The Great Southern California Blackout


Last Thursday afternoon I was sitting in the Southwest Terminal at the San Diego Airport reading my book and blissfully waiting for the announcement to begin boarding my flight back to Oakland. Startled by a few clicking sounds I looked up to observe the lights and all the electronic displays going dim. San Diego was in the midst of a heat wave, so, I figured a power surge, the lights will be back on soon, back to the book.

Our boarding time came and went with no word from the airline. I took a quick stroll around, looked down stairs where the security was located and noticed the line was really long. From the other side of the terminal they began to announce flight cancellations, however not ours. Rumors started to circulate about a big power outage. Finally someone from the airline appears at our gate and tells us that there is a delay, but not to worry, as soon as they could position the portable stairways with our plane we would be leaving. About another hour goes by, no planes are leaving, and the airline tells us not worry. As they continue to cancel flights it becomes apparent that we will soon be joining the exodus from the airport. It’s not long before they tell everyone that all flights have been canceled until at least tomorrow morning and that discount rates are available at the two hotels across the street.

My cell phone had lost its charge, but my traveling partner still had a charge on her phone and she quickly called her sister and asked her to call the hotel we stayed at the previous night and make reservations and to call the airline to reschedule our flight. We jump on the hotel shuttle and we’re off into gridlock. The brief ride on the freeway wasn’t bad but as soon as we pulled off on to city streets we hit rush hour traffic with no traffic lights. Amazingly traffic flowed fairly well. It was real slow but everyone observed the traffic rules at the red flashing intersections. We eventually arrived at our hotel. By now it’s dark.

The front desk was working with flash lights and quickly told all new arrivals that if you didn’t have reservations they could not accommodate you. Although we had reservations the computers were down so they had no way to confirm. Not to worry, the cell phone still had a charge and the sister had forwarded the confirming email. With this information we were able to get rooms. After getting our room assignments we were handed a glow stick and led to our rooms in small groups by a manager. Up the stairs to the sixth floor and down the darkened hall way to the door. The doors must have batteries because the manager was able to program a card key at each door. I spent the first few hours sitting on the balcony looking over a blackened San Diego wondering why so many facilities were without battery or diesel backup.

I left a light on hoping power would be restored before day break. I was awakened when the light interrupted my sleep around 3:30am. Initial word was that power would be restored in phases and may take as long as a day or maybe two. The blackout started at 3:40pm on Thursday and lasted for about 12 hours. It was the most extensive power outage in California history. It affected more than 5 million people from northern Mexico to Orange County and into Arizona. The replacement of faulty equipment at the North Gila substation northeast of Yuma triggered a 500-kilovolt (kV) high-voltage line from Arizona to California trip out of service. It also shut down the two reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, though the facility did not lose power or experience safety issues.

Here is what I learned from this event:

  • Keep your phone charged; it’s as easy as ABC – Always Bring Charger
  • Keep some cash on hand…if you can find some place that’s open you’ll need cash, ATM’s and Credit Cards are useless
  • Keep and least a quarter tank of gas in your car, the pumps don’t work.
  • Those fancy new toilets that flush themselves won’t work. Thankfully the hotel was still mired in obsolescence, so we had to flush our own toilets.
  • A full freezer will keep food frozen for two days, while food in a half-full freezer will stay frozen for one day. Food in an unopened refrigerator is considered safe for 4 hours. The hotel we stayed at set up a barbecue to feed their guest Thursday night. The menu was diverse. I was near the end of the line and had a barbecued cheese quesadilla with a piece of chicken.
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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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