A major power outage in the Southwest on Thursday left nearly 6 million people in Arizona and California in the dark, causing travel delays and offering an example of what major metropolitan blackouts look like in the U.S.
Arizona Public Service Co. (APS), Arizona’s largest power producer, blamed the blackout on the error of a single employee which led to the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. A press release from the company explained, however, that other problems developed causing the widespread outage.
“The outage appears to be related to a procedure an APS employee was carrying out in the North Gila substation, which is located 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 the investigation into the event, which already is under way.”
According to a Daily Mail story, FBI officials ruled out terrorism while power plant authorities struggled to find the cause of the outage that started around 4 p.m. local time. Mike Niggli, chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric Co., said a transmitter line between Arizona and California was severed, causing the larger outage. Extreme heat in some areas also may have caused some problems with power lines.
The power outage also caused problems along the U.S./Mexican border as lights went out as far as Tijuana, Mexico. The largest similar example of a large scale blackout took place in the Northeast in 2003, when 50 million people were left without power in areas like New York City. The event led to 11 deaths.
Large scale blackouts in major metropolitan centers should be considered disasters, because they can lead to panic and mass confusion. Dealing with them is aided by survival preparation.
To prepare for these situations, individuals should consider things like having non-perishable food stores because refrigeration units will shut off as will most retail payment systems.
It is also necessary to have ample amounts of water stored in the event that water works grids are rendered unusable. It is also prudent to have extra required medication.
The best defense against outages is a backup generator, but flashlights and radios are also very important. In large blackouts, communication networks may collapse along with the grid. Landline and cellular networks may fail, but short text messages should still get through.
Blackouts may lead to a major spike in criminal activities like looting and robbery, so staying in the home and having weapons for protection is also important.