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Lessons learned from public safety power shutoff

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A tree fell down during the October Santa Ana winds at the SDG&E substation on Via De Santa Fe.
(Courtesy)

About 1,000 homes in the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant were affected by SDG&E’s public safety power outage that began on Oct. 29. Power was shut off to more than 24,400 customers in San Diego County as a preventative measure against wildfire during October’s potentially dangerous Santa Ana winds.

R. Roger Rowe School was closed for two school days and, according to Rancho Santa Fe Association Manager Christy Whalen, it was hit and miss which areas of the Covenant had power and which did not. One side of Paseo Delicias had power while the other side of the street did not. The Association offices had power but the golf club and tennis club did not. The Rancho Santa Fe Connect network hub at the golf club property did not have power but was able to utilize a back-up generator.

“We are looking at lessons learned from the outages,” Whalen said at the RSF Association board’s Nov. 7 meeting, noting solutions may include back-up generators for the Association offices and the golf club. “This may become a way of life with power outages so we want to make sure we are ready to stay up and running.”

During the outage, Rancho Santa Fe Patrol provided extra officers for security checks. The Patrol also assisted some homeowners who could not open up their gates or garages. Whalen said it is a reminder for residents to have a back-up in plan in place and learn how to open gates and garage doors manually.

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With the winds, Whalen said the Covenant lost only three large trees—two on the golf course and one at the SDG&E substation on Via de Santa Fe. Crews were aware of the threat of the tree on the substation property and were on site when the tree fell—there were no injuries and no cars were damaged.

“I think we weathered the storm so well because we have been aggressive with the removal of dead and dying trees over the last couple of years,” Whalen said.

According to Rancho Santa Fe School District Superintendent Donna Tripi, it is not possible to have students attend school during the power outages as the school would not be able to communicate and their emergency systems would not be operational, in addition to not having lighting, heating/air conditioning and computer systems.

R. Roger Rowe does have an emergency back-up system but it is designed to provide life-saving lighting to get people to safety—it is not enough power to maintain campus operations.

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During the outage, Tripi said the district’s emergency procedures worked well in getting the word out about school closures and everything was back up and running within a couple hours after the power was restored.

Whalen said during the outage, the Association heard from SDG&E’s vice president of public affairs who asked if they would like to set up a community resource center in the Covenant but they did not feel the need to do so during this event. Whalen said they have reached out to SDG&E with suggestions for the next outage, particularly around communication. While customers did receive robo-calls, texts and emails about 24 to 48 hours in advance of the outage, the Association suggested that customers are given notice about 30 minutes before power is shut off so they have time to better prepare.

SDG&E posted a public safety power shut-off preparation checklist on its website with some additional suggestions for homeowners. Useful tips include:

  • Fuel up vehicles ahead of a shutoff as gas station pumps will not work during a shutoff
  • Put together an emergency preparedness kit with water, non-perishable food, flashlights, handheld radio, fresh batteries, first aid supplies and cash
  • Plan ahead for medical devices that require power
  • Consider having a standby back-up generator (for facts and tips on generators visit bit.ly/36WUy8D
  • Think about how you will communicate without power and consider having portable chargers to power cell phones

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