Friday, September 9, 2011

The Great San Diego Blackout of 2011

I was at my desk at work yesterday around 3:30pm, when we suddenly lost power.  I didn't lose any work because I have a laptop, so that was the positive side.  I thought it was very strange that we didn't have backup power.  Our facilities house some disaster recovery systems for our customers, so I hoped that part of the building did go on backup power.  About 15 minutes after the power went out, people started leaving work.  I went on Facebook and Twitter with my Blackberry, and saw that Sara Gleason had also lost power in AZ.  As I scrolled down, I noticed that people in Orange, Imperial, and Riverside Counties were all reporting power outages.  As for San Diego County, it was the entire county from the Mexico border all the way up to Camp Pendleton.

After contemplating leaving work, and seeing people coming back into the building because of the massive congestion in the parking lot and in the streets near work due to all the traffic lights having gone out, I stayed put at work.  Todd actually worked from home yesterday because Andy the jacuzzi guy came to install a GFI (ground fault interrupt) for the outlet that the jacuzzi plugs into.  He also ended up having to replace the heating motor and the circuit board, which cost a lot more money.  But that story is for another day.  Todd was home, but I couldn't reach him after the blackout.  I tried texting him, but my texts were not really going through, and he didn't text back.  I tried calling our home phone.  No one picked up.  I figured that wouldn't work, because in a modern household, even landlines use electricity, because the cordless phone bases plug into the power outlets.  I tried call him on his cell phone, and kept getting busy signals or the call wouldn't even complete.  I tried emailing him from my Blackberry, but that didn't work either.  My only solace was I knew he was at home, so he wasn't in the pandemonium on the surface streets.

I finally heard back from Todd around 5:30pm, two hours after the blackout.

Todd:  No power still.  Texts haven't been working.

Me:  I'm still at work because the roads are totally gridlocked.  It took someone over an hour to get from our parking lot down 2 blocks to Sony.

Todd:  Ok.  Guess we are stuck for a while.  Boo.

Me:  Wonder if there's food anywhere?  (heh heh, I was getting hungry)

Todd:  There must be power somewhere.  Mira Mesa?  (When I got that text, I knew that Todd had no idea the extent of the power outage.)

Me:  The power outage is massive.  Total SD County, northern Mexico, OC, LA, and eastern AZ.  Power won't be back any time soon.  Prepare for tonight in the dark!

Todd:  Wow!

Finally, around 6pm, I decided to brave the streets and gridlock and go home.  Miraculously, by that time things have cleared up a bit, so I was able to get home without too many incidents, except for a few traffic lights where people didn't know how to observe the 4-way stop.  I made it home before it got dark.  We gathered our flashlights and candles, and wondered what we should eat for dinner.  At first cereal and soy milk sounded like the best solution.  Then I thought, hmm...  depending on the length of the power outage, our meats might go bad in the freezer.  AND we have a gas grill in the backyard.  Ding ding ding!  So we took out some sausages and grilled them, along with bread.  By the time we sat down to eat in the backyard, it was almost dark.

Fortunately, the heat of the day turned into a rather pleasant evening.  The air outside cooled down to upper 60's and low 70's, as opposed to the humid and 90's heat that we had been experiencing the past few days. We opened up the windows, lit some candles, found our battery powered radio, and spent the evening on the couch chatting.  Todd even read some by candlelight.  Around 9pm, San Diego Gas & Electric had a press briefing, along with County Emergency Service and Mayor Sanders.  They were in the process of powering up all the power stations (apparently they can't all be turned on at the same time, plus there's some priming and prepping involved).  They said that different spots around the county would get power back on, and they hope to get everyone back on power by the end of Friday.  They also said this was an unprecedented event in San Diego County.  Over 1.4 million households and maybe as much as 5 million people were without power in the whole region.  You can read a CNN story here.  More stories from the San Diego Union Tribune here.

We went to bed around 10pm.  We opened up both windows in our bedroom and saw the big shiny moon. The stars were the most visible ever due to no other lights outside.  I thought it was beautiful.  At around 12:30am, I noticed some sounds and opened my eyes.  My clock alarm radio was blinking.  Power was back on!  I smiled and mumbled "power's back on" to Todd and went back to sleep.

As I reflect on this unprecedented event in San Diego, I learned a few things.

  • It was nice to be so unplugged for one night.  No TV, no computer, not even lights.  It was the earliest that I'd been to bed in ages.  I'm surprised to say, I liked it.
  • It is amazing how much we've come to rely on electricity to do anything.  We take the electricity for granted.  Think about how much our daily lives are disrupted without electricity.  Even something like the regular landline cordless telephone didn't work due to the base being plugged in.  We had to go into our old boxes in the garage to dig up an old phone to plug in.
  • We need to have a family emergency plan.  We need to have a plan of what to do when something like this happens again.  We also need to make an "Emergency Box" and keep all the contents like batteries, flashlights, radio, water, masks, dry foods, candles, etc. in there.  We had to search around with a flashlight for things.  You would think after the 2007 San Diego fires and our own evacuation, I would have learned this.  Need to make a list of things to do and get together.
I'm super-thankful that we came out okay in the Great San Diego Blackout of 2011.  It will be a night I will always remember.  And I hope to take the lessons learned and turn them into action.  Make an emergency plan.

I will be back this weekend with some catch-up 30 Days of Lists blog posts.  See you then!  


  1. Up here on the Oregon coast we get frequent power interruptions from a few hours to several days every winter. We cook on a small gas grill, have lots of board games, but no toilets because the sewer is a septic tank that needs electricity to move things along! Fortunately there are a ton of state parks with composting toilets quite near us... Glad you enjoyed your unplugged evening!

  2. Except for the food spoilage, I would say it was a bit novel and fun. We are a bit spoiled in that it only lasted a portion of the day and not for days...I have yet to figure out what to throw out from my fridge.

  3. Hey ListGirl! Happy to hear you all are alright. Do mind posting the lists promts for yesterday and today in the comments section of this post?

  4. Sure thing! I didn't realize people were waiting for the list prompts! :)

    Day 8: Things that remind me of my childhood
    Day 9: Weekend plans

  5. Tara was just telling me today I need an emergency plan. For who? Its just me! My only concern was getting home to my dogs. I suppose if anyone else is concerned about me I need a way to let them know too. Do you guys have sprint phones? Tara's phone didn't work either. I would have died of boredom if my blackberry wasn't working! Although going down my list of people to call ended me with calling my mom and getting insulted. :oP

  6. Todd has an AT&T iPhone and I have a Virgin Mobile Blackberry. Neither phone worked that well during the two hours right after the blackout. Virgin Mobile runs on the Sprint network.

    Well, I knew YOU were alright from your tweets! :) Why would your mom insult you, LOL.

  7. Yikes! I'm glad you guys came through the blackout safely! A few years ago our area was being hit with blackouts every time it rained, so we got used to having down times. I have to say that some of those afternoons of being with family and friends are some of my favorite memories from that time.

  8. My favorite part of your post.. "Need to make a list of things to do and get together."

    That's so 'ListGirl'. ;)

    My other favorite part is that you got home safely and without incident. When a news story is the headline on the DrudgeReport, it's big. When a news story is the headline on the DrudgeReport and is in giant RED's huge!

    Have a great weekend!

  9. Stevo from Dayton checking in after many months away, and, wow Christino, I hadn't heard about your event, sounds cool and dangerous at the same time. Those are some good lessons you learned. Hope you both are well.

  10. So glad you got home safely. It's amazing how much we depend on electricity. I try to "unplug" once every couple of months but not like that.


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