By Lynsey Paulo
PLEASANTON – PG&E is testing its emergency response to a simulated major earthquake in the Bay Area. Hundreds of employees are participating in the two-day drill.
The utility routinely practices its response to catastrophic events throughout its service area.
PG&E carves out areas within the disaster zone, and sets up base camps. For this exercise, about 120 employees are staffing the base camp at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. In a real life disaster, there could be as many as five base camps.
“It’s part of our restoration strategy,” says Barry Anderson, PG&E’s vice president of emergency preparedness and response. “If you think about it, it’s divide and conquer. With all the damage we have we can’t effectively restore or secure the system with our normal operating sites.”
Here in Pleasanton, PG&E tests its ability to assess damage, prioritize power restoration, and respond to electric and gas emergencies.
As part of the drill, PG&E invites state and local first responders to evaluate its response, and help make any improvements.
“This is the third time I’ve had the opportunity to come out and watch PG&E in action,” says Matt Streck, a captain with Cal Fire and a drill evaluator. “Every time, they’re getting better. It’s great to be around people who have customer service as their base corporate culture.”
The event also allows PG&E to test its processes and procedures, and new technology.
The damage assessment team is trying out iPhone technology to relay information from the field, to create work orders for repairs, making it faster and more accurate that paper reporting.
And PG&E’s IT team built a mobile 85-foot communications tower to help increase IT bandwidth.
“We have enough bandwidth here for over 200 users,” Anderson says. “We’re printing maps, free flowing and the IT systems are up. That’s a big game changer.”
All of this is an effort to keep the public and customers safe during a disaster, and get the power back on safely and as quickly as possible after a disaster strikes. Lessons learned are incorporated into PG&E’s emergency management plan.