For many Northern California businesses, the probability of an extended PG&E outage has increased since early 2019.
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.
If the power goes out early in the work day, a California business is required to pay non-exempt employees for the entire day.
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.
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 a PSPS
The California Public Utilities Commission created a fire threat map that shows the areas in California that are at 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 vegetation. However, if your business is in a Tier 2 or Tier 3 Fire Threat Area, you could be subject to extended PSPS power outages.
There is a PG&E page that forecasts future outages, as can be seen on this snapshot from September 7, 2020:
If your business is in an area that could be affected by Public Safety Power Shutoffs, you can sign up for business outage alerts directly from PG&E. Signing up for alerts will allow you to monitor the status and severity of any outages your business experiences.
How To Protect Your Business From An Extended PG&E (or SMUD) Outage
The best way to protect your business from an extended PG&E or SMUD power outage is to have multiple systems in 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 of 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.
With the unusual thunderstorm activity in the summer of 2020, surge protectors have become even more important.
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 fire hazards themselves and can’t be placed on balconies or in similar areas.
For employees who are now working from home, this is an option worth considering.
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.
Solar Panels & Batteries
If you own your building, there has never been a better time to install a solar system.
Between the federal Income Tax Credit (ITC) and California incentives, the payback timeline on a solar investment has decreased.
There are other benefits to installing business solar in California.
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 Workspace 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 homegrown 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. With sufficient bandwidth, they will have the same level of telephone service at the new location.
There’s usually advance notice before a PSPS. Other times, a power shutoff can happen with no notice. Either way, the best way to protect your business is to have one or more systems in place to get your business through an extended power outage.