Capitol Alert

New California law: Garage doors need to work in a power outage

Fire trucks pass the Delta Fire burning in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. A new California law aims to prevent people from being unable to evacuate from fires like this because their garage door won’t open. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Fire trucks pass the Delta Fire burning in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. A new California law aims to prevent people from being unable to evacuate from fires like this because their garage door won’t open. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) AP

The evacuation order has come. The wildfire is heading straight for your home. But there’s one thing between you and driving to safety: A garage door that won’t open.

This isn’t a hypothetical: At least five died during the Northern California 2017 wildfires because they were unable to get their garage door to open after they lost electrical power, according to the supporting language of Senate Bill 969, which California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Friday in an effort to prevent any more such deaths from happening.

Under the new law, automatic garage doors sold in California after July 1, 2019, must include a backup battery that can provide power in the event of a power outage. The bill also provides for a civil penalty of $1,000 for “every offending garage door opener,” according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

The analysis cited reports from 2017’s deadly wildfires that “recounted stories of neighbors stopping to help raise garage doors, elderly people who didn’t have the strength to manually open their garage door and a mother who struggled to get her disabled son into a car because their custom van was in the garage they couldn’t open.”

The analysis notes this isn’t an instant fix: “It will likely take some time for the existing supply of garage door openers to be replaced by garage door openers with backup batteries.”

Two wildfires from 2018 – the Carr Fire and Mendocino Complex – have joined the list of California’s largest recorded fires by acreage. The top seven have scorched over 1.7 million acres, all since 2003.

This blog offers tips for how to open an automatic garage door during a power outage.

The bill passed the Senate 39-0, and the Assembly 64-7. The bill had the support of several cities, including the City of Santa Rosa and Napa County.

It was opposed by the trade group Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association International, which argued that backup batteries require regular maintenance and that the bill should make clear “garage door openers with backup batteries are not designed to serve as life safety devices, and should not be relied upon to provide a means of egress from a garage during an electrical outage.”

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler
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