California Regulators Approve Preventative Power Outages to Reduce Wildfire Risk

May 31, 2019

By Erik Linask - Group Editorial Director

Every year, Californians face a major threat from wildfires that threaten out natural landscapes and resources, homes and businesses, wildlife, and human life at risk.  What’s worse is they can happen at nearly any time of year.  Last year, which ended up being the most devastating wildfire season in U.S. history, wildfires broke out from February to November.  In total, the fires burned more than 1.6 million acres, caused more than 100 fatalities, and destroyed more than 17,000 residences and more than 700 commercial buildings, according to the Wildland Fire Summary report.

Hoping to prevent a repeat of 2018, state regulators are allowing utilities to cut power to customers to avoid power lines sparking wildfires.  In addition to saving lives and property, the move may save billions utilities and insurers.  Claims from the deadly November 2018 wildfires alone eclipsed $11 billion.

While utilities say they expect to only cut power in situations where extreme fire danger presents but, in reality, such a move could impact hundreds of thousands of customers.  Such precautionary outages could last several days, depending on specific weather conditions, and it’s not quite as simple as simply flipping the switch back on.  Once power has been cut, utilities must inspect the de-energized lines before restoring power.

What does this mean for businesses? 

First, they need to have contingency plans in place, including using cloud-based business applications that will allow employees to work from anywhere.  Any internal resources should also be in hosted redundant data centers that will ensure access when offices face power outages.  It’s hard for many businesses to overcome a day’s worth of lost revenue, let alone many days.

Business leaders should also be aware that even if they are using cloud-based solutions that allow them to remain functional, their on-premises technology is still at risk from power surges and spikes.  Power protection systems are designed to prevent power fluctuations from damaging equipment by regulating line voltage before it enters the systems.  That way, regardless of what happens with the power lines, business investments in technology will be safe from damage. 

While the measures approved by state authorities may not prevent all wildfires, they could have a significant positive impact, given that many of California’s recent major wildfires have been blamed on utility equipment.

Edited by Erik Linask