The New Normal: Increased Wildfire Threat
The 2017 wildfire season demonstrated the increasing threat of wildfires to California.
Changes to California's climate conditions mean that the traditional notion of a fire "season" no longer applies because fires now occur throughout the year and are more destructive. Eight of the 20 most destructive wildfires in the state have happened since 2015.
Wildfires threaten not only our homes, our lives and our economy, but also our fight against climate change.
Public safety is SCE’s No. 1 priority. Roughly a quarter of SCE’s service territory is categorized as a high fire risk area. Our wildfire mitigation strategy is built on the following fundamentals:
- Investing in a strong and resilient electric grid
- Bolstering situational awareness capabilities
- Enhancing operational practices
- Public Safety Power Shutoffs
Investing in a strong and resilient grid means we are looking at long-standing and new technologies and equipment to help mitigate wildfires.
- Examples include the installation of covered conductors (insulated wires) and composite poles.
Stronger and More Resilient System
The covered conductor is an insulated power line which minimizes faults or short circuits that can create sparks. It reduces the likelihood of the most common causes of faults which include contact with animals, vegetation and other debris (e.g. metallic balloons).
SCE has enhanced its existing situational awareness capabilities to better forecast potential wildfire conditions and develop appropriate operational plans, including Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), to mitigate wildfire risk. These new capabilities will better inform operational decisions, help SCE’s emergency management staff determine how best to reduce potential wildfire risks, and enable SCE to be more effective in responding to fire events when they occur.
Situational Awareness Center
The Situational Awareness Center is staffed with meteorologists and Geographic Information System (GIS) professionals 24/7 during events and incidents. It is co-located next to the Emergency Operations Center and provides intelligence for decisions focused on mitigating wildfire and other risks.
Weather Stations enhance the granularity of existing weather models and provide real-time information (wind, temperature and humidity) to assist with making key operational decisions during potential fire conditions, including PSPS.
High Resolution Weather models
High Resolution Weather models provide more localized visibility into weather forecasts in SCE high fire risk areas to identify severe fire conditions with additional precision.
- Allow meteorologists to pinpoint weather conditions at a more granular level to better define and identify at-risk circuits
Fire Monitoring Cameras
Fire Monitoring Cameras provide enhanced real-time situational awareness for first responders and SCE incident command teams. Please visit http://www.alertwildfire.org to view feeds from these cameras.
Red Flag Warnings
When the National Weather Service declares Red Flag Warnings, the company restricts certain types of work and does not automatically re-energize distribution power lines in high fire risk areas after a circuit interruption.
Most electric circuit interruptions, or “faults,” are momentary, caused, for example, by a bird or metallic balloon making contact with power lines. Under normal conditions, the grid automatically tests the circuit and, if the fault condition no longer exists, the circuit is quickly re-energized. During Red Flag conditions, affected circuits are not automatically re-energized and SCE crews physically inspect the lines before they are re-energized.
Trees, shrubs and other vegetation can cause safety hazards and power outages if they grow near or into power lines. We have increased the frequency of vegetation patrols in the most severe high fire risk areas to identify potential hazards.
- 900,000 trees inspected annually.
- 700,000 trees in high fire risk area pruned per year.
- 40,000 dead, dying or diseased trees removed in 2017.
SCE is also evaluating opportunities to perform more expansive pruning and removal of trees to further reduce the fire risks associated with trees falling into our lines.
SCE is expanding the application of LiDAR technology, an advanced laser surveying method, to enhance vegetation management in remote areas of our service territory. This technology allows us to more precisely and efficiently assess vegetation near power lines in difficult to access areas, further reducing fire risk. We are also expanding the use of LiDAR to additional high fire risk areas in our territory, which should enable us to more closely monitor hundreds of square miles of rugged high fire risk areas.
- Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) are an operational practice of last resort, where we preemptively turn off power during extreme fire weather conditions to prevent wildfire ignitions and ensure public safety.
- Extreme fire weather conditions may cause power outages that are not related to a PSPS. Should an outage occur, restoration times may be increased due to the need to mitigate wildfire risk.
- During a PSPS event, we expect to de-energize only circuits or portions of circuits that are experiencing the extreme fire weather conditions.
- SCE plans to notify customers in advance of a potential PSPS event and will attempt to notify customers when the power is shut off. Additional notifications will occur when power is restored.