Hurricane Lessons Relevant to Us in California

By Tim Fitzpatrick

As I write this, more than 80 major wildfires are burning across the Western United States. The third major hurricane in as many weeks just hit Puerto Rico. And legions of mutual-aid responders — including PG&E crews from California — are braving sweltering heat and the occasional alligator as they restore the electric grid in a storm-ravaged Florida.

It feels like the plot of a Hollywood disaster movie. Yet scientists warn that scenes like these are likely to be repeated as climate change intensifies the power of extreme events and the threats they pose.

Preparing for that future will take planning. Critical infrastructure companies such as PG&E are already working to evaluate the risks and strengthen our systems against severe storms and heat waves, as well as sea level rise and land subsidence.

But that’s just part of the answer. Success will also require deep engagement at the community level. Some cities and counties already have sophisticated efforts underway. But others are just getting started or face budget constraints.

That’s where PG&E can help. We just awarded $200,000 in shareholder-funded grants for two projects that will address wildfire risks by improving the health of forest lands and watersheds in some of California’s most vulnerable regions.

The winners were chosen from among 37 applications through a competitive process, which included reviews by an advisory panel of community and sustainability leaders. We assessed how well each project would produce solutions that others can learn from and adopt – with a particular focus on disadvantaged areas where exposure is high but resources often are lacking.

The first project, proposed by the University of California, Merced, will speed up forest restoration in Calaveras County by focusing on lands that are a high priority for drought resiliency and wildfire risk reduction, while also improving forest health.

The second will allow the Karuk Tribe in Humboldt County to develop a plan for prescribed forest-management burns, working with the U.S. Forest Service and others.

And we’re not stopping there. In the coming years, PG&E’s Better Together Resilient Communities Grant Program will award an additional $800,000 — or $1 million in total — to help communities better prepare for, withstand and recover from extreme events and other risks related to climate change.

We see the program as a natural extension of PG&E’s commitment to support the economic vitality of the communities we serve — and our pursuit of a lower-carbon future.

As the events we’re witnessing from coast to coast make all too clear, Mother Nature isn’t waiting around while we figure things out. We may not be out of time, but we also don’t have any to waste.


Tim Fitzpatrick is PG&E’s vice president of corporate relations and chief communications officer. Follow Tim on Twitter @PGE_Tim.

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