Governor signs 2 of Senator McGuire’s bills as part of critical wildfire legislative package

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Sacramento, CA – Just days before the second anniversary of the 2017 North Bay Firestorm, Governor Newsom signed a package of wildfire mitigation, preparedness and response bills to build resilience, recover from wildfires, and protect Californians from catastrophic wildfires and natural disasters. 

Two critical bills authored by Senator Mike McGuire were part of the legislative package. SB 560 and SB 670 will provide first-of-its-kind communication rules and regulations during 911 outages and public power shutoffs. These two new laws will save lives and streamline communication and notification to millions of Californians during disasters.

“The night of October 8th, 2017 changed the lives of tens of thousands of Californians forever. Whether you were one of the nearly 100,000 evacuated, one of the 6,000 who lost their home, one of the thousands who fled through the flames or one of the dozens who lost a loved one due to the fire – your loss should not go in vain,” Senator Mike McGuire said. “We have a new normal in California and our state is stepping up to make critical financial investments and changes to the law that will help keep Californians safe and provide first responders the information they need to protect our communities. There’s more work to do, but today, we want to thank Governor Newsom and the dozens of first responders who rallied to ensure these bills became law.”

SB 670 – signed today by the Governor – is a desperately needed step to mitigate the risks during times of phone outages by requiring telecommunications providers to report 911 service outages or outages affecting emergency alert and warning technologies to the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) in real time. This seems like it should already be happening – but it’s not.

While the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and FCC have a shared responsibility to oversee all components of 911 services, outage reporting to the PUC is provided hours, and sometimes days, after the outage occurs and not in real time. 

For example, during the Camp Fire, which began around 6:33 am on November 8, 2018, the CPUC received their notification of the outage from the FCC over 5 hours later at 12:01 pm after thousands of homes had been destroyed.

The Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa began at approximately 9:43 pm on October 8, 2017, and the CPUC received their notification from the FCC over 6 hours later at 4:12 am the next morning – thousands of homes were destroyed in that timeframe. By that time, the Tubbs Fire had burned into central Santa Rosa. The California Office of Emergency Services never received formal notification.

SB 670 will provide emergency officials with the data and crucial information they need to keep our communities safe. This common-sense approach will ensure real time coordination between state and local emergency officials and telecommunication companies.

SB 560 – also signed today as part of the wildfire legislative package – requires that police, fire, sheriff departments, health care facilities and telecommunication providers receive prior notification of de-energizing events when their facilities will be impacted by a planned power shutdown to help ensure the health and well-being of all Californians.

Power shutoffs are intended as a utility’s last resort to mitigate the risk of fire. However, the growing threats of catastrophic wildfires and recent experience of the devastation and liability posed by wildfires means the voluntary use of power shutoffs is likely to increase. 

Currently, despite requirements to create notification procedures, there’s not a requirement that the actual notifications occur to first responders, health care facilities, and telecommunication services.

Communities have unfortunately experienced the lack of communication and notification from PG&E, and making it a requirement is the next step in ensuring proper notification is received.