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California Uses Emergency Alert for Electrical Emergency

It will become more common in the future.

Issuing warnings can be a risky and tricky business. There are simple ones — tornadoes, for example. Everyone wants to be warned when a tornado is approaching.

What about a recurring heat emergency like the one in California and the West in general? The commercial news agencies are certainly calling attention to the heat emergency and giving people advice on what to do to take care of themselves especially when it comes to the dangerous outdoor temperatures that are life threatening.

Should an emergency alert system be used for that type of emergency? It is life threatening, it is immediate. What is the difference between that and a tornado? Won’t the TV and radio stations cover those events too?

Which brings me to the use of emergency alert messages to Californians about the need to conserve electricity. That message was sent out in the early evening hours of Sept. 6. The immediate impact was that electrical usage did drop as people heeded the warning and saved themselves from a possible blackout and no electricity at all for segments of the population.

The California Office of Emergency Services (OES) sent out this message: “Conserve energy now to protect public health and safety. Extreme heat is straining the state energy grid. Power interruptions may occur unless you take action. Turn off or reduce nonessential power if health allows, now until 9 p.m.”

I believe this was the first time the system was used for this purpose. Will it be used again in the coming days as the heat emergency continues? How often should a message like this be sent? Might people start ignoring the message?

California did have a record day of electricity usage. Catastrophe was avoided — for a day/evening.

As I wrote about earlier this week, as we plug in more electric cars, will the production, transmission and distribution of electrical power be able to keep up with the demand as temperatures and days of extreme heat continue?

One of the things I know is that systems that are “stressed” do not necessarily return to their former capabilities as they existed before an emergency.

The long-term forecast for the West is, “Scotty, we need more power!” as Captain Kirk would have said in Star Trek.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.