Forest Falls Outage Highlights SCE’s Partnership With Local Government During El Niño

San Bernardino County provided snowplows, traffic control and manpower to help get power back on to the snow-bound mountain community.

This is one in a series of stories on how Southern California Edison is preparing for El Niño​ and the 2015-16 storm season.

After four years of drought, it had been awhile since the Forest Falls community (see map below) in the San Bernardino Mountains had seen any serious rain or snow.

So when a series of winter storms roared through the first week of January, dumping as much as two feet of snow, it caught everyone by surprise.

Trees weakened by the drought and heavy with snow crashed onto houses and took out power lines, cutting electricity to about 1,000 Southern California Edison customers in the Forest Falls, Camp Angelus, Jenks Lake and Bear Valley areas.

With many of the downed lines in the back country and snow blocking the mountain roads, it was clear restoring power would be a challenge for SCE to handle alone. The company reached out to San Bernardino County’s Office of Emergency Services.

Michael Antonucci, manager of Emergency Services, and his storm group were ready.

“If you need some snowplows and Sno-Cats to get back in there and clear the way for you, we’ll do it,” he said. “Whatever we can do to provide assistance.”

Soon, county snowplows were clearing mountain roads. The county initiated its reverse 911 system to alert residents they could be without power for four days. SCE supplied flashlights and blankets for stranded residents, which the county’s Community Emergency Response Team delivered. Sheriff’s deputies closed Valley of the Falls Drive, the main road into Forest Falls, during daylight hours over the weekend so SCE trucks could get through.

The storm response is an example of SCE’s stepped-up efforts this year to reach out and better co-ordinate with local government during the El Niño season.

Jennifer Cusack, an SCE government affairs representative who had been in contact with San Bernardino County officials all week, was impressed by the county’s willingness to help.

“They did not hesitate,” she said. “They were right on board.”

Scot Stueland, SCE’s Desert Region manager for distribution in the area, said having the county clear the roads — some of them barely the width of a truck — was instrumental since SCE doesn’t own snowplows and would have had to arrange to hire them.

“If we had to get the equipment, it would have extended the outage time,” Stueland said.

Although it took four days to get all the power restored, everyone agreed it could have taken even longer because of the difficult conditions. Antonucci praised SCE for its willingness to reach out and work together.

“In the past, I think Edison was afraid to put it out there that ‘we need help,’” he said. “I think this was one of the best incidents I’ve ever worked with a power outage — it was a great partnership.”