Citrus Fair Kincade

People and organizations gathered at the Citrus Fairgrounds during the 2019 Kincade Fire, bringing food and other necessities to help people who were either evacuated or who lost power and gas connection. Photo Zoë Strickland

In a year’s time the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds, which often serves as Cloverdale’s event and emergency hub, has made headway on getting devices and plans in place so that it’s prepared for the next thing that comes Sonoma County’s way — whether it be fire, power outage or otherwise.

Following the 2019 Kincade Fire — which sent folks from around the county to the fairgrounds as they evacuated north from their homes and sent Cloverdaliens to the fairgrounds for food and resources, since Cloverdale was the only non-evacuated city without both power and gas — fair leaders started working on putting together a plan for how to be prepared the next time something similar happens.

“I believe firmly that one of the most important roles that fairgrounds play within their respective communities is the support they provide in times of need, particularly serving as care and shelter sites during disasters,” said Citrus Fair Chief Operating Officer Katie Fonsen Young. “Our leadership team here at the fairgrounds has been very committed to that emergency preparedness goal and also ensuring that our facility is enhanced in a way that we’re doing infrastructure enhancements that support that goal.”

At the start of its preparation efforts, the fair got involved with the city of Cloverdale’s preparedness efforts — Resilient Cloverdale — and it began taking stock of what resources it did or didn't have when it came to being more prepared for future incidents. Fonsen Young noted that the city, together with various groups including the Citrus Fairgrounds, senior center, Latinos Unidos and others have worked to make preparedness a year-round effort.

“Our goal here is just to increase the level of readiness at the fairgrounds and really working from multiple facets — I see it threefold — strengthening our volunteer database, obtaining supplies and equipment as well as strengthening our infrastructure,” Fonsen Young said.

Building a volunteer database

Since launching its volunteer-finding efforts over the summer, the fair has amassed a list of volunteers who can be available should a disaster strike, and many of the volunteers have already assisted the fair in times of need. Similarly, Fonsen Young said that the fair is partnering with Geoff Peters, a program manager for the Northern Sonoma County Community Emergency Response team (CERT) to be able to use CERT-trained volunteers for the fairgrounds.

Many of those who signed up as volunteers for the fair also took an eight-hour shelter manager training through the American Red Cross, she said.

Make sure the fairgrounds are equipped for an emergency

Various kinds of equipment are necessary to make sure the fair is prepared to handle a variety of emergencies that could come its way and now, during the pandemic, the list of necessary equipment is growing to include things like personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We’ve worked in cooperation with the county and the city and the local CERT program to be able to really cache that important equipment and supplies — including a great amount of PPE here at the Citrus Fair for not only our use should our site be identified as either a temporary evacuation point or a congregate shelter — but it’s also really important to have those critical resources on hand and available at a centrally-located site like the Citrus Fair in northern Sonoma County,” Fonsen Young said.

As such, she said that the fair has been working to gather supplies like PPE so that Cloverdale or its neighboring communities have a north county site that has that type of equipment, should the need arise.

Additionally, she noted that they have mapped out the Citrus Fairground site for a variety of different situations, noting what a layout would be if the fair is deemed a temporary evacuation point or a congregate shelter with both COVID-19 safety guidelines and without.

Working on infrastructure

Both the city and the Citrus Fair made strides in developing stronger infrastructure to account for a future of fires, public safety power shutoffs and more. In August, the city council OKed a purchase agreement to get a Tesla back-up energy storage system for its water treatment facility. At the fairgrounds, Fonsen Young said that the fair is partnering with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for a generator that can run some of the fair’s buildings during a power outage. It’s also engaged in a variety of other infrastructure work, including testing out a solar-powered generator.

“One of the insufficiencies that was identified out of the 2019 events was the lack of dedicated power to the facility in the event of an outage,” she said. “Obviously a backup power source provides necessary lighting for safety and accessibility, as well as comfort to guests to be able to provide heat and cooling as needed.”

“Several months ago we made some pretty significant strides toward our back-up goals,” Fonsen Young said.

Included in that work is installing transfer switches to power the fair’s Warner Hall, Burnside Hall, the fair’s covered arena and storage area and the RV restrooms (the largest restrooms at the fairgrounds, which include showers).

The fairgrounds also had the ability to partner with the Footprint Project, which provided the fairgrounds with a solar-powered generator trailer.

“They learned about our transfer switch installation projects to do a pilot program to see if one of these trailers would power a building as big as Warner Hall because prior to that it powered smaller office-sized trailers and things like that,” she said. They were able to power the entire building, including lights, outlets, restrooms and anything else that would be necessary if someone needs to shelter inside of Warner Hall. “We know now that we could, if we needed to and if the trailer was available, we could potentially use that to power Warner Hall.”

In partnership with PG&E, the fair installed a 1,000 AMP automatic transfer switch in the fair’s main pavilion and a 130 kilowatt generator that’s dedicated to the Citrus Fair during fire season, which can power the fairground’s main pavilion.

The multi-year PG&E partnership was kickstarted because the company wanted to be able to bring its public safety power shutoff customer resource centers — areas where PG&E sets up Wi-Fi and charging stations for people to use during a power outage — inside of a building that provides heating and air. Before, customer resource centers have existed outside during the pandemic and inside of a pop-up tent before the pandemic.

Though the transfer switch and generator is at the fair so that PG&E can have indoor centers, it will kick on in the event of a power loss regardless of if PG&E intends to use the fairgrounds for a center.

“They’ve identified our site as a critical resource and a critical site, understanding that the community tends to go to sites like this and feel comfortable,” Fonsen Young said.

“It’s kind of remarkable what we’ve accomplished in the form of response and readiness in the past year and I’m pretty excited about it and really honored to be working with all of the partners that have been just as dedicated to this mission as we have,” she said. “I think the planning that we’ve done has really brought everyone together and made everyone feel more ready.”

Looking forward, Fonsen Young said that the fair is going to continue to seek funding and grant opportunities to support its preparedness efforts and that one of the goals she has is to bring HVAC systems to the buildings that don’t currently have it.

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