San Rafael CERTs Learn About PG&E Safety

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A treasure trove of important information expands the learning of CERTs in San Rafael

Jim Wickham, Senior Public Safety Specialist for PG&E presented spoke to San Rafael CERTs on July 18 about gas and electrical safety.

Gas Safety

Jim brought many visual aids to show what a gas line looks like and how it is distributed through over 40,000 miles of pipeline in the state. He also discussed the changes PG&E has made since the fateful San Bruno fire.

Gas pipeline warning signs

You might see these signs along major highways, particularly Hwy 5, that show the location of larger natural gas transmission lines.

Jim explained how gas can migrate through the ground, and anytime you smell gas the most critical responses are to leave the area immediately and call PG&E. Use the 3 S’s of gas leak detection, Sight, Sound and Smell.


  • Dirt blown into the air
  • Dead or dying vegetation
  • Flames coming from the ground
  • Continuous bubbling in puddles


  • Roaring sound (a transmission line will sound like a jet engine, while a distribution line is very loud even a few hundred feet away)
  • Hissing or whistling (might come from service or appliance leaks)
  • Caution: there may be no sound


  • Mercaptan odorant is added to natural gas to give that rotten egg smell
  • Caution: Odor may fade, particularly if you are outside. You may also get used to it and not notice the smell. Respond with the first smell by checking for the source (is the gas stove on but not lit so gas is escaping into kitchen?) and opening windows and doors to dissipate the gas. If you can’t find the source, open windows, leave the building and notify PG&E at 800-743-5002.

Bottom line: Call PG&E if you are concerned.

The gas pipelines on our streets and in our yards are plastic pipes and easily broken by a shovel or digging equipment. Always call 811 before you dig. PG&E will come and mark your gas lines for free, but allow a few days. If you are having construction in your yard, don’t assume your contractors will do this.

*If you are on a CERT team on a house search and smell a gas leak, turn off the gas at the gas valve if you feel it is safe to do so; notify residents if possible; contact the PG&E emergency number noted above and cordon off the area until public safety officials /PG&E announce it is safe.

Electrical Safety

Again, Jim brought visual aids to show us what a power line looks like up close. If you see a line down, don’t go near it. Cordon off the area (30 ‘ in dry and 60’ in wet conditions), notify the fire department and PG&E and keep neighbors away from the area. But did you know that the electrical current from a downed wire can travel in the ground so even going within a few hundred feet puts you are risk? A downed wire can conduct electricity through metal, water, our body, wood and rope. Call PG&E and don’t assume someone else has!

electrical line hits car

A downed wire can electrify a car, the fence and the ground. Stay in the car and call 911.

If you are in your car and a wire comes down on the car, stay in the car. You are safe there. Call for help on the phone or open the window and shout. Wait for help. If you step out of your car while touching the car, you will become the electrical current ‘ground’ if the wire is live. If you have to make an emergency exit, open the car door, shift your position so you are facing out with your feet on the baseboard; cross your arms over your chest; and jump from the car so both feet land on the ground without touching the car.

So much more was covered in his one hour presentation and we are working on another event for all CERTs in Marin to hear this important training.

ICS Refresher

San Rafael CERTs also did a short refresher exercise on a portion of the Incident Command System, focusing on how to communicate and document activities in the Operations section of the Command Post.

CERT Communication in San Rafael

One of the priorities for John Bruckbauer, San Rafael Emergency Management Coordinator, has been to establish a communication protocol for CERTs within the city. With 30 neighborhoods and many CERT groups within each, the possibility of massive communications during an emergency is great.

John presented the early stages of a plan to establish 7 Divisions within the city to build CERT communication “trees”. Neighborhoods would be roughly aligned with their Fire station service and a CERT Division Leader identified. In the event of an emergency, communication about damage and injuries would be channeled up to the Division Leader who would then report to San Rafael Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

For example, your Gerstle Park CERT group might be identified as Division 51,(aligned with downtown’s Fire Station 51)/Gerstle Park. John brought a map to illustrate this approach. We will hear more later in the year as the plan is further developed.

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