Electrical power is a universally used utility that we do not usually think about until it becomes unavailable.  To provide for the needs of government in the county, especially safety organizations, when the utility is no longer available, emergency power motor-generator sets have been installed in almost every facility.  Power from these supplies must replace the utility almost instantly and automatically.  They should be capable of reliable operation for the duration of any emergency with a minimum of servicing and attention.

The Grand Jury (GJ) conducted a survey of power sources throughout the county.  These sources ranged from a two-kilowatt portable unit (with lease tag still on it), to 300-kilowatt permanent installations that were installed in major facilities.  The age and condition of these units varied as did the age and condition of the buildings they were in.  There has been no guideline for the design of these power sources, nor how they are used.  The recognized building codes or safety standards only concern the emergency power installations in hospitals.  The codes generally assign the design of emergency power systems to the discretion of the user. This resulted in the variations we have found in the size of the emergency power generators, (and the extreme variations), from installation to installation, and in the amount of lights and power receptacles connected to emergency power.  In almost every instance, the buildings were inadequately wired to provide the connection of electrical loads of which the emergency sources are capable.  A margin of safety in sizing of the power system is one thing, but to provide inadequate lighting and power-using appliances when they are most needed is something that should be corrected.



The Grand Jury proceeded to tour county facilities, observing what they could, while they were in the process of having the operation of emergency power generators demonstrated, they talked extensively to county personnel to learn more about each facility and its unique characteristics.

The GJ interviewed personnel from:

The GJ made site visits and examined county equipment, maintenance records and contracts.  Tests were conducted to determine the operational readiness of emergency power systems at various county facilities.  In addition, the GJ inspected the emergency power capabilities of the City of Santa Maria.  City employees were interviewed and equipment was observed in operation.



The GJ soon learned of the contract with an outside vendor who provides periodic maintenance to many of the county owned motor-generator sets.  Studies of the maintenance reports led to the conclusion that there was technical excellence on the part of the vendor, but the reports left the reader unsure as to whether stated problems had been corrected.  There are several levels of maintenance contracted for:

LEVEL 1 - Semi-Annually--A 15-point inspection, which checks the visual appearance of the equipment, for functional aspects, for leaks, for wear, etc. Fluids are checked and, after a functional test, a hot oil sample is taken for analysis.

LEVEL 2 - Annually--The same inspections as above, plus replacement of all filters and cleaning or replacement of air cleaners.  An oil change is also done at this level.

LOAD BANK TESTING - Recommended annually--Diesel engines require loads as close to full load as possible.  Continued checks at low or no-load conditions can lead to the build-up of excessive carbon deposits in the combustion chamber, fuel nozzles and exhaust pipes.  Further, this can lead to excessive particulates in the oil, acting as an abrasive on the metal wear surfaces.  Routine exercising at 50 to 60 percent of full load can prevent this condition. Since testing of any diesel-powered generator set in the county, under load, is less than 50 percent of its rating, every diesel-powered motor-generator set must have an annual load bank test.

LEVEL 3 - Recommended every three years--The County chooses not to purchase this option for replacement of running parts such as hoses, belts, batteries, thermostats, and coolant.  The vendor cooperates by providing information at the scheduled lower level inspections when there is wear or failure to the equipment.

Knowing that there was a technically competent maintenance vendor looking after the equipment, the matter of fuels needs consideration.  Engines can be fueled by diesel, gasoline, natural gas, or propane.  Diesel fuel is popular for the larger engines, but has the stacking problems of unburned fuel, carbon deposits, and oil dilution.  The resulting need for load bank testing is a costly annual event.  Another significant problem with diesels is their excessive noise.  Diesel in long term storage develops a bacterial growth nicknamed “fuel fungus” or “black slime” similar to an algae growth which tends to clog fuel filters, causing a power loss or even shutting down an engine.  It forms in the interface between fuel and any water that may be in the tank or filters. Once formed, it is difficult to eradicate.  Addition of a fungicide formulated for diesel fuel is necessary when condensation occurs.  Gasoline power is used in most of the smaller engines.  It has storage problems in the form of thickening as it ages.  There is a commercial product readily available to prolong the life of the gasoline.  Natural gas engines have been selected in facilities that have the fuel available.  There is a question of supply in emergencies, especially earthquakes that may cause gas main line breakage.  The fuel, when available, is continuously available with no need for concern about a tank needing a refill. Propane becomes the preferred fuel.  It is as versatile as natural gas and does not have the supply uncertainty.  Two motor-generator sets were located that were designed for multi-fuel use.  In both cases, the fuel in use is natural gas and the gasoline capability is excess.  One generator had a gasoline tank still connected with jellied gasoline inside.  The other caused starting problems because the switches set for the option were set wrong.  In both cases, the unit should be reconfigured to provide for the gas connection only and bypass the option.

Concern about fuels introduces the topic of how long an emergency could last.  Power outages might last a few minutes, or may last for many days depending on the type of emergency.  An arbitrary amount of time, selected after some evaluation of possible disasters and the guidelines given to the public about disasters, is for utility power to be down for three days.  When the utility power goes down, the emergency power is supposed to turn on.  Personnel become involved in whatever their assignments may be and there are no excess personnel available to nursemaid a generator.  The smaller gasoline powered generator sets, with their three to six, or even 10-gallon supply tanks become an annoyance during the three days of continuous use.  This is especially true in the case of fire stations, where all of the rolling equipment is diesel and gasoline is rarely stored.  The time for emergency power to turn on, after the loss of utility power, could be as long as 30 seconds, if all goes well.  Otherwise, if there are problems, there could be minutes to hours before emergency power is achieved.

In many facilities, there are Uninterruptible Power Source (UPS) units used for the computers.  When utility power is lost, the UPS powers the computer for a nominal number of minutes depending on the size of the UPS and how much computer hardware is connected.  The intent is that the UPS will allow enough time for an orderly shutdown of the computer.  Where emergency power is available, and the UPS is plugged into it, the UPS provides power to bridge the time gap between utility power and functional emergency power.  The UPS should make the computer insensitive to the change in power source.  As has been observed, where emergency power is available, and the UPS is not plugged into it, the UPS provides power until the operator is surprised by the computer shutting down.  Just another reason for receptacles connected to emergency power to be identified.

It is also another reason that with utility power off, emergency power generators need to be tested using the facility load.  When the GJ found recurring problems, there was certainly cause to believe that emergency power systems have not been exercised under load.


Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Facilities

The 1999-2000 GJ visited five Sheriff’s Department facilities and witnessed the operation of eight generators.  The GJ discovered that when the generators were tested under a load situation, the diesel generators were well under the 50 percent load rating of the generator.

One of the first things the GJ learned was that the emergency power generators were not necessarily being tested under load as advertised.  Various reasons were given, such as inconvenience to personnel who would have to shut their computers down, or security cameras that would tend to fail in the transition to emergency power.  The emergency power was also accused of destroying surge suppressers that were installed to protect computers.

Later observations would lead the GJ to the conclusion that all emergency power sources should be tested under load, with utility power off, since the purpose of testing is to prove readiness.  Operation of an unloaded generator is a waste of fuel and manpower except to prove that it can be started.  The GJ wonders how many problems are hidden in the facilities tested where the practice is to leave utility power on.  There were too many surprises after the GJ started to observe testing with utility power off.

Examination of the facilities, looking to determine which outlets were on emergency power, revealed that certain major facilities had color-coded receptacles replaced with the generic ivory colored hardware.  This apparently was more appealing and less institutional looking to the decision-makers.  An action, independent of the GJ, was an attempt to activate emergency power in the jails and check which light switches and which receptacles were functional.  At several locations in the jail system, whole Saturdays were devoted to this activity.  The GJ was not apprised of the resulting data after it was collected.  What seemed acceptable to the GJ, is the compromise to using gray colored electrical devices to indicate emergency power instead of red colored.

The facilities in the south part of the county were anticipated to be observed over a number of weeks, because the schedule called for testing early on Wednesday mornings. To the surprise of the GJ, the testing did not involve shutting down utility power, and the generator test circuits were on timers.  The generators were tested  almost simultaneously, going from the Main Jail to the Sheriff Administration Building, to the Inmate Reception Center building and then to the 911 Building. 

The generator for the Sheriff's Administration Building is on the roof, using natural gas.  Access is from a steel ladder, which needs a handrail to assist getting on to the roof.  Personnel carrying tools or equipment to the roof would have serious problems navigating from the ladder to the roof.

Observations of testing in the north part of the county started at the Sheriff Substation in Solvang and then went on to Santa Maria Juvenile Hall where the generator has a dual fuel capability of natural gas and diesel.  The latter is the fuel used.  From there, the GJ witnessed the activation of generators at the Santa Maria Jail/Substation and then to the County Yard.  After that, the tour went to the Santa Maria Superior Court (Miller Street) where the 30-kilowatt system is located on a concrete pad, but the working area around it is ankle deep in water.

The GJ was told that all Sheriff Department office computers were operated through surge protector plug strips to protect the equipment.  The destruction of several surge protectors was blamed on the condition of the power from emergency generators. According to APC, the manufacturer of top quality surge protectors, some electrical surges can cause the failure when the suppresser sacrifices itself to protect the computer.


Santa Barbara Morgue/Coroner's Office

The morgue cooler must maintain a constant temperature between 40 to 45 degrees. In addition to the cooler, the Toxicology Laboratory stores frozen urine specimens in five upright freezers.

The Toxicology Laboratory has approximately $300,000 worth of scientific equipment.  A long term power failure can result in a total system failure and damage to the vacuum chamber in the two GC/MS machines.  Repairs to the vacuum chambers for these two machines are estimated at more than $3,000 each.

The 100-kilowatt motor-generator, with the 91-gallon diesel tank under it, is located behind the County Coroner's Office.  It was moved there in preparation for the Y-2K event.  The wiring from the generator to the building is temporary in nature and is lying across the roof of the building.  It is still manually switched and needs a control panel to provide automatic switching.  The priority for automatic switching is not only because of the vacuum chambers on laboratory equipment, but to maintain power to the refrigerated room and freezers.  Two hours of service are provided by heavy-duty UPS units to operate the lab equipment.  This allows an hour for personnel at the Main Jail to decide that there is a real power failure and another hour for a deputy to arrive from the Main Jail complex, which is necessary after business hours, for manually switching on the emergency generator.  There is a procedures manual on hand with steps to take to start the generator.

La Morada Women’s Honor Farm is also on this generator.  The deputy responding will also have to manually switch the power through this complicated system.


Santa Maria Superior Court Facility (Miller Street)

The GJ discovered that when this facility was shut down completely, the generator activated two emergency panels.  Both elevators that transport inmates were not connected to either emergency panel.  The security monitors were also dead.  There was a lack of emergency lighting in critical locations.  For example, bathrooms without windows, basement storage areas and the main electrical room were without lighting.  Receptacles, switches, and light fixtures on emergency power were not identified.


Santa Maria Superior Court Facility (Cook Street)

This facility is without any emergency power.  The Miller Street Court facility generator is large enough to provide power to all buildings in the complex.



Finding 1:  Diesel generators are operating at low level of capacity.

Recommendation 1:  The diesel generators should have more circuits in their load.  Load bank testing should be scheduled once a year.

Finding 2:  Fuel capacity on hand, except for natural gas, is not substantial enough for a major emergency.

Recommendation 2: In future installations or replacements, the fuel of choice should be propane, with at least three days supply on hand.

Finding 3:  Some of the bigger generators have kilo-ammeters which are almost impossible to read because the load is so small.

Recommendation 3:  Install instrumentation to reflect the load imposed by the facility.

Finding 4:  The generator located at the Miller Street Superior Court facility is on a concrete pad surrounded by water.

Recommendation 4:  A proper drain should be installed to alleviate this situation.

Finding 5:  Sheriff’s facility generators are routinely tested without shutdown of utility power.  The lack of identification on switches and receptacles prevents knowledge of what is or is not on generator power.  Backup power readiness is compromised.

Recommendation 5:  Conduct all testing of emergency power systems by full shutdown of utility power.  If there are problems caused by this action, fix them until emergency readiness is proven.

Finding 6:  The GJ was told that a few surge protectors on computers had failed due to "dirty" power from an emergency generator.

Recommendation 6:  Provide UPS backup to the computers and connect all necessary equipment to receptacles that are connected to emergency power.  Test the generator and repair as required.

Finding 7:  Electrical receptacles, switches and light fixtures are not identified as being on the emergency system.

Recommendation 7:  Properly identify all components of the emergency power backup system.

Finding 8:  Sheriff’s facilities in the north county have emergency power generators tested without a load applied.

Recommendation 8:  Revise testing to not only test the emergency power under load, but to also initiate generator startup by the shutdown of utility power.  Correct the cause of problems so that the emergency power is reliable and dependable.

Finding 9:  Roof access is hazardous on the Sheriff's Administration building.

Recommendation 9:  A permanent steel hand railing on the roof needs to be installed.

Finding 10:  The generator at La Morada and the Santa Barbara Morgue/Coroner's Office is a temporary 100 kilowatt diesel powered generator operated by two manual transfer switches.

Recommendation 10:  A 25 kilowatt propane powered generator with three days of fuel should be installed and operated by an automatic transfer switch.


Probation Department Los Prietos Boys Camp and Tri-Counties Boot Camp

The GJ visited the Los Prietos Boys Camp and Tri-Counties Boot Camp to evaluate the emergency preparedness of the facilities due to the remoteness of the site.  The GJ expected this would be an ordinary testing, but observed that the personnel on duty had concerns regarding what would be interrupted during the testing procedure.  This indicated to the GJ that the weekly testing was not done under load, or the non-emergency panels were not disabled during testing.

The GJ requested that the utility power be shut off so that the main generator near the mess hall would start.  The GJ discovered that there was no automatic transfer switch to accomplish this task.  In its place was a manual transfer switch.  The procedure to switch over to emergency  power is very complicated for untrained personnel.  The mess hall, 60-kilowatt generator feeds circuits in the kitchen, the administration building, outside bathrooms next to the mess hall, and minimum lighting in the upper barracks.  There were a number of battery operated lighting fixtures that turn on when utility power is off.

Since these are designed to have a two-hour capability, at best, they were not considered to be emergency lighting in terms of a three-day requirement.  The GJ observed that the food storage room, dining room, and most of the kitchen in the mess hall were without emergency lighting.  The lights in the range hood are the only emergency lighting for the entire kitchen.

The upper barracks does not have a sufficient number of emergency lights or any receptacles on emergency power.  The administration building does not have lighting in either bathroom.  They are completely dark when utility power is off.  The nurse’s station (sick bay) had one battery-operated lamp and a battery operated wall light fixture. There were not enough emergency power receptacles in the office area to operate the computers and the chargers for portable radio batteries.  Considering the size of the generator, even the copying machine could have been on emergency power.

There is an eight-kilowatt generator for the lower barracks.  It has an automatic transfer switch and works correctly.  Another building which serves as a gymnasium and woodwork shop, has no connections to emergency power.  It would be a good place to use the excess power capability of the mess hall generator.



Finding 11:  A manual switch for the mess hall generator is the only transferring mechanism available to start the generator.

Recommendation 11:  Replace the manual transfer switch with an automatic transfer switch to make a safe transition from utility power to emergency power.  This would eliminate the need to have qualified personnel to do the switching.

Finding 12:  Emergency power lighting is needed in the dining room, the food storage room, and most of the kitchen.

Recommendation 12:  Emergency lighting should be installed in the food storage room, dining room, and kitchen.  These would be a minimum to comply with the policy of being able to keep the facility on emergency power for three days.

Finding 13:  The GJ found that the administration building needs more lighting and receptacles on the emergency power system in order to remain functional during emergencies.

Recommendation 13:  The mess hall generator power load should be analyzed to calculate what additional load can be put on it.  If analysis supports it, put the entire building on emergency power.  If this cannot be accomplished, the building should have an independent generator.

Finding 14:  The upper barracks has inadequate emergency power serving it.

Recommendation 14:  Install additional circuits to the upper barracks (in the same

conduit already in use) or install an eight kilowatt generator similar to that in use at the lower barracks.

Finding 15:  The gymnasium building does not have emergency power connected to it.

Recommendation 15:  Evaluate using power from the mess hall generator to energize the gymnasium building.


The City of Santa Maria

The GJ inspected five facilities in the City of Santa Maria.  This involved four generators. The GJ observed the operation of the generators serving the Public Works Yard, two fire stations, the City Hall/Library, the Police Department Headquarters, and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

The Fire Station No.2 electrical panels were identified and labeled properly.  There is an automatic transfer switch in place that automatically starts the generator when power is interrupted.  This, in turn, energizes the emergency panel that operates some lighting, receptacles, and other devices.  There is also a manual transfer switch to energize another electrical panel, which can feed the remainder of the station.  If the manual switch is used, some circuit breakers must be shut down to avoid overloading the generator.

The GJ did not see any problem at the Public Works Yard, the EOC, the City Hall/Library, nor at the fire station next to Police Headquarters.  At the Santa Maria Police Department the GJ discovered that the refrigerator in the Property/Evidence room, as well as the security cameras, were not on emergency power.



The Public Works Department staff who maintains the generators for the City of Santa Maria should be commended for exceeding the minimum requirements in maintaining, testing, and informing affected personnel regarding the use of the generators.



Finding 16:  The manual transfer switch at Fire Station No.2 is an unnecessary complication to the emergency system.

Recommendation 16:  Eliminate the manual transfer switch.  Install an additional emergency panel and size the total emergency circuitry appropriately.

Finding 17:  The refrigerator in the Property/Evidence room and the security cameras in the Police Headquarters building are not on the emergency power system.

Recommendation 17:  Connect the refrigerator and security cameras on receptacles that are energized by the emergency power.


Santa Barbara County Fire Department

The 1999-2000 Grand Jury (GJ) visited 17 Santa Barbara County Fire Stations to evaluate the emergency preparedness of the facilities.  The GJ went to each facility and disconnected the electrical utility power by turning off the main electrical circuit breaker.  After this was accomplished, the stand-by generator should start up and feed the facility with emergency power.  Observations were made as to the coverage of emergency power in each facility, estimating the inconvenience to personnel during the utility power shut down.  In three instances, the GJ found that generators would not start.

Computer equipment, in all cases, had UPS backup for a few minutes but weren’t plugged into emergency circuits.  In some cases, emergency receptacles were available but not located near the computers.  The GJ also found at one facility the telephone system was inoperable after utility power was shut off.  The Watch Captain had to use a cellular telephone for communication.  The general alarm system did work.  This was checked out when the telephone problem was discovered

In an emergency Fire Station No.12, the newest county facility, switches the entire building over to emergency power.  It has an 80 kilowatt generator, which is so large that the ammeter seems to still read zero when under full house load.  This will certainly be a generator that needs load bank testing once a year.  After seeing this establishment, one would question why older facilities are so spotty as to the assignment of lights and receptacles on emergency power.  In every facility, there seems to be more than enough power available from the generator than all of the lights and all of the receptacles could consume.  It would seem less expensive to have entire facilities wired for emergency power that would include  refrigerators, day room televisions, emergency generator and restrooms, (all without windows) bedrooms and even engine bays without emergency power or emergency lighting.

One fire station had no emergency lighting in the main truck bay.  In another station, the only light bulb on emergency power in the truck bay was burned out and needed to be replaced.

The GJ found violations of Article 110-16, National Electrical Code, where access to electrical power panels was blocked by exercise equipment or stereo speakers. In many stations, electrical panels were not labeled to describe what their function was.  The GJ even found an instance where a cabinet was installed permanently in front of a receptacle.

In some facilities, dormitory lighting was not energized during power outages.  In an emergency situation, the Emergency Dispatch Center sounds an alarm that would wake up personnel and at the same time enable the emergency lights to come on.

The GJ also found no emergency power standardization from one station to another.  In a number of stations, the same model motor-generator set was used but the electrical wiring that they energize has variations.  Since personnel are assigned to different stations on almost a daily basis, standardization is important in helping them to learn to use the equipment.

The GJ found many fire station refrigerators and some cooking equipment without emergency power.  The GJ noted that most dayroom television sets were not connected to cable systems as well as not connected to emergency power.  In case of an emergency, the personnel should be able to monitor events that are happening in the area and around the county.

The National Electrical Code does not require that all appropriate receptacles, light switches, and lighting fixtures be identified as being on emergency circuits, but some stations showed evidence that they were designed to accomplish some of this.  In one station identified receptacles and switches were not connected to the generator.

Observations were made, outside the scope of the investigation, of maintenance and renovations completed, or in process, in various stations.  The GJ understands that fire station personnel have performed work because they are available.  However, work orders should be used so that Facilities Services can perform the services that they are trained and experienced to provide.  In one station, the dormitory was converted to bedrooms without a building permit and, consequently, without inspections.  A department official claims that their modifications were done to code, but the GJ thinks otherwise.

One newly constructed dormitory, not attached to the fire station, was built by contractors but had no provisions to have lighting on the emergency system.



Finding 18:  Most Fire Station personnel were not familiar with the operation of the generator systems.

Recommendation 18:  Train all personnel in the operation of the generators and all emergency systems.  Have training sessions on a regular basis.  Have a procedure manual available at all stations so personnel would be able to troubleshoot problems when they occur.

Finding 19:  Electrical panels were not labeled.  Electrical receptacles, switches, and light fixtures were not identified as being on the emergency system.

Recommendation 19:  Panels should be identified per National Electrical Code.  Other devices should be identified so personnel would be able to determine what is on the emergency system and what is not.

Finding 20:  The newly constructed dormitory was built without emergency lighting.

Recommendation 20:  Connect the new dormitory to the emergency system.

Finding 21:  Personnel have been doing remodeling without building permits, and performing general maintenance work when they are unqualified.

Recommendation 21:  When remodeling is required, go through the proper channels and secure building permits.  When maintenance is required, fill out a work order so Facilities Services can process it.

Finding 22:  Diesel generators are not being run under load at 50 percent or more of their capacity.

Recommendation 22:  Load bank tests must be scheduled once a year.

Finding 23:  Fuel capacity on hand, except for natural gas, is not substantial enough for a major emergency.

Recommendation 23:  In future installations or replacements do not use diesel as the fuel of choice.  Any new generator should be propane powered and have three days of fuel on hand.

Finding 24:  Some of the bigger generators have kilo-ammeters, which are almost impossible to read because of the small load.

Recommendation 24:  Install instrumentation to reflect the load imposed by the facility.

Finding 25:  Some critical items were not on the emergency system: lighting, computers, refrigerators, TV's, truck bay lighting, bathrooms, generator rooms, cooking appliances, and in one case the telephone system.

Recommendation 25:  A thorough inspection of fire facilities needs to be done by an independent outside team, with mechanical and electrical experts, and a person with fire station readiness expertise to re-inspect all fire stations in a more formal and detailed manner than the GJ did in order to determine the full scope of modifications needed.




Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department

  Findings 1,  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

  Recommendations 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Santa Barbara County Probation Department

  Findings 11, 12 ,1 3, 14 ,15

  Recommendations 11 ,12 ,13 ,14 ,15


Santa Maria Fire Department

  Finding 16

  Recommendation 16

Santa Maria Police Department

  Finding 17

  Recommendation 17

Santa Maria City Council

  Findings 16,17

  Recommendation 16,17

Santa Barbara Fire Department

  Findings 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

  Recommendations 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors

Findings 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 ,11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

Recommendations 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25