Health & Spirit

How PG&E's historic blackouts will put California's medical emergency planning to the test

Cathie Anderson, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Health & Fitness

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Health care providers and officials around Northern California said that PG&E's electrical grid shutdown, expected to trigger blackouts in 34 of 58 counties on Wednesday, will test on a grand scale whether residents and medical care facilities have done enough to planning for medical emergencies.

"Placer County is expected to be impacted by the public safety power shutoff event," said Michael Romero, a program manager with that county's Health & Human Services Department. "More than 50,000 meters, which could be up to 150,000 residents, could be impacted. Obviously, we're very concerned with the impact."

Romero urged residents to formulate a plan for to ensure their health needs would be met. That ranges from keeping food and water on hand to ensuring ensuring you know how to manually open your garage to ordering an additional oxygen tank for a loved one who's dependent on the equipment, he said.

"Often, the plan is friends and family who aren't in the impacted area," Romero said. "Your best support system is the support system you have on a regular basis – friends and family. We encourage people to have that plan – that friend or family member – outside the impacted area that you might have to stay with a few days."

Health care providers all around the state have been preparing for the worst-case warnings, that they and local residents may have to go without power for a week.

Early Tuesday morning in Lake County, Ruth Lincoln said that she was feeling as though her staff and clients at Hospice Services of Lake County had gotten some pretty good news. That's when she got her first look at a map showing local addresses that fell within the blackout zone. While a number of clients would be affected, Lincoln said, the hospice's central hub wasn't and would still be able to serve as a backstop.


Then came the afternoon update, she said, and it was a game changer. The hospice's hub now was in the blackout area, Lincoln said, and she had to schedule a call to regroup with the organization's health care partners.

Fortunately, she said, the hospice staff had done work over the last few months to help clients and their families update or develop emergency plans for their households. They spent Tuesday ensuring that clients knew whether their homes were within the anticipated blackout zone, triple-checking that they had the medication, equipment and alternate power sources they needed.

"It's going to be a real test of our emergency operations plan because we are spread through the county, providing services from east to west and north to south all around the perimeter of Clear Lake," Lincoln said.

Rene Hamlin, the development director at El Dorado County's Snowline Hospice, said that besides developing emergency plans for clients, hospices also must ensure they know which staff and volunteers will be available to continue offering services because their homes are usually within the same affected area as their clients.


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