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By Diana Diamond

What if this outage had been an earthquake?

Uploaded: Jul 11, 2018

It was not a dark and stormy night. It was a blue-sky sunny evening when at 6:20 p.m. the electricity in my house suddenly went off July 2.

It was no big deal. We finished dinner and, without thinking, I turned on my TV. Silly, no electricity. So I tried my landline phone, but it was dead. I get serviced through Comcast’s VOIR system, and that is unavailable without electricity. It didn’t use to be that way.

Years ago, when I was young and growing up on the East Coast, during a hurricane we could always count on our phone and our gas stove working. That’s been true in Palo Alto until I changed to an electric stove and Comcast.

I found a battery-operated radio and turned on Stanford’s station, KZSU, our emergency network. All I heard was music.

I tried my half-charged cellphone and went online to the city’s Utilities Department site. The site was filled with a lot of PR about how great the department is and all the services it provides. I tried calling the Utilities emergency services number several times but the line was busy.

I walked outside and one neighbor said he found a cellphone site indicating there was a swath of homes in PA that were affected by this electrical outage, but no information on what had happened or when it would be fixed.

Fine, I can accept that. A blackout could be due to anything – in this case it was a Mylar balloon that caused the entire problem. And an electricity outage that lasts only 1-1/2 hours is no big thing.

But what if this was an earthquake? I always thought I was doing a good job on emergency preparedness – we have water stored, canned food, a can opener, even an emergency generator. But I had never thought I wouldn’t be able to get any information from my home about what was happening.

Two days later, I went to the Chili Cook-Off at Mitchell Park and there was a police department OES (Office of Emergency Services) booth to help residents to prepare for an emergency. I asked the officer on duty about my inability to get any info on the outage and he gave me a card that said we should go online to one of six icons – Facebook, Twitter, and I don’t know what the other four represented. “We use twitter a lot,” he said.’

I never knew that. My husband told him he doesn’t have a twitter account and the officer said, “You should get one.”

So the implication was it’s our fault for not going to the right site. Gee whiz. Yet the city has done little, if anything, to let us know about their special sites, or explain why their utilities online site did not at first acknowledge there was an area-wide blackout.

The city needs to get info out on emergencies quickly. If I know what is happening during an emergency, I can better know how to respond.

The city has done a pretty good job telling us on how to have supplies ready during an earthquake, and it has block captains checking out neighborhoods, but if this blackout was any indication there’s a dearth of available information at the outset of a problem. We need more.

BTW, what if my cellphone was not charged? Then what do I do for info?