At approximately 3:35 this afternoon, I was standing in the hallway outside my office, talking to my boss and a coworker. It’s a very odd feeling when the power to the entire building goes out. Everything goes absolutely silent. I never appreciate how much noise the air conditioning, the computers, and even the vending machines make until it’s gone and the stillness sets in. A few seconds later, having given us enough time to pause and understand what was happening, the backup power kicked in, restoring light to the hallway. Looking at the time, I immediately decided to catch the 3:45 shuttle, which would get me on the 4:06 northbound COASTER home. As I sit here writing, reflecting on the afternoon, I’m grateful that I didn’t hesitate.
I received a text message from my wife as I was leaving the building, informing me that power was out at home, 20 miles away from my office. As I sat on the shuttle, listening to the chatter of the San Diego MTS radio, I learned that power was out across the county. I was relatively confident that the trains would continue to run, as they are self-powered and the railroads have radio procedures they follow when the signals lose power. Still, I was relieved when my train pulled into the Sorrento Valley station right on time. The trip home took much longer than usual, while the train proceeded slowly and waited for clearance over the radio. During the ride, I followed news about the power outage, and kept my dad up to date on my status, on Twitter. Fortunately, Verizon’s cell towers remained online.
Traffic was abysmal around the county by the time I arrived at the Carlsbad Poinsettia station, around 5:00 PM. I was fortunate, in that I only had a rough time until I crossed over the I-5 freeway. Most of my short, 7.5 mile trip between the train station and my house is done on less-traveled roads. Once into San Marcos, the traffic signals were operating on battery power, so the final few lights were even normal for me.
Finally arriving home shortly before 6:00 PM, I unplugged the computers and appliances—to safe-guard against possible surges when the power was restored—and prepared dinner. Fortunately, I intended all along to use the propane grill for dinner, so I didn’t have to alter our plans. We did end up eating our dinner by candle light, which is something we haven’t done in quite a while. After dinner, we finished off the chocolate ice cream, which was rapidly melting in the freezer. We spent the remainder of the evening listening to the news on one of our Eton crank-powered radios, all of which I’d selected as pledge gifts over the years from KPBS.
Our power was restored at 10:25 PM, at which point I plugged everything back in, set the few clocks we still have that don’t set themselves, and verified that the temperature of the refrigerator was okay. Then, as my brain wouldn’t let me go to sleep until I purged its thoughts into print, I sat down to compose this post. What did I do right today, and what lessons have I learned?
Know how you’re getting home. I was very lucky today. The power dropped minutes before the first MTS shuttle this afternoon, and I didn’t hesitate to take it. Further, the trains were still running. I do not have a backup plan for how I would get home otherwise. My parents live near my workplace so, barring a grave emergency, I’d likely wait things out at their house. Or, as I told my wife, chill out on the patio at Karl Strauss, knocking back a few pints.
Have portable radios where you need them. We succeeded here, having three of the aforementioned Eton radios. I had one in my car, but didn’t need it, since Verizon’s data network remained up the entire time. My wife has one in her car and we have one in the house, so she was able to listen to the news about the power outage. Our oldest radio doesn’t hold a charge for very long, so it may be time to replace it.
Have several flashlights in several locations, with batteries. Also, candles. We keep large Maglite flashlights in each of the cars and small tactical flashlights both in the cars and throughout the house. Between those and two boxes of candles from IKEA, we had plenty of light. Recently, we’d started moving to using rechargeable batteries for everything, which work great, when you have power to recharge them. I plan to purchase bulk packs of batteries in various sizes to store in an emergency kit, to be used only in emergencies. Speaking of which…
Have an emergency kit. We don’t really have one, though we didn’t suffer for it this time. Creating a plan and organizing a kit has been on my to-do list for a long time and it’s about time I take care of it.
Keep non-perishable food on hand. We’re somewhat okay on this. We have bottled water and canned food, though I don’t think we have enough for three days. I intend to remedy this on our next trip to Costco. In fact, I’ve been making a mental checklist of food items to stock for while. Canned meats are high on the list, followed by dried fruits, and water. Lots of water.
Know where to get news. I was fortunate that Verizon’s data service remained online. Between listening to KOGO and reading Twitter, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on. The Twitter accounts I found the most useful today were, @SDGE, @SanDiegoCounty, @ReadySanDiego, @SDSheriff, @GoNCTD, @KPBSnews, and @nctimes.
Have your bug out bag (BOB) packed and your cars fueled. While we don’t have bug out bags, we do keep the cars fueled. I decided long ago to never let the fuel tanks drop below half, because you never know when you’ll need to drive somewhere without the opportunity to refill. Obviously, these precautions were unnecessary today, but non-emergencies like a widespread power outage give us the opportunity to think about what we need and test our preparedness without great risk. What if this had been a wildfire or an earthquake? Would we have been ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice? I’m sad to say, probably not. That leads to my most important lesson…
Know what to do. I need to make sure my family and I are on the same page if a disaster occurs, even if we are unable to communicate. Under what circumstances do we evacuate? Where do we go? What if our primary choice is unreachable? What if, as is likely the case in San Diego, the roads are jammed? As important as knowing when to go is knowing when to stay put and for how long.
There are lot of considerations that go into designing an emergency plan and I know I didn’t go into all of them here, nor did I intend this to be a comprehensive list. These were just the main things I’ve been thinking generally about lately and specifically about today. When I do make our emergency preparation, I’ll likely follow up with another post. If anything, it will serve as documentation for my immediate and extended family. Now that I’ve put my thoughts into print, maybe my brain will let me sleep.