When The Lights Went Out in The Southwest, by R.H.

The following is a chronological list of events and occurrences when the lights went out on September 8th, 2011, or what I like to call “The Great Blackout of 2011”.

3:38 p.m. – I live in San Diego, California, and when the lights went out I was at home taking a nap. For some reason after I got home from teaching that day I was exhausted (probably the heat) and needed to rest.  It was a good thing too because I would need my energy in the hours to come.  While I was sleeping I could hear my phone going off with the sound of text messages and calls but I ignored it.  The calls and texts kept coming and so finally I got up to check my phone since I thought it must be important.  It was.

4:00 p.m.- The second I got up I didn’t sit down again until much later that evening.  I was inundated with messages from friends and contacts from all over with messages saying: “The power is out everywhere!”, “the SHTF what are you doing?!”, or my two favorites “I’m bugging out” and “Is this an EMP?”  I texted my friend back that it couldn’t be an EMP because otherwise our cell phones wouldn’t be working.  After more information started coming through I learned that this was a massive power outage that had spread from southern California to as far as Yuma, Arizona.  As soon as I was informed of the potential that this could be a long term power outage I put the phone down and started preparing. It was around 4 p.m. and I wanted to get everything done before nightfall.  First things first, I went into all three of our cars and took out my emergency bags no sense leaving them in there.  I had made bug out bags for every person in the house as well as for every car.  These bags were essential since I basically took the necessary requirements of food and water and tripled it. Since we wouldn’t be mobile anytime soon with traffic backed up everywhere I knew it was best to stay put. I also didn’t want to have to worry about potential looters breaking into the cars and stealing the contents.
I decided to prepare for our first night without electricity.  I had to hurry since I knew it would be getting dark soon.  I gathered all of our flashlights and put them on the kitchen table, next I took out all the candles and battery powered lanterns.  I immediately pulled out all the batteries and spare batteries and began checking them.  This took a while.  I know I should have checked my batteries months prior – but hey, “shoulda, coulda, woulda”.

5:00 p.m.- Next up was safety and protection. At this point in time the information was that the power could be out for as long as three days.  The possibility of looters or riots in the days ahead came to mind and I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down.  I gathered all our firearms, checked to make sure they were ready to go and placed them in strategic places throughout the house.  I went around and checked to make sure all the doors were secure, fences were locked and dogs were okay.  I still had no idea how long this outage would last and I knew that I would be relying on them heavily for alerting us to any strangers or possible looters in the days ahead.  Both were large Shepherd mixes, one actually a fourth generation Rhodesian Ridgeback/Shepherd whose bloodline had been in our family for 30+ years.  My hope was that their size would play a huge part in the deterrent factor and if that wasn’t enough I knew that their bark was just as bad as their bite. 

This entire time I had the Ham radio up and running, as a member of the local CERT team I knew they would be giving out information and taking questions.   I was listening to the traffic reports throughout the county.  People were running out of gas and with gas stations unable to open for business the advice was for those who were low on gas to pull over in a shady spot if possible and get off the roads.  I knew my sister was in that traffic and I was worried.  She was seven months pregnant and had been sent home from work because of the blackout.  She had picked up my two year old niece from daycare but was low on gas because of being stuck in traffic for two hours for what was usually a 30 minute drive.

6:00 p.m.- Problems start happening.  I had not heard from my sister yet but I knew she was on her way to my house.  She was very low on gas but was still going to try and make it being that the only open gas stations were in Temecula, a city 20+ miles away.  The same was true for my brother in law who was coming in the opposite direction from work.  He had been stuck in traffic for hours and was low on gas as well.  To make matters worse no one was able to get hold of their son, my nephew.  This was due to the fact that all the cell phone lines were jammed.  We tried to go online to see if he tried to reach us via facebook which was still working for those who had Internet.  No messages.  At this point I started getting worried and annoyed.  I had friends texting me asking me if I had all my survivor gear out, or asking me what I was doing, or what they should do.  Meanwhile I was thinking that they were draining my phone battery (I know I could have charged it in my car but I needed it with me as I was going about the house trying to get everything done) that I might just need for that important call from my sister, or nephew, or brother in law who had still not arrived yet.  I knew some of them thought their messages were funny.  I didn’t have time to entertain or further enlighten them.  There was still so much more work to do.

6:30 p.m.- My sister finally arrived.  Not long afterwards so does my brother in law, then my other sister, her husband, and their two kids.  Everyone’s gas tank is pretty much on empty.  I fill up the car that uses the least gas so that my brother in law can go around looking for my nephew who we still weren’t able to get a hold of.  I give him my cell phone so that he can charge it as he drives around.  We soon find out that for some reason that part of San Diego – Rancho Bernardo to be exact was not able to receive any calls or text messages to cell phones incoming or receiving.  In addition my nephew was not able to access the internet via cell phone unlike others who were able to in different areas.  We were able to confirm this information later when my brother in law left to try and find my nephew.  While he was in that area he tried reaching us and us him to no avail.  He finally found my nephew at their house.  One of his friend’s parents had dropped him off and he was with the neighbors waiting when my brother in law finally arrived.

7:30 p.m.- It was now dark.  Everyone had safely arrived at my house and I was busy making dinner on the front porch.  I had spent a good amount of time digging out the portable propane stove from in the garage and setting up an outdoor makeshift kitchen.  We still didn’t know how long the power outage would last so I was trying to cook as much meat as possible.  Needless to say we ate pretty well that night. 

8:30 p.m.- Dinner time.  We had our dinner inside using several of our lanterns as light.  The kids seemed to be having fun.  We discussed what would happen in the days to come if the electricity still was not back in place.  We did have a location in the mountains about 1 hour away with other extended family.  We had two very large delivery diesel trucks which would be able to hold most of our important belongings the only problem was I knew we didn’t have enough diesel gas for both of them. We decided to wait it out.  At this time information we were receiving on the radio was that electricity would be restored later that night.  I was skeptic but hopeful.  I wondered if “they” were telling the truth or if they just didn’t want to stir a mass panic.

11:30- Bed time. After dinner we had cleaned the kitchen, washed the dishes, and given the kids baths all by lantern light.  I walked around the perimeter of the house again making sure all was well.  I looked around at my family most of them were already fast asleep together in the television room.  I looked at the time and realized how tired I was.  I had basically been working nonstop since I found out the power had gone out.  I climbed in bed.  Having no electricity sure was exhausting and the electricity had only been out for 8 hours!  I couldn’t imagine another day like this, though I knew if this was a possibility I had already done most of the work for things to be easier tomorrow. 

As I lay down to sleep that night a few thoughts went through my head.  Thank God we at least still had [utility-piped] running water.  And Thank God that everyone made it here safe and we were all together.  Thank God things weren’t worse. Other thoughts that occurred to me while the power was out and later the next day:

  1. I should have put the insulin in the freezer right away or in at least a colder compartment than the refrigerator (insulin gets ruined if it is too cold as well as too warm).  I practically kicked myself for not doing this first thing!  I was so wrapped up in everything else this completely slipped my mind!
  2. I should have bought that portable ice machine at Target.  It was only $130. 
  3. I really need to get out of the city.

Here is what I learned:

  1. The vast majority of the population is poorly prepared in every sense for any type of emergency.
  2. You can never have enough gasoline and even if you think you do get more.  It would have been an excellent selling or bartering item at times like these.
  3. Candy is an absolute necessity in preparedness.  Especially when there is no television or computer to send the kids off to to occupy themselves.  When adults need a few moments of quiet time, candy makes everything better, instantly.
  4. Having a Ham radio is an essential part of preparing.  The Beans, Bullets, Band-Aids saying needs to add that extra “C” for Communication as well as the “E” for Engineering.  Being informed just makes you feel better and in a strange way gives you hope when you know you can still reach someone on the other “end”.
  5. Handheld battery operated lanterns are awesome! You can hang them when cooking outside for a good source of all over light.  They are better than flashlights when walking down the hall or when going to bathroom and taking a shower.  You can just set them on the counter and you have pretty good visibility of the area around you.
  6. Survival preparedness isn’t really about you.  It is about protecting your loved ones. 
  7. Having properly prepared for an emergency makes you feel like gold.
  8. I really need to get out of the city. 
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