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Power outages leave Bruins in the dark

Some Bruins are equipped to deal with power loss at home with a generator. Photo by Jamey Slater

The recent October power outages from PG&E’s safety shut offs, not only affect daily life at home, but also the academic lives of students and staff.

Outages are quite unexpected, leaving Bear River and ultimately the district little time to plan for. Principal Christopher Roberts made clear the long list of preparations that he and the school take before an outage.

“What preparations occur depends on who is doing the preparations. Most of the staff do more preparation of their own homes when they know that there’s going to be a power outage than they do in making school preparations,” he said. “Making sure food stays cold, the house stays warm and that there’s water available are a few of the most important things. For example, during the last shutdown, I was required to work (mostly to attend meetings and make sure the campus was taken care of)  but still had to make sure my house was taken care of as well. Our generator stopped working on the second day which was a huge problem. Fortunately some good friends came over and helped me fix it. Our custodial and maintenance crew has the most school preparations of all the staff. They have to make sure things continue to run smoothly around campus despite not having power.”

Roberts also made note of what the state requires in order for a school to remain open.

The state requires schools to have running water and power to hold school in person. If one or both of those isn’t working, we have to cancel.”

Students are the most affected when PG&E decides to turn the power off.

Junior Jake Vogt doesn’t have a generator at home and described the situation.

The closest thing we have [to a generator] are battery packs that can recharge a phone maybe once,” said Vogt. 

Junior Aden Mattson also doesn’t have a generator yet still has ways of adapting.

“My mom’s house is for some reason rarely, if ever, shut off, so I have yet to really have to do stuff without power for the most part,” he said. 

Another student, Junior Sarah Holden, described some difficulties that arise when the power is shut off, noting some safety concerns.

“I have a powered gate which cannot be opened manually which means without a generator we have to off-road it to the gate in the back. If PG&E shut off power and an evacuation notice was placed I could not leave without a generator,” she said.

These students shared how the power outages specifically affected their school work and learning. Some wished there was a way to be notified about upcoming homework, and one pointed out some logistical problems that are preventing such notification

“Schoolwork becomes increasingly difficult since I live in a place without service (deep Alta Sierra) so I have no way to access assignments online,” said Vogt. “ I would appreciate teachers informing us about work. They could do this through emails prior to the shutoff.”

“I like not having school, but at the same time it means we have to try to fit a week of work into the time we have left after the shut off,” said Mattson. “It would be difficult to inform us of some work because a lot of kids do not have a way of doing work during the shut off, but it would be nice for us kids that still have ways to do things online. If they know a shutoff is coming it would be nice if they could just post work ahead of time, like the week prior.”

Concerning logistics of notification about homework, Holden said “That would be nice but there is not a very good way to do that as no power means no computer and covid means we can’t all go to school to pick up the printed copy. Also printing six classes of work to over six hundred students would be a waste.”

PG&E has received some differing and often critical opinions regarding their decisions on public safety power shutoffs (PSPS).

“They are too cautious about it, they end up shutting off a big area for high winds but the winds aren’t that strong. I live on a hill and they have kept the power on in heavier winds like in thunderstorms. They seem to do it just arbitrarily,” said Holden.

“I do not know enough about power systems and everything to give much criticism, but I know that a lot of the problem is due to their fault with how they had everything set up, and now they’re trying their best to fix it as safely as possible, which unfortunately means we occasionally lose power due to the shutoffs,” Mattson said.

“I choose to have no opinion on this as I am not well informed,” said Vogt.

Principal Roberts also weighed in: “I get why they’re doing it but I also feel that there has to be a better way. Shutting off someone’s power for an extended period of time is reckless and inconsiderate. I mean, I understand what they’re trying to avoid but can it be done a little differently? Not closing down schools would be great!”

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Power outages leave Bruins in the dark