Senator McGuire’s legislation to force telecoms to have backup power for cell sites proves critical in age of widespread outages

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Sacramento, CA – As the Kincade Fire burns in Sonoma County forcing the largest evacuation ever in the county during one of the biggest Public Safety Power Shutoffs in California history, the cell towers residents have come to rely on have gone dark. This has left hundreds of thousands of Californians in harm’s way without their cell phone during a disaster.

Earlier this year, Senator Mike McGuire introduced SB 431, which would mandate telecommunication providers have backup power systems for their cell towers. The bill is currently in the Assembly committee process, waiting to move forward when the legislature reconvenes in January. 

“Our phones have become our lifeline. It’s how we keep in touch with the rest of the world and how we receive emergency alerts. Telecom executives assured us this worst case scenario, hundreds of cell towers going down due to the lack of power, wouldn’t happen. It’s simply not true. It’s time California steps up and mandates cell towers have backup power. This bill isn’t about checking your Facebook status. It’s about life and death,” Senator Mike McGuire said.

SB 431 requires that telecoms have backup power systems for their wireless towers in California’s highest fire risk areas (these high risk areas are where the majority of power shutoffs have been happening). It empowers the California Public Utilities Commission to develop desperately needed regulations to keep cell towers energized during extended power shutoffs.

In Sonoma County, during this week’s Kincade Fire and Public Safety Power Shutoff, on Monday 118 cell towers were down. Many evacuated residents from Sonoma County found themselves in Marin County for shelter where another 160 cell sites were down. Hundreds of more sites were down across California, which puts lives at risk.

This year, Senator McGuire passed two laws to streamline communication and notification during outages and public power shutoffs.

SB 670 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.

SB 560 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. 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.