WILDFIRE PREP FOR WATER PROVIDERS: Increased Resilience in the face of Wildfires and Public Safety Power Shut-Off

This announcement was sent to public water providers from the State Water Resources Control Board:

With the welcomed increased precipitation in the recent months that helped develop the snowpack and fill our reservoirs, we have abundant growth in vegetation (e.g., the wildflower super blooms).  As the summer sets in, this vegetation dries up and leads to abundant dried fuels for wildfires.  With the new normal of high winds and low humidity the risk of conflagrations increases.  The recent week saw the increased wildfire risk, wildfires, and the implementation of the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS).

To reduce the risk of initiating such conflagrations, the power utilities are implementing their PSPS program.  The PSPS involves preemptively shutting off the power in lines located in identified High Fire Threat Districts (HFTD).  Different variables and conditions factor into the decision on implementing the PSPS – including relative humidity, climate, wind velocity, ambient temperature, and location.  A series of advanced alerts and warnings is part of the PSPS.  Once the high threat conditions have passed, re-energization of the affected lines will take some time as the power utilities need to visually inspect their facilities to assure safety.  PSPS may involve a power outage for a long duration and a wide expanse.  Because the use of electrical power is ubiquitous in our communities, such a power outage may have wide cascading effects.  Planning and preparedness are very key and so is self-reliance.  Public Water Systems have inquired on how to prepare.  The following and attached are options for consideration in the face of wildfires and PSPS, many of which may have been mentioned by others before.  There are many options listed, but even implementing a few may increase your resilience.

Options for Consideration in the Face of Wildfires and Public Safety Power Shutoff

Update and verify contact information for your partners and stakeholders.  Contact your power utility and connect with your assigned account manager/customer service representative.  Discuss their PSPS processes and how/when you will be alerted before the PSPS is implemented.  Register to be alerted.  Refer to the webpage – https://prepareforpowerdown.com/.  Learn more from your local energy company: 

Southern California Edison (SCE)

  • Visit sce.com/PSPS | Phone: 1-800-655-4555

San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E)

  • Visit sdge.com/wildfire-safety | Phone: 1-800-411-7343

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)

Establish or join mutual assistance/aid networks.  Join the California Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (CalWARN) – www.CalWARN.org.  There is strength and expertise in a network.  Resources can be sought among fellow water sector members and be brought to bear to address the needs.
Review and update the Emergency Response Plan.  Consider including a section or annex on managing a long-term power outage; consider critical customers.  Review and verify emergency communications plan – contact information for critical partners, such as Operational Area Emergency Operations Center (OA EOC), Fire, Law, Public Health, SWRCB DDW District Engineer, Local Primacy Agency contact, many others.  Review the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) processes internal and external.  Consider staff accountability.  Understand how to identify needs and request resources.
Review and prepare notifications and messages to customers, partners, and stakeholders for situations such as precautionary boil water notices due to loss of pressure and compromised system.  The SWRCB DDW has templates for unsafe water alerts posted on its webpage – https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/Notices.html.  Prepare the customer service personnel to receive incoming calls from customers during a PSPS and have ready helpful guidance.
Review the drinking water distribution system.  Consider how or where to move water with no power.  Prioritize facilities.  Locate and exercise valves so that they may be used when called upon.  Locate single points of failure and determine how to mitigate such vulnerabilities.

Prioritize sources, treatment, facilities, resources, and essential functions under the conditions of extended power outage and wildfires.  Establish critical personnel shift schedules so can implement when needed.

Secure or acquire necessary emergency generators for the critical functions.  Consider mobile equipment for increased flexibility.  Plan for fueling and operation for an extended time in case of long power outage.  Consider fuel for both emergency generators and emergency vehicles.
Establish and maintain the 100 feet (or more) defensible space around critical facilitieshttp://calfire.ca.gov/communications/communications_firesafety_100feet and review/verify multiple ingress and ingress pathways.
Stay tuned to the local news for updates.  Keep an eye on the climate.  National Weather Service – https://www.weather.gov/.  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – https://www.noaa.gov/ Consider signing-up for the CA Resiliency notices at www.CAresiliency.org – they have been collecting and compiling good information from multiple sources.
Have an awareness of the High Fire Threat Districts (HFTD)and how wildfires in such areas may affect you and your public water system – https://www.cpuc.ca.gov/firethreatmaps/
Report status to the SWRCB DDW District Engineer and the Local Primacy Agencyhttps://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/programs/
Consider registering for Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) cardshttps://www.dhs.gov/cisa/government-emergency-telecommunications-service-gets.  GETS provides NS/EP personnel priority access and prioritized processing in the local and long-distance segments of the landline networks, greatly increasing the probability of call completion.
Consider using the USEPA guidance – Incident Action Checklist – Wildfirehttps://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/wildfire.pdf.  The actions in this checklist are divided up into three “rip & run” sections and are examples of activities that water and wastewater utilities can take to: prepare for, respond to and recover from wildfires. For on-the-go convenience, you can also populate the “My Contacts” section with critical information that your utility may need during an incident.  Loss of power is considered.
Consider using the Water Utility Response On-The-Go Mobile Application and Website –  https://www.epa.gov/waterutilityresponse/water-utility-response-go-mobile-application-and-website.  Install the Response On-The-Go App on your Apple or Android Mobile Device.  The Water Utility Response On-The-Go App consolidates and makes accessible from the field, information and tools that water utility operators and their response partners may need during an emergency. Downloading Response On-The-Go can help responders and stakeholders increase situational awareness, facilitate coordination, and enhance overall response efforts.
Register with the US Army Corp of Engineers – Emergency Power Facility Assessment Tool (EPFAT) The EPFAT is a secure web-based tool that can be used by critical public facility owners/operators, or emergency response agencies, to input, store, update and/or view temporary emergency power assessment data. Having pre-installation assessment data in advance will expedite USACE’s abilities to provide temporary power.  Factsheet – https://www.usace.army.mil/Portals/2/docs/Emergency%20Ops/National%20Response%20Framework/power/EPFAT_Fact_Sheet_21_April_2015.pdf
Conduct tabletop exercises (TTX) with partners and stakeholders to verify actions to be implemented and determine if there are any gaps that need to be filled.  USEPA has TTX tools to assist public water systems be better prepared – https://www.epa.gov/waterresiliencetraining/develop-and-conduct-water-resilience-tabletop-exercise-water-utilities.
Review, verify, and update applicable policies, plans, and procedures.  Consider if policies need to be developed to guide staff for various situations that may be encountered, e.g., telecommuting, communicating with offices, etc.

It is looking to be the start of a long summer and fall.  But with increased awareness, flexibility, and preparedness we can increase our resilience in the face of all-hazards.




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