Communications Are DOWN in Parts of California: Radio, TV, Internet, Cell Towers Fall Victim to PG&E Blackouts As Wildfires Rage

(Psst: The FTC wants me to remind you that this website contains affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase from a link you click on, I might receive a small commission. This does not increase the price you'll pay for that item nor does it decrease the awesomeness of the item. ~ Daisy)

California is burning, and the planned power outages initiated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) have understandably enraged a lot of residents, particularly due to an unexpected consequence: the blackouts have cut power to many cellphone towers.

Not having cell phone service is contributing to a dangerous lack of access to vital information. Many impacted residents are also without television and the internet, and 26 radio stations were out of service as well, further limiting emergency communication.

Without cell service, signing up for emergency wildfire evacuation notices or using backup chargers to keep phones going during a power outage is useless.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle,

On Tuesday, nearly 224,000 customers across the state were without communication services — television, internet, and phone — according to data that companies reported to the Federal Communications Commission. That number dropped from more than 450,000 Monday.

Hundreds of cell sites were down. In Marin County, 35% of cell sites were down. In Sonoma County, it was 22%; Napa County: 15%; Contra Costa County: 3.8%; and San Mateo County: 3.5%. (source)

This afternoon, The Wall Street Journal reported that according to Federal Communications Commission data, cable and wireline phone companies said 173,058 subscribers were without service as of Wednesday morning.

When cell service is down, so is the ability to call 911.

“The biggest concern is that when it comes to 911 calls, 81 percent of 911 calls are made from your wireless phone so having cell sites down it’s an incredible public safety concern that consumers cannot access emergency services,” Ana Maria Johnson with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) told KTVU Fox 2. She added that cell towers don’t have back-up power systems because cell companies are not required to do so. The Public Advocates Office, an independent organization within the CPUC, has petitioned cellular companies to have generators and back-up batteries on-site.

The reasons that cell service may be lost during blackouts are complex and are explained in detail in the article California Wildfires: Cell Companies Can’t Promise Indefinite Service. To gain a more in-depth understanding of the issue, I recommend reading that article, but here is an excerpt:

Most cell stations in California have backup options, like batteries and generators. However, some major cell phone carriers told the Federal Communications Commission in filings this week that if physical access to cell towers is cut off, they can’t guarantee service.

Backup power options “are not effective for mitigating the disruption to wireless communications when our facilities are damaged by fire,” AT&T told the FCC.

Verizon said some of its sites in California don’t have backup generators due to zoning and other restrictions, so the company will use portable generators that can be refueled. But whether to refuel a generator during a wildfire depends on access to the area, the safety of workers and the potential impact of wildfire, the company said.

“If (sites) lose commercial power, batteries kick in. If commercial power is lost for longer than the life span of the battery, the generator will kick in. We have a refueling plan for the generators if there’s a prolonged outage,” Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said. “If there’s an active wildfire, we don’t always have access to the site, and that may impinge on our refueling plans.” (source)

“You don’t appreciate how essential cellphone service is until you lose it,” Chris Ungson, deputy director for communications and water policy for the California Public Advocates Office, an independent agency within the state’s Public Utilities Commission, told The New York Times. “It’s not just a matter of inconvenience; it’s a matter of public health and safety. It’s a lifeline to many, many people.”

Emergency calls to 911 are one indicator: The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said more than 80 percent of such calls in California last year were made by cellphone.

For years, state and federal regulators have pressed the cellular companies to better reinforce their networks for emergencies. The Federal Communications Commission said Monday that it was conducting “a comprehensive review of the wireless industry’s voluntary commitment to promote resilient wireless communications during disasters.”

The F.C.C. wrote to cellular carriers last month to express concern about service reliability as California’s wildfire season neared, asking for an account of steps being taken “to promote the continuity of communications for public safety officials and residents.” (source)

If you can’t call 911, you won’t be able to request help for medical emergencies.

And even if you ARE able to call 911, there is no guarantee medical facilities will be able to help you during a blackout.

Healthcare leaders told The Sacramento Bee that they are “confronting a level of disruption to delivering care and running their businesses that they have never seen in their careers” as a result of the California wildfires and PG&E’s planned blackouts. Here are a few excerpts from The Sacramento Bee’s report:

“I actually have never experienced a power outage where we were on emergency generator backup for 40 hours or more,” said Dr. Brian Evans, the chief executive officer at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley. “We’ve had short-term disruptions, but typically it wasn’t one of these planned outages that lasted for quite some time. I would say, for me personally, it’s been a career first.”

Across California, wildfires and outages have forced healthcare providers to close hospitals and medical clinics, or greatly limit services. Both Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health evacuated their hospitals in Santa Rosa last weekend, the second time in three years the medical centers had to be abandoned as flames and fumes approached.

Healthcare leaders said power outages create challenges for patients. They have to reschedule appointments, drive farther to get the service they need and, in the case of medically frail individuals, take extraordinary steps to ensure they have what they need to survive.

“It’s really tough on patients, on the finances, on everything,” Evans said. “You don’t know all the various impacts. One thing that was interesting and very surprising was how it affected people in our community who are on oxygen. … We ended up admitting 11 people to the hospital during the first outage because they didn’t have power to run equipment they needed.” (source)

This problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

PG&E said its latest blackout would affect about 1.5 million people in 29 counties. At the same time, about 1 million people were still without power Tuesday after a shut-off over the weekend that affected nearly 2.7 million. Today, PG&E announced it would begin restoring power to certain areas – some today, some tomorrow – but many areas still have no estimated time of restoration listed.

The blackout Tuesday was PG&E’s third in a week and the fourth in a month. It included the Sierra Nevada foothills and parts of Marin County, population 260,000, north of San Francisco. Many people in Marin have been without power since Saturday.

Meanwhile, more wildfires have erupted in Southern California, and about 26,000 people are being ordered to evacuate (most of which are mandatory), reports the Associated Press.

At an emergency meeting earlier this month, PG&E Chief Executive William D. Johnson said that California residents can expect to face widespread, precautionary blackouts for the next 10 years. He said the bankrupt utility giant will need that much time to be able to prevent its power transmission lines from sparking fires. While the need for widespread shutdowns should lessen every year, Johnson told commissioners, “I think this is probably a 10-year timeline to get to a point where it’s really ratcheted down significantly,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

What does this mean for you?

Even if you do not live in California or in a region that is prone to wildfires, let the dire situation there serve as a cautionary tale: Please be sure to have backup sources of communication and a medical kit ready just in case a natural disaster strikes your area and knocks out access to emergency services.

Here is a list of resources to help you prepare:

90% of Wildfires Are Caused by People, Not by “Climate Change” – Here’s Why (and How) You Must Prep Your Home for the Inevitable

Making a Homestead Evacuation Plan

The Tools and Information Preppers Need for Emergency Communications

The Bug Out Book

The BlackOut Book

SELCO: How NOT to Build Your SHTF Medical Kit and What NOT to Do With It

Selco: The Shocking Reality of SHTF Medicine and How to Prep for When the Medical System is GONE

6 Overlooked Pieces of Medical Equipment Preppers Should Have

5 Simple Pieces of LIFESAVING Medical Knowledge

What do you think?

Are you prepared for emergencies like wildfires and the potential loss of cell phone usage?


About the Author

Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.

Picture of Dagny Taggart

Dagny Taggart

Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.

Leave a Reply

  • We just called my father-in-law in northern California. No fires near him or evacuations, but they have been without electricity since Saturday so far (today is Thursday)! This means no gas is pumped, no groceries are checked out electronically, he’s charging his phone in his car. He doesn’t prep, but does have food to last. California is a mess.

  • Maybe if the People’s Republic of California wasn’t so stupid and allowed logging operations to keep the forests healthy these fires wouldn’t get started in the first place. I always have to cringe when I read a product label that says ” this product contains materials known to the State of California to cause cancer, etc”. Just who is this person that calls themselves “the State of California? People know things, not an undefined entity such as a state.

    • the fires were deliberately set by directed energy weapons on drones…the secret government is doing this burning out the citizens off their land for Agenda 2030

      • DEW, pronounced…: Exactly. And most just cannot, just will not see the burning wood for the tree, Agenda 21 built the case for 2030, enslavement of humanity, Smart Surveillance Cities are the key, micro-chipped populace, UBI provides it for free!

  • Read an AP news article, where one woman borrowed a neighbors generator outlet to charge her laptop so her and her child could . . . wait for it . . . watch movies.
    Here is an idea, read a book. The Cat in the Hat, Charlotte’s Web, Stewart Little, Run Away Ralph, The Trumpeter Swan, none of them require a laptop. Just a light source, candles, hurricane lanterns, etc.

  • Well wonder how man politicians got money to let the power companies not do what they got monies for to clear up their mess with the lines. So they just cut power off and people…die. But that is ok since I guess the heads/brass will just make more donations to the politicians and everything will be ok. BET not a one goes to jail for their actions. OK now well we have the cell towers owners sue the electric company for their lost service? Why not since it just might fool the people into thinking they are doing something.

  • I think that it’s about time PG&E was held accountable for this mess and the national guard brought in to get the brush cleared out and infrastructure repaired/replaced.
    Ten days is too long to have a forced blackout, much less ten YEARS of the utility pussyfooting around and trying to placate the environmentalists. A displaced squirrel is a lot better off than a dead one.

    • Perhaps if they were allowed to clear brush and trim trees properly this self inflicted gunshot wouldn’t happen

  • I wonder if satellite phones would be a viable alternative to cell phones for Californians? I don’t know much about them, just that they work in remote locations.
    Anyone else have any experience with them?

    • That’s a really good idea! One of the people who took the course with me in Croatia had a satellite phone and it had a signal when none of our cellular devices did.

      • I have satellite internet. My phone is VOIP. There are no phone lines/telephone poles passing my property although I have U.S. Highway 90 frontage. There is no cell reception here either. Along our section of the county the phone reception is spotty. Last night my husband and I discussed the need for a ham radio. The cost is not in the budget right now. We are off grid. We have three generators (a primary and back ups). We had a satellite phone out here once but it was real expensive when you went over the 60 minutes we were allowed. It soon became unaffordable. We also do not have 911 service for cell phones on my end of the county. The county commissioners voted not to install 911 towers because it was to expensive, but they voted themselves a pay raise. Even the sheriff’s department does not patrol our end of the county. We are on our own here. Trish called to talk with EMS because her husband has a brain tumor. The road in front of her place is a county maintained dirt road. EMS said that she would have to drive her husband or family members in an emergency up to the highway since they would not travel down her road. There was a grass fire just north of us and the fire department refused to go up there. My end of the county,which our county is over a million acres, is the bastard child.

  • California..the Third World state: brought to you by PG&E and a worthless Liberal state government

    That’s what I think of the situation. Another major fire ( Kincade) started by PG&E. When are they going to be brought to account? And by whom? The bleeding hearts who are so concerned about geese they take valuable legislative time to ban foie gras? The people who insist, in the face of rolling blackouts, that people must have electric stoves (Yes that is you, Berkeley!)?

    What has happened to Government OF the people, BY the people and FOR the people? Maybe we don’t need term limits as much as we need income limits, AND some kind of education/intelligence rider to boot.

  • All cellsites should have solar panels. Everything in the telecommunication world runs off of 24VDC or 48VDC. Perfect for solar energy, I have never seen any of those companies use them. They, most of all companies, are super retarded for missing out on all that free electricity. They wouldn’t even need backup generators for cell sites. Their batteries could carry them all night.

  • Where are all the communications satellites that are supposed to exist in near earth orbit? Hmmmmm. Just shows you how dependent we are on ground based antennas. Ask a commercial airline pilot how they navigate. NO GPS! It’s ground based antenna. Satellites?????

  • Every utility in the country is facing the same problem as PG&E – cost of prevention versus cost to correct a problem after it happens. It is FAR less expensive to repair a downed power line (frequent occurance in the mid-Atlantic where I live) at a single location X than to clear Z miles of right of way to prevent trees / branches from downing a line. Herbicide application with long duration herbicide chemicals (like Pramitol) faces many environmental and health risks. Otherwise it is a very labor intensive and expensive ($15 per hour minimum wage?) brush clearing operation. The brush clearing needs to be repeated at regular intervals.

    Sorry folks, you can’t have reliable AND cheap utility power. It is an either-or but not both situation. If you are willing to pay maybe 2-3 times your current cost per KwH, you could get more reliable power, but it will never be 100%.

  • I kept wondering why the name, Dagney Taggart seemed so familiar….then I remembered reading Ayn
    Rand’s books years ago…and I giggled. GOOD CHOICE! 😉

  • I can’t imagine voluntarily living in an American state where I was told in advance to get used to living with rolling blackouts for years. I can’t believe any Californian stays. Nothing would keep me there, not the house, not the job, not the spouse or children, not the grandchildren, not the parents or grandparents. They could come with me or stay without me. A state that cannot even provide electricity to citizens should lose its statehood and be reverted to a territory.

  • Living here in Northern Calizuela, we’ve experienced both the fires (evacuated for 8 days in 2017–stood by again in 2018) and the power shutoffs (four in the past month).

    We are in the foothills north of Sacramento, and have a cabin in the mountains another 40 miles further north. There is no reliable cell coverage at home, and none at all at the cabin. On the plus side, we are not addicted to our cell phones. Landlines generally do function. During the fire in 2017, all the poles and lines were burnt, and the first couple of shutdowns showed that the phone company wasn’t keeping their battery systems maintained. The last three outages, landlines worked (phone company had generators at the local switches). 911 can be called by landline, too.

    Alas, there is rarely any useful information available in any public medium. News gets excited about Paradise burning to the ground, or “multi-million dollar homes” burning (unless you are an insurance company, what does the price matter?), but offers nothing in the way of useful, current, local information regarding either fires or outages. Public agencies have taken to using “social” media to promulgate information, which requires both internet access, and the willingness to be part of that vile structure simply to get information that should be available through a local or “clear channel” radio station.

    • The HAM radio spectrum is divided up into three main areas: HF which can reach around the world, VHF and UHF which are line of sight, therefore need repeaters to go any distance. Furthermore, many of the repeaters are connected to the internet to connect with other repeaters. These repeaters are often relied on also by government agencies during emergencies and special events.

      Repeaters tend to be low powered, to service only a local market.

      I heard a report a few months ago on how the local HAMs in San Jose kept a repeater up during a fire there, even when other communications were knocked (burned) out, which was a real help.

      You need a HAM license to use them (fairly easy to get) and the basic, battery powered handheld radio that can access repeaters often costs less than $200.

      This report that Kalifornia is shutting down repeaters is either stupidity, or is it nepherious?

      I remember living in south eastern San Francisco during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake—the landline phones were down (they stayed down for a week), our neighborhood didn’t have a single, working battery powered radio (won’t do that again), we could see the stadium with its lights shining (we learned later that they had emergency generators that kicked in almost immediately) but everywhere else in the city was dark, no electricity. Off to the north, there was the surprisingly bright glow of a major fire: it had to be in the city (San Francisco) but to the north there were hills that blocked our view that direction, except for the glow that shown over the hills. Was the fire spreading like in 1906? Would we have to evacuate? The lack of communications was probably the worst part of that experience for us.

      Since then San Francisco has required that many of the volunteer emergency services get their HAM licenses and get their own handheld, battery powered UHF/VHF radios. The city has set up repeaters in fire stations for each section of the city. There are also civilian-owned repeaters in the city, which can be used so that non-emergency communications won’t overwhelm the emergency services.

  • So, why are the responsible people for all this gross stupidity still not in jail on multiple criminal charges and why has the State of California not looked for and found a company to take over and fix these problems? I think the State are now just as culpable for putting taxpaying, voting citizens at risk for NOT taking preemptive action to prevent PG&E power shutdowns before the fire season got so bad.

  • “Dagny”, it is not always that simple! To have all of those devices for the powering emergency backup, one has to find a way to install them maybe even above your kids’ bedroom. You know the drill… We are over-regulated with an all-mighty pretense of keeping us and our kids out the claws and fangs of vultures. Through with a coward compliance with such nonsense, we give the way a to the real ones (not those who are willing to pay fair for a job, but those who are extorting parts of fair earnings to put their insatiable greed induced and by so produced their genetic ‘outcomes’ into a college and let them exploit all that is left on this planet further and further)… Harsh, maybe. But, straight form the heart .Be well. Long time a no regular reader… Thanks. P.S. One should be careful to not give an excuse to install some more microwave (because of…) stuff . Once they took money, the deal is irreversible. Period. And this: “Money makes the world go round…(repeat as much as you like) I think that she was a tone deaf singer, anyway.

  • And they think HAM stations and repeaters are obsolete.

    Bunch of high IQ people running that state into the ground.

  • I haven’t read a lot about this, but was curious to know if sewerage treatment and fresh water pumping stations were affected. Did sewerage treatment stop? Did the faucets run dry? Also, I work at a state psychiatric hospital and there, the power goes out occasionally, but is always restored fairly quickly. What about CA facilities like that? If power went out at a psych hospital or a jail, that could cause major problems. And, another thought. Does that mean that gas stations could not pump fuel if there was no power to their pumps? The list goes on and on. Was there any increase in criminal activities, looting, etc.?

    What were peoples’ experiences there?

  • Yes, my comments to others were that we were left deaf, dumb and blind in many ways. We have a generator but still wsere effectively cut off of contact.

  • Here’s hoping the affected people are OK.

    A lot of problems are due to not cutting down nearby trees and brush, and urban sprawl into fire-prone areas. Between government neglect, corrupt real estate development, and shallow green thinking that demands no trees be cut down, a lot of forest and chaparral close to homes become tinder bombs waiting to go.

    The fire danger is not avoidable in California, its part of the natural ecology. Taking no steps in prevention and mitigation makes the danger far worse.

    Step zero in prepping: Prevention and mitigation, not suppression and wishful thinking.

  • Interesting that Kalifornia has talked about banning ham repeaters on public land or at least charging for the use of the land.
    I guess they just want total control.

  • You Need More Than Food to Survive

    In the event of a long-term disaster, there are non-food essentials that can be vital to your survival and well-being. Make certain you have these 50 non-food stockpile essentials. Sign up for your FREE report and get prepared.

    We respect your privacy.
    Malcare WordPress Security