Although losing power is an inconvenience for many, it can have greater consequences for those who depend on electricity for medical reasons, according to PG&E spokesperson Jeff Smith.
Months before the recent outage, the company began taking measures to minimize the impact of power loss in hospitals, critical care facilities and for medical baseline customers, who have special energy needs due to medical conditions.
PG&E also individually notifies its medical baseline customers before planned power outages, according to Smith. He added that the company contacts customers through their “preferred method of contact” and sometimes sends company employees to customers’ houses if they cannot get in touch any other way.
“We were in regular contact with hospitals, for example, and other organizations like that, making sure that they were aware that public safety power shut offs were going to be a possibility during fire season, so that they could make the necessary preparations and accommodations in advance of that,” Smith said.
In a statement released Tuesday, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín encouraged those who rely on electrically powered medical equipment to plan their evacuation.
A tweet posted Tuesday by the city of Berkeley urged those with medical needs for electricity living in areas affected by the power outages to use their “own resources to relocate to an unaffected area.” The next day, the account tweeted that the city formed a task force to work with organizations to assist community members with accessibility and other medical needs.
When mapping out the areas where power will be shut off, PG&E takes into consideration the needs of hospitals and other establishments in which losing electricity could have negative impacts on health, according to Smith, who acknowledged that some people need electricity for critical purposes.
“In some cases, it’s an inconvenience to lose power,” Smith said. “In some cases, it’s a situation where it really impacts people’s business and in other situations, it’s life changing in terms of there are customers that rely on electricity to power their devices for medical needs or to keep their medicines refrigerated.”
Sometimes, however, the company cannot avoid shutting off power to these facilities because of their location in relation to electrical circuits, according to Smith.
According to Sutter Health spokesperson Monique Binkley Smith, all Sutter hospitals and most care centers affected by the outages currently have power. She added that patients should contact their care teams directly with any questions they might have.
“For us, it’s a very challenging choice where there are risks on both sides,” Jeff Smith said. “We understand that there are very difficult choices and appreciate our customers’ patience and understand their frustration.”