Recent wildfire risks in California have prompted the implementation of public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events, procedures enacted by utility operators to de-energize parts of the electrical grid and reduce the likelihood of wildfire ignition. Despite their yearly occurrence, PSPS events are severely understudied, and little is known about how these events impact disaster preparation activity, travel behavior, and transportation systems. With growing wildfire risks in North America and beyond, PSPS events require immediate and thorough research to reduce their negative externalities and maximize their benefits.
This exploratory study employs survey data from East Bay Hills residents in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in California who were impacted by two PSPS events in October 2019 (n=210). Through descriptive statistics and basic discrete choice models for the decision to conduct typical or changed travel, this research contributes to the literature as the first assessment of PSPS event travel behavior. We found that travel did not change drastically during the event, though respondents conducted a high number of preparedness activities. A sizable portion of the sample conducted extended trips during the PSPS event days, while a small number evacuated to a destination overnight. Respondents received relatively clear information from multiple communication methods, indicating substantial information about the events. Modeling results found that power loss was a driver in travel behavior change, while demographics indicated heterogeneous responses within the sample. The paper concludes with a discussion of key takeaways and suggestions for research in this nascent field.