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Friday, 9 September 2011

The Great San Diego Blackout

The day the ceiling fans stood still.




Well that was strange. There we all were, 1.4 million people across San Diego, trying to beat the heat and get to the end of the afternoon without too much sweating... and then the power went out! Across the entire county! At first I thought I'd overdone the air conditioning - not an hour before, I'd tripped the circuit by trying to vacuum, have the television and keep our portable AC unit running at the same time (wow, that sounds dumb now I read that back). But after I managed to get Twitter working (cellphone networks slowed to a halt), I saw that Fred had power out at work, and KPBS were down, and then the hashtag they coined - the #sdblackout - sprung to life.

At first I, like everyone else, expected the power to come back quickly enough. We hung around, we tolerated the sweat. I grabbed an icelolly, took the cats outside where the air was at least moving, and streamed Pandora on my phone for a while. But as reports started coming through as to what was happening (rumours ranged from a vehicular crash to the ridiculous idea that it could be a terrorist attack), it became pretty clear we were in for at least one night of no power.



So you do what you do in any emergency: you take stock of your resources, you get a radio working and you occupy yourself. It doesn't take long to find the places where you're woefully unprepared - we should have had a stovetop kettle, a camping stove and a proper battery or crank operated emergency radio.



But success! Our bedroom clockwork radio could work from a battery, and we had a battery that fit! We tuned into KOGO, usually a talk radio station (and not something I would normally ever listen to), but they turned local and neutral through the night, taking calls from people across the county reporting in on the state of their power and airing the press conferences with San Diego's mayor and SDGE. It really reinforced how useful radio continues to be, and that I need a power saving option on my phone.

As for food: we had zucchini and tomatoes from the garden sat on the counter.



And a GRILL. Yes! Hot food!



No photos of the hot food because I was too busy eating to take low light photos that were not blurry. Priorities people, you can't fight zombies or looters on an empty stomach.

I found some scented candles in the spare room, and the extra light kept us sane.



and I had a little LED reading light, which meant I could knit a few stitches on my various projects and read a book.



And then we hit upon the genius idea to make some coke with our sodastream. I'd say that's a definite blackout tip: as long as you've got bottled water and a sodastream to hand, you can has soda.





So it was mostly OK in the end. The power was restored by the middle of the night, and the ceiling fans were once more rotating. But a lot of that time spent last night had the niggling little worry that this might be something that would last for days. That the water restrictions might turn into no water, and that the weather wasn't going to break and finally cool down. That we'd lose all the food in our chest freezer, that friends wouldn't be OK. The local Ralphs shut itself down - refusing to even sell ice to the local community, which shows that in an emergency, we can't trust them to sell us the supplies we'll need to get through even a few days of broken infrastructure.

But we have good neighbours (one of whom checked in on us and supplied us with the information about Ralphs), we had food and water, and the power was restored within 12 hours . For my first ever emergency situation, it could have been a lot worse. Hopefully next time will be this smooth.

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