Power Outages Loom

In response to Julie Beardsley — “Regarding potential power outages by PG&E: if it is 103 degrees outside, and the power goes off for extended periods, there will be people who will experience high levels of stress and will develop a need for mental health services. There will be people like a 72 year old woman who lives alone and can’t open her garage door to get to a cooling station. A family with a special-needs family member or a bed-ridden family member. People may overwhelm the local Emergency Departments and available police assistance. Asking neighbors to help look out for each other is great, but not a solution.”

Indeed. Our “older adult” populations in both Mendocino and Lake Counties are “served” by an administrative structure in which the Area Agency on Aging is run by the Departments of Social Services under a Joint Powers Authority created in 2005, and which is the only such Agency operated by county governments (for further information refer to the Lake County Grand Jury’s 2018-2019 Report: 

http://www.lakecountyca.gov/Assets/County+Site/Grand+Jury/Final+Reports/Report20182019.pdf?method=1).

Senior center managers in Lake County have met with our Department of Social Services officials and representatives of law enforcement and fire protection districts to seek a system of communication with all dependent persons, some of whom are enrolled “participants” in the home-delivered meals program known as “Meals on Wheels” (which are required to meet state and local health regulations, especially focused on food safety).

In addition to these several hundred “socially isolated” individuals who are enrolled in the federal program through four of our seven centers (under sub-contract to the California Department of Aging), some 2,200 persons in Lake County are served by In-Home Supportive Service workers who are unionized under SEIU’s local chapter based in Ukiah.

During our meetings with Lake’s Department of Social Services staff (including the two persons administering the AAA state contracts in both counties), we learned that the communication with IHSS workers can only be achieved through the union, with whom we have, as yet, no direct connection. However, that effort is under way, by the Lucerne senior center volunteers who assist the Northshore communities’ enrollees (typically fewer than a hundred in our assigned territory).

We are, as “Meals on Wheels” program volunteers, given to understand that there will be no “cooling” centers provided to which the multiply-disabled program enrollees can turn under the circumstances you describe. Nor will there be relief delivered to the enrollees — whose capacities for self-care are already significantly limited — for providing counter measures to cope with an extended period of exacerbating powerlessness. 

Our volunteers of course will attempt to contact enrollees for whom we take responsibility and provide whatever resources we can muster, continuously throughout any such period of duress (and follow up after power is restored), but we are additionally concerned for those disabled clients of the IHSS providers, who may not be aware of resources and issues created by the two county administrations’ response to the specific needs for “sheltering-in-place” or (Heaven forfend) rapid evacuation from an encroaching threat — which are not addressed by our Office of Emergency Services plans, but are clearly anticipated by LE/FPD management to add significant communication log-jams if PG&E carries out its stated potential shutdowns here. 

According to Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin (on August 14), PG&E has advised their customers to call “9-1-1” if they are experiencing difficulties during a “Public Safety Power Shutdown” — which will overtax the limited dispatch capabilities of our existing workforce. Therefore we are directing our energies to first serve those for whom we have immediate knowledge and working relationships (senior center program enrollees), and seeking a means of supporting those who rely on IHSS services — if for no other reason than to provide scant resources to help the caregivers themselves, who will also be hard pressed to manage their own families and their clients under those conditions, with no help from County administrative officials.

Most assuredly, the advice provided by these officials is for us to help develop “neighbor” relations in proximity to the vulnerable and frail elderly who, in the population centers we serve, are already threatened by some of their feral neighbors.

Our “urbanized” neighborhoods are prey to a panoply of thugs, parolees, mentally-defective drug addicts — the sort that leave their used needles in the parks where daytime visitors include young children, and burn the rolls of toilet paper in our public restrooms for heat or for the hell of it (it’s hard to tell), causing the closure of these expensive facilities at night and leaving the worst-case members of our sick society out-and-about, often roaming the alleys and back yards of immobilized elders in search of anything they can turn around and sell for a resupply of their “substances” of choice — all of which seem abundantly available nowadays, despite the official expenditures of effort to reduce “opioid prescription” abuse.

Clearly anticipatable “challenges” such as provisions of food, water, and medical services are compounded for individuals dependent upon “electricity-driven, life-sustaining Durable Medical Equipment,” but we were assured by the Public Health Department’s disaster management coordinator that the vendors of such equipment will be responsible for the continued operation of such devices under losses of power.

All such users are advised to implement their own “action plans” (such as having backup power supplies and alternative treatment options) described in the pamphlet provided by the US Food & Drug Administration:

https://www.fda.gov/media/80782/download

A much easier version is available from the Pacific ADA Center: “Emergency Power Planning for People Who Use Electricity and Battery Dependent Assistive Technology and Medical Devices” — but for some reason their website is not accessible today (www.adapacific.org).*

The American Red Cross offers this support: 

https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/power-outage.html

(most of which requires fully cognizant, able-bodied adults to apply).

The broader issues of coordinating local emergency services for vulnerable populations, where multiple agencies are in possession of salient facts about them that are protected by HIPPA regulations but no single agency is capable of transcending the restrictions to create action plans for their “Access and Functional Needs” and specialized services in “Care & Shelter Facilities” — both defined in Lake County’s Emergency Operation Plan “annexes” to address the difficulty of identifying where they are ahead of time — is addressed by the US Centers for Disease Control in this “Public Health Workbook: To Define, Locate, and Reach Special, Vulnerable, and At-Risk Populations in an Emergency”: 

https://emergency.cdc.gov/workbook/pdf/ph_workbookFINAL.pdf

On this side of the Cow, we have advocated for the implementation of that process, preferably under the aegis of our Public Health Department working with all of the agencies who provide “first responder” and ancillary functions (CalFire, Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services, Fire Protection Districts, all law enforcement agencies, and so forth).

Much as we dread the new “lessons learned” that will emerge from an extended “Public Safety Power Shutdown” by our sole supplier of household electricity, we have to thank the stars above that the advent of this obnoxious new imposition on our peace of mind — such as it is, with every wisp of smoke “triggering” local Facebook users, and the sound of helicopters disrupting any sort of “normal” conversations and rapid reactions on everyone’s “hand-held devices” — has brought these subjects into the thus far behind-the-scenes discourse. 

Your comments are not lost on this avid and devoted reader of the AVA, and to all of your readers, if you are concerned about these matters, please contact your local senior centers to learn more. 

Betsy Cawn, The Essential Public Information Center

Upper Lake, CA

PS. A copy of the document (PDF) can be provided by the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center in response to an emailed request sent to: admin.lasc@mediacombb.net. Please use the subject line “Request for ADA Pacific checklist.”

2 Responses to "Power Outages Loom"

  1. izzy   September 5, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Sounds like a ‘reality check’.

    Maybe there should be a war-style mobilization to get the power lines cleared so such a drastic measure does not need to be implemented. There seems to be no shortage of personnel when a display of force is desired. Just wishful thinking, I realize.

    Reply
  2. Walter   September 8, 2019 at 3:27 am

    So, standing back and looking at the big picture – if there’s a fire, then they’ll turn off the electricity, so you can’t fight the fire…

    Sound likes extortion.

    If there might be a fire, then they might shut off the electricity, so you can’t plan.

    Sounds like… well, it’s not about “safety”, is it?

    Sounds like “they” have all the power, the real power.

    Reply

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