locations especially may find a generator to be a worthwhile investment.
A generator is like a car’s engine and alternator, minus the rest of the car.
Many portable generators use either gasoline or propane as inputs. The output is standard 120 volt power. A portable generator generally needs to be sited outside, on the ground. That means these are only practical if your business is on a lower or ground level of a building. Certain types of generators can be a fire hazard themselves and can’t be placed on balconies or in similar areas.
Stationary generators (permanently installed) that are powered by natural gas or propane normally have higher capacity than portable generators. These are a lot more expensive than portable generators and are subject to city or county permits in most jurisdictions.
Cloud Backup And Recovery of Applications and Files
Cloud backup and recovery is becoming a popular option for businesses at risk of extended power outages.
Cloud-based applications such as Google’s G Suite are accessible by users from anywhere in the event a business’s location is without power.
But what about in-house applications such as QuickBooks Enterprise, Lacerte, or a home grown application that’s running on a server inside your office?
Enterprise-grade, cloud-based file sync and share (FSS) services from companies like Datto can give users access to files and applications from anywhere, on any device. In the event of an extended power outage at a business, employees can work from home on cloud-replicated instances of their company’s server-based applications.
What About Your Business Phone System?
If an extended PG&E power outage hits a business with an on-premises phone system, the best that can be done is a lot of *72 call forwarding of direct dial phone numbers to mobile and home phones.
With a cloud-based phone platform, the main phone system remains operational even if your office is without power. Employees can plug in their “take it anywhere” VoIP phone at any location that has both power and internet. They will have the exact same level of telephone service at the new location.
Other Potential Causes Of Power Outages
Aside from the threat of wildfires, there are other common reasons your business may experience a power outage. These include:
- Storms: Wind, heat, ice and snow are the most common causes of widespread power outages.
- Trees: During high winds, or trimming by an untrained professional, limbs can come into contact with power lines and cause interruptions.
- Vehicles: A vehicle collision with a utility pole can cause a power outage.
- Earthquakes: Quakes of all sizes can damage electrical facilities and power lines.
- Animals: Although there are barriers between wildlife and electricity equipment, squirrels, snakes and other small animals may still cause a short circuit.
- Lightning: When lightning strikes electrical equipment, transmission towers, wires and poles, outages can occur.
- Ground Excavation: Sometimes, underground cables are disturbed by digging. This may be either residential or commercial projects.
- High Power Demand: During heat waves and other times of unusually high power demand, overburdened electric cables, transformers, and other electrical equipment can melt and fail.
None of these events is predictable. Any one of them may cause power loss for either a brief or an extended period of time. The best way to protect your business is to have one or more systems in place to deal with extended power outages.