What is Utah’s Public Safety Power Shutoff program and how does it work?

Aug 14, 2023, 9:00 PM | Updated: Aug 15, 2023, 11:04 am

A man works on a power pole, RMP just reported a power outage in salt lake city...

Could Utah survive an emergency of the same caliber as the wildfire in Maui? How would the state respond? Rocky Mountain Power has a plan. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Could Utah survive an emergency of the same caliber as the wildfire in Maui? How would the state respond? According to Rocky Mountain Power, there is a Public Safety Power Shutoff program in place for situations such as these.

Johna Whitesides with Rocky Mountain Power told KSL NewsRadio that the program has been around for about five years. A lot of the program borrows from similar protocols from states in the Pacific Northwest.

“So when we think about California [and the] Pacific Northwest … kind of taking those best practices,” he said. “They’ve learned over the years when you have some of these populations so close or densely populated along the wildland-urban interface.”

How does a Public Safety Power Shutoff program work?

Rocky Mountain Power has “areas of concern,” according to Whitesides. These areas are near transmission and distribution lines

“We basically have pre-identified those. We’ve worked with our operations field crews, they know where they are, they would know how to go and turn them off if we needed to de-energize,” he said.

Along with this, according to Whitesides, the company has a process to notify customers if it were to shut all power off.

“This process would start about five days out as more of kind of a, ‘Ok, we see that these winds are possibly coming in.’ We talked to our local and state public safety partners. We kind of just monitor it,” he said.

As the weather event gets closer, — in Whiteside’s example, the wind — Rocky Mountain Power will work with its several weather stations to determine if the event is a threat to infrastructure.

“Where we’re kind of concerned about [is] that wind damage could either put debris into the line, cause a spark, it could knock a line down and cause a spark,” Whitesides said.

He said the Public Safety Power Shutoff program is meant to prevent a spark from happening in the first place. However, if there is already a fire it can prevent things from getting worse.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that smoke can be conducive to electricity,” Whitesides said. “So, if you get a lot of this black smoke over by the power lines, that can also start an additional spark, an additional wildfire.”

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Related: Firefighters make progress against deadly Maui wildfires, as the island assesses the damage

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What is Utah’s Public Safety Power Shutoff program and how does it work?