UC Davis took unprecedented action to suspend normal operations for several days last November due to heavy smoke from the Camp Fire that tore through the town of Paradise in Butte County.
In response, campus officials have not only developed guidance for smoke emergencies but for power outages that may or may not be tied to wildfires, as well as a policy on campus operating status, authorizing the chancellor to reduce or suspend services and close facilities as needed.
In addition, with temperatures rising and wildfire season upon us, officials are taking the opportunity to call on everyone in the campus community to help prepare for potential impacts. More information is available on the new “Wildfire Season Weather Impacts” website.
“We were forced to make some quick decisions during last year’s smoke event,” said Eric Kvigne, associate vice chancellor for Safety Services. “We used those experiences to develop better tools and guidance to share with the campus in an emergency, but we need everyone’s help taking on some planning at the departmental level.”
This might include stockpiling N-95 breathing masks for outdoor workers, designating employees who would be called upon to deliver critical services during suspension of normal operations, and making plans for what to do if the power goes out.
Keeping an eye on electricity
Davis is not in a high-wildfire-hazard area, meaning it is unlikely a fire will burn through campus.
“My main concern is that the campus could lose power without notice,” said Allen Tollefson, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management.
For example, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has implemented its Public Safety Power Shutoff policy, cutting service in areas where extreme fire danger is forecast. However, power shutoffs are not necessarily confined to fire zones because of the interconnectedness of the power grid. This means outages could occur miles away from a fire.
“If PG&E decides to shut off our electricity to reduce the likelihood of a wildfire, or a major outage elsewhere in the state cripples the power grid, the campus could be left largely without electricity,” Tollefson said.
Limited number of generators
UC Davis has a handful of factors working in its favor. Campus officials pay close attention to extreme weather events, and have access to PG&E information about possible threats to electric service.
In addition, the university receives its electricity from multiple sources via tall, fire-resistant power lines, which means the campus is less likely to experience an outage, compared with small municipalities like Davis or Woodland.
“If we do lose electricity across campus, there are some critical spaces and equipment that will get powered by generators,” said Joe Carbahal, superintendent for the campus’s high-voltage and generator crews. “But we’ve got 1,400 buildings on campus and only 135 of them have some level of connection to a generator for things like fume hoods, negative-80-degree freezers and emergency lighting.”
While Carbahal’s team ensures that generators are fueled and ready to perform, he noted that fellow researchers in your building, building managers and safety officers are a great resource for finding out what specific equipment and spaces are powered by those generators.
Clement Stokes, director of Emergency Management and Mission Continuity, urged staff, faculty and students to keep their WarnMe information current.
“The WarnMe system is going to be a critical tool for us to communicate information and guidance during a smoke event, a power outage or other hazardous situations,” he said.
Stokes also emphasized departmental and unit planning. “While a power outage is likely to be completely out of our control, you can take control of planning for a major smoke event, or how your department might resume operations in spite of a power outage.”