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PG&E tests earthquake technology

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Tanks and Terminals,

Practicing its response to a major earthquake, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) staged a company wide exercise at various facilities in the Bay Area. The event tested the company’s readiness and demonstrated how the integration of earthquake-related technologies helps in its quake-related preparation and response.

Leveraging in-house and open source technology to simulate the impacts of a magnitude 6.9 quake along the Hayward Fault, PG&E confirmed its ability to quickly estimate resource needs and identify where potential impacts could occur. In the exercise scenario, which included more than 400 employees in San Francisco, Oakland, Concord, San Ramon and in other locations, the shaking lasted for 10 - 25 seconds and devastated much of the Bay Area.

The one day drill was broken up into two parts, practicing the company’s immediate response after the quake struck as well as its restoration and customer support efforts 72 hours later. PG&E leveraged its earthquake damage modelling system, dynamic automated seismic hazard (DASH), to generate rapid, facility specific damage estimates that help prioritise where to dispatch assessment and repair crews.

“Within 15 minutes of the magnitude 6.0 Napa earthquake in August 2014 – the largest earthquake in California since the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 – these modelling technologies enabled us to develop resource requirements and immediately deploy more than 200 employees,” said Barry Anderson, PG&E’s Vice President of Electric Distribution who oversees the company’s emergency response organisation. The utility was able to restore service to about 70 000 customers in a little more than 24 hours, and quickly checked on gas leaks and sent many employees to the area to check in on customers.

PG&E utilised ShakeCast and ShakeMaps – open source software developed by The US Geological Survey (USGS) - to produce near real time digital maps of ground motion and shaking intensity, facilitating notification of shaking levels at key facilities.

“For PG&E, the key is preparedness. Natural disasters will take place and they will impact gas and electric service. It’s our job to improve our processes to ensure a safe and efficient response,” Anderson added. PG&E also demonstrated the use of earthquake early warning (EEW) systems as a part of its seismic response efforts.

The purpose of an EEW system is to identify and characterise an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way via PA system, computer, smartphone, and eventually, via television and radio.

“Although still fairly early in development, we believe earthquake early warning will help us identify potential applications which will allow both automated and human actions in the seconds before an earthquake to protect lives, lessen property damage and ensure rapid service restoration,” Anderson said. PG&E continues working with partners, including the Bay Area Chapter of the American Red Cross and U.C. Berkeley’s Seismological Laboratory, to expand the use of EEW.

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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