Failure to communicate: Nevada County mobile home park residents say they don’t receive notifications on PG&E power shutoffs
Special to The Union
What’s worse than disruptions caused by PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs?
Not receiving warnings when power outages might occur and how long they might last.
That’s the problem faced by many mobile home park residents whose parks have master meters. Master meters are read by PG&E and a utility bill is sent only to park management. Employees of the parks read the residents’ individual meters, and send bills from the parks to residents.
PG&E has no record of those customers, and no record means no PSPS notifications.
Forest Springs Mobile Home Park is a senior living mobile home community with a PG&E master meter. Resident Jack Strickland said he received no notifications regarding any of the recent planned PG&E power shutoffs that affected his neighborhood.
“I was working on my computer and all of sudden the power went off,” said Strickland. “I had seen on the news there was a chance of something happening, but I thought I’d receive some sort of notice.”
Midway through one power outage, Strickland’s heater malfunctioned: the electric fan stopped working, but the gas-powered heating element kept running until his home reached sauna temperatures. Strickland said he manually turned off the heating unit’s emergency switch, and soon his home dropped to a chilly 50 degrees. He was in the dark and his landline phone didn’t work. By the next day, the 88 year old’s cell phone was dead.
“I know PG&E officials are doing what they think they should to prevent fires, but better communication would be nice,” said Strickland.
As the customer of record, the Forest Springs Mobile Home Park management receives timely and location-specific power shutoff notifications from PG&E. Passing along that information to its more than 350 residents is problematic. Park officials posted notices on residents’ mailboxes and at the park entrance, but disseminating information that way is a logistical challenge.
“Many residents here don’t drive,” said Susan Healy-Harman. “And among those who do drive, who’s going to keep driving up to the front of the park to look at a poster during a blackout?”
Park residents who are not direct PG&E customers can sign up with the utility for vague alerts via text, email, or phone voice message based only on their zip code. Alerts are vague because zip codes can stretch for miles; the 95949 zip code in which the Forest Springs Mobile Home Park is located encompasses 140 square miles. Residents could be notified there is an impending power shutoff, but they won’t know where it may occur in their zip code.
“It causes more anxiety not knowing what’s going on,” says Forest Springs resident and former Grass Valley Mayor Linda Stevens. “We don’t get the information because we’re not direct customers of PG&E. We would like to have more specific notifications.”
“Unless someone has a direct account with PG&E, we cannot provide them with alerts other than those based on a zip code,” said PG&E spokesperson Brandi Merlo. “I understand that is not a popular response, but this is all we have right now. We encourage master account holders to create contact rosters and provide their tenants with notifications.”
Merlo said she could not say how many mobile home parks in western Nevada County have master meters vs. parks whose residents are direct customers of PG&E.
“If you are interested in receiving notifications for zip codes outside of where you have a direct billing relationship, visit pge.com/pspszipcodealerts,” said Merlo. “Non-account holders also can call 1-877-9000-PGE to enroll in voice alerts.”
NETWORK OF NEIGHBORS
As park residents struggle to figure out how to obtain the best information to serve their needs, some considered resurrecting old-school communication technology such as so-called “phone trees.”
“We used it perhaps twice in the past 20 years,” said Anne Rasico. “Plus, they don’t help when the home phone goes dead because there’s no power or the cell phone dies because you can’t charge it.”
“We’re doing everything we can,” says Evans Management Services President Greg Evans, whose company manages the Forest Springs Mobile Home Park. “We’re addressing specific needs, such as tenants who rely on medical devices that depend on power and ensuring they have access to generators.
“We have the ability now with reverse call through a service we sign up for to contact residents that want to be contacted, and we will resurrect that effort so we can reach out to people when we receive news from PG&E. Lastly, we’re going to check into the possibility of tapping into the cable TV service that runs throughout the park so when an emergency arises we can put notifications up there.”
If park residents have access to the internet, they can go to the PG&E “Potential PSPS address-lookup tool” website and choose an address from a drop down box. They can also call PG&E – if they can get through, which some residents said was hit or miss during recent outages – and request power outage and re-energizing details about their neighborhoods.
But it appears the most effective strategy to diminish disruptions caused by Public Safety Power Shutoffs is to cultivate a network of caring neighbors. Friends of Jack Strickland took his cell phone to their house and charged it. When the power came back on, he called his HVAC service provider, who set things right.
“It’s a real issue for some people,” said former mayor Stevens. “But with neighbors helping neighbors, we’ll get through it.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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