Edison's control room | Credit: Courtesy

The potential loss of electricity promised by Southern California Edison had many Santa Barbarans on edge this past weekend. Some are outraged they can’t sign up for an advance warning of a Public Safety Power Shutoff, while others have found the maps at Edison’s website indecipherable.

“There’s no simple answer,” said Robert Villegas, one of Edison’s many upbeat spokespeople. “We’ve been in business for 130 years. Compared to other operations we do, we don’t have quite as much experience with messaging, which have been our protocol since 2017. We’re still working through it.” The company worried about message fatigue, too: “We send one every 24 hours until an all clear is called,” he said.

As for signing up more than one person per household for alerts, they need the billing account number, he explained. “You can receive an alert via email, a telephone call, or a text,” said Villegas, suggesting that the account-holder make the contact for each be a different family member. The alert system is closed for security reasons, he explained: “We don’t want to give outage boundaries for maintenance, for instance, to go to anyone but our customers.”

Edison is working to upgrade its equipment as quickly as possible, Villegas promised, which has its own downside as homeowners find a stronger but broader pole in their view, festooned with a greater variety of circuit interrupters and spark arrestors.

Determining if the weather warrants a shutdown often comes down to the “troubleman” on site, said Villegas. “If it’s blowing really hard, lines could come together. But it’s more typical that tree branches or palm fronds land in the lines,” creating a short-circuit that causes flame. It’s the seasoned, electrically experienced troublemen on the ground, sent by the winds predicted by Edison’s weathermen to areas where vegetation could likely meet power equipment, who report to Edison brass that a situation is brewing, such as loose stuff getting into the lines. That’s the most likely scenario that gets the power turned off, Villegas explained.

Help is in the future for the maps, Villegas said. Edison is working on an interactive map that lets customers type in their address. It’s a work in progress, and there’s no completion date yet, he said.


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