With Wildfire Information Still a Priority, New Hazard Awareness & Warning Center Enables Faster, Better Response to Storms, Earthquakes and More
Opened in 2018, Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) Wildfire Safety Operations Center (WSOC) has successfully served as the company’s 24/7 hub for monitoring wildfire risks and for wildfire coordination, prevention and response efforts across Northern and Central California.
Today, PG&E announces a new name and an expanded scope to more effectively monitor potential natural disasters and the impact to our assets to ensure the continued safety of our customers and the hometowns we are privileged to serve. The WSOC is now the Hazard Awareness & Warning Center, or HAWC.
Why? Without sacrificing any of the facility’s deep expertise related to wildfires, the expanded scope will allow the HAWC to serve as the source for reliable, real-time situational awareness of a broader range of natural disasters, emergencies and other events throughout PG&E’s service area. That includes enabling enterprise-level communications to ensure the appropriate level of response as well as providing a focal point of understanding potential risks to our gas and electric infrastructure.
“As with the WSOC, the HAWC is akin to an air-traffic control center for PG&E,” said Sumeet Singh, the company’s Chief Safety and Risk Officer. “It’s where our trained and experienced teams have access to real-time information from many sources and are able to monitor, analyze and enable rapid response so that we can keep our customers and our hometowns safe.”
From its inception, the WSOC monitored wildfires. Now the HAWC monitors a broader range of natural disasters including wildfires, land movement (such as debris flows and slope failures), earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding and avalanche hazards. Through strong partnerships among PG&E’s internal teams as well as with external entities such as the National Weather Service, Cal OES and others, the awareness of additional hazards will increase into the future.
When it opened in May 2018, the WSOC was located in PG&E’s San Francisco headquarters. The center provided a bird's-eye view of high-fire threat areas within PG&E’s service territory, which encompass about 50 percent of the company’s 70,000-square-mile service area. The center also assimilated weather model information, satellite images and other enhanced, real-time data for experts tracking wildfire conditions and threats.
PG&E’s new headquarters will be in Oakland, and the HAWC now operates in San Ramon through the headquarters transition. At that state-of-the-art facility, analysts track incoming information and rely on an active incident dashboard showing fire incidents, the locations of PG&E facilities and support crews, satellite imagery, detailed outage maps and more.
One example of what’s available to operators in the HAWC are direct feeds from more than 500 high-definition cameras in high fire-threat areas. Of these cameras, 46 are included in a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine-learning testing program where the capability to differentiate wildfire smoke from fog and other false indicators during extremely dry, hot, and windy weather is invaluable to PG&E analysts and fire agencies. Images from the ALERTWildfire system are viewable online at www.alertwildfire.org.
Real-time data from 1,300 weather stations also is tracked by the HAWC staff, and that information plays a key role in evaluating whether to proactively turn off power for safety when elevated weather conditions include a potential fire risk.
The HAWC is part of PG&E’s Community Wildfire Safety Program. Through its 2021 wildfire safety work, PG&E:
- Improved the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) program for our customers and communities, using advanced weather forecasting technology and nearly 300 new sectionalizing devices, to impact 16,078 customers on average per outage in 2021, down from 108,843 customers impacted on average in 2020 and 287,770 customers impacted on average in 2019
- Launched an initiative to underground 10,000 miles of distribution powerlines in and near high fire-threat areas and hardened more than 200 distribution circuit miles to increase system resiliency
- Met and exceeded state vegetation safety standards across more than 1,900 miles in areas with the highest wildfire risk to manage trees that posed a risk to electric distribution powerlines and equipment
Adjusted circuit settings to increase the speed at which safety devices turn off power in response to faults, known as Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS), resulting in the CPUC Reportable ignition rate being reduced by nearly 80% as compared to the three-year average for EPSS-enabled circuits.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is a combined natural gas and electric utility serving more than 16 million people across 70,000 square miles in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit pge.com and pge.com/news.