Storm and Outages Demonstrate Need for Greater Emergency Preparedness

At one point large sections of the City of Davis remained without power for close to two days. For those of us who are able-bodied and have relative means, it meant the inconvenience of going to a friend’s house or a hotel room to wait until the power came back on. For those who are not so lucky, because they lack the financial resources, or are elderly it could very well have meant something very, very serious.

One of the biggest problems, as we sat in the lobby of a local hotel, was that there was an utter lack of information being disseminated. PG&E had a generic message that you could reach after about 10 minutes of shuffling through their switch board, but few updates and new information.

The City of Davis had, up until yesterday evening, virtually no information available. The city webpage had no content on it about the emergency. In fact, if you clicked on emergency information, it said that the city of Davis had no emergencies at this time. Let me tell you, that caused quite a chuckle from nervous and tired “refugees.” Channel 16 (the City of Davis Government Channel) had no information either.

Finally, late last night, after checking multiple times, the city webpage had a link to clink on for emergency information. And even that, did not provide a lot of information.

Channel Sixteen finally began broadcasting emergency information sometime late on Saturday. At midday we looked and there was no such information available. The message that played last night only provided generic information which had been recorded at 7:30 pm. This information was still playing at nearly 10 pm last night, which meant that it was information that was two and a half hours old and needed to be updated.

Getting shelter information to the elderly and disabled needed to be a top priority and that could not have occurred by TV or internet and had to occur via word of mouth.

The two best sources for information were on the Davis Wiki and the Davis Enterprise Websites. (Again you had to be mobile enough to get to a place with power for that to be helpful).

Even then there was not a lot of information. That is by no means a criticism of either the Wiki or the Enterprise. They did the best they could. The information was just not available and that falls squarely on the city of Davis and PG&E.

As the Enterprise wrote:

“At 3 p.m. Saturday, PG&E spokesman Keely Wachs from San Francisco said nearly 10,000 people in Davis were still without power as a result of Friday’s severe storm.

Several people complained that PG&E was not updating phone or Web page information about outages.

‘We’re swamped but that’s not an excuse,’ said Wachs on Saturday. ‘I’ll call our customer care team and see what they can do.'”

In fact it was completely inadequate.

As Supervisor Matt Rexroad pointed out on his blog, SMUD had their power on much faster and provided far better information for their customers.

This prompted him to remark:

“Personally, I would have liked the 30% rate reduction and the more complete information.”

As one of our officials pointed out to me on the phone as I was driving around town yesterday to get a sense of the situation, we knew this storm was coming and we knew it would be bad.

Shelters were up last night, I’m not sure that they were up on Friday night. That’s not acceptable. We knew that given the early predictions many would be without power Friday night.

The information infrastructure was slow. They did not utilize Channel 16 or the Internet until it was too late.

The final and most concerning point, is that the most vulnerable people would not have had access to either the internet or a TV, so how was information to get to them?

I was told by a reliable source that there were no plans to go door to door in Davis. However, we did hear the city of Woodland was doing exactly that–going door to door.

We need to get this right for the next emergency that is likely to be far more dangerous and life-threatening than this one was.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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208 comments

  1. Did anyone check the public safety AM radio station? I would think that a more reliable source of Davis info than the web. My residence never lost power, but my local ISP was offline for a majority of the past 2 days.

  2. Did anyone check the public safety AM radio station? I would think that a more reliable source of Davis info than the web. My residence never lost power, but my local ISP was offline for a majority of the past 2 days.

  3. Did anyone check the public safety AM radio station? I would think that a more reliable source of Davis info than the web. My residence never lost power, but my local ISP was offline for a majority of the past 2 days.

  4. Did anyone check the public safety AM radio station? I would think that a more reliable source of Davis info than the web. My residence never lost power, but my local ISP was offline for a majority of the past 2 days.

  5. I totally lost power, so our car radio was our only source of information. AM 1300 was rather useless – it simply told us the weather, and had no updates on the electrical situation.

  6. I totally lost power, so our car radio was our only source of information. AM 1300 was rather useless – it simply told us the weather, and had no updates on the electrical situation.

  7. I totally lost power, so our car radio was our only source of information. AM 1300 was rather useless – it simply told us the weather, and had no updates on the electrical situation.

  8. I totally lost power, so our car radio was our only source of information. AM 1300 was rather useless – it simply told us the weather, and had no updates on the electrical situation.

  9. Is the power back on throughout the entire city, or are there still areas without power? I also cannot find any information regarding the public schools. Will they be up and running for Monday? The lack of accesible and current information is very frustrating.

  10. Is the power back on throughout the entire city, or are there still areas without power? I also cannot find any information regarding the public schools. Will they be up and running for Monday? The lack of accesible and current information is very frustrating.

  11. Is the power back on throughout the entire city, or are there still areas without power? I also cannot find any information regarding the public schools. Will they be up and running for Monday? The lack of accesible and current information is very frustrating.

  12. Is the power back on throughout the entire city, or are there still areas without power? I also cannot find any information regarding the public schools. Will they be up and running for Monday? The lack of accesible and current information is very frustrating.

  13. Why not try again to drop PG&E and join SMUD? Perhaps this time, current SMUD members could be offered a real inducement to approve this idea such as a short-term rate reduction funded by a separate funding bond paid for by the new members? This could cut into our 30% rate reduction for a time but would be worth it in the long-run.