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How the recent PG&E power outage affects Northern California’s health

This week the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) decided that due to “extreme winds” they would shut power and water off for anywhere from 3 to 5 days, affecting potentially 800,000 people. The company communicated this shutoff would help prevent another wildfire from spreading. While this is a major inconvenience for some, it can be life-threatening for others.

Electricity is something people have relied on since the early 20th century. Having something so regularly used for daily life stripped away with little to no notice is sure to cause numerous issues. Physically disabled people in electric wheelchairs will be unable to charge them. Power is also utilized for special electronic mattresses to prevent pressure wounds. Without electricity, they will be unable to be mobile as well as unable to sleep safely.

Some people require medical treatments that run on electricity to keep them alive and well; others have refrigerated medication they depend on. Pharmacies and ATMs will be shut down, leaving people unable to get their medications. In fact, over 11,000 people who are registered on the medical support baseline will also be affected, meaning people will suffer and people will die.

There have been several delays as to when the power will be shut off, causing uncertainty, as well as their website being shut down due to heavy website traffic. Mills was originally alerted by PG&E that the college would be out of power, but it kept being delayed and ended up never happening. Because of the notification of the outage, professors were told to stay home and classes were canceled.

The company states to have plans in order to help those who need assistance, but they can not reach everyone nor give some of the affected the extra care they may need. PG&E is also uncertain as to when the power will be restored in every county, but has been restored in many areas as of this last Friday. With out a clear answer as to exactly how long certain counties will have their power restored, people have had a difficult time with emergency preparations,

This outage will negatively affect the environment as well, due to public transportation delays with buses, because of many closed gas stations, and BART. While BART itself has power backups, everything else electrical in the station is forced to run on gas-powered backup generators. The expected delays of BART will cause many commuters to instead drive carswhich emit gases toxic to the environmentin order to make it on time.

Many hospital and health workers rely on public transport to travel to and from work. Hospitals will already be crowded due to the outage, and understaffed due to unexpected delays. Several stop lights will also be affected by the power outage, causing a higher rate of accidents, which in turn will cause injuries, death and heavy traffic. Difficulties arriving at the hospital aside, many people cannot afford a sudden stay there and are without health insurance. A reliable backup plan can be hard to work out on such short notice, as well as possibly being too costly.

Food will go to waste due to the lack of refrigeration, and many stores and restaurants will lose much of their inventory. However, the public will be provided with free WiFi, fresh water, and restrooms provided by many community centers in counties such as Oakland, Alameda, El Dorado and more, including some provided by PG&E.

Much of this could have been easily avoided had PG&E been better prepared, given customers more notice, or started their power line repairs much sooner rather than waiting until it is urgent. Many people could have taken additional emergency precautions had they gotten an earlier warning. The way PG&E is handling this only adds to the many problems customers have had with the company.

“What’s happened is unacceptable,” Governor Gavin Newson said in an article for the LA Times. “And it’s happened because of neglect. It’s happened because of decisions that were deferred, delayed or not made by the largest investor-owned utility in the state of California and one of the largest in the nation.”

PG&E has admitted to being more unprepared than ideal for this situation. Californians affected by the outage rely heavily on PG&E for power and efficiency, and this outage goes to show just how dependent their customers are.