(News & Editorial)
National news media coverage of the recent southwestern US power outage gave an small insight into the long term effects that would be encountered in a large scale electric grid disaster.
For a broader understanding of the effects of a sustained regional (or larger) power outage, when you’ve read this News & Editorial post, read the three posts found in Category: Survival Manual/ 1. Disaster, titled;
• Long term power outage
• EMP-Solar flares
• War, EMP
Below, I’ve listed points from six news articles concerning the southwestern power outage of 9-9-11. These news articles have been copied and pasted following my points.
• [The regional grid was down ONLY 12 hours] The unprecedented outage struck around 3:40 p.m. Thursday. At 3:30 a.m. Friday, San Diego Gas & Electric reported that all power in San Diego County had been restored.
• …plunging millions of people into darkness, has authorities and experts puzzled, especially since the power grid is built to withstand such mishaps…a historically severe blackout that left some 5 million people without electricity
• …a reminder that the nation’s transmission lines remain all too vulnerable to cascading power failures.
• There have been several similar failures in recent years. In 2003, a blackout knocked out power to 50 million people in the Midwest and the Northeast. And in 2005, a major outage struck the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
• In some ways, the nation’s power grid is not very different than it was when it was first being laid out more than a century ago.
• ___compared the power grid to a quiet pond. “When somebody throws a rock in there, it causes ripples. Depending on how big that rock is, those ripples are going to affect everyone that’s in that pond,”
• It’s so complex that planners and engineers can’t accurately model how it will behave, especially when things go wrong.
• The outage knocked out traffic lights, causing gridlock on the roads…
• [By the next morning, 9-9] A day after the massive blackout that hit San Diego County, many drivers running low on fuel flocked to local gas stations.
• During the outage, schools and businesses — including gas stations — closed; medically fragile people packed hospitals…
• There were several reports of people stuck in elevators and on San Diego Trolley cars…
• Two reactors at a nuclear power plant up the California coast went offline after losing electricity… back-up energy didn’t kick in.
• More than 2 million gallons of sewage spilled into the water off San Diego, closing beaches in the nation’s eighth-largest city…The pump station does not have a backup generator.
• The outage cost the San Diego-area economy more than $100 million…The National University System Institute for Policy Research estimated the economic impact of the power outage to be between $97 million and $118 million.
• Despite the restoration, public elementary, middle and high schools remained shuttered in the region Friday, along with federal courts…officials announced all county public schools — including SD Unified schools — would be closed Friday due to the power outage…All Catholic schools have also been closed.
the Thomas Jefferson School of Law said they have canceled Friday classes..Classes at Point Loma Nazarene University have been canceled, but all employees are being asked to come to work as schedule. San Diego State University canceled classes Thursday night due to the outage, and school officials said Friday classes are also canceled. School officials ask students to visit the school’s website for the latest information. UC San Diego and Southwestern College and Palomar College have confirmed classes on Friday are canceled.
• Following restoration of electrical service throughout the region, residents were encouraged to avoid the use of air conditioners if possible, or set them no lower 78 degrees if structural cooling was absolutely necessary. Major appliances, such as washer and dryers, should not be used Friday, according to SDG&E. [Home and work air-conditioning and general hygiene curtailed] No outdoor water use permitted. Flush toilets after several uses. Delay showering, or bathing, unless it is medically necessary. Curtail all non-emergency water use…
• Restaurants and markets not only lost business but are dumping thousands of dollars in food spoiled during the power outage…
• County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten is advising residents to throw out specific items in their refrigerators due to the power outage… the following should be discarded: dairy products, meats, eggs and any leftovers. Anything left un-refrigerated for more than two hours should also be thrown away.
• There were several burglaries reported around the city throughout the night…Authorities issued a statement advising the public that the county had declared a local emergency, meaning that any looting would be treated as a felony.
If the power outage would have lasted three days the area affected would have been without transportation – unable to pump gasoline from gas station storage tanks, restaurants closed for lack of product, grocery stores would have been either locked or emptied, banks closed, cash shortages, futther curtailing normal trade, schools and public events closed, everyone thrown back on their cupboard stocks as refrigerated items would have spoiled-rotted and been discarded. Personal and household sanitation would have become an issue. Lack of home air-conditioning across this desert area would become a health issue. Beaches closed due to contamination. Nuclear power plants closed – further reducing regional power supplies and creating their own threat. Possible increase in crime, particuary robbery. Police, medical responders and firefighters less able to respond due to atypical changes in some of their responsibilities and with added transportation and traffic issues. Financial setback for familes, business & local governements. Hardship and health deterioration of patients under emergency/sensitive medial care, diabetics Type 1 requiring insulin…
What would happen if,
1) the US were struck by a dedicated nuclear EMP attack of just one nuclear weapon detonated only a couple hundred miles above the middle of the country,
2) or if the western hemisphere were bathed by a X20-30 solar flare. Consider that we are in the growth phase of the current solar cyle with increasing sun spot activity. Recent weeks have seen an unusually large number of powerful and sustained solar flares accompanied by chronal mass ejections.
1. Southwest Power Outage: Blackout A Reminder Of Power Grid Vulnerabilities
09/ 9/11 11:04 PM, By MICHAEL R. BLOOD and ELLIOT SPAGAT
“SAN DIEGO — A blackout that swept across parts of the Southwest and Mexico apparently began with a single utility worker and a minor repair job.
How it then rippled from that worker in the Arizona desert, to southern California and across the border, plunging millions of people into darkness, has authorities and experts puzzled, especially since the power grid is built to withstand such mishaps.
However it spread, Thursday’s outage was a reminder that the nation’s transmission lines remain all too vulnerable to cascading power failures.
“There are a lot of critical pieces of equipment on the system and we have less defense than we think,” said Rich Sedano at the Regulatory Assistance Project, a utility industry think tank based in Montpelier, Vt.
There have been several similar failures in recent years. In 2003, a blackout knocked out power to 50 million people in the Midwest and the Northeast. And in 2005, a major outage struck the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
That same year, Congress required utilities to comply with federal reliability standards for the electricity grid, instead of self-regulation. Layers of safeguards and backups were intended to isolate problems and make sure the power keeps flowing.
But that didn’t happen on Thursday.
The Arizona Public Service Co. worker was switching out a capacitor, which controls voltage levels, outside Yuma, Ariz., near the California border. Shortly after, a section of a major regional power line failed, eventually spreading trouble further down in California and later Mexico, officials said.
And the lights began to go out in a border region of roughly 6 million people.
The outage knocked out traffic lights, causing gridlock on the roads in the San Diego area. Two reactors at a nuclear power plant up the California coast went offline after losing electricity. More than 2 million gallons of sewage spilled into the water off San Diego, closing beaches in the nation’s eighth-largest city.
A local think tank, the National University System Institute for Policy Research, estimates the outage cost the San Diego-area economy more than $100 million.
Many had to spend the night, on both sides of the U.S-Mexico border, struggling to fall asleep in the high temperatures. [Internet image above right: Stalled traffic conditions brought about by the 9-9-11 southwestern power outage]
Federal and state investigators are trying to determine what caused the blackout and how future problems can be prevented. If regulatory violations are found, the government could issue fines of up to $1 million per day for every violation, officials said.
Among the questions they will be asking is why the safeguards to keep power flowing appeared to work, at least at first. There was a roughly 10-minute gap between the time the power line failed and customers lost electricity, said Daniel Froetscher, vice president of energy delivery for Phoenix-based APS.
The line has been “solid, reliable” with no history of problems, Froetscher said.
San Diego Gas & Electric Co. should have isolated the problem by shutting down the 500-kilovolt Southwest Powerlink as it did during 2007 wildfires, said Michael Shames, executive director of the advocacy group, Utility Consumers’ Action Network.
“If a fire breaks out in the kitchen, the first thing you do is shut the door to the kitchen to stop it from spreading,” he said.
He also questioned why the San Onofre nuclear power plant was forced to shut down, and why other back-up energy didn’t kick in.
Shames said blaming the Arizona utility worker would be like overlooking the role of wooden buildings and inadequate firefighting protection in Chicago’s 1871 fire.
“It’s sort of like saying the main reason for the Great Chicago Fire was the cow. The cow started the fire by kicking over the lantern but that’s not what caused it,” he said.
Michael Niggli, SDG&E’s president and chief operating officer, said the company had no time to shut down the line because it had no warning.
Niggli said automatic circuit-breakers at San Onofre prevented the blackout from spreading to Southern California Edison, which serves 14 million people in the Los Angeles area.
At a news conference Friday, Niggli compared the power grid to a quiet pond. “When somebody throws a rock in there, it causes ripples. Depending on how big that rock is, those ripples are going to affect everyone that’s in that pond,” he said.
Experts say the problem could have been made worse by the way power flows into California.
California imports huge amounts of power from Arizona and other states. When the voltage fluctuations caused the San Onofre nuclear station to shut down to protect itself, it deprived the grid of a huge source of California-generated power.
Normally, a loss of that power would result in more flowing from Arizona.
But that power was already off line, depriving the region of power.
In some ways, the nation’s power grid is not very different than it was when it was first being laid out more than a century ago. It takes power from generating stations, adapts it for use at homes and businesses and moves it where it is needed.
The grid is also extraordinarily complex because of the nature and speed of the flow of electricity.
Electricity, like water, flows in the direction of least resistance. If one path is blocked, lots of electricity can suddenly flow to a line or piece of equipment that is designed to handle only a trickle.
Electricity flows extremely fast. A problem in one location can impact a piece of equipment hundreds of miles away almost instantaneously. It’s so complex that planners and engineers can’t accurately model how it will behave, especially when things go wrong.
Utilities, grid operators and regulators struggle with how much protection to build into the system without over-spending and cutting into profits, raise customer rates too high, or both.
A capacitor failure could cause voltage fluctuations that could destabilize a system, but experts say a single capacitor outage in normal circumstances should never trigger an outage as massive as Thursday’s, which was echoed by the Arizona company.
“These things happen every day and no one notices them because the system responds. In this case, it didn’t,” said Vikram Budhraja, president of Electric Power Group, a consulting firm based in Pasadena, Calif.”
AP Energy Writer Jonathan Fahey contributed to this report.
2. Federal Agency To Investigate Massive Power Outage
September 8, 2011
Officials Say Power Restored To All County Customers; County Public Schools Remain Closed
“SAN DIEGO — NOTE: Officials have a complete breakdown of streets in areas of the county affected by boil-water advisories.
Power was fully restored in San Diego County Friday following a historically severe blackout that left some 5 million people without electricity from Mexico to southern Orange County and prompted a federal probe into its cause.
Despite the restoration, public elementary, middle and high schools remained shuttered in the region Friday, along with federal courts, authorities said. That decision was made Thursday, when San Diego Gas & Electric reported that the outage could continue through Friday and even into Saturday.
County courts and other government agencies, however, were open for business as usual.
Stating that the Southland’s energy system remained “fragile” in the aftermath of the massive outage, SDG&E officials asked their customers to restrict electricity usage as much as possible Friday as a precaution. The utility operates 1.4 million electric meters and more than 850,000 natural gas meters in San Diego and Orange counties.
The unprecedented outage struck around 3:40 p.m. Thursday. At 3:30 a.m. Friday, San Diego Gas & Electric reported that all power in San Diego County had been restored.
The outage knocked out power to homes and businesses in San Diego, Orange and Imperial counties, parts of Arizona and Baja California.
It also shut down the two reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, though the facility did not lose power or experience safety issues, according to its operator.
On Friday morning, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced that it would conduct a “full” investigation into the outage along with the nonprofit North American Electric Reliability Corp.
In seeking to determine what caused the system breakdown, the agencies will coordinate with the Department of Energy and other federal agencies, the California ISO, the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, California and Arizona state regulators and companies involved to monitor the situation, officials said.
“This inquiry is an effective way for us to protect consumers and ensure the reliability of the bulk power system,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff stated. [Internet image above left: Using a lantern and gas stove to cook during the power outage.]
During the outage, schools and businesses — including gas stations — closed; commuters jammed roadways; medically fragile people packed hospitals; and at least two sewage pumps failed, contaminating a lagoon and a river that feeds into San Diego Bay.
There were several reports of people stuck in elevators and on San Diego Trolley cars, and Lindbergh Field virtually shut down for a time.
Following safety checks completed overnight, North County Transit District officials announced that normal Coaster and Sprinter service would resume Friday morning. But there could additional isolated outages through the day, SDG&E reported.
Following restoration of electrical service throughout the region, residents were encouraged to avoid the use of air conditioners if possible, or set them no lower 78 degrees if structural cooling was absolutely necessary. Major appliances, such as washer and dryers, should not be used Friday, according to SDG&E.
The utility set up a phone number for customers to call if they experience further outages. The number is 1 (800) 411-SDGE.
The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, blamed the outage on the failure of a high-voltage power line between Arizona and Southern California, saying it affected all SDG&E customers and the customers of other utilities as well.
“The outage was triggered after a 500-kilovolt (kV) high-voltage line from Arizona to California tripped out of service. The transmission outage cut the flow of imported power into the most southern portion of California, resulting in widespread outages in the region,” according to Cal ISO.
The Arizona power company APS said the outage appears to have been related to a procedure an employee was carrying out in the North Gila substation northeast of Yuma.
Operating and protection protocols typically would have isolated the resulting outage to the Yuma area. The reason that did not occur in this case will be the focal point of an investigation now under way.
However, not everybody believes one man could start such an outage.
“It wasn’t one guy in Arizona who tripped the system and caused San Diego to collapse,” Michael Shames with the Utility Consumers’ Action Network said.
The Arizona Power Service said the worker was replacing a broken capacitor — a device that regulates the voltage on the transmission system — but they still do not know what caused it to short circuit.
An Arizona Power Service spokesman said calling the outage human error would be premature, that they still need several days, if not weeks, to investigate.
San Diego police Officer David Stafford said downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter was particularly busy Thursday night into early this morning as many residents and tourists flocked to bars to pass the time.
There were several burglaries reported around the city throughout the night, but Stafford said early today it was too soon to tell if the outage was the reason.
The sheriff’s department received reports of a glass door broken at a taco shop in Lemon Grove and a report of a home break-in Vista following the outage.
The SDPD reported a burglary in the Kensington area. Neighbors reported hearing someone inside the home of a neighbor that was out of town. One man was arrested after having property from the home in his possession.
Another burglary was reported at San Diego Trailer Supply on El Cajon Boulevard. Two men and a woman was reported seen leaving the store with merchandise around 11:45 p.m. The three suspects got away.
SDPD reported possible looting at the Infinity Wellness Center located in the 9400 Block of Black Mountain Road just after midnight.
Authorities issued a statement advising the public that the county had declared a local emergency, meaning that any looting would be treated as a felony.
The National University System Institute for Policy Research estimated the economic impact of the power outage to be between $97 million and $118 million.
Most of those costs come from perishable food loses, government overtime and a general loss of productivity.”
3. Boil-Water Orders Still In Effect For Some In County
Outage Prompts Calls For Water Conservation
September 8, 2011
“SAN DIEGO — The city of San Diego has issued an update to its boil-water advisory. The advisory applies to the following areas:
[Many areas listed-The article continues below. Mr Larry]
Tests will be done at 30 sampling sites over the next 24 hours to ensure no contamination occurred as a result of the drop in water pressure due to power outages at two pump stations. Expect this order to last until early Sunday.
Beaches will be closed for at least two days from Scripps Pier north to Cardiff while we test water contaminated by sewage spills due to pump failure during the outage.
Residents can call a boil-water advisory hotline at 619-515-3525. See a map of affected areas by clicking here.
For a general FAQ on boil-water orders, click here (PDF format).
According to tweet by Mayor Jerry Sanders, the city has closed the Ned Baumer Aquatic Center, Tierrasanta Pool, Colina del Sol Pool and City Heights Swim Center as part of the water restrictions.
Fallbrook Public Utility District and the city of Coronado are asking customers to immediately begin practicing extraordinary water conservation measures. They are urging customers to use water indoors for essential use only.
Customers are being asked to obey the following orders:
1. No outdoor water use permitted
2. Flush toilets after several uses
3. Delay showering, or bathing, unless it is medically necessary
4. Continue water use for drinking and cooking
5. Curtail all non-emergency water use
4. Restaurants, Markets Try To Recover From Outage – Many Stores, Eateries Having To Throw Out Spoiled Food
September 9, 2011
SAN DIEGO — Restaurants and markets not only lost business but are dumping thousands of dollars in food spoiled during the power outage in Southern California, Arizona and parts of northern Mexico.
Brian McGray says he threw out $1,500 worth of steak, along with chicken, cheese and eggs at The Riders Club Cafe in San Clemente.
Giovanni Gonzalez, manager of El Campeon Carniceria in San Juan Capistrano, says the grocery store got its weekly $20,000 shipment of fresh food Thursday. He shipped it to another store outside the outage zone for refrigeration.
Darren Gorski buys supplies for The Fish Market in San Diego and spent the night watching thermometers on five insulated refrigerators full of seafood.
He says $50,000 in fish is OK, but they lost thousands in dairy products.
San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten is advising residents to throw out specific items in their refrigerators due to the power outage.
Wooten said residents should have an attitude of “when in doubt, throw it out” and the following should be discarded: dairy products, meats, eggs and any leftovers. Anything left un-refrigerated for more than two hours should also be thrown away.
She told 10News anything that would have been exposed to temperatures above 40 degrees for more than four hours could be an issue.
Scripps Ranch resident Corinne Broyles, who was without power for 12 hours, told 10News, “The kids had fun, except when it was bedtime, they ended up in bed with me and I got no sleep.”
The mother of two threw out most of the dairy items and some meat items from her refrigerator. She was one of thousands, if not millions, of San Diegans who had to restock their shelves Friday. However, while people stood in line for ice Thursday night, the grocery stores were relatively tame Friday morning.
“We just kind of rolled with it. We lost the eggs and the milk and the really easy perishable stuff, but most of the rest of it is still fine,” said Clairemont resident Eric Sudhalter.
Others found relief with their insurance companies.
An Oceanside woman told 10News her home insurance carrier, USAA, sent her $400 for her lost food.
A USAA representative told 10News most insurance carriers will cover lost food during disasters.”
5. Gas Stations See Long Lines Following Blackout – Many Local Drivers Low On Gas At Outage’s Onset
September 9, 2011
“SAN DIEGO — A day after the massive blackout that hit San Diego County, many drivers running low on fuel flocked to local gas stations.
At a Shell station in Carmel Valley, 10News found long lines throughout the day.
“How much gas do you have?” 10News reporter Michael Chen asked Poway resident Laura Priny.
Priny replied, “I have no gas; my light is on.”
Priny said she couldn’t get gas Thursday night and barely made it to the gas station Friday.
“I am feeling good,” she said.
Carmel Valley resident Carrie Dolman said, “I’m almost on empty this morning.”
Dolman was able to make the six-mile drive to her home Thursday night, despite shutting down her husband’s request.
“He kept saying, ‘Park the car and walk.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to do that,'” said Dolman.
Dolman was not the only one staring down a near-empty gas gauge.
Soon after Thursday’s blackout and throughout the evening, drivers arrived to find gas pumps shut down.
At one station in Clairemont, one man’s five-hour wait ended with a welcome delivery courtesy of another friend’s mother, who is known for her disaster kid that includes a supply of gas.
At a station in North Park, 10News found Verlinda Hill out of gas and nine months pregnant.
“I am trying to stay calm so I don’t get into labor,” she said.
Hill would eventually get in touch with her husband, who made the drive from Fallbrook to pick her up.
Paradise Hills resident Glenn Casey said he is thankful for this daughter-in-law.
“My son had run out of gas at a station when power ran out. His wife had to pick him up. I said, ‘Let that be a lesson. Keep gas in your car,'” said Casey.
It’s a lesson also learned by many other local drivers.
“I’m getting a full tank today. I’m not taking any risks,” said driver Sam Engel.”
6. Major Sewage Spill Closes Local Beaches – 10 Miles Of Beaches Are Closed
September 9, 2011
“SAN DIEGO — Crews Friday worked to contained millions of gallons of sewage that spewed from a pump station — a result of the massive power outage — and fouled miles of shoreline from Torrey Pines to Solana Beach.
The wastewater overflow at a San Diego Metropolitan Wastewater System pump station (Pump Station 64) on Roselle Street in Sorrento Valley was discovered shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday, according to the county Department of Environmental Health. The pump station does not have a backup generator, 10News learned.
As of late Friday morning, crews were still working to get the spill under control, DEH spokesman Mark McPherson said. By then, an estimated 3.2 million gallons of sewage had escaped the sanitation system.
The pollution flowed into Los Penasquitos Lagoon, which empties into the sea off Torrey Pines State Park, near Del Mar. Beaches were closed from Solana Beach south to Scripps Pier.
Nearby resident Ryan Jonsson said, “It’s a shame; just update your infrastructure, have some backup generators, take care of the problem … I’m not too happy about it. This is where we live, and there’s a bunch of birds out there. This is a sanctuary.”
The city’s Wastewater Department said Pump Station 64 is one of the largest stations and a backup generator is not feasible. For one thing, there is not enough space to house the size generator that would be required.
Jerry Horna was going surfing, until he saw the pollution signs. He turned around.
“I’m not surfing,” he said. “I don’t want to get an ear infection or eye, nose, and throat, that kind of thing.”
Lifeguards said most people did stay out of the water, but the beaches will probably stay closed through the weekend, when a lot more people typically come to the beach.
“That’s our big concern,” said Del Mar lifeguard Pat Vergne. “But we’ll just intensify our patrols and make sure our signs are up.”
Torrey Pines State Beach was almost deserted Friday. Stephanie Sue and her daughter planned to spend a couple of hours at the beach. They left after five minutes.
“It’s disappointing,” she said. “Such a beautiful place; a beautiful beach. We wanted to come here and hang for a couple of hours, especially since the schools are closed.”
Also, a smaller sewage spill near Interstate 5 and state Route 54 sent impurities into the Sweetwater River and waters off Bayside Park in Chula Vista and along stretch of San Diego Harbor shoreline accessible from the Silver Strand, according to the DEH.
Signs warning of contamination hazards will stand in all the affected areas until follow-up testing deems the beaches safe for human contact.”
7. Schools Across County Closed Due To Outage – Local Colleges Also Affected By Overnight Outage
September 8, 2011
“SAN DIEGO — San Diego County officials announced all county public schools — including SD Unified schools — would be closed Friday due to the power outage, but will be re-opened Monday. SD Unified day care centers and preschools will also be closed.
10News reported Warren-Walker Schools will be closed Friday. Class will resume as normal on Monday.
Students who attend private schools will have to check in with their school for status updates.
All Catholic schools have also been closed.
Officials at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law said they have canceled Friday classes.
Classes at Point Loma Nazarene University have been canceled, but all employees are being asked to come to work as schedule.
San Diego State University canceled classes Thursday night due to the outage, and school officials said Friday classes are also canceled. School officials ask students to visit the school’s website for the latest information.
UC San Diego and Southwestern College and Palomar College have confirmed classes on Friday are canceled.
Due to the outage, SD Community College District schools have canceled Friday classes. The schools affected: San Diego City College, Mesa College, Miramar College, Continuing Education. The district’s office will also be closed.
Evening classes at Cal State San Marcos were also canceled because of the power outage. School officials asked students and faculty to check the CSUSM website for the latest updates.
According to school officials, Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges and child development centers will be closed Friday. Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District offices will also be closed. Classes will resume Monday, officials said.”