Taking Back Our Power: PG & E’s Electric Grid Shut Off Threatens People with Disabilities

Deborah Kaplan

Listen (28 min)

P.G.& E. expects to cut off power when fire conditions are strong this year — it’s a fire prevention measure.  But the consequences for people who use electricity for ventilators, oxygen, and other disability life supports have not been taken seriously.

These sustained power outages will have dire consequences if better preparations aren’t made — as this letter of protest from Alameda Supervisor Keith Carson makes clear.

Richard Skaff and Deborah Kaplan tell us what shut-offs will mean, how long they might last, how widespread they might be, how we may know they are coming and, most importantly, What We Can Do About It, both as individuals and as a community.

Richard Skaff

Richard Skaff is the Executive Director of Designing Accessible Communities, a member of the Coalition of Disability Access Professionals and retired from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office on Disability.  Deborah Kaplan is the founder of Enterprise Accessibility.  She has been involved in technology accessibility for many years in various roles, and was the executive director of the World Institute on Disability for 8 years.

WARNING: SPARKS OF RAGE MAY OCCUR AS A RESULT OF LISTENING TO THIS SHOW. We suggest grounding them in the well of activism and channeling them to keep that renewable energy resource strong! We’ll tell you how.

Richard Skaff has gathered treasure trove of documentation, reports and detailed solutions, and provided them to Pushing Limits.  Inform yourself by reading the documents and following the links below.

Stories of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E’s) egregious escapades and dastardly deeds have been a recurring theme of our news feeds for almost a decade, at least since the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010.  People with electromagnetic sensitivity have been the canaries in the coal mine when it came to smart meters and the stories have become even more prevalent in the recent fire-ridden years. . . NOW THE FIRE’S GETTING HOTTER!

Sheela Gunn-Cushman produces and hosts.
Background support from Adrienne Lauby and Mark Romoser.


Save These Dates:

PG&E Wildfire Safety Webinar
PG&E will share information about their Community Wildfire Safety Program (CWSP).  This webinar will provide an additional opportunity for anyone who is interested in PG&E’s wildfire safety efforts to receive a presentation from PG&E leadership, ask questions and provide feedback.
Topics include:
–Expansion of the Public Safety Power Shutoff program
–Accelerated safety inspections of electric infrastructure
–Enhanced vegetation management around power lines
–Hardening the electric system for the future by replacing equipment and installing stronger and more resilient poles and covered power lines

Monday, July 22, 2019, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Access by clicking this link
Additional options for audio listening:
Toll-Free Attendee Dial In: 855-247-4312
Passcode: 8482036
*Event Notes:  Please note that for optimal viewing, it is best not to use VPN, but instead to connect directly to the Internet.  Please disable your pop-up blockers in order to view the content in its entirety.  This event is being streamed. It is recommended that you listen via your computer speakers.

If your question concerns disability issues, contact:
Deirdre Walke
PG&E ADA Program Manager
Phone: 916-386-5240
Email  deirdre.walke@pge.com


PG&E Rate Hearings for Gas and Electricity

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is asking the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to increase rates for electricity and gas. This is on top of other bailout charges on your bill. We need more Oakland residents to speak up at next week’s hearing in Oakland!  Other hearings are coming up. See below for a link to the schedule.

Wednesday, July 24, 1:00 PM & 6:00 PM
Elihu M.Harris State Building, 1515 Clay St, Oakland
Submit comments online.
Find a hearing near you.
Facebook Event for Oakland Hearing.

General Information

Prepare for Powerdown is a site with general info about the public safety power shut-offs and contact info for the utility companies that will be, and are, implementing them: San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Southern CA Edison (SCE) and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)

Information on PG&E Open Houses on Wildfire Preparedness

Important Links

Op Ed by Richard Skaff: Power Outages and De-Energization Can Be Deadly to People with Disabilities

Emergency Power Planning for People Who Use Electricity and Battery Dependent Assistive Technology and Medical Devices

Home Health Care in the Dark: Why Climate, Wildfires and Other Risks Call for New Resilient Energy Storage Solutions to Protect Medically Vulnerable Households From Power Outages  Excellent 34 pp report.

Long Term Solutions:
Green Mountain Power in Vermont is leading the way with innovation for energy storage. The system will allow customers to store their own energy and power their homes during outages, and when paired with solar, the system can last even longer during a power outage. Customers can participate in the Pilot for $15 a month for 10 years or a $1,500 one-time fee. In doing so, they will receive backup power to their home for at least the next 10 years, eliminating the need for traditional, fossil-fuel-fired backup generators.

Using Customer Batteries as a Power Source Saved Vt. Utility $500K

Sun Run “Building a More Resilient Grid: Home Solar & Storage Mitigate Wildfire Impacts”

The Solar Bill of Rights for California


Disability Stakeholder Deenergization Program Recommendations

The following deenergization recommendations, when implemented, would provide immediate relief, reassurance, and increased safety for Californians with disabilities who rely on electrical power to meet their medical needs. While public utilities must continue to provide information about deenergization programs to the state’s whole community, they are also responsible for taking proactive steps to assure those who depend on electricity to operate needed/required life-sustaining equipment (medical and mobility equipment) will have it. The following recommendations (again, when implemented) will provide actual electricity-providing systems or other equivalent alternatives for individuals to ensure their safety and life functions continue during the utility’s proactive deenergization actions.

  1. Establish a “loan closet” program for individuals with disabilities to borrow generators in advance of power outages. Safety training would need to be incorporated as part of the program and provisions to address the installation of transfer switches when using a generator, so those using generators won’t accidentally reenergize the utility power lines, will need to be developed. This program should also include the provision of multiple power units (generators or whole house battery systems like the Tesla home battery system) to local fire stations, so the first-responders can take a unit to individuals who have not been identified.
  2. Continue working in partnership with disability stakeholders to present at conferences, meetings, and events to inform the community about the deenergization program and the options the utilities will make available to people with disabilities. That interaction should also take place during the utility active deenergization events.
  3. Establish a mechanism to inform customers with disabilities, who require climate control, where local cooling and warming centers are located. If such centers do not exist, PG&E should open them. PG&E should also contract with local paratransit companies to provide immediate transportation for customers with disabilities with free shuttle service to/from climate control centers on very short notice from the time power is turned off.
  4. Provide all individuals who are eligible for the reduced cost power program with a medic alert membership and a plug-in alarm that sounds when the power goes off and calls the medic alert program.
  5. Identify high-risk customers, especially in the urban wild land interface areas, and put them on an emergency follow up list. During power outages and/or evacuations, first responders and volunteer disaster workers (local CERT volunteers-statewide) should coordinate with PG&E to contact those individuals to confirm they are safe.
  6. Provide eligible disabled customers with emergency planning information and assistance with a needs assessment and emergency plan. Plan preparation includes technical assistance with the plan and power-related equipment needed to implement it.
  7. Establish a grant program to provide eligible customers with disabilities with backup batteries, and other emergency-related items to prepare for power outages.
  8. Create a zero-interest loan program whereby individuals with disabilities can borrow funds to purchase emergency preparedness equipment to increase their overall emergency preparedness posture.
  9. Supply individuals with disabilities with KnoxBox units so if they are unable to mobilize themselves and first responders are sent to the person’s home/apartment, fire and paramedic personnel who have the KnoxBox master key (no one else, including family can have a KnoxBox key for security) in their vehicles can easily and quickly get to those individuals. For more info regarding KnoxBox, visit their website https://www.knoxbox.com/

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Letter from Supervisor Keith Carson to PG & E


August 20, 2018

Nick Stavropoulos, President and Chief Operating Officer
Pacific Gas and Electric Company
P.O. Box 997300
Sacramento, CA 95899-7300

RE: Community Wildfire Safety Program

Dear Mr. Stavropoulos:

On behalf of Alameda County Board of Supervisors and Alameda County Public Health Department, we write to express concern regarding the Community Wildfire Safety Program’s possible unintended consequences for medically vulnerable residents and those who may need special consideration in planning for emergency preparedness.

The Community Wildfire Safety Program is an important preventive measure to increase public safety, potentially necessitating the shut-off of electricity to customers served by PG&E electric lines that run through extreme fire-threat areas. As a local health department, Alameda County Public Health (ACPHD) is responsible for our county’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness program which entails supporting community resilience to prepare for and recover from emergencies; incident management to coordinate an effective response; information management; deploying medicines and supplies where needed; expanding medical services to handle large events; and investigating and identifying health threats. As wildfires and other climate-driven extreme weather events continue to expand and pose greater risk to more communities, our county would like to offer our partnership to more effectively coordinate efforts that protect public safety.

In addition, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors believe our role is to support strong policies to ensure access to resources that support the health and well-being of all our communities, including our most vulnerable. It is important that programs take into consideration certain households in any preemptive service shut-off, namely people with serious medical vulnerability, elders, and young children. Energy insecurity is also increasingly an important social and public health concern. Utility shutoffs in general disproportionately impact lower-income families, which predominantly consist of communities of color, people for whom English is a second language, as well as those who are elderly, physically disabled or have serious medical conditions. The loss of basic electricity or gas service causes tremendous hardship and undue stress, including increased risk of pneumonia, flu, bronchitis, colds, heat stroke, sanitation issues, over-reliance on emergency services and underutilization of preventive programs. For medically vulnerable residents dependent on health devices, the loss of service could represent not just a temporary inconvenience but a potential risk to their lives.

For these reasons, we would like to raise the possibility for PG&E to consider adapting its Community Wildfire Safety program to take into account special needs for its customers with medical baseline, life support needs, or certification that they have a serious illness or condition that could become life threatening if service is disconnected. In addition, we believe it is important to include special consideration of low-income customers without the resources to make alternative arrangements in the event of blackouts.

Please contact us with any questions. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely,

Keith Carson, Alameda County Supervisor, District 5
Chair of the Personnel Administration Legislation Committee

Kimi Watkins-Tartt
Interim Director, Alameda County Public Health Department

Erica Pan, MD, MPH
Interim Alameda County Health Officer

1221 OAK STREET SUITE 555 OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA 94612 510 272-6984 FAX 510 272-3784 www.acgov.org

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Power Outages and De-Energization Can Be Deadly to People with Disabilities

By Richard Skaff, Executive Director of Designing Accessible Communities

Innovative technology for electricity can mean the difference between life and death for people with disabilities. Ways to ensure more reliable sources of electricity, such as solar and battery backup, should be part of the dialogue at this week’s Wildfire Technology Innovation Summit in Sacramento.

The agenda is devoted to the use of high-tech measures, such as big data and artificial intelligence, to predict wildfires. These are exciting tools that could eventually reduce wildfires in California. But those tools only go so far to protect “us.” Nobody is discussing the immediate and dire challenge of supporting California’s vulnerable population of seniors and people with disabilities—many of whom may be hurt or worse when our electricity doesn’t work.

As California grapples with the devastation left by recent wildfires, de-energization has emerged as PG&E’s main solution to avoid their power lines sparking fires. This is a grave concern for the millions of Californians living with a disability, as well as the more than 8 million seniors in the state. For us, access to continuous and uninterrupted electricity is a matter of life and death.

At a community workshop in Santa Rosa, a PG&E representative warned that a public safety power shutoff could occur, at a minimum, once or twice a year within PG&E’s service area. Attendees were told that in most cases, PG&E expects to restore power within 24 hours, but outages could last two to five days. The outage may continue even longer in some cases because once the high wind/low humidity event has ended, PG&E staff must visually check every mile of de-energized power line before electrifying them to assure none are damaged. PG&E also says they will try to provide a 48-hour notice to area residents but may have to immediately de-energize in some situations.

Even 24 hours without electricity poses a great risk to people who rely on electrically operated life- saving medical equipment. This includes the thousands of Californians who rely on respiratory equipment and dialysis machines, or who need to refrigerate critical medicines like insulin. On a very hot or very cold day, the loss of air conditioning or heating (both systems that require electricity to operate) puts vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities at risk of death. Even simple actions, like opening a garage door, become an impossible task for many within this population during a wildfire, flood, or utility de-energization event, because they may not be able to manually open their garage door. That task may be the difference between life and death for someone with physical limitations.

When a person with a disability who uses a breathing machine or other electricity-dependent medical device doesn’t have access to power, they are put at risk. When PG&E determines an area it serves must be immediately de-energized but is unable to warn residents and visitors in the area, it could mean a life threatening situation for this vulnerable population.

We need innovative energy solutions in the home and at healthcare facilities that support people with disabilities and address these power issues.

One simple and effective innovation is already available: Home solar systems with individual backup batteries that can be connected to the grid. Solar and batteries are an immediate and important part of the solution to help provide continuous or backup power during planned or unplanned outages.

But existing programs and policies do not enable the immediate deployment of these options for California’s vulnerable population. Policymakers must recognize this deficiency and work with regulatory agencies, utility companies and other energy providers to encourage the installation of solar and energy storage for backup power.

We need resources dedicated to help this community that is the most vulnerable during a power outage. Here are a few steps that make a big impact:

  • Track, research, and analyze the impacts on vulnerable populations caused by man-made or natural disasters. For many of the state’s vulnerable population, utility de-energization is considered a man-made disaster!
  • Develop tools to reduce risks of power outages, such as solar and storage.
  • Prioritize the deployment of local clean energy resources among vulnerable populations in fire hazard zones, as well as in rural areas throughout the state.
  • Target solar and storage incentives to medical baseline customers, other customers with disabilities, and the frail elderly.
  • Significantly increase the medical baseline allowance to enable customers to cover the costs of tools for energy security, management and savings. The Solar Bill of Rights (Senate Bill 288), introduced this February, is an important step. It would protect the right of consumers to own solar systems and more importantly for seniors and people with disabilities, batteries that could store enough electricity to save lives during a power outage. Congress must pass this legislation. The technology industry, academic researchers, utilities, and government and consumers must look at ways to help this defenseless community. We must develop acceptable mitigation measures to protect the lives and health of seniors and people with disabilities. I’ve never felt more passionate about the importance of solar power as the right solution than after seeing my friends in the community suffer because of the lack of electricity. California must incorporate solar and storage to keep the power on for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.
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Attendant Care with Hannah Karpilow

Listen (29 min.)

We’ve all heard or said things like, “My attendant is part of my family,” or “I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning without an attendant – literally.”   For many people with disabilities, attendants are a crucial part of daily life

The Independent Living Movement fought for attendant wages so we weren’t entirely dependent on family members and friends.  Women of color, who provide most of the attendant care in California, were the force behind the permanent adoption of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2016.

And, there’s some good news, as new state and federal programs are being proposed and developed to put more care into home care. Check out this plan for Universal Family Care and the massive detailed report of how to implement it on the state level. Hook up with the folks the California Collaborative for Long Term Services and Supports to make your voice more powerful.

Hannah Karpilow has spent years deep in the trenches of care giving for disabled people as well as providing support for other home care workers. 

Hannah’s List: How to find clients as a Home Care Worker

Call the Alameda County IHSS Registry worker information line at 510-577-5694.

More information about IHSS
Easy Does It Emergency Services maintains a list of available workers510-845-5513
Craigslist or help wanted health/ medical 
or place your own ad
or on your local nextdoor.com
Or make your own flyer or business card and post it at senior centers, libraries, etc. Meet with social workers at senior apartments and let them know you’re available. 

If you have any questions about the work in general, and want to talk to someone about it before you put yourself out there, feel free to contact me, Hannah Karpilow at homecarewiz@gmail.com

This program produced and hosted by Adrienne Lauby,


Access-Centered Movement®️ presents an
Saturday, July 6th, Noon – 4:00pm
Where: Oakland Sustaining Ourselves Locally, 1236 23rd Ave, Oakland
What: Dance classes, a raffle, food, and nonalcoholic drinks!
Wheelchair Accessible, Scent Free, ASL Interpretation, Non-Fluorescent Lighting, Low Stimulation Area, and No one turned away for lack of funds
This is a benefit for Stacey Milbern, beloved community member, Disability Justice co-founder, and activist.


People with Disabilities are attending to demand that P.G. & E start – Right Now, before the next wildfire – to address the impact of electrical power shutoffs on consumers, especially seniors and people with disabilities.
Monday, July 08, 2019, 6 – 8 p.m.
Oakland Marriott City Center, Junior Ballroom
1001 Broadway
Oakland, CAh


Featuring Francine Atosha Mbusa and her band from the Congo

Francine Atosha Mbusa (center with guitar)

Sunday, July 7th, Eastside Arts (East Oakland) 2-5 pm
Tuesday, July 9th, Ed Roberts Campus (Berkeley) 7-9pm
Wed, July 10th, All Of Us Or None (Oakland) 7-9pm
Friday, July 12th Cafe Leila (Berkeley) 7-9:30pm

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Maytte Bustillos: Still Living with Brain Cancer

Friday, June 21 2:30-3 pm PST on KPFA radio

Maytte Bustillos

It’s ten years since her brain cancer diagnosis, a time when doctors gave her two years to live. Now, it’s three days before her fourth brain surgery and Maytte Bustillos is not thinking too much about all these numbers. She speaks with us about finding joy amidst the challenges of living with a chronic and terminal illness.

Since we last talked with her, Maytte Bustilos has been raising her daughter, teaching school and dealing with the end of her marriage.  She speaks openly of the challenges and delights of a life of health routines, family ties and spiritual strength.

Produced and hosted by Shelley Berman.

Heading Home
Day after surgery
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Transportation Justice

Friday, June 7, 2:30-3 pm PDT on KPFA

Are you free to move about the Bay Area? Reliably? Conveniently? Accessibly? Affordably?

Does it bother you that people with cars can go anywhere they wish at any time, while you cannot? Are you forced to ride for several hours in a paratransit vehicle only to arrive at your destination too late for your appointment, or halfway through the concert?

The Transportation Justice Project wants to help. See their vision statement here.

The East Bay Center for the Blind (EBCB), an organization with deep roots in the disability community, is setting a table where users of the system can provide solutions.

Learn what they are doing and how your voice can be heard from our guests, Daveed Mandel and Jenna Rubin.  The EBCB Transportation Justice Project is sponsored by a grant from the San Francisco Foundation

Produced and co-hosted by Eddie Ytuarte.
Co-host: Sheela Gunn-Cushman.

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Transportation Justice Project – Vision Statement

Are you free to move about the Bay Area? Reliably? Conveniently? Accessibly? Affordably?

Does it bother you that people with cars can go anywhere they wish at any time, while you cannot? Do you have to walk a long way and wait a long time in inclement weather for the bus or train? Are you forced to ride for several hours in a Paratransit vehicle only to arrive at your destination too late for your appointment, or halfway through the concert?

Freedom of movement is a fundamental right guaranteed under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet seniors, people with disabilities, and all other non-drivers are denied it.

We deserve far better!

The transportation justice movement is gaining momentum here and abroad. The East Bay Center for the Blind recently launched Transportation Justice Project, funded by a grant from the San Francisco Foundation, putting the focus on the needs of local seniors and people with disabilities.

We seek to close the gap between drivers and non-drivers by no less than a complete overhaul and integration of all modes of public transportation. We now have allies in the cause, including Urban Habitat, Transform, Seamless Bay Area, and LIFE ElderCare.

Let’s build a coalition! Join the transportation revolution now!

For more information contact:
Jenna Rubin
Outreach Coordinator

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Mental Disability Overview

Today we talk about Mental Disability through many points of view.  We hear a poem about gentrification from an artist living with anxiety, stage two bipolar disorder, and depression.  A psychiatric nurse describes her recovery from severe schizophrenia… and more.

Through the consumer and client empowerment movement, people are on the move.

Hear their stories as well as an analysis of the political and social landscape they navigate every day.

Schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and eating addictions. We play excerpts of interviews with consumer advocate Sally Zinman, Catherine Penny and Fable the Poet.

This is a fund drive program and we are asking you to support KPFA, the station that supports our work and the work of so many people with mental disabilities working for their own recovery and the recovery of our culture.

Produced by Adrienne Lauby.  Hosts: Shelley Berman, Adrienne Lauby & Josh Elwood.

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CalABLE Savings Accounts

The disability community can thank people with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities (and their allies) for an incredibly useful new tool.  ABLE accounts have come to California.  For the first time, many of us can now amass substantial savings without being penalized with dollars deducted from our Social Security or loss of Medi-Cal benefits!

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits limit savings to $2,000. — a very shaky safety net indeed. But the federal and state ABLE programs offer a work-around.

Dante Allen, Executive Director of the CalABLE board.

As usual, there’s twists and turns.  Find out more as we talk with Dante Q. Allen, Executive Director of the CalABLE Board.

Sheela Gunn-Cushman and Adrienne Lauby host.

There is a move to expand these accounts to more people.  To find out more, visit the Pushing Limits website. 

Tell your Congressional representatives to sign on as a co-sponsor.  There are talking points and other support at the link above.

Other contacts for the CalABLE program:
Phone: 833-Cal-ABLE (833-225-2253) between 9am and 5pm PT
Email: CalABLESupport@CalABLE.ca.gov

Pushing Limits has been selected as one of the Ten Top Audio Podcasts & Radio You Must Subscribe and Listen to in 2019 by Feedspot.com.   It’s a great list of podcasts and we’re honored to be among them.

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Tell Congress to Support the ABLE Age Adjustment Act!

To find your Senators go here: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Please contact your congressional representatives and ask them to cosponsor the ABLE Age Adjustment Act (S.651) today!

To find your House of Representatives members go here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative


--I am your constituent from [name of city and state].

--I am calling to ask Senator/Representative [NAME] to cosponsor the ABLE Age Adjustment Act (S. 817/ HR 1874).
ABLE accounts are important to people with disabilities because they allow them the opportunity to save more than $2000 in assets -to be spent on disability related expenses - without jeopardizing their much-needed public benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid.

--Unfortunately, only people whose disabilities occurred prior to age 26 are currently eligible for ABLE accounts.

--By increasing age of onset from before age 26 to before age 46, this bill will enable at least 6 million more people with disabilities to open an ABLE account and enhance their financial independence and quality of life.

--It will also increase the likelihood that ABLE programs across the country will be sustainable and costs will be kept low.

--I hope we can count on Senator/Representative [NAME] to support the disability community and cosponsor the ABLE Age Adjustment Act!

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