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Thursday, Sep 21, 2023

October Disasters A Major Test for Local Businesses

As wildfires burned in the hillsides and canyons around Santa Clarita, Jim Anderson had no worries about the location of his printing company being in the way of the flames. Anderson, however, did experience one major effect on his business as the fires that broke out Oct. 21 continued to burn. His phones stopped ringing. “I have not had any new business,” Anderson said. “Follow-up business I planned to do I can’t because those customers aren’t open.” That is the risk that Anderson and other small business owners face when operating in an area prone to natural disasters & #377; wildfires, earthquakes or mudslides. That risk can be lessened through preparation having backup for an office computer system, storing records offsite, doing a full inventory of company assets and other measures, business owners and consultants said. “Disaster recovery is all about planning. When you get to the point you need it, it is often too late,” said John Duncan, of eSolutions in Santa Clarita. “But it is something every business should do.” Joe Messina, president of Wildcat Technology Solutions in Valencia, recommends to clients to make a backup tape containing necessary day-to-day data. “We can rebuild a server but you need that data,” Messina said. Two disasters The Santa Clarita Valley got hit with a one-two punch of emergencies in a short period of time, one man-made, the other natural. On Oct. 12, a stalled big rig triggered a 31-vehicle pile up in a tunnel of the I-5 (Golden State) Freeway just south of Santa Clarita. Three people were killed and a number of trucks destroyed in explosions that shut down the main transportation link between the southern and northern portions of the state. The cause of the incident remains under investigation by the California Highway Patrol. A week later a wildfire broke out between Agua Dulce and Saugus, dubbed the Buckweed fire, burning more than 37,000 acres. A smaller fire consumed less acreage in Stevenson Ranch, not far from Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park. More than 1,500 firefighters battled the Malibu wildfire, which burned more than 4,500 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains. Calabasas, just north of the Malibu fire, had little of the disruption that Santa Clarita Valley businesses faced. Calabasas Chamber of Commerce President Carol Washburn said power had gone out in the building with the chamber offices on Oct. 22 and there was more traffic in areas of the city that normally wouldn’t have any as drivers searched out routes away from closed roadways. The fire and strong winds led the chamber to cancel the second day of its annual Pumpkin Festival on Oct. 21, a major fundraiser. Juan Bautista De Anza Park was not a safe place, with shredded tents and twisted metal due to the winds, Washburn said. “Instead of running a festival we moved people out safely and got them packed up and out of harm’s way,” Washburn said. The chamber donated pies for a pie eating contest to Calabasas firefighters battling the Malibu blaze. In Santa Clarita, chamber president Larry Mankin described the industrial area where its offices are located as “a ghost town” on Oct. 22, one of the heaviest days of the fire. Paul De La Cerda, director of the Small Business Development Center serving the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, was forced to evacuate his own home in the Copper Hill area for a day. As firefighters fought the blazes in the hillsides, De La Cerda concerned himself with how to help businesses whose operations were interrupted or even displaced. Ranches and farms in the canyons and up toward Acton may have been particularly hard hit, De La Cerda. To get word out to all businesses, De La Cerda planned to broadcast a message on radio station KHTS AM 1220. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance recommends businesses to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be eligible to receive federal loans. Businesses can receive up to $1.5 million for rebuilding purposes. Renters and homeowners can receive up to $40,000 for personal property losses and up to $200,000 for real estate losses. Santa Clarita disruptions The Lombardi Ranch in Saugus re-opened on a limited basis to sell pumpkins and other produce less than a week after the fires. The popular farm that hosts hayrides and pony rides during October will see a hit in attendance as it cancels weekday school tours. Destroyed in the fire were one home, food stands, storage buildings and areas used for the hay and pony rides, said employee Dawn Mattivi. The smoke and flames disrupted filming in the Santa Clarita Valley. “NCIS” didn’t have a full crew working on the show because a number of people were making sure their homes were not harmed. FX drama “The Riches” lost the sheriff’s deputies providing traffic control so the city staff came in to lend a hand. Another production company needed assistance in getting one of its trucks from behind the fire lines. “We’ve been running and gunning the past couple of days,” said Jason Crawford, City of Santa Clarita interim economic development and marketing manager. “There have been a lot of little things to do.” Total damages from the Los Angeles County fires alone could reach into the hundreds of millions. Add in the cost of the damages to homes and businesses in Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties and the figure will enter into the billions. The cost to the county calculates loss of residential homes and businesses, interruption to business, spending by local governments on firefighting personnel and equipment, said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. In the short term, the area faces a drop in tourism dollars as other areas of the country watch news reports of burning hillsides and decide to stay away, Kyser said. The county has seen year-to-year growth in tourism since 2003. “The industry is doing well so this is a risk,” Kyser said. Hotel managers in the Santa Clarita area have seen an increase in lodgers since the wildfires began. Tammie Quinn, general manager of the Comfort Suites in Stevenson Ranch, said that there’s been a 15 percent increase in occupancy rates, compared to this time last year. “There have been several people evacuated as well as the (rescue) crews,” Quinn said. Mike Kappel, director of marketing and sales at the Hyatt Valencia in Santa Clarita, said that the reservation process has been erratic since the wildfires started. Residents who have been evacuated will hold a room, and then cancel reservations after receiving word that they can return to their homes, according to Kappel. “We’ve seen some same day reservations where people have come to the hotel and maybe only stayed for a few hours and then left when the evacuation order was lifted,” he added. To address the needs of evacuees, Kappel said that the Hyatt Valencia has offered distress rates to help out. Kappel, however, would not disclose how the distress rates differ from standard rates. Staff Reporter Nadra Kareem contributed to this story.

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