Employees Recount How Collaboration Played Key Role in Response to Valley Fire

PG&E was recently recognized for its extraordinary restoration response during California’s devastating Valley Fire. The Edison Electric Institute presented the company with its Emergency Recovery Award during the organization’s recent meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Valley Fire prompted one of the PG&E’s largest-ever restoration efforts, and part of what made it successful was the close collaboration between all the first responders.

The Valley Fire burned about 76,000 acres in Lake and other Northern California counties in September, and caused devastating damage in communities such as Middletown.

PG&E public safety specialists Scott Holmquist and Pam Perdue served as PG&E’s agency representatives to CAL FIRE for the duration of the Valley Fire. Essentially they were embedded with the agency for much of each day, representing PG&E at briefings to get an understanding of plans each day and sharing updates on PG&E’s work. Working closely together allowed both organizations to make informed decisions and execute more efficiently.

“As an agency rep, I’m the boots on the ground, hearing firsthand CAL FIRE’s needs and then immediately reporting back to PG&E leadership and giving them the educated information they need to make decisions,” explained Perdue.

When support organizations come together to achieve common goals, everyone wins. Perdue described how CAL FIRE’s tools and resources were obviously spread thin during the fire. When PG&E needed to enhance the right-a-way under its transmission line, CAL FIRE allowed them to bring in their own dozers and masticators to enhance the right-a-way for six miles. Getting safe access within the fire perimeter allowed PG&E crews to work on the transmission lines in real time and restore power more efficiently.

On other days, PG&E helped out in more simple ways. When the Sheriff’s Department was setting up safety checkpoints, PG&E happily lent them extra tables and chairs and provided Gatorade and water from their nearby Mobile Command Vehicles to support each checkpoint.

Pam Perdue, standing near PG&E’s Mobile Command Vehicle, prepares a report on restoration progress during the Valley Fire.

In all, more than 1,700 PG&E employees — from nearly every line of business — participated in fire restoration and customer-support efforts.

The role of the agency rep is relatively new. It started in 2012 during the Robbers Fire and has grown leaps and bounds.

“Cal Fire sees great value in having a PG&E employee embedded, especially with a first-responder background. In many cases we already have a great rapport with the team based on our prior work together, and our understanding of the processes and systems allows us to add more value,” said Perdue.

Holmquist and Perdue were first-responders earlier in their careers. Perdue was a former police officer and also worked at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Holmquist was Cal Fire’s assistant deputy director of operations.

Having worked on “the other side of the fence,” Holmquist sees the progress that has taken place in terms of coordination.

“In earlier days, responder agencies would focus their efforts on containing the fire and would then bring PG&E in several days later, thus delaying power restoration by several days,” he says. “Now we’re true partners in the response effort, working side by side to get the community back on its feet.”

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