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Safety first!

PG&E, emergency agencies conduct joint exercise in Hollister

Emergency responders and volunteers practiced their coordination and response skills at an Aug. 24 drill at the Hollister Municipal Airport. Photo: Chris Mora

In an effort to solidify their emergency response coordination strategies as reports of potentially perilous accidental gas line damage increase in the tri-county region, PG&E and local public safety agencies held a joint safety drill at Hollister Municipal Airport on Aug. 24.

During the drill, participating responders simulated their coordination during an emergency event caused by damages to natural gas pipelines, resulting in injuries “as a result of excavation or gas leaks,” says a statement from PG&E. Participants in the drill worked through two simulated “live action drills to examine strengths and identify opportunities to improve the joint response around scenarios involving natural gas to protect customers and communities.”

Participating in the Aug. 24 drill were representatives of PG&E, Hollister Fire, CalFire, Aromas Fire Department, American Medical Response (AMR), CALSTAR Air Medical Services, San Benito County Sheriff’s Office, Hollister Police Department and NetCom dispatch services.

The exercise used PG&E trucks, fire engines, police patrol vehicles and other public safety response equipment. The drill also included a CALSTAR Life Flight helicopter because many people who suffer traumatic injuries in Hollister are airlifted to medical centers outside San Benito County for emergency treatment, explained the PG&E press release.

PG&E noted that it has seen an increase in accidental strikes to underground utilities in the Northern and Central California regions as construction activity has increased. In 2021, San Benito County recorded seven accidental pipeline dig-ins, and at least two such incidents so far in 2022. In Monterey County, there were 64 accidental pipeline breaks in 2021—and 38 incidents so far this year.

Each of these incidents—though not always resulting in injury—requires the fire department to respond to the scene, where they work with PG&E to make sure the area is safe, the press release continues.

In addition to the risk of injury or death, accidental utility line breaks can be costly. Customers can face a repair bill that averages $3,500 or more, says the press release.

People can call the free phone number 811 to request that underground utility lines be marked before digging.

“Calling 811 is free, easy and fast, and will help you keep your family and neighbors safe and connected to essential utility services,” said Joe Forline, Senior Vice President for PG&E Gas Operations. “Hitting an underground gas or electric line while digging can be dangerous. Knowing where the lines are located, so that digging can be done safely in those areas, is the best way to avoid a safety incident and avoid costs associated with repair.”

Customers, contractors or anyone planning to dig on their property should call 811 at least two business days before starting their project, PG&E advises. Utility workers will respond at no cost to the customer, and will locate and mark the location of underground lines.  

A PG&E employee participating in the Aug. 24 drill at Hollister Municipal Airport acted as a heckler to the first responders. Photo: Chris Mora
CalFire firefighters participated in the Aug. 24 joint exercise at the Hollister Municipal Airport. Photo: Chris Mora
Photo: Chris Mora