Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: What is a Public Safety Power Shutoff?

Posted in bankruptcy, botch, business, california by commorancy on October 10, 2019

candlelightHere’s where jurisprudence meets our every day lives (and safety) and here is also where PG&E is severely deluded and fast becoming a menace. There is actually no hope for this company. Let’s explore.

California Fire Danger Forecasting

“Officials” in California (not sure exactly to which specific organization is referred here) predicted the possibility of high winds, which could spark wildfires. This happened earlier the week of October 7 (or possibly earlier). As I said, these are “predictions”. Yet, as far as I can see, no strong winds have come to pass… a completely separate issue, but it is heavily tied to this story.

Yet, PG&E has taken it upon themselves to begin powering off areas of Northern California in “preparation” for these “predictions”… not because of an actual wind event. If the high winds had begun to materialize, then yes, perhaps mobilize and begin the power shut offs. Did PG&E wait for this? No, they did it anyway.

What exactly is Public Safety?

In the context of modern society, pretty much everything today relies on electric power generation to operate our public safety infrastructure. This infrastructure includes the likes of traffic lights to street lights to hospitals to medical equipment to refrigeration. All of these need power to function and keep the public safe. To date, we have come to rely on monopoly services like PG&E to provide these energy delivery services. Yet, what happens when the one and only one thing that PG&E is supposed to do and they can’t even do it?

Granted, what PG&E has done is intentional, but the argument is, “Are the PG&E power outages in the best interest of public safety?” Let’s explore this even further.

PG&E claims that these power outages will reduce the possibility of a wildfire. Well, that might be true from a self-centered perspective of PG&E as a corporation. After all, they’ve been tapped several times for legal liability over recent wildfire events. They’ve even had to declare bankruptcy to cover those costs incurred as a result. We’ll come to the reason behind this issue a little bit later. However, let’s stay focused on the Public Safety aspect for the moment.

PG&E claims it is in the best public safety interest to shut down its power grid. Yet, let’s explore that thought rationale. Sure, this outage action might reduce the possibility of sparking from a power line, but what it doesn’t take into account is the reduction in and lack of public safety from all of the other normal-everyday-public-safety mechanisms which have also had their power cut. As I said, street lights, traffic lights, hospitals, medical equipment, 911 services, airports and refrigeration.

The short term effect of shutting the power off might save some lives (based on a fire prediction that might not even come true), but then there are other lives which might be lost as a result of the power being shut off for days. Keep in mind that PG&E claims it might take up to 5 days to restore power after this scheduled power off event. That’s a long time to be without standard regular public safety mechanisms (simply ignoring the high wind advisory).

If PG&E has been found responsible for wildfires, then why aren’t they responsible for these incidental deaths that wouldn’t have occurred if the power had remained on. Worse, what about medical equipment and refrigeration? For people who rely on medical equipment to sustain their lives, what about these folks? How many of these could die from this outage? If it truly takes 5 days to get the power back on, what about the foods being sold at restaurants and grocery stores? If you do trust it, you might get sick… very, very sick… as in food poisoning sick. Who is responsible for that? The retailer or the restaurant?

Sure, I guess to some degree it is the retailer / restaurant. They should have thrown the food out and replaced it with fresh foods. Even then, perhaps the distributors were also affected by the outage. We can’t really know how far the food spoilage chain might go. At the root of all of this, though, it is PG&E who chose to cut the power. How many people might die as a result of PG&E force shutting off the power grid versus how many might potentially die if a wildfire ignites?

I’ve already heard there have been a number of traffic accidents because the power has been cut to traffic lights. It’s not a common occurrence to have the power out on intersections. When it does happen, many motorists don’t know the rules… and worse, they simply don’t pay attention to follow them. They just blast on through the intersection. Again, who is responsible for this? The city? No. In this case, it is truly PG&E’s responsibility. The same for food poisoning as a result of the lack of refrigeration. What about the death of someone because their medicine spoiled without refrigeration?

Trading One Evil For Another

Truly, PG&E is playing with fire. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The reality is, either way, shutting off electricity or leaving it on, PG&E risks the public’s safety. They are simply trading one set of public safety for another. Basically, they are “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.” By trying to thwart the possibility of setting an accidental wildfire, the outage can cause traffic accidents, deaths in hospitals, create food poisoning circumstances and this list goes on and on. When there is no power, this is real danger. Sometimes immediate danger, sometimes latent danger (food poisoning) which may present weeks later.

The reality is, it is PG&E who is responsible for this. PG&E “thinks” (and this is the key word here) that they are being proactive to prevent forest fires. In reality, they’re creating even more public safety issues by cutting the power off indiscriminately.

Cutting Power Off Sanely?

The first problem was in warning the public. PG&E came up with this plan with too short of a notice. The public was not properly notified in advance. If this outage scenario were on the table of options for PG&E to pursue during the wildfire season, this information should have been disseminated early in the summer. People could have had several months to prepare for this eventuality. Instead of notifying months ahead, they chose to notify at a moment’s notice forcing a cram situation when everyone floods the stores and gas stations trying to keep their homes in power and prepare. At the bare minimum, PG&E should be held responsible for inciting public frenzy. Instead, with proper planning and notification, people could have had several months notice to buy generators, stock up on water, buy a propane fridge, buy a propane stove, prep their fridges and freezers, and so on.

With a propane fridge, many people can still have refrigeration in their home during an extended (up to 7 day) power outage. This prevents both spoilage of foods and of medicines. Unfortunately, when it comes to crunch time notices, supplies and products run out quick. Manufacturers don’t build products for crunch time. They build for limited people to buy over a short period of time. Over several months, these manufacturers could have ramped up production for such a situation, but that can’t happen overnight. PG&E was entirely remiss with this notification. For such drastic knee-jerk actions to public safety, it needs to notify the public months in advance of this possibility. This is public menace situation #1.

Indiscriminate Power Outages

Here’s a second big problem with PG&E’s outage strategy. PG&E can’t pick and choose its outages. Instead, its substations cover whole swatches of areas which may include such major public safety issues as traffic lights and hospitals, let alone restaurants and grocery stores whose food is likely to spoil.

If PG&E could sanely turn off power to only specific businesses and residences without risking the power to hospitals, cell phone infrastructure, 911 and traffic infrastructure, then perhaps PG&E’s plan might be in a better shape. Unfortunately, PG&E’s outage strategy is a sledgehammer approach. “Let’s just shut it all down.”, I can almost hear them say. Dangerous! Perhaps even more long term dangerous than the possibility of not setting a wildfire. Who’s to say? This creates public menace situation #2.

Sad Infrastructure

Unfortunately, this whole situation seems less about public safety and more about CYA. PG&E has been burned (literally) several times over the last few wildfire seasons. In fact, they were both literally and monetarily burned so hard that this is less about actual public safety and more about covering PG&E’s legal butt. Even then, as I said above, PG&E isn’t without legal liability simply because they decided to cut the power to thwart a wildfire. In fact, while the legal liability might not be for causing a wildfire, instead it might be for incidental deaths created by outages at intersections, by deaths created in hospitals and in homes due to medical equipment failure, by deaths created via food spoilage in restaurants and grocery stores… and even food spoilage or lack of medical care in the home.

The reality behind PG&E’s woes is not tied to its supposedly proactive power outage measures, it is actually tied to its aging infrastructure. Instead of being proactive and replacing its wires to be less prone to sparking (what it should have been doing for the last 10 years or more), it has done almost nothing in this area. Instead of cutting back brush around its equipment, it has resorted to turning the power off. Its liability in wildfires is almost directly attributable to relying on infrastructure created and installed decades ago by the likes of Hetch Hetchy (and other early electric infrastructure builders) back in the early 1900s. I’m not saying that every piece of this infrastructure is nearly 100 years old, but some of it is. That’s something to think about right there.

PG&E does carry power from Hetch Hetchy to its end users via Hetch Hetchy generation facilities, but more importantly, through PG&E’s monopoly electric lines to its end users. PG&E also generates its own electricity from its own facilities. It also carries power from other generation providers like SVCE. The difficulty with PG&E is its monopoly in end user delivery. No other company is able to deliver power to PG&E’s end user territory, leaving consumers with only ONE commercial choice to power their home. End users can opt to install their own in-home energy generation systems such as solar, wind or even diesel generators (when the city allows), but that’s not a “commercial” provider like PG&E.

Because PG&E has the market sewn up, everyone who uses PG&E is at their mercy to provide solid continuous power… that is, until they don’t. This is public menace situation #3.

Legal Troubles

I’m surprised that PG&E has even decided to use this strategy considering its risky nature. To me, this forced power outage strategy seems as big a liability in and of itself as it does against wildfires.

PG&E is assigned one task: Deliver Power. If it can’t do this, then PG&E needs to step aside and let another company more experienced in to replace PG&E’s dominance in power delivery. If PG&E can’t even be bothered to update its aging equipment, which is at the heart of this entire problem, then it definitely needs to step aside and let a new company start over. Sure, a new company will take time to set it all up, but once it’s going, PG&E can quietly wind down and go away… which may happen anyway considering both its current legal troubles and its bankruptcy.

The state should, likewise, allow parties significantly impacted by this forced power outage (i.e., death or injury) to bring lawsuits against PG&E for its improperly planned and indiscriminately executed power outage. Except, because PG&E is still in bankruptcy court, consumers who are wronged by this outage must stand in line behind all of those who are already in line at PG&E’s bankruptcy court. I’m not even sure why the bankruptcy judge would have even allowed this action by PG&E while still in bankruptcy. Considering the possibility of significant additional legal liabilities incurred by this forced outage, the bankruptcy judge should have foreseen this and denied its action. It’s almost like PG&E execs are all, “F-it, we’ll just turn it all off and if they want to sue us, they’ll have to get in line.” This malicious level of callous disregard for public safety needs much more state and legal scrutiny. The bankruptcy judge should have had a say over this action by PG&E. That they didn’t, this makes public menace situation number 4, thus truly making PG&E an official public safety menace and a nuisance.

Updated 10/11/2019 — Clarification

I’ve realized that while one point was made in the article, it wasn’t explicitly called out.  To clarify this point, let’s explore. Because PG&E acted solely on a predicted forecast and didn’t wait for the wind event to actually begin, PG&E’s actions egregiously disregarded public safety. As I said in the main body of the article above, PG&E traded one “predicted” public safety event for actual real incurred public safety events. By proceeding to shut down the power WITHOUT the predicted wind event manifesting, PG&E acted recklessly towards public safety. As a power company, their sole reason to exist is to provide power and maintain that public safety. By summarily shutting down power, not only did they fail to provide the one thing they are in business to do, they shut the power down for reasons other than for fire safety. As I stated above, this point is the entire reason that PG&E is now an official menace to the public.

↩︎

 

Advertisements

Prevention: Flu Season is here

Posted in Health by commorancy on October 24, 2009

[Updated: 2018-01-30] Since this 2017-2018 flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years, I’ll update my advice.

Now that flu season is upon us, I always like to take steps to prevent myself from getting infected from other people or items they may have touched. While there is no magic bullet for this, here are some rules that I personally follow that may help you avoid getting the flu. Let’s explore.

Flu Shots

In my original 2009 article, I didn’t mention flu shots… and it was for a reason. This is intended as an everyday prevention article, but the intent was to firmly stay away from discussing medical technologies. While medical professionals often profess that a flu shot is effective, take that advice for what it’s worth… advice. While you can get a flu shot at your local pharmacy, at your place of business or at your doctor’s office, you may find that this prevention mechanism isn’t always as effective as it could be. Due to recent events surrounding H3N2, I’ve changed my stance since 2009 and that’s why I am now leading this article with this section.

During the 2017-2018 flu season, the dominant strain of the flu appears to be H3N2. This strain is particularly virulent and has resulted in a number of deaths in children and adults from complications. You may be asking, “Why didn’t my flu shot protect me from H3N2? Wasn’t this strain in the shot?” Yes, this strain (or at least the most common mutation) was included within the 2017-2018 flu shot formulation. You continue, “But, I took the shot and I still got sick anyway”. There may be several reasons for this.

  1. The flu shot may not have contained the exact strain of H3N2 that you got.
  2. The flu shot is formulated using eggs as a carrier. However, the H3N2 strain does not thrive well within an egg carrier causing this strain to be, at best, less effective and, at worst, ineffective in the shot.
  3. In flu seasons other than the 2017-2018 season, it has been known that those in charge of the flu strain lottery have guessed the wrong strains to include in the slot. This has directly contributed to the flu season because the dominant strain was not included.

If you received a flu shot during the 2017-2018 flu season and still got the flu, it may have been a direct result of number 1 and, more likely, number 2 contributing to your illness. As rapidly as viruses can mutate, it’s possible you picked up a strain that wasn’t included in the shot formulation (i.e., number 3).

For very young children or the elderly, getting a flu shot early is still a good first defense. However, don’t rely strictly on the shot to prevent getting the flu as it may not always protect you as expected. You should also consult with a medical professional to ensure that taking the flu shot is the right choice for your health as some people may have reactions to the formulation. Only your doctor can give you medical advice about your health.

As a result of this season’s flu shot ineffectiveness against H3N2, you will need to still use other preventative measures such as …

Wash your hands often with soap and warm water

Washing your hands frequently will eliminate most viruses and bacteria from your hands and prevent you getting them near your nose or mouth. If you can wash your face, you should do so as well.

During winter months, do not eat from serve-yourself open buffets

Eating off of salad bars at buffet-style restaurants or other communal type restaurants only serves to get you sick.  Instead, opt for ordering from the menu so the food is cooked in the kitchen and served to you directly. This doesn’t eliminate the risk of getting sick, but it drastically reduces your chances because the plates will be clean and the food will be prepared fresh and hot. A cook in the kitchen could be sick, but most better restaurants don’t allow sick cooks in the kitchen (it’s a liability, after all). The fewer people who touch your food, the less chance you have of picking up a virus.

For this same reason, don’t buy foods in grocery stores from open buffet fill-it-yourself containers. The reason for this rule is very clear. Most buffet style places leave spoons out all day in containers and simply switch out the food leaving dirty utensils.  Thus, spoons may have been touched by hundreds of people. By touching the spoon on the buffet table, you may be infecting yourself immediately. The food itself may also harbor the flu or a cold virus simply from someone sneezing. For sanitary reasons, avoid buffet serve-yourself meals during the winter to keep yourself healthier. This advice covers both hot and cold food bars including olive bars.

As a side note about buffets.. Buffets are extremely unsanitary. The required sneeze guards do nothing for children. The guards are designed with adult height in mind. A child can easily be face-high to the food, yet their face is under the guard. It’s easy for a child to cough, laugh, sneeze or play around or even with the food or utensils. Since children seem to be the prime carriers for cold and flu viruses, this makes buffets and other serve-yourself food tables very unsanitary. Instead, you should order from a menu at a table. You should always ask the server if they plan serving you your food from the buffet table. If they intend to serve from the buffet, ask to have the restaurant make it fresh in the kitchen instead of serving food to you from the buffet. Better still, visit restaurants that don’t offer a buffet bar of any kind.

Carry Around Restaurants

This buffet bar advice extends to all kinds of carry around small plate restaurants including Mongolian BBQ, Brazilian Steakhouse, Japanese conveyor belt, Japanese floating boat or Dim Sum restaurants. I’d even avoid company holiday parties which use servers to carry around appetizers on trays and buffet style plates (not that this food is usually very good anyway). Basically, my advice includes any restaurant where food is paraded in front of many people before you have the opportunity to grab it. To these I also say, “Stay away.”

Company Holiday Parties

In general, parties in the winter are a bad idea. When you attend, you’re mixing with a many folks that you probably don’t know. Worse, though, is the food. Many company parties choose to use carry around servers for appetizers. They also like to use chafing dishes to serve buffet style and sometimes fondue fountains for desserts.

You should contact your company’s event planner early in 2018 and request that they choose a sit-down restaurant-style waiter served meal over a buffet for all winter parties. You should mention that it is much more sanitary and more healthy for everyone involved. The last thing the company holiday party planner wants is to be responsible for making half of the company sick, especially during a particularly harsh flu season. The way to perpetuate sickness is to serve buffet style food. Inevitably, someone will come to the party sick and spread it around.

Tanning beds and UV

While this next portion may seem unusual, it may actually prevent you from getting the flu or colds. If you use a tanning bed, you may decrease your chances of actually contracting a virus or bacterial infection during the winter months. UV is known to disinfect surfaces and kill bacteria and viruses. Using a tanning bed should kill viruses and bacteria on the surface of your skin, both hands and body. You don’t necessarily need to use a tanning bed for the maximum time. It may take as little as 1-3 minutes to successfully disinfect the surface of your skin (not necessarily enough time to tan you), although, likely enough time to kill viruses. Disinfecting the surface of your skin through UV should kill off any viruses you may have picked up through contact with other people.

However, once a virus has entered your nasal passages, you are already infected. UV light doesn’t penetrate deep enough to disinfect inside your body. So, don’t tan once you are sick as it won’t help stop it and may only serve to dehydrate you even more than the virus already has. Tanning can be dehydrating. Drink water after tanning.

How often you do this really depends on how often you are out in public with lots of people around you. The longer you are out in public around potentially sick people, then you should tan at the end of the day to kill off anything you may have come in contact with. You should tan at the end of the day rather than the beginning so you kill the viruses you may have gotten earlier that day.

Shower regularly with soap

Having good hygiene by showering will also wash away any viruses that may have landed on your skin. So, shower regularly to reduce viruses and bacteria on the surface of your skin. A reasonably hot shower or bath combined with soap is quite good at doing this.

Cover open wounds

If you have any cuts or open wounds, cover them properly with bandages. Having an open wound is an invitation for viruses to enter. Keep your cuts clean and keep them covered. Also, using antibacterial ointments like Neosporin on wounds can reduce infection and may also kill off or prevent entry of viruses.

Don’t use public phones or public computers

If you must use public phones or computers, you should bring along some Windex wipes or other disinfecting towelettes to wipe down and disinfect the surface before using it. Basically, you should avoid these devices or clean surfaces where the item could come in contact with your face (like a phone). With public computers, you’re touching the keyboard and may then wipe your nose with your hands. So, carry some disinfecting towelettes around during the winter months for quick disinfection. Also, carrying hand sanitizer allows you to clean your hands immediately after touching such items or, alternatively, go the restroom and wash your hands.

Wipe down surfaces in your office

Because offices are where we spend most of the day, always wipe down your phone, desk and keyboard. You never know when someone may sit down at your desk and temporarily use your space without your knowledge. Always wipe and disinfect your space each day during the winter time. In fact, you should ask your office supply person to supply your company with disinfecting wipes. This initiative shows the company cares about a healthy workplace.

Public transportation

While I know that public transit is very ‘green’ and, in some cases, cost effective, it can also be a place where you can get sick. By sitting in seats where sick people may have been, you risk contracting the flu or cold viruses just by being there. You may not be able to avoid the use of public transportation, but you can reduce your chances by standing up rather than sitting down. If you stand on public transportation during the winter, you are not touching the seats where someone sick may have been sitting. Holding the hand rail only, you can easily clean your hands with instant hand sanitizer once you exit.  Carry a small sized hand sanitizer with you in winter months. If you must sit, then avoid touching your face and use a hand sanitizer after you exit the transit.

If you notice someone coughing around you, move away from them (preferably to another car on a train) or further back if you are in a bus. You can also get off at the next stop and wait for the next bus or train, if they are frequent enough.

For airplane transit, there’s not really much you can do here. If there’s someone who is sick on a plane, you’re very likely to catch it. So, the best bet is to limit travel to only necessary movement during winter months.

Avoid eating out often / order take-out if possible

Eating at any restaurant exposes you to viruses. To avoid this risk, don’t eat out. Instead, buy foods and cook for yourself. Eating at home, there is no risk of becoming infected with a virus (except what you or your family brings home). Because your home is basically a controlled environment, you can prevent getting sick by staying home more often in the winter. If you really do want to eat out, take the food from the restaurant as takeout. Order over the phone from home or your cell and then pick the food up after it’s ready. This means you get exposed to almost nothing other than door handles and money handling. So, use some hand sanitizer or wash your hands when you get home.

Children and School

Unfortunately, if you have school age children, there is little you can do about this risk. Your children will be exposed every day at school. Because schools care about having children’s butts in seats (this is how they get their funding) more than caring about whether a child is sick, school ends up as one big petri dish. With school age children, all you can do is send them off and hope for the best. When your child brings something home (and they will), you’re likely to get it yourself. Until schools are required to care about each child’s health over attendance, this will remain a problem every year. When your child does get sick, keep them at home.

Stay at Home

If you don’t have school age children, staying at home during the height of the flu season can drastically reduce your chances of catching a virus. Going to the movies, eating out, visiting crowded shopping malls, zoos, museums or any other mingling with large gatherings of people all greatly increase your chances of getting sick during flu season. When possible, stay in.

Grocery Shopping

During December, January and February, I only go out for limited reasons such as grocery shopping. I also try to visit stores during off-hours or hours when fewer people will be shopping. These times are typically an hour before closing or the first hour after opening. If it’s a 24 hour market or open until midnight, anytime after 9PM is a great time to shop. In fact, the later at night, the fewer people you will see. You should also wipe down the push cart handle with disinfectant if you have it or use sanitizer after you’re done. Better, shop with your reusable shopping bag. It’s your bag and only you and the cashiers get to touch it. Wash your shopping bags frequently to get rid of germs.

Shopping with Home Delivery

Since companies like Amazon, GrubMarket, GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, Safeway and Instacart are now making it easier and cheaper than ever to shop for home delivery, here’s another way you can prevent going out. Order what you need from one of these apps and have it delivered right to your door. This prevents the need to even enter a store. Inevitably, you will need to go out to fill your car’s tank or get certain items, but you can limit your people interaction on these trips and, thus, reduce your chances of getting sick.

The above are many of my rules that I regularly follow. However, sometimes it isn’t always convenient to follow all of them. In those cases, washing hands frequently with warm water is the bare minimum to help reduce the chances of getting sick during the winter flu season months.

Wash Clothing Frequently

In the winter, we wear a whole lot more outerwear than is normal in other months. Some of these include scarves and gloves. Buy and use washable outerwear. These materials allow you to throw your gloves and scarves into the washer and dryer to disinfect anything that you might have come in contact with while out and about. Gloves are particularly problematic. If you live in a city with a subway or use other public transportation, your gloves can easily pick up germs that could lead to the Flu. Wash your outerwear frequently during the winter. I’d also recommend to avoid wool or other outerwear that requires dry cleaning. Because it’s difficult to launder these items, you’ll wear them for much than you normally would clothing that can be washed in a washer. Wearing gloves for too long could be what makes you sick. Instead, choose winter clothing that keeps you warm and that is easy to launder… and wash it frequently during the flu season.

Disclaimer: This article is not to be construed in any way as dispensing medical advice. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with a licensed medical professional to discuss your specific health needs.

 

%d bloggers like this: