State sending updates on blackouts

Californians wondering when the next blackout is going to hit can tap into their cell phones and other handheld devices for the answer. The state is offering free, real-time, wireless notifications about upcoming energy shortfalls.

The state has always planned to offer wireless e-mail and cell phone messaging for various services, said Arun Baheti, California's director of e-government, but the energy crisis "provided us with the impetus to move our plans faster than we originally thought."

Previously, Californians could turn to radio, television or a state Web site called Flex Your Power (www.flexyourpower.ca.gov) to find the latest information on the energy crunch.

But with the new service, residents can receive instant updates on when the next scheduled blackout will be, Baheti said. They can be better prepared and be able inform friends, neighbors and relatives or check on their business, he said. Or, for example, if a Stage 2 alert is issued — indicating that power reserves are low — then people know to reduce their energy usage.

"What we want to do is help them to do their part," Baheti said. "When we hit these alerts, we need to curtail [energy] use immediately."

It took about 30 to 40 days to develop the service, which meant creating new templates to present the information on various handheld devices, which include cell phones, pagers and personal digital assistants, he said. The state's new portal, unveiled earlier this year, was designed to support wireless functionality, otherwise "you would have to literally hand key all those Web pages," he said.

In addition to the energy crisis notifications, Baheti said the state also offers traffic information and lottery results via wireless devices. Before creating more wireless options, state officials plan to survey members of the public and state agencies to assess their needs.

The wireless features were developed in conjunction with Deloitte Consulting, BroadVision Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Roundarch and Kana Inc.

Another addition to the state's Flex Your Power Web site is a new program called the Energy Brain resource, which guides homeowners through an energy questionnaire and then provides a customized set of "finely-tuned tips" to save energy, Baheti said.

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