PG&E EXPANDS CUSTOMER SUPPORT TO RUSSIAN COMMUNITY ON WILDFIRE PREPAREDNESS

PG&E

Vitaly Tyurin, Senior Manager, PG&E

RAM: Can you please introduce yourself?

Vitaly: My name is Vitaly. I have been working for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for more than 15 years. I live in San Francisco and I’m currently the senior manager leading the utility’s Customer Resiliency Team. The objective of our team is to reduce adverse impacts and to help prepare our customers with medical and independent living needs for Public Safety Power Shutoffs.

I was born in Moscow and moved to California in mid-90s to live with my parents in Monterey who were professors at the local university there. After finishing high school, I went to University of California – Berkeley (UCB) to study business and received another degree on political economics from UCB.

Russian is my native tongue and I still talk to my parents in Russian. Compared to other commonly spoken languages in California, Russian might not be as widely used; however, I appreciate every opportunity to use my language skills, and I’m always excited to offer help and assist our Russian-speaking customers.

RAM: Since 2018, PG&E has turned off power due to the wildfires taking place in Northern California which impacted millions of people. Can you please tell us more about it?

Vitaly: At PG&E, public safety is our most important responsibility. Therefore, it may be necessary for us to turn off electricity when gusty winds and dry conditions, combined with a heightened fire risk, are forecasted. This is called a “Public Safety Power Shutoff” or “PSPS.”

While customers in high fire-threat areas are more likely to be affected, any of PG&E’s more than five million electric customers could have their power shut off. This is because the energy system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions.

I wanted to emphasize the purpose of PSPS is to reduce wildfire risks and keep our customers and the communities we serve safe. This year PG&E has improved our PSPS program by making events smaller in size, shorter in length and smarter for our customers.

    • Smaller in size: We are upgrading our electric system to prevent wildfires and reduce the size of PSPS events by one-third compared to 2019.
    • Shorter in length: We are seeking to cut restoration times in half compared to 2019 so that we restore power within 12 daylight hours after severe weather has passed.
    • Smarter for customers: We are refining our weather models and providing better information and resources to customers and communities.

 RAM: How will PG&E determine the need to turn off power for safety?

Vitaly: No single factor drives a Public Safety Power Shutoff, as each situation is unique. PG&E carefully reviews a combination of many criteria when determining if power should be turned off for safety. These factors generally include, but are not limited to:

  • A Red Flag Warning declared by the National Weather Service
  • Low humidity levels, generally 20 percent and below
  • Forecasted sustained winds generally above 25 mph and wind gusts in excess of approximately 45 mph, depending on location and site-specific conditions such as temperature, terrain and local climate
  • Condition of dry fuel on the ground and live vegetation (moisture content)
  • On-the-ground, real-time observations from PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Operations Center and field crews

Importantly, while we monitor and take into consideration Red Flag Warnings issued from the National Weather Service, the issuance of a Red Flag Warning does not automatically trigger a Public Safety Power Shutoff.

RAM: Why would power be shut off in a community not experiencing high winds?

Vitaly: Predictions of strong winds are one of several criteria that we consider when deciding to initiate a Public Safety Power Shutoff, along with other factors like predictions of very low humidity levels combined with critically dry vegetation and on-the-ground observations.

Although you may not live or work in a high fire-threat area, or an area experiencing high winds, your power may be shut off if your community relies upon a line that runs through an area experiencing gusty winds and dry conditions, combined with a heightened fire risk.

RAM: How often will these Public Safety Power Shutoffs occur?

Vitaly: This year, we called five PSPS events, and with each of them, we leveraged improvements we made to our electric system to reduce the size of these events significantly, compared to 2019.

While customers in high fire-threat areas are more likely to be affected, any customer could have their power shut off if their community relies upon a line that passes through a high fire-threat area. We want all of our customers to be prepared for this possibility no matter where they live or work.

RAM: How will I know if I’m going to be impacted?

Vitaly: We want all of our customers to be prepared for possible public safety power outages. Please use these tips and tools:

  • Check the PSPS event page. We will post updates regularly about a particular PSPS event. This webpage is available in Russian.
  • Use our PSPS planning tools. When PG&E announces that a PSPS may or will occur, you can find out in advance if your address will be affected by visiting the address look up tool.
  • Update your contact information. When possible, we send alerts to PG&E customers in advance of and during a PSPS. You can update your contact information by calling us or log in to your online PG&E account.
  • Contact your landlord or property manager. If your landlord or property manager is the PG&E account holder for your address, they will receive notifications on your behalf. We encourage you to contact them to confirm they know how to reach you. Or, sign up to receive PSPS Address Alerts for non-account holders directly from PG&E.
  • Follow your local news and social media. We post PSPS updates on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Your local news outlet will also report the latest PSPS information.

RAM: Will my power be shut off if I have special medical needs?

Vitaly: If we need to turn off an electric line for safety, all customers who receive power from that line will be affected. Emergency facilities such as hospitals and fire and police stations typically use generators to remain open.

A Public Safety Power Shutoff could last for several days. If you have special needs that require electricity, we ask that you have an emergency plan in place. Be ready to act if you are notified by PG&E that a shutoff is imminent. Keep emergency phone numbers handy and plan for a backup location you can relocate to, if necessary. Check with local authorities regarding available resources.

If you are a Medical Baseline customer, please know that we will make every effort to notify you of a shutoff before it occurs:

  • Outreach will be done through automated calls, texts and emails.
  • If we don’t speak to you or a family member directly, or receive confirmation of the email or text we send, we will follow up with a phone call.
  • If a phone call is not successful, we will attempt to notify you in person at your address.

In addition, we are partnering with community-based organizations (CBO) to assist customers with medical needs before, during and after PSPS events.

I’m particularly thrilled to see that PG&E have improved the emergency information on our website, and also available in 15 different languages including Russian. Now, when you go to pge.com during an emergency, information is easier to find, more accessible and user-friendly. We believe that all customers deserve to have access to the information they need in the language of their choice.

RAM: How does your Customer Resiliency team work to support PG&E customers?

Vitaly: Following PG&E’s Smaller, Shorter, Smarter approach to PSPS this year, the company created the Customer Resiliency team in March. The objective of our Customer Resiliency Team is to help reduce adverse impacts to customers with medical and independent living needs, including low-income customers, from PSPS. Additionally, we are focused on supporting non-residential critical facilities (e.g.  food banks and Independent Living Centers) in High Fire Threat Districts (HFTD).

For example, this year PG&E has expanded support for customers who depend on power for medical equipment and independent living needs to be better prepared for PSPS events. PG&E’s new Portable Battery Program was launched in August.  This program provides emergency preparedness outreach, energy assessments and backup portable batteries for income-qualified customers enrolled in PG&E’s Medical Baseline program and living in high fire-threat districts (HFTD).

PG&E has partnered with Richard Heath & Associates (RHA), a third-party program implementation firm, and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) providers to conduct outreach and assessments to targeted PG&E customers.  If the customer meets eligibility requirements (low income, relies on medical equipment, lives in Tier 2 or 3 HFTD) and is interested in participating, the program partners will deliver a portable battery that is appropriately sized to meet the customer’s medical equipment needs.  If the customer does not meet the minimum eligibility, RHA or the LIHEAP provider will assist the customer in developing an emergency preparedness plan and refer them to other complementary programs like the Disability Disaster Access and Resources (DDAR) program implemented by the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC).

As of November 11, more than 7,200 energy assessments have been completed and more than 2,800 batteries have been delivered to customers.

RAM: How do I get the notifications in my language?

Vitaly:  We will provide alerts to customers in advance of a PSPS. Our goal, dependent on weather, is to send customer alerts two days ahead, one day ahead and just prior to shutting off power through automated calls, texts and emails.

Customers will also be notified when their power has been restored. This year, we are updating our customer alerts to provide more detail earlier – including a window of estimated time of shutoff and restoration – about what to expect during PSPS events. We will also provide updates on pge.com/pspsupdates and through social media channels, local news and radio outlets.

To make sure you receive alerts regarding potential safety outages in your community, update the contact information PG&E has on file.

You can call our toll-free number at 1-800-743-5000 or visit our website www.pge.com if you have an online account to update your contact information and language preference. You can request an over the phone interpretation service in Russian.

RAM: What happen if I miss your phone call, email or text message, how will I know if I’m going to be impacted?

Vitaly: During a PSPS, we will have additional wildfire preparedness tools available online. If you visit www.pge.com/pspsupdates, go to the language menu option on the upper right hand corner and select Russian. The webpage will be translated into Russian where you can find an address look up tool. You can simply input your address (in English) to see if you will be impacted.

RAM: Where can I find more PSPS information in Russian?

Vitaly: You can visit www.pge.com/psps and select the tab for Russian. You can also call our 24/7 customer service line at 1-800-743-5000 and request an interpreter over the phone.

You can also visit our dedicated website at pge.com/wildfiresafety for more information on our wildfire safety efforts and tips to help prepare for extreme weather and possible power outages.

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Olga Garicichina

Russian Time Magazine Assistant Editor Editor@RussianAmericanMedia.com

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