Wildfire Crisis Communications

Lassen Municipal Utility District (LMUD) has multiple ways for you to stay updated during outages

By Theresa Phillips

Line crews repair the fire damaged lines between Westwood and Susanville after the 2021 Dixie Fire.

Wildfire season is fast approaching. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the first four months of 2022 have been the driest on record for California with only 25% of average precipitation. This breaks the previous record-dry January through April that occurred in 2013, putting California at risk for another record-breaking fire season.

The 2021 Dixie Fire consumed nearly 1 million acres in Northeastern California. It ravaged Lassen and Plumas counties and left residents without power for days. Although most of LMUD’s system was unaffected, the loss of Pacific Gas and Electric’s Caribou transmission line wreaked havoc on our service territory. In a particularly cruel twist, LMUD’s backup power supplier, Honey Lake Power, experienced a catastrophic equipment failure, leaving it unable to produce power for nearly a week. This forced LMUD to receive emergency power over PG&E’s Hat Creek transmission line. The amount of power we received—about one-quarter of our total needs—caused power shortages resulting in rolling blackouts.

As bad as the Dixie Fire was, it offered us an opportunity to learn how to better prepare for the next event. We learned that we can’t control Mother Nature, and fires will happen. The only thing we can control is how we react. This means hardening our system against fire, aggressively clearing lines and keeping the lines of communication open.

From a communications perspective, we learned that our customers want as much information as we can provide, in as many ways as we can provide it. Much like hardening our lines against wildfire, we have hardened our communications as well.

LMUD has developed a comprehensive crisis communications plan, incorporating the lessons we’ve learned from past events. During the Dixie Fire, several key employees were evacuated from their homes. Our plan now incorporates cross-training and redundancy. The Dixie Fire caused disruption to communication systems, leaving many without cell service or internet. Modern day communications rely heavily on social media posts and website updates. In case this happens again, our plan allows for alternative communication using local radio and community message boards.

Update, update and update. We learned that our customers want as much information as we have when we have it. Even if it’s to say, “nothing has changed.” Whatever platform we are using, whether it is web-based, radio or physical message boards, our plan includes regular updates.

Get Ready for Outage Updates

Line crews repair the fire damaged lines between Westwood and Susanville after the 2021 Dixie Fire.

What can you do to make sure you are receiving outage updates during fire season? First and foremost, subscribe to our outage text alert system. Text the letters LMUD to (877) 754-7697. When you have successfully enrolled, you will receive a confirmation text. Once you receive it, make sure to add the number into your contacts as LMUD Text Alerts. That way, you’ll immediately recognize an LMUD alert.

Follow our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/lassenmud. To ensure that you are notified of important posts, set your follow settings to favorites and your notification settings to standard.

Bookmark our website, www.lmud.org, in your web browser or add us to your list of favorites on your phone. You can find detailed information on current outages or fire alerts in our Outage Center. You can also view a map of all active outages.

Add our customer service line, (530) 257-4174, to your contact list. If you need us in a hurry, you’ll have our number ready. This line is managed around the clock by a professional answering service with operators specially trained to handle electric utility calls.

We all hope the coming fire season will pass without a major event—our community has been through enough. However, if history is an indicator and lack of moisture tells us anything, we should all be hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

Create an Evacuation Plan

Have a plan ready. Wildfires can destroy homes and threaten lives. Before this season begins, make an evacuation plan.

Here are some tips from Ready.gov:

  • Sign up for warnings and alerts – Download the FEMA app and sign up for community alerts – Be aware of the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts
  • Make sure everyone in your household knows and understands what to do if you need to evacuate
  • Make sure your insurance policies and personal documents are up to date – Take photos or scan documents and keep them in a secure digital space
  • Prepare your home – Create a 30-foot, fire-resistant zone around your home that is free of leaves, debris or flammable materials
  • Smoke can be deadly – Designate a room that can be closed off from outside air – Close all doors and windows – Set up a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels as low as possible
  • Know your evacuation zone – Alerts can be confusing – Make sure you are familiar with the zone you live in
  • Gather supplies – Stock up on bottled water, keep a supply of essential medications, and if you are dependent on an oxygen concentrator, make sure you have portable oxygen tanks on hand that do not require electricity

For more planning resources, visit Ready.gov's page on wildfires