The following is an account by Don Blakeney, executive director of CIDBIA, of the power outage that occurred on Saturday, July 12, during Dragon Fest:
At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, 90 minutes before Dragon Fest was to kick off with the $2 Food Walk and hundreds of outdoor vendors, one of Seattle City Light’s switches failed just east of I-5 (north of the Chinatown-ID). Specifically, a switch, cable terminators, and lightning arrestor flashed over due to the warmer temperatures. In other words, the equipment failed. As a result 2,781 customers in South Downtown (including all of the Chinatown-ID) lost power.
Luckily, 90 percent of the event was powered by external generators, so many of the vendors and the main stage were able to operate in absence of the service from Seattle City Light. There are a couple of booths that borrow low amounts of power from specific buildings, but the largest impact by far was to the 120 restaurants that see this as their most profitable day of the year.
I-Miun Liu, owner of Oasis Bubble Tea and the Eastern Café contacted the Seattle Chinatown/International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) immediately to tell us that lights had been flickering in both of his establishments and power had cut out and come back four times before going dark at 10:30 a.m. I knew it was a bigger issue than just one building when the Wing Luke Museum and World Pizza also contacted us having experienced the same issue. Shortly thereafter dozens of restaurant owners were out in the streets wondering when power would be restored.
Luckily I was able to quickly able to get a hold of the Mayor’s office, which was very helpful, and put me directly in touch with the City Light supervisor who was overseeing the repairs to the failed switch. They were able to give the me an accurate timeline for when the power would be restored and we went to work, communicating this back out to the restaurants. Event volunteers who had been putting out balloons were redirected to begin going door to door, to explain that this outage was temporary, and that power would be restored. We made announcements on the main stage, and sure enough, power began to return shortly after 12:00 p.m. More than 50 percent of our restaurants had power by 12:30 p.m.
Seattle City Light explained they would restore the power in steps as they isolated the failed equipment. By about 12:45 p.m. the outage was down to 177 out of the original 2,781 customers originally without power. Those customers remained without power until a line crew could isolate a section of line that was connected to the faulted equipment. They were restored at 3:20 p.m. The faulted equipment was isolated and will be repaired this week.
When the Mayor addressed the crowd on the mains tage later in the evening, the temporary outage seemed like a distant memory, but this was initially a big scare for local restaurants. Thankfully, the quick access to information allowed us to inform restaurants that this was not a long-term outage, and that they would be able to continue on with business as usual within a couple of hours. It is understandable that businesses would be concerned, having invested in lots of additional perishable products for a given weekend—it’s a financial commitment—and these businesses have come to expect some of their largest sales during Dragon Fest weekend. These fears were also rooted in the unpredictable outages in power, water, and gas that happened during the streetcar construction, that frequently left restaurants and customers without service for indeterminate amounts of time—at some points, for entire weekends.