Fade to Black

Early in the month of September, 2011, a utility worker somewhere near Yuma triggered a series of events which led to a blackout covering part of Arizona, a broad swath of Southern California, and a portion of northern Mexico.  In most areas it lasted for a few hours, although some folks didn’t get power restored until the following day.  Unfortunately, it happened at a very bad time, a bit before rush hour.  This event was not the consequence of an earthquake or other type of natural disaster.  It was not a terrorist act.  It was just an oops.  What happened in the few hours it lasted?

Offices in this heavily populated area lost power.  Computers stopped.  Cash registers stopped.  Telephones wouldn’t work; even cell phones proved useless as capacity was overwhelmed by demand.  Elevators stopped.  Forced to close, employees left work, flooding onto streets and freeways where traffic lights had stopped.  The result was almost instant gridlock, preventing emergency services rapid access to places where help was needed.  Amusement parks had their rides come to a halt, stranding attendees.  Bank services, ATMs, credit card machines, all ground to a halt.  Emergency rooms turned to in-house generators while operating rooms completed what surgeries were in process, cancelling any still scheduled.  Airports cancelled out-bound flights, stranding passengers.  Schools cancelled classes.  Amtrak trains and local trolley service was interrupted.   At-risk residents were evacuated from a nursing home when the air conditioners quit.  Cars ran out of gas, clogged filling stations which couldn’t provide anything.  Other pumps stopped as well; some allowing sewage to be dumped into the environment.

This event should be seen as a dress rehearsal for others yet to come; events, inevitable, which may last much longer when they do.  Will you be ready?  Do you have some non-perishable food available if the refrigerator goes out and your stove won’t light?  Do you have any source of cash—small denominations—which could last at the very least for a few days?  Are you driving the car on empty?  Do you have clean water available?  Candles or a flashlight and extra batteries?  A transistor radio?  A first aid kit?  If necessary, could you sleep in your car?  Change into comfortable shoes for an unexpectedly long march home?  You just never know when something like this might happen.  Your readiness could help both you and others to survive.