By John Lawrence / Will Blog for Food / Sept 10, 2011
All of San Diego County as well as some parts of Orange County, Arizona and Mexico experienced a blackout for about 12 hours Thursday, September 8, 2011, one of the hottest days of the year although the blackout had nothing to do with air conditioning overload or any other kind of overload to the system.
It was all caused by some electric company employee in Yuma, Arizona tripping the wrong switch accidentally or replacing defective monitoring equipment depending on which story you want to believe.
Just think what could happen if someone such as a terrorist deliberately and determinedly wanted to cause harm to the six million people who were affected by the blackout!
This blackout should be considered a dry run to what might happen if there were a major emergency, an actual cutting of the 500,000 volt transmission line between Yuma and San Diego. How easy would it be for someone to merely bomb one of the transmission towers in some remote area and bring the whole system down not to be recovered so easily as merely turning the power back on which is all San Diego Gas and Electric had to end up doing. Even that took them 12 hours!
This power outage should be considered a dry run for such a terror attack or other major emergency, and, obviously, the system failed catastrophically for little reason. The entire electrical grid is in dire need of being overhauled and redesigned so that this type of failure caused by one person doesn’t happen again.
There is no reason for a local power outage to be transmitted over the entire system. That’s totally ridiculous and unnecessary. There should be enough failsafe built into the system such that local failures are confined to local areas.
This is a huge failure of centralized power generation and transmission. Instead the power grid needs to be redesigned as a distributed system. Power generated locally including solar or wind power should be able to power local needs without the possibility of being shut down by a systemic event. Distributed power generation rather than centralized power generation is the key.
I have blogged previously about the need for local power generation by means of solar panels on rooftops which could provide for local needs. This is more efficient because a huge amount of power is needlessly lost on transmission lines hauling electricity from the point where it’s generated to the point where it’s needed.
Government needs to allow local rooftop generation to be sold onto the grid by home and business owners as was done in Germany, and the grid to be smart enough to isolate local areas from systemic failures. This also distributes the profits freom power generation to a larger group of people which is precisely why the power companies don’t want it to be allowed and instruct their lobbyists accordingly
The other lesson to be learned is that San Diego County was totally unprepared for this relatively benign disaster compared to the weather disasters experienced in other parts of the country. It was a totally self-inflicted wound as the result of the mistake of one person which is almost unbelievable.
Here are some of the scary scenarios that resulted.
- People were trapped in elevators.
- Most gas stations shut down so that people trying to get home ran out of gas on the freeways contributing to huge traffic jams.
- Ambulances ran out of fuel.
- Cell phones and landlines went dead.
- All supermarkets and grocery stores closed making it impossible to buy ice, water or even food.
- Restaurants closed even fast food places.
- Sewage pumps failed causing contamination of drinking water.
- People confined to their homes without air conditioning, the ability to cook, without the ability to make contact with family or friends, with the contents of their refrigerators spoiling were the lucky ones compared to people stranded on the freeways.
Here’s what needs to be done.
BACKUP GENERATORS. For the lack of backup generators, gas stations closed, super markets and grocery stores closed. ATMs shut down. Even water machines didn’t work. The only facilities that continued to operate successfully were the hospitals that had backup generators.
It needs to be mandated or otherwise encouraged that at least some strategic services in each neighborhood have backup generators in the event that some huge catastrophe such as this need not happen again. It could even be an advertising promotion for some supermarkets and service stations that their facility is “disaster ready” and would continue to function in the event of a power outage. They could even have a little logo posted at their site that they were “disaster ready.”
The same goes for phone service.Their facilities should be required to be operational in the event of a power outage. Such simple solutions as requiring ATMs and water dispensing machines to not be grid electricity dependent would go a long way. How about solar panel backup for ATMs and water machines not to mention traffic lights?!?
This whole disaster dry run, I imagine, was very educational for potential terrorists. The only thing needed to wreak havoc on and shut down an entire region affecting millions of people was simply blowing up one transmission tower thus cutting the Yuma to San Diego Powerlink. That would have accomplished the same thing as throwing a switch turning off the power.
The fact that the power line between Yuma, Arizona and San Diego County was effectively cut caused the San Onofre nuclear generating station, another source of local power, to shut down. Why? It could have continued to function supplying electricity to San Diego County. Instead it effectively said, “Well if Yuma isn’t going to provide electricity, neither will I.” At the time it was most critically needed, it shut down.
Isn’t this a complete design failure of the electrical grid? Clearly, the electrical grid, a major component of infrastructure needs to be totally redesigned for the 21st century so that in the event of a major catastrophe, vital services are not completely cut off leaving millions of people to fend for themselves. This should be a lesson to the entire nation!