Satire from The Onion:
SAN FRANCISCO—With blazes engulfing Sonoma County and smoke-filled skies blanketing much of the Bay Area, officials in California announced Friday they would attempt to mitigate any further spread of wildfires with a mandatory shutoff of oxygen to thousands of the state’s residents. “In order to eliminate factors that could contribute to the fires’ growth, we will cut the flow of oxygen in high-risk areas throughout the northern part of the state,” California Public Utilities Commission president Marybel Batjer told reporters, explaining that the rolling “air-outs” would last 12 hours on average and residents would need to plan accordingly. “If each Californian can learn to make do without oxygen for just a day or two, we could avoid much of the devastation caused by wildfires. We understand this is a hardship, but it is simply too dangerous to allow open oxygen in fire-prone areas. Those requiring emergency supplies of air will be allowed to offset the shortage by cultivating hundreds of plants inside their home.” Batjer later confirmed that oxygen would continue flowing to all businesses deemed vital, including the headquarters of every major tech giant in or around Silicon Valley.
This satire is a takeoff on the fact that in recent weeks Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison cut power to millions of Californians over multiple days to prevent the companies’ dangerous and inadequately maintained infrastructure from starting more wildfires during strong winds. About 1,400 schools serving more than 490,000 students lost power for at least one day during power shut-offs between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1, according to Scott Roark, spokesperson for the California Department of Education.
Bill Johnson, the President and CEO of PG&E, did not win many friends during this October 31 exchange with Dan Noyes, a reporter for ABC7:
Noyes: “What do you say to people who just can’t afford to restock their fridges and are losing all this food they’ve had in their households after these shut offs?”
Johnson: “These events can be hard on people, really hard on people, particularly people who have struggles anyways and there are community-based things you can do, food banks, these kind of things. But for us, you know the main thing is we didn’t cause any fires, we didn’t, for these people we didn’t burn down any houses, the Kincade fire is still under investigation, I got that, but one of the things we did was give them the opportunity to actually refill their refrigerator ’cause their house is still there.”
The effects of shutting off the electricity rather than harden their infrastructure has far-reaching repercussions, including traffic lights not working, businesses having to close, difficulty in finding functioning gas stations, air conditioning and heating unavailable, parents looking for child care when schools close, and many others.
Some cell phone systems do not have robust emergency power supplies, in fact some have none because the FCC does not require it. This can make the situation even worse for those without land lines who can’t call 911 for emergencies or receive evacuation notifications when endangered by a wildfire. It also makes it impossible for cell phones to receive earthquake warnings from the system that is being rolled out in California. In Marin County 57 percent of cell towers were down on October 28, for example.
The severe Diablo winds and fire weather in Northern California last month further proved how fragile our phone networks can be in a long, persistent power outage: 57% of cell towers in Marin County were down; Sonoma County saw 27% of them out; Napa, 19%. https://t.co/7ZZfZaw3PP pic.twitter.com/hi3ziSDBAl
— Ron Lin (@ronlin) November 5, 2019