By Patti Londre, PV Emergency Preparedness Committee
At 3:04 AM on Wednesday, September 28, 2017 in the sleepy enclave of Phase 1 Playa Vista, there was a sudden power surge, then a muted BOOM, and the smell of electrical fire in the vicinity of Para Way and Discovery Creek. An underground transformer had blown, cutting electricity to a number of subassociations, as well as the street lamps. The eerie, dark calmness had a hitch – dark smoke was wafting up from parkway grates on Discovery Creek. Three PVPAL bike patrols on their routes around the community were searching for the cause; we flagged them down with a flashlight, and they alerted LAFD. A handful of firefighters pulled off the grate, assessed the situation – smoking but not “on fire,” whew — and contacted LADWP emergency response, then babysat the spot until 4:30 AM when LADWP took over. Those guys consulted their laptop to ascertain which grid had fried and set to work for close to 8 hours replacing equipment and getting us juice again (and came back the next day to do more work). Around 1:30 PM, power was restored, and the news rolled around on Facebook as properties reported in. The 10 hour outage was our community’s longest — so far.
Frankly, this was a good dry run for us. Think about it… this little transformer is a baby compared to the momma that feeds it. If our entire community, or bigger, the whole Westside went black for a day or two or seven… how prepared are you to hunker down and endure a bigger such inconvenience? No Yummy, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Coffee Bean, Home Depot, CVS, BofA…
Here are some ways to visualize how to take what we experienced yesterday and play it out on a bigger scale, once you’ve established your family and neighbors are safe…
COFFEE – you CAN brew coffee if you have 1) a drip coffeemaker, 2) gas stove, 3) a match or BIC lighter. Measure coffee grounds into the machine as usual, light your gas range with the match, boil some water and pour over the grounds. Drip, drip, drip… ahhh, ready to take on the bigger challenge. A French press is just as easy.
If your home is all-electric, you cannot cook on the stovetop obviously. But you CAN boil water in a pan on the barbecue. The BBQ ignition switch doesn’t need electricity.
BREAKFAST – I’d suggest cereal. QUICKLY open your fridge and grab the milk. QUICKLY put it back. Otherwise, keep that door shut, shut, shut. Instant oatmeal is easier; yes, you still have to boil water. And speaking of MILK, our fridge always has a handful of Horizon Low-Fat Milk in shelf-stable containers. I’m not adverse to drinking warm milk if power is out a few days.
COOKING – either cook on the gas stovetop, or your barbecue. Scrambled eggs, a can of soup, leftover pasta or chicken masala, in the Olden Days before microwave ovens, we used pots and pans. Even reheating slices of pizza (on a frying pan, heat and flip once, heat other side). Try it sometime when there is no power outage to get the hang of it. Campers out there know how easy this is.
THE GARAGE — Can you get your car out? If you have a SFH, pull the dangling rope to disengage the garage door, and manually hoist the door up (it will probably take two people). Subassociations with security gates, this is VERY IMPORTANT to get your HOA board to communicate with residents how to disengage the security gate. The ones that open like a door requires a key and at least one or two strong people to PULL. But the roll-ups take many strong people, so ask your board to figure out the system and empower residents to be able to open the gates without the involvement of a board member with “the key”, many of whom may be traveling.
LIGHTS – the building’s emergency backup battery will run out in about 4 hours and then the garages and stairwells go dark. Obviously don’t try to use the elevator even when the emergency lights are on, the power could deplete at any time. But carry a bright flashlight during an outage. My absolute favorite lamp is the Luci solar lamp. Put it in the sun during the day and it has many hours of power. Daytime is easy. After sundown, you will need light.
COMMUNICATION – smart phones are the lifeline, until the batteries die. Get a good backup battery, and keep it completely charged up when not in use. It obviously will only get you through one more full day of phone power. You can also power your phone in your car, but that could possibly drain your car battery so run the car a bit – outside the garage.
FOOD SPOILAGE – usually the number-one question. This 10-hour outage didn’t result in food loss for us. In fact, our ice didn’t even start to melt in the freezer. You have a choice, leave the doors SHUT and eat dry foods from the pantry, or QUICKLY open the door to get the refrigerator food – what to eat first: leftovers, thawed meat, milk, fresh juices. Let’s say this outage went into dinner time. My plan was to eat the lettuce, leftover pasta, milk for dinner. And I was going to QUICKLY take the ice and ice packs out of the freezer, put into our small ice chest with the eggs, cheese and rest of the milk to keep cold overnight for breakfast. See? It just takes some visualization. Let’s say this outage went through the second night to Day 2…. freezer eating time. The ice cream MAY be slush, and popsicles melted but since I only opened the freezer once (to remove ice for my ice chest); everything else will probably be cold, but not rock-frozen. I’d invite neighbors to barbecue together – our raw meats, get those eaten. Plus use the stovetop to pan-heat the now-thawed (but still cold) won-tons and burritos. If it feels room temperature to the touch, it goes in the trash. Once you have used the food as best you can, leave the fridge and freezer DOORS OPEN… otherwise, stink happens. You’ll want to wipe those out anyway, stuff has surely dripped and melted. Condiments in the fridge door – ketchup, salad dressing, mayo, I’d also throw away once truly warm. But I would eat the pickles. Then start eating up the pantry food – canned vegs, dried pastas, grains. If you have a gas stove or BBQ, you can cook.
CLEANUP – since the dishwasher doesn’t work without electricity, you will be hand-washing pots and pans. Don’t worry, you will have tons of time since anything electrical won’t have your attention. Depending on your building, you may or may not have hot water (the boilers and water heaters may require electricity to ignite and pump the water to your unit, for example) Wash dishes in soapy water and a few splashes of bleach added to kill germs. Stack to drip dry.
BOREDOM – as the sun goes down, it is going to get boring (I am pretending that we are all in Playa Vista and cannot get out of our community). Bring your lamps, a bottle of wine, some non-perishible snacks, and a board game to the park and play games with neighbors. (Cubans play dominoes outside nightly under the glow of really crappy lightbulbs; it’s pretty cool. Let’s do that!)
CHIRPING SMOKE DETECTORS – did yours chirp during the outage? Its 9-volt back-up battery is probably dead. Replace all those batteries now and you won’t have chirping next time, but make sure and replace ALL again in a year – mark that on your calendar.
Obviously, there are plenty more things to do to be emergency prepared, but hopefully this 10-hour event was useful to your household. By the posts on Facebook, it was obviously frustrating to many people, and scary to others. That shouldn’t happen. Prepare!