August typically ushers in fire season on the West Coast but, this year, the fires have started earlier and are already more destructive than we have seen in previous years. Historic heat waves and drought fueled by climate change have made the West hotter and drier in the past 30 years and these dangerous conditions will continue to fuel extreme weather and wildfires. Consequently, it is critical that renewable assets are prepared for emergency incidents to ensure safety, compliance, and grid stability.
As you think about protecting personnel from the threat of wildfires, here are some questions to ask:
- Do you know where your employees are in relation to active wildfires?
Consider having a list of employees that are typically within the threat boundaries of wildfires and create an email distribution for those employees (bonus point if it includes email-to-text functionality). Ask employees to use this distribution list to notify your company of potential threats they are monitoring at their location.
- What facilities are in the typical wildfire area?
Knowing what facilities and teams are most at-risk by location is important knowledge. Use the Wildfire Risk map to identity areas in high-potential fire areas.
A lesson learned from the 2020 fire season was the value of communication and coordination with utilities. You should have clear communication protocols established with the interconnected utility regarding emergency weather incidents, including wildfires. These protocols should include notification of changes in operational status and onsite staffing updates.
The O&M provider should have established Emergency Protocols for extreme weather events. With the increase in frequency and magnitude of wildfires, it is essential that O&M providers review their Emergency Protocols annually, at minimum. It is also best practice to review the Emergency Protocols with plant personnel and control center staff leading up to fire season.
Extreme heat thresholds for plant operations should be identified during the development and construction phase of a facility. Owners and plant operators should be conscious of these parameters as summer approaches and extreme heat and fire weather risks reach their zenith.
Having preventative measures in place ahead of extreme weather events is essential for mitigating risk. For wildfire season, the most important preventative maintenance activity is vegetation management. Each facility should have a robust vegetation program that ensures grass and weeds are kept under control and do not become kindling for potential fires.
High voltage and medium voltage infrared scans can also be valuable in identifying hot spots on equipment that have potential to fail. Aside from reducing outage risk, correcting hot spots can also prevent potential fire starters.
If fires do pose a risk to the facility, instruction or guidance from the interconnection utility must be followed to remain safe and compliant.
Personal Safety Preperation
Most importantly, if you are in an at-risk area, having a personal safety plan for you and your family is paramount. A safety plan may include the following:
- Keep enough fuel in your vehicle to travel at least 100 miles
- Sign up for local weather alert services, if available
- Plan multiple evacuation routes and be prepared to evacuate accordingly, depending on where the fire is coming from
- Prepare a ‘Go-Bag’ with essential items
- Important documents (birth certificate, insurance policy, social security cards, etc.)
- ATM or credit card
- Cell phone charger
- Personal toiletries
- If faced with evacuation, relay your plan to someone, preferably not in the area that is at-risk
For your safety, heed all warnings from local and state authorities.
If you have questions or concerns about how to prepare and respond to a potential threat, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team – we would love to help support your efforts. – Radian Risk Management Team