Severe weather, wildfires, and seismic events often lead the news; no place is free from the risk of natural disaster. Utility services to homes and businesses—water, electricity, natural gas—are among the most critical factors that determine the amount of damage and the time it takes to recover. In some cases, the failure of utility infrastructure makes the difference between an unusual event and a disaster.
How well are our local utilities prepared for these natural events? Are our electric lines safe and dependable when in proximity to trees that may be at the breaking point with ice in one season and tinder-dry in another? What can we expect of our aged water system when it gets tested by earthquakes and floods? Will natural gas lines be shut off in a timely way when seismic events or wildfires cause damage to equipment?
A growing public awareness of the Pacific Northwest’s vulnerability to a major earthquake has lent support to hardening utility infrastructure against disaster threats, in addition to preparing to respond. Some electric lines are being assessed for relocation underground. Water service vulnerabilities, such as reliance on a single source, concern utility managers. Seismically triggered gas-shutoff valves are an option for homeowners; but utility managers are responsible for seeing that the flow of gas in the system stops when necessary to prevent fire.
Within the next few years, Oregon utilities will benefit from a built-out Seismic Early Warning System that will give notice of imminent ground shaking due to earthquakes detected by a network of sensors. The system will permit actions to limit or prevent damage while all controls are still functional. A similar system is already in operation in Southern California.
Rodney Price and Joe Karney will explain how our utility companies are preparing for possible catastrophic events.
Rodney Price is the Chief Operating Officer of the Eugene Water and Electric Board. He joined EWEB in 1998 and became the COO in 2019. Rod has over 30 years of electric utility experience, including with the Bonneville Power Administration, Emerald PUD, and Stanley Consultants. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Oregon and Washington. He earned BS and MS degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Idaho.
Joe Karney is the Senior Director of Engineering of Northwest Natural, the state’s largest natural gas utility, serving two million people. During his 15 years at the company, Joe has managed regulatory compliance, construction, and engineering. He represents the utility sector on the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy advisory committee. Joe received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a registered Professional Engineer in Oregon.