Santa Clara County declares local emergency ahead of PG&E power outage, no impact to airport
A resource center with water, snacks and charging stations at the Avaya Stadium will be available to residents amid the PG&E power shutoff. Photo by Katie Lauer.

The first streak of planned power outages swept across California on Wednesday, prompting local leaders to act fast in declaring a state of emergency as both Santa Clara County and San Jose prepare for the looming blackouts — expected to hit tonight.

In a fourth news conference this week, San Jose city officials confirmed that the planned power outage will begin at 8:00 p.m. this evening. The outage will affect East San Jose along the foothills and Almaden Valley in South San Jose. PG&E is enforcing stricter safety precautions ahead of California’s approaching fire season as strong winds, warm temperatures and extremely dry conditions create a dangerous precedent for a catastrophic blaze.

Strong wind patterns are expected to end some time mid-day tomorrow, according to city and county officials, but they told residents to expect another 5 to 7 days of outage for PG&E to “re-energize” power lines.

“We’re hoping that that time will be expedited, but we’re certainly prepared for that 5-day period. In that time, we’ve got the right professional staff here assisting,” said deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management David Flamm in a news conference Wednesday. County officials are urging state leaders to declare a statewide emergency.

County leaders confirmed that 38,250 people will be affected in the county alone, where 1,100 residents are considered “medical-base line” customers, meaning that they need electrically-assisted medical devices to sustain their health. County and fire department officials were dispatched to private medical facilities and contacted medical base-line residents Wednesday.

“The city of San Jose has been in constant communication with PG&E on the power shut off. PG&E has indicated that San Jose residents will lose power at approximately 8:00 p.m. tonight. The winds that make up these dangerous fire conditions are expected to be at their strongest in the area around 5:00 p.m. tonight until Thursday morning,” added Vice Mayor Chappie Jones. “It is important to our community, residents and businesses to continue to prepare now for a power shutoff that may last up to 7 days, depending on how long it takes PG&E to inspect the power lines for damages and re-energize them.”

San Jose officials advised residents to power up their electronic devices and cellphones, have flash lights, batteries and radios with them at all times, fill up gas tanks, avoid driving in the affected areas and stay home as much as possible during the shutoff as traffic delays are expected to congest the affected regions.

San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia told residents Wednesday that police personnel would not be staffing intersections with switched off traffic lights, reminding drivers to approach dark intersections as four-way stops.

“With regard to intersections being staffed by police officers, we don’t have the bandwidth to cover every large intersection,” said Garcia. “We want folks to harken back to their driver’s license test –treat a non-working light as a stop sign. We need to keep officers available to respond to 9-1-1 not only in our affected areas, but in the entire city as well.”

Fire Chief Robert Sapien also advised residents to engage in “common-sense fire safety,” by avoiding the use of power tools, torches and other flammable materials near fuels, cautioned residents on open flames, and to be cautious when using generators.

PG&E announced the blackouts on Monday, in preparation for the strong, gusty winds national weather officials said could cause damage and spark the company’s power lines. City officials held a news conference yesterday, calling for residents to remain safe and refuge to the city’s three community resource centers in Camden, Mayfair and Southside for assistance and information. A resource center will also be available at the Avaya Stadium for the duration of the blackout.

Each center will provide water, light snacks and the ability to charge electronic devices, including base medical devices. No shelter or medical services will be provided onsite. City officials advise residents to call 9-1-1 with any medical or life-threatening emergencies, not for updates.

By Wednesday afternoon, the centers were ready but mostly empty as staff prepared for the night ahead.

Airport safety 

Based upon the most recent information from PG&E, Mineta San José International Airport will not be affected by the outage, according to airport spokesperson Rosemary Barnes.

“SJC is always preparing for emergencies. It is a requirement for federal funding, and we have a related emergency plan that addresses all contingencies, including an airport power outage,” said Barnes. “However, this situation of a potential power outage that could last for up to 7 days is unprecedented.”

The airport’s team has been planning for a possible power outage for the past four months since PG&E alerted the city of a potential blackout, according to Barnes. To prepare, the airport has a back-up generator and battery-operated systems to ensure the infrastructure such as terminal power, lighting and fuel pumps are operating.

Airport officials have been in steady communication with airlines in preparation for a potential longer-term power outage. While the outage is not expected to affect operations at the airport, airlines are prepared for disaster readiness just as they plan for severe weather forecasts and preemptively canceled flights. Additionally, airport staff who are “Disaster Service Workers” have been advised to “get their affairs in order at home” with their families and pets so they can respond to an emergency if they are needed at the airport for longer work periods.

“If airport systems are impacted for longer durations, the airport team will work together to plan and communicate an orderly service transition. We will adjust and adapt accordingly, as any potential power outage can have different impacts,” added Barnes. “The airport will notify the traveling public of any impacts to our operation and how they should prepare through news media, social media, and website.”

Resources

  • The Camden Community Center is located at 3369 Union Ave, for more information call  408-559-8553.
  • The Mayfair Community Center is located at 2039 Kammerer Ave, for more information call 408-794-1060.
  • The Southside Community Center is located at 5585 Cottle Rd., for more information call 408- 629-3336.
  • The Avaya Stadium is located at 1145 Coleman Ave, for more information call the San Jose Customer Service line at 408-535-3500.

For more tips on how to prepare for and stay safe during the power outage, visit the city’s website. For more information about PG&E’s notifications and how to update your contact information, visit PG&E’s website or call PG&E at 1-866-743-6589.

To find out if your neighborhood will be affected by the power outage, check the city’s map here.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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