The City of Malibu experienced a power outage in much of the Point Dume area extending northeast to about Latigo Canyon on Wednesday, October 30 at 8:49 PM when Southern California Edison (SCE) implemented a Public Safety Power Shutoff.
“The City understands the frustration, anxiety and fear that residents have experienced as a result of SCE’s misguided Public Safety Power Shutoff plan,” said Mayor Karen Farrer. “The City is doing everything possible to prepare for power outages, and the resulting hazards that they may cause, and to help Malibu residents stay informed so they can be prepared and empowered to make their safety decisions.”
In July 2018, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allowed utilities, including SCE, to proactively shut off power during high winds in order to prevent their lines and equipment from causing wildfires. The City continues to be opposed to SCE’s PSPS plan for Malibu.
The City immediately recognized that this would create an “emergency within an emergency.” Shutting off power in a High Fire Hazard Severity Zone with limited roads in and out of the area at a time when any fire could quickly become a catastrophic fire, threatening lives and homes in our entire community, would mean that residents could lose cell phone coverage, internet and lights, and might not be able to receive emergency alerts and evacuation information. The City of Malibu was the only city in California to submit an official letter of opposition to the CPUC decision.
Starting October 8, 2019, SCE began notifying the City, other partner agencies and customers that, due to predicted very dangerous fire conditions resulting from record-breaking strong winds and low humidity, they were considering shutting off power on circuits in Malibu under its Public Safety Power Shutoff plan (PSPS).
Due to the extremely high wind, with powerful sustained winds and gusts over 60 mph, the fire conditions were some of the worst in Southern California history. The City treated the PSPS and fire conditions as a true emergency, and from October 8 until the dangerous fire conditions subsided on November 1, City staff were on call around the clock monitoring conditions, putting out emergency communications, and were prepared to activate the Emergency Operations Center. The City was in regular communication with the L.A. County Fire and Sheriff’s Departments as well as neighboring jurisdictions and agencies in the region affected by the potential PSPS and fire conditions.
From October 8 through October 31, SCE changed which circuits were being considered, including six of the eight Malibu circuits (Galahad, Maguire, Cuthbert, Merlin, Seaboard and Tuna), and changed the days and time periods under consideration, nearly every day and sometimes several times a day.
Starting on October 8, and every time SCE announced a new circuit or time frame, the City notified the community using emergency and utility alerts (City of Malibu website Alert Center and Nixle), posted on social media (City of Malibu Government Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and Malibu Public Safety Twitter and Facebook, and on Nextdoor), posted the information on the City website, and recorded the information on the City’s emergency hotline (310-456-9982).
From October 8 through November 1, the Getty Fire (Brentwood), Easy Fire (Simi Valley), Wendy Fire (Newbury Park), Yosemite Fire (Simi), and Saddleridge Fire (Sylmar) began, as well as a utility pole fire in Corral Canyon, and small brush fires in Las Virgenes, each of which could have easily developed into a catastrophic wildfire for the Malibu area. The City monitored and sent out emergency alerts about each of these fires to help residents be informed and prepared for potential fire and evacuations.
From October 8 through November 1, the City sent out messaging to the public about subjects including PSPS, wind and fire conditions, regional fires that could threaten Malibu, school closures, road closures and smoke/air quality.
A total of 55 emergency, weather and utility alerts were sent by text message and email using the City website alert system (subscribers: Emergency 4,862, Traffic 4,176, Weather 3,442, Utility 2,575); 32 Nixle alerts were sent (a separate messaging platform reaching approximately 4,000 subscribers by text and email); 50 messages were posted on Nextdoor (7,368 subscribers); and 548 total messages were posted to the City of Malibu Government and Malibu Public Safety Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Staff updated the Emergency and Traffic phone hotline several times per day and sent several recorded audio Public Service Announcements to KBU 99.1 FM, which aired several times a day. The City also sent out emergency messages using its Everbridge disaster mass notification system to the entire city of Malibu, as well as to areas that were on the PSPS list, with voice and text warning residents about the fire threat and blackout threat on October 8, October 23, October 24 (four), October 25, October 28, and October 29.
On Wednesday, October 30, at 8:49 PM, SCE shut off power on the Cuthbert Circuit, causing a power outage in most of Point Dume northeast to about Latigo Canyon. At 9:00 PM, SCE notified the City by email that it had already shut off power on Cuthbert. Despite objections from the City, SCE’s position has been that it would not notify the City or other agencies, or customers, even one hour in advance, but would shut off power when the conditions warranted it.
The City Manager immediately requested and got additional patrols of the western Malibu area by Sheriff’s Deputies and Sheriff’s Volunteers on Patrol (VOP).
After the PSPS started, the City sent out emergency alerts and posts on social media, Nextdoor and the website about the PSPS starting at 9:45 PM, including safety information and the message to drive with extreme caution, beware of flying tree branches and debris, and approach any intersection where traffic signals are out as if they are all-way stop signs (which is required under the California State Vehicle Code).
All of PCH is owned and operated by Caltrans. The City cannot override Caltrans policies or regulations along PCH. However, the City continues to work with Caltrans to develop a more robust and redundant backup power plan to their signals along PCH. In the meantime, the City purchased 20 generators that can provide power to traffic signals on PCH in the event of evacuations during a power outage. Per Caltrans, this plan would entail that each generator be staffed by law enforcement personnel to ensure the public’s safety.
On Thursday, October 31, the City Manager also requested traffic control multiple times from the Sheriff’s Department and CHP for intersections on PCH in the blackout area. The City may request traffic control from the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station by Deputies as well as the VOPs, but the Sheriff’s Department makes the decisions on where and when to deploy resources for traffic control based on the public safety needs at the time, and did not provide traffic control on PCH intersections in the area where power was out on Wednesday night, October 30.
The City has been developing a Zero Power Plan since the Woolsey Fire, when cell phones, phone lines and power were impacted citywide, including 10 Emergency Supplies and Information Stations that can be set up along the 21-mile length of the City at gathering places, such as shopping centers, marked with flags. The Stations will have sandwich boards with printed emergency information that will be updated daily with printed emergency information to keep residents informed even when the power or cell phones are out. The City recently conducted a demonstration of the Information Stations with the Malibu CERT Team.
The City is also working on a system of sirens or loudspeakers that will be located in strategic locations to warn the community about wildfire (or any disaster). The agreement for design of this project will be presented to the City Council for consideration on November 25. The City recently purchased a large number of megaphones, flashing light bars and emergency vehicle identification placards so that City staff and volunteers can alert residents during an emergency when there is a widespread power outage if sufficient law enforcement resources are not available to evacuate residents. The City used the equipment to conduct an evacuation drill in the Big Rock neighborhood in September.
The City has developed a webpage showing all of the SCE circuit maps so that residents could look up the circuit area in which they live. The City also created a webpage with power outage preparedness information, including links to SCE’s PSPS pages and the County’s Ready! Set! Go! emergency preparedness guide.