Thursday, March 18, 2010

What the Left Hand Didn't know

Suddenly the screen was filling up with little error message windows. In a flash I'd lost my connection to the World Wide Web. My computer was still functioning because of the uninterruptible power supply (backup battery) and I didn't notice that the room lights were out because they weren't on. It took a moment to realize this wasn't a computer problem or an Internet problem. It was a power problem.

That meant no cable TV and no radio unless I dug the hand crank radio out of the garage.

Realizing the power was out in the whole house I immediately grabbed a flashlight and went to the windows to see if I'd just experienced the opening EMP salvo of WWIII or some drunk hitting a power pole. Seeing lights to the South, North and West convinced me we weren't under attack that plus the fact that the bars close at two AM and this power outage had occurred at 2:25 AM.

Since my neighbors were likely all asleep and hadn't noticed the power outage I couldn't count on them to call it in so I did it myself. Turns out that list of emergency phone numbers on the refrigerator doesn't include the electric company's trouble reporting line. Fortunately I've been compiling a list of emergency phone numbers for our neighborhood association. I'd been meaning to test the numbers to be sure they were all functional anyway so one of them got tested early.

Two things to note here:

One, I was able to call the electric company because I've ignored the fervent pleas of the cable company which wants me to use them for my phone service as well as cable TV and Internet. By keeping our home phone a land line to AT&T we kept the ability to phone when the power went down.

Sure if we'd had cell phones they may have worked if charged and nearby cell towers were still working.

Two, if the phone company or electric company's power had gone out that call wouldn't have been possible. Overstating the obvious or underlining our dependency on electricity?

Once the electric company's automated system had assured me they were going to get right on the problem I started thinking about other things that needed doing. The furnace wouldn't work without power to run the blowers so I put out two candles for light and a microscopic amount of heat. Of course I made sure they were well away from anything flammable and not directly under anything.

Cooking on our gas stove would have been possible on the top burners but without the spark starters would have required matches to ignite the gas. The oven wouldn't have worked because it turns itself on and off to maintain a set temperature and requires electricity to spark the gas flame somewhere down in the back.

Convinced everything that needed to be done had been done I went to bed. Sometime later the power came back on. When I got up the displays on my two Bose Wave clock radios (which had gone dark when the power went out but kept track of the time via their internal batteries) displayed the correct time once power was restored as did my computer. The three battery powered analog clocks still had the correct time but the stove and microwave oven clocks needed to be reset as did my alarm clock. No wonder hardly anybody wears watches anymore, we're awash in clocks.

But my Internet and cable TV were still down. Oh well, I'd take my morning walk and see if they'd finished fixing the problem by the time I got back. About three quarters of the way through the course I ran across two repairmen from the cable company opening up one of their roadside boxes. I went over to ask how long it would be until I could get back to my Internet addiction. When I mentioned last night's power outage a light bulb appeared over the guy's head. Mumbling something about backup generators that sometimes got stuck he promised service would soon be restored as he hopped in truck and literally roared off. Within the hour I had FOXNews and the Internet again.

Perhaps by now you're wondering why a puny little temporary power outage in a far off town has become fodder for a survival blog. Aside from pointing out the benefits of having flashlights, fresh batteries, candles and an old fashioned phone there is that paragraph above.

Hours after the one event was over another part of the infrastructure was still struggling to get back online with no knowledge of what had happened to the first system. Power outages are not uncommon occurrences and yet those workmen I talked to were completely in the dark as to what had happened. Once I gave them the clue they knew what to do.

Think about it. The infrastructure's left hand hadn't known what the right hand had done. Ramped up to a larger scale and more important utilities the situation could have been much worse.

Additionally people who'd succumbed to the cable company's siren call of low rates for phone, TV and Internet had gone for extra hours unable to call fire, ambulance or police.

Bottom Line
As much as possible try to have your own backup systems in place for emergencies be they major or minor.

jC adds:

"There is more to be considered than available power.

The connection you choose is also important,

A wired phone line has a priority. And a back-up.

An owner powered satellite connection is up to your resources.

DSL, Broadband is up to the carrier, not your power sources.

Cell phones are another subject, the cell carrier has to maintain the towers.

Choose wisely."

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