Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lights Out In San Diego

Out of nowhere, with no warning, power went out in San Diego county, part of Orange county, Tijuana, and even out to Yuma, AZ today at 3:40 PM. It has been very hot, but the demand was well under capacity.

It took close to an hour before anyone heard a word from SDGE. I'm surprised I got online. Most cell phone service is out, and I'm on a cell card.

The whole thing is quite strange. Over 1.4 million customers, which means maybe 5 to 8 million people, or more are without power. Gas stations can't pump gas, most stop lights are out. Not sure how the ones that were working are powered, but a few are operating. Traffic was very backed up. Since I travel the back way from Rancho Santa Fe, I encountered less delay that those in the city.

Most people behaved, treating intersections like four way stops; first come first go. Of course there were a few idiots, mostly those who do the work we won't do, allegedly. And a redneck or two. But the vast majority stepped up to the plate and did the right thing.

They seem to have difficulty really explaining it all. A gazillion volt line in AZ which is interconnected with our grid had some sort of irregularity and that started a chain reaction which cause the nuclear plants up north to shut down which is automatic. Now they are working to get the gazillion volt lines up, and the one that started it is up, but they have to go in from out, and then out from in and it takes time, and then the lesser stations will be up and then the get power there, and later here, but before that the hospitals get power, and it is not their fault and check to see if your sick and elderly neighbors are dead and don't open the fridge any more than you have to and don't put hot food in there, and schools are closed tomorrow, and no they have no evidence to indicate foul play or terrorizm, but there is a rumor a clerk in some office made an error and maybe pushed the wrong button, and it may be late tomorrow before you have power, but some parts of Orange County, the O.C., already have their power restored, and isn't this an historic occasion?

So, that's the word from the radio. Most stations cannot broadcast, so KOGO is letting many of them tap in with their crack reporters all over the county relaying valuable information. Traffic is at a snail's pace downtown, maybe even slower. With no lights on, gee you can see the moon and stars, etc.

I can always see the moon and stars at night where I am. But I cannot run the fans without electricity.

My first thought, when the extent of outage became evident, was that this illustrates perfectly my Centralization Theory. Since back in the 70's I tried to tell anyone who'd listen, or was a captive audience, that it makes no sense to have so many people dependent upon so few sources of power so far from the end user. More sources of generation, serving fewer users so they are smaller and more localized. Ideally, power is generated at the site of use.

That is not always possible, but there is no question the design is ill conceived when a problem at one specific point in the system can cripple an area larger than San Diego county, which is huge and includes many cities and towns.

But, I've been warning against centralized control of power and water for many years, usually to skeptical and disapproving looks and reaction. As this case demonstrates, we are highly vulnerable, and needlessly so, to clever attack from without or within. So far no one declared martial law. Had this been Dade County, or Oakland, they'd probably feel they had to---looters and other idiocy would surely run rampant in those places under these conditions.

Nope. So far, San Diego stayed classy.

I've been without power for weeks at a time due to hurricanes. That is different. You know it is coming and so you prepare. Fortunately I have pretty much everything I need to carry me a day or three. Good think I bought fuel yesterday, and deposited those checks on the way in to work instead of on the way home like usual. It was a last minute impulse.

This may skew tomorrow's plans, although I may have enough fuel left to get to Rancho SF and back. At least they might get power sooner and they have a pool. It is always much cooler there. Maybe there is food, too.

I wonder if they'd say if this had been a planned assault of some kind. Maybe they'd keep it under wraps to avoid panic. It wasn't a big explosion or an airplane hijacked for the purpose, so I guess it could be exactly what the CEO of SDGE said, "A fluctuation of the line which blablabla.


  1. It turns into looting and anarchy very quickly when the infrastructure goes down here. It is the only reason I have a tactical shotgun. I know more than a handful of people who have had to at least brandish them in their storefronts.

    No lights/ power/water and cell phones means martial law. I observe it just like that...

    Hang in there.


  2. I read about it only via internet sites like, etc. No mention of it in my news, which is unusual. Over here when I line goes out, no matter why, the power gets automatically detoured from another line. It usually works pretty good... no LONG outages here (so far).


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