Napa Valley's experience with PG&E safety outage can help hoteliers prepare

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Dos and don'ts

Visit Napa Valley has created a “Dry Season Toolkit” to ensure Napa’s tourism businesses are ready for action in the event of wildfires, smoke and possible power outages. As part of the toolkit, the tourism bureau has prepared the following “Dos and Don’ts” for Napa’s tourism industry.

Do:

• When referencing questions about wildfires, use the term "dry" season.

• Use social media as a powerful visual tool to convey real time conditions.

• Plan ahead for power disruption. Create back-up plans and customer messaging.

Don’t:

• Use the phrase “fire season.”

• Refer to our climate as “the new normal” or “the new abnormal.”

Source: Visit Napa Valley


On the internet: PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoff program

Sometimes being “first” at something isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When PG&E launched its Public Safety Power Shutoff program in October, tourism-friendly Calistoga had the dubious distinction of being the first city in Napa County to experience a planned shutdown. The utility’s PSPS statewide initiative was announced after its powerlines were identified as causing devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018. Turning off power is PG&E’s proactive effort to get ahead of the trifecta for fire-producing weather conditions: hot, windy and humid.

It turns out Calistoga was not the only region to endure a voluntary power outage. In June, PG&E turned electricity off again.

This time, though, Calistoga was spared from the Napa County portion of the June outage, which also impacted parts of Solano County.

But Calistoga’s hoteliers had not forgotten the impact of October’s planned outtage.

“It was impactful and stressful,” said Mike Lennon, general manager at Calistoga Spa Hot Springs. The hotel’s main attraction is its four mineral pools, so without power, backup generators or backup pumps, business is lost. “We had a significant revenue loss. It would be hard to put a number to it, but it was impactful.”

After receiving notice from PG&E of the impending outage in October, communication from the utility was spotty, Lennon said. He was advised when the power would go off and that it would likely be restored the following night. Lennon called incoming guests to let them know. The power came back the following afternoon, resulting in a lost business opportunity.

“We’re not in the business of making our guests unhappy,” Lennon said. “So we refunded everybody that chose to stay home, or they could rebook.”

If things go as Lennon hopes, Calistoga Spa and Hot Springs will soon have generators.

It’s a tricky proposition, however. With pools, it’s not a matter of just plugging in a generator. They need to sized, and the system has to work properly and safely.

The hotel’s website will also provide details about the PSPS program so potential visitors are informed, and outreach to incoming guests will happen once PG&E indicates there’s even a remote possibility of a shutdown.

Visit Napa Valley, the county’s tourism bureau, has prepared what it calls a “Dry Season Toolkit” for its tourism-facing businesses. The toolkit includes resources, tips and messaging recommendations for hospitality businesses to inform, rather than alarm, visitors and residents.

The tourism bureau also is recommending its hospitality industry partners adopt the “dry season” language in place of “fire season,” to help consumers understand that wildfires are not inevitable, and also to stave-off cancellations.

Steve Patel, who has four lodging properties in Calistoga, said he finds the toolkit useful and helpful for preparedness.

“We purchased generators to keep our kitchen and lobby powered during power outages. We also stocked flashlights, lanterns, battery-powered phone chargers, (and) grab-and-go food items,” Patel said. “Each guest arriving during a planned outage was contacted, made aware of the situation, and given the option to cancel without penalty.” Patel’s properties include Stevenson Manor, The Bergson, EuroSpa & Inn, and Aurora Park Cottages.

Indeed, the North Bay’s tourism industry is grappling with a new “no power” reality.

AutoCamp, the Guerneville glamping property, has endured the October 2017 wildfires and the floods earlier this year and learned its lessons.

Dos and don'ts

Visit Napa Valley has created a “Dry Season Toolkit” to ensure Napa’s tourism businesses are ready for action in the event of wildfires, smoke and possible power outages. As part of the toolkit, the tourism bureau has prepared the following “Dos and Don’ts” for Napa’s tourism industry.

Do:

• When referencing questions about wildfires, use the term "dry" season.

• Use social media as a powerful visual tool to convey real time conditions.

• Plan ahead for power disruption. Create back-up plans and customer messaging.

Don’t:

• Use the phrase “fire season.”

• Refer to our climate as “the new normal” or “the new abnormal.”

Source: Visit Napa Valley


On the internet: PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoff program

“The new part of this, of course, is that there are going to be planned outages, so we’ll have advance notice whether it’s hours or days,” said Mark Belhumeur, general manager, AutoCamp Russian River. “Notifying the guests is paramount.”

The property’s Airstreams and luxury tents are stocked with a flashlight and a lantern, both battery operated, and flashlights are placed along the property’s pathways for nighttime lighting, he said.

Lost electricity would also lock the security gate, so when power is expected to go down, the gate is unlocked and monitored by AutoCamp’s employees, according to Belhumeur.

“We have a large generator on property with the allocated extensions that run to various locations within the clubhouse,” he said. “They’re already identified so there’s no scrambling.”

That generator would power the necessities of the clubhouse, such as keeping the front office and telephone systems working, internet service and refrigeration in the clubhouse shop running. The generator also supplies the hot-water heaters for showering in the clubhouse.

“We’ve also installed a satellite communication device because in the 2017 fires, not only did our power go out, but also our internet went out and there was no cell service. So we were dead in the water,” Belhumeur said. As a safety precaution AutoCamp’s owners — there are several such properties in the state — purchased a satellite phone so the Guerneville property could stay in communications with the San Francisco-based home office, especially if medical personnel is needed for guests.

“We’ve been through (outages) so many times,” Belhumeur said. “We don’t take it casually or callously, we have a plan of action in place and know exactly what to do.”

“I think it’s important we realize that at the end of the day, we don’t a lot of control,” said Tim Zahner, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau. ““From a hotel standpoint, of course, there’s a worry of how the shutdown will affect people coming here for vacation, especially for things like weddings. … What we can do is be prepared. If businesses can afford backup systems like generators or batteries, or are on solar systems that have batteries, they can look into that (but) it can be pretty cost-prohibitive.”

In the case of Calistoga, PG&E will be handling the cost of installing stations to accommodate about 10 mobile generators in the city’s downtown, said Mayor Chris Canning.

“We learned if this is the new normal, we can have two-thirds power from generators if this happens again,” Canning said, acknowledging there’s no doubt it will happen again. Once in place, there will be an automatic process. “Once PG&E forecasts a PSPS in our area, they’ll roll up to our (downtown) and literally plug into our power system. In theory, we won’t even notice it happened because the power will go off and within a few seconds the generators will kick in.”

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