Fight Utility Wildfire with Knowledge Management

40 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2023

Date Written: January 11, 2023


Electricity-utility ignited wildfires increasingly threaten communities in California, the American West, and around the globe as climate change accelerates dry conditions. This Article offers a unique contribution to the legal, safety, energy, and environmental fields by arguing that electric utility knowledge management is a key wildfire risk driver that corporations and regulators must address. Knowledge management focuses on creation, transfer, analysis, and utilization of knowledge to foster understanding and decision-making. Knowledge management is critical to vegetation management, the primary ignition source for utility-caused wildfires in California. Through a case study of the 2020 Zogg Fire ignited by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), this Article examines electric utility knowledge management through doctrinal examination of electric utility statutes, regulations, PG&E’s federal criminal probation record, and normative recommendations informed by process safety standards.

This Article theorizes utilities as knowledge keepers who must maintain and transmit knowledge from one group of workers to another over the course of hours, days, or decades. This analysis critically examines utility vegetation and information management methods such as spray-painting trees to mark them for removal or trimming. This examination reveals fragmented analog and electronic information management systems, limited information and communications technology adoption and deployment, and poor safety process management. Knowledge management is a predicate to effective technology use and necessary to stem utility wildfire risk and protect public safety.

Keywords: Wildfire, Climate Change, Electric Utility Regulation, Safety Culture, Knowledge Mmanageent, Process Safety Management, Vegetation Management, Safety, Information and Communications Technology, Corporate Crime, Corporate Manslaughter, Climate Change

JEL Classification: Q4, Q40, Q48, Q53, Q54, Q58, 032, 033, L5, L94, L95, L97, K1, K14, K23, H41

Suggested Citation

Sandoval, Catherine J.K., Fight Utility Wildfire with Knowledge Management (January 11, 2023). Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2023, Santa Clara Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 4322965, Available at SSRN: or

Catherine J.K. Sandoval (Contact Author)

Santa Clara University - School of Law ( email )

500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053
United States

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