Over the weekend, the San Fernando Valley in the Los Angeles area experienced a major power outage. A friend sent me her assessment of the situation. Her email follows, along with my analysis.
I hope all is well with you and the girls. I thought of you last night as I experienced my first California emergency event, and I wanted to share my experiences with you.
You likely saw news of the Northridge power outage. A power station explosion resulted in a massive power failure throughout the San Fernando Valley. I live in West Hills and lost power along with over 140,000 of my closest friends. The temperature outside at my house was 105 degrees when the power went out.
A few observations: Twitter is great source of information in an emergency such as this. #Northridge was trending, which is stunning considering Twitter is a global platform. People posted pictures from upper-level apartments showing an entirely dark LA valley. Others posted pictures and videos of the explosion and fire which lead to the blackout. Many posted news of the business and store closings.
Everything completely shut down - malls, shops, stores, gas stations - everything. Traffic was complete gridlock because no traffic lights worked. First responders were all tied up.
I saw that many people posted about using their phones for flashlights (apparently because they had no emergency flashlights available). Many others, after hours of no power, posted asking what stores or restaurants were open ("no food, I'm hungry") - Indicating they didn't have any basic supplies to get through a 12-hour or 24-hour emergency sheltering in place in their home.
A benefit of watching everything unfold on Twitter was having a sense in real-time of what was happening. After some time, people started posting the time and their location when their power was restored. "Power just came back on at my house in Chattsworth," "Power returned briefly, then off again, in Winnetka," and my personal favorite: a picture of a fully illuminated church with the caption: "Power back on at a church, OK, God..."
Some people took the cover of darkness and lack of available law enforcement to their unfortunate advantage. I saw multiple reports on Twitter of people shooting off fireworks. I also heard what sounded like rather large fireworks being fired near my house. This is stunning when you consider the very dry conditions, the fact first responders were all very tied up, and the gridlocked traffic situation throughout the Valley.
On a more personal note, I was struck by the sense of community I encountered throughout the event, even though this is LA. I was in touch via texting with two of my neighbors throughout much of the blackout. We shared news and information. My neighbors asked repeatedly if they could bring me anything. Another neighbor showed up at my door with two big bags of ice. He was out running errands when everything went dark, and quickly found an open store. He's lived in LA his entire life and is no stranger to large-scale emergencies, so he thought to get as much ice as he could to fill coolers. He shared with neighbors, including us here at my house.
I saw that many people are kind and helpful, and many are careless and crazy. Clearly we need to be ready for anything. I did not anticipate the possibility of fires started by idiots shooting fireworks in the middle of the blackout. I am not aware of any fires that resulted from the fireworks; however help from first responders for fires (or any other emergency) would have been extremely limited due to the circumstances.
I thought of you often throughout all of this. Thanks for all of the guidance and help you have given me on preparedness issues throughout the years.
I hope some of this information is useful to you.
As much as I despise Twitter, it is really good for this type of situation - one where short communications need to be delivered quickly. If you're not on Twitter, set up an account (it's free) and follow you local media outlets, first responders, and the local National Weather Service office.
I am not surprised that the event created a sense of community. We see that often. One of the things I talk about in Pivot Points is the research done by Matt Davis, Ph.D. at Dominican University of California. He is a psychology professor who has done a lot of research on how disasters affect us psychologically as well as how we can improve our mental wellness and sense of community by preparing for disasters. There is a strong correlation between those communities that prepare together and those that experience a stronger sense of community.
You would think residents in California - given their earthquake exposure - would have food and water on hand for such an event. You would be wrong. Becky is better prepared than most, I suspect, as she has made preparedness a priority. Many of her fellow Los Angeles residents were apparently caught off guard at the prospect of an extended power outage.
Note the problems on first responders, citizens, businesses and infrastructure caused by a power outage that only lasted 12 hours. One Twitter used said "it's like a scene from the Walking Dead." What if this had been an earthquake, massively damaging infrastructure, during the middle of a record heat wave?
We can hope this 12 hour ordeal provided residents with a good simulation of what things could be like longer term after an earthquake. And hopefully, the rest of us can learn something from it as well.
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