Eric Coulter, Bureau of Land Management.
Carr Fire Photo

Crafting Local Hazard and Wildfire Mitigation Plans

Feb. 28, 2019
To safeguard their electrical systems, utilities are now required to implement plans to comply with the state’s Senate Bill No. 901.

California has experienced some of the most devastating and catastrophic wildfires in the nation’s history. To safeguard their electrical systems, utilities are now required to implement plans to comply with the state’s Senate Bill No. 901.

The existing law authorizes the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), after a hearing, to “require every public utility to construct, maintain, and operate its line, plant, system, equipment, apparatus, tracks, and premises in a manner so as to promote and safeguard the health and safety of its employees, passengers, customers and the public.” In addition, the act requires electrical corporations to annually prepare and submit a wildfire mitigation plan to the PUC for review.

Working With a Utility
Depending upon the size of your company and other logistics, the plan can be relatively simple to a very complex. I recently helped a utility to develop its wildfire mitigation plan, and fortunately, the company was small in size.

The other thing I had in my favor was the fact that I had worked with the same company to develop its General Order 165 maintenance policy. California utilities are required to have this plan on how to inspect, maintain and fix their electrical infrastructure. Since I had already written the utility’s GO 165 plan, I was ahead of the game for the Wildfire Mitigation Plan.

Following an Outline
Prior to developing the plan, I conducted research, reached out to other experts in the field and accessed the available information online. Here is an outline that I followed while developing my plan, which may help you if you are tasked with developing and writing your own mitigation plan at your utility:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Plan Overview
  • Utility’s Goals and Objectives
  • Utility Facilities
  • Hazard Identification and Analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Adverse Weather (drought, earthquake, dams, floods, tsunamis and urban/wildland fires)
  • Critical Infrastructures
  • Cybersecurity
  • Mitigation Strategies
  • Plan Review and Implementation
  • Plan Adoption and Maintenance

Devising the Plan
As you can see, the electric power industry faces a myriad of issues, and the levels of complexities escalate based upon location, population density, resources available and other factors.

Here is a top-level overview of a sample plan.

Executive Summary — Hazard mitigation is the use of short-term and long-term policies, programs and projects to alleviate the death, injury and destruction that can result from a disaster. Natural- and human-caused hazards affect the lives of people and its communities, financially, economically and psychologically. These events can destroy entire communities (as seen by the recent Camp Fire wildfire here in Northern California), and on a national level, can cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually to help the affected communities to recover.

Introduction — The Local Hazard Mitigation Plan represents your company’s commitment to reduce the potential risk and impacts of natural and human-caused hazards. The Local Hazard Mitigation Plan serves to help protect your company’s assets, customers, and communities by improving disaster preparedness and increased resiliency. It also serves as a guide for your company’s decision-makers as they commit resources to reducing the effects of potential hazards on your company’s energy infrastructure. This plan complies with federal and state hazard mitigation planning requirements to establish eligibility for funding under Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant programs.

Plan Overview — Your company’s planning team/staff met on date to determine the framework and key processes for developing the Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. The Planning team implemented a public involvement strategy to include participation at popular community events to make the public aware of the plan and the updates.

Utility’s Goals and Objectives
• Identify and set goals – Review past/current mitigation measures and draft an action plan.
• Protect life, property and cultural resources.
• Increase public awareness.
• Coordinate with other programs that can support or enhance hazard mitigation.
• Increase emergency services effectiveness.
• Pursue cost-effective and environmentally sound mitigation measures.
• Strive to increase adaptive capacity to reduce risk from hazard impacts based on future conditions.

Utility Facilities — Your utility owns and operates an integrated electric system that includes generation, transmission and
distribution facilities.

General Facilities: The corporate headquarters is located ________. The headquarters campus serves as a basis for daily operations. The total site is ________ acres.

Power Generation: Your utility delivers energy to its customers from a variety of sources. Those sources include hydropower, natural-gas-fired generators, renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, nuclear and biomass) and power it purchases on the wholesale market.

Hazard Identification and Analysis
Hazard Risk Assessment is the process of measuring the potential impact to life or property, as well as economic impacts, resulting from the hazard. Its intent is to identify from available data, the vulnerabilities of a community. The results provide a foundation on which to develop and prioritize mitigation actions to reduce damage from hazards by improving preparedness and response times and allocating resources to areas with the greatest vulnerability. It allows emergency management personnel to establish early response priorities by identifying potential hazards and vulnerable assets.

The process focuses on the following elements:
Hazard identification: Use all available information to determine what types of hazards may affect a jurisdiction, how often they can occur, and their potential severity.
Exposure identification: Estimate the total number of people and properties in the jurisdiction that are likely to experience a hazard event if it occurs.
Vulnerability identification and loss estimation: Assess the impact of hazard events on the people, property, environment, economy and lands of the region, including estimates of the cost of potential damage or cost that can be avoided by mitigation.

Mitigation Strategies
Your company’s mitigation strategy should be made up of several components including goals, actions and an action plan.

It is up to your utility to determine the breadth, depth and scope of your local hazard and wildfire mitigation plan. By devising it, however, it is an excellent way to prioritize resources to protect your electrical infrastructure, maintain the continuity of service, and most importantly, to preserve the safety of human life.

About the Author

Maximo Fuentes

Maximo Fuentes ([email protected]) retired as the Grid Assets T&D Line Supervisor-Business Operations for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in Sacramento, California. He now owns a consulting business, Fuentes Consulting LLC, a company that provides technical consulting, leadership development and expert witness services to the transmission and distribution utility industry. 

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