New system to keep traffic signals on during public safety power shutoffs

SD County Supervisor Jim Desmond learns about the new system in Rancho Santa Fe.
(Miles Himmel)

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond was in Rancho Santa Fe on Sept. 24, checking out a new safety feature that can be used during public safety power shutoff events. The new technology has been installed at one of the community’s few traffic signals at San Dieguito Road and Via Dos Valles in Fairbanks Ranch.

SD County Supervisor Jim Desmond
SD County Supervisor Jim Desmond, second from right, checking out the new technology at the San Dieguito Road intersection.
(Miles Himmel)

Since 2013, SDG&E has used power shutoffs as a preventative measure to protect against wildfire during extreme weather conditions such as high wind events— the community of Rancho Santa Fe has been impacted by the shutoffs over the last two years. As shutoffs are growing in frequency, Desmond has stated it’s critical for the county to work with SDG&E and all affected stakeholders to develop protocols and identify resources to minimize impacts caused by the shutoffs.

In March, Desmond and Supervisor Joel Anderson co-authored the Public Safety Power Shutoff board letter, which directed San Diego County staff to mitigate gaps in service when the power is cut during red flag high wind weather events. One of the supervisor’s major concerns was the impact that power shutoffs can have on backcountry evacuation routes.

That month the supervisors approved state funding to provide back-up power at three fire stations and 54 traffic signals at major intersections in the unincorporated areas. The technology at the San Dieguito Road intersection was the first one to be tested.

When the power is out, the battery packs on traffic lights usually operate for 6-8 hours. The newly installed technology will keep the lights on for over 24 hours to aid in emergency evacuations.

Reducing the disruptions caused by public safety power shutoffs has also been a priority of the Rancho Santa Fe Association. The Association staff has worked with the county to get on the priority list to fund undergrounding of power lines in the community, which they believe to be the best mitigation for wildfire risk.