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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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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?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 11, 2018 at 5:21 pm

Times change, technology changes and we should keep up with it.

An old fashioned phone was a cord can be used if plugged into the landline instead of a cordless one.

PA Utilities, PAPD, PAFD, tv stations, etc. are all on Twitter. You can even follow without joining Twitter.

You can get external batteries for cell phones and you can charge them as well as your cell phone in your car.

Nextdoor.com is also a good resource for sharing local information.

Hope some of this helps.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jul 11, 2018 at 6:12 pm

It's difficult to understand why people who have lived in this area for a long time, knowing that earthquakes are a possibility, have not taken the time to research the basics of what they need to take care of themselves for at least 72 hours.

Included: a Coleman stove and several gas canisters for the stove. LED emergency lights. Water purifying tablets. A portable “potty" and several storage containers of water. Gloves, face masks, matches and some sort of portable electrical source. One simple one, that provides a: radio, led light and a cell phone charger can be purchased for less than 20 dollars:

Web Link

Note, this device is hand-cranked, so it will operate without any fuel other than you. There are others in this price range. There are also solar cellphone chargers available for people not inclined to “crank".

People who want to live a grander lifestyle during a grander emergency might well want to look into a generator and a stockpile of food.

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Jul 12, 2018 at 7:33 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

There used to be a network of volunteer emergency preparedness coordinators associated with PAN (Web Link I haven't had contact with them in a while, though. Might be worth checking.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 12, 2018 at 11:19 am

As a good example of how PAPD send out information about emergencies, they were tweeting and using other social media to inform the public that Middlefield Road was closed due to an accident this morning and that we should all find an alternate route. That was very fast and useful information.

Posted by Walter Underwood, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Jul 12, 2018 at 11:42 am

Walter Underwood is a registered user.

If this had been an earthquake, you would contact your Block Preparedness Coordinator (BPC). They would get info from their Neighborhood Preparedness Coordinator (NPC). NPCs have radios to talk to radio volunteers who get info from the Palo Alto EOC.

If you don't have a BPC or an NPC, volunteer and get trained.

Neighborhood emergency preparedness info is on these sites:

Web Link
Web Link

A list of NPCs is here, but it might be out of date. Let me know what neighborhood you are in and I can send you contact info for your NPC.

Web Link

In a major earthquake, info would be broadcast on KZSU. That is part of the response plan.

Posted by Walter Underwood, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Jul 12, 2018 at 11:44 am

Walter Underwood is a registered user.

Sorry, I gave an old link for the NPCs and BPCs. Here is a current link.

Web Link

Posted by No to Twitter, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jul 12, 2018 at 9:05 pm

Some of us find Twitter to be mostly inane, and we don't want to waste time with it.
PA Police phone and over the air radio broadcasts are what I want and find useful. I maintain a battery powered radio - just like in the movie “Earthquake."
Please prepare your home - and also car - with some quake supplies.
- from one who was in the ‘89 quake

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Jul 13, 2018 at 2:23 am

No account needed to view Twitter. Palo Alto Utilities tweet at -- Web Link
Scroll down to July 2 entries to see outage map and alleged cause.
Palo Alto police tweets are at -- Web Link
I assume these agencies find it easier to tweet than to post info on the city website.

Nextdoor.com requires a sign-up that I deem too invasive.

Of course your internet connection may be problematic in a power failure.
At least learn how to tap the juice generally available in your car battery.

My favorite real-time info source is a bit esoteric -- a portable radio that picks up the PAPD broadcast frequency. Usually dead air unless the game is afoot.

Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 16, 2018 at 11:05 am

Annette is a registered user.

I recently prepared a short segment on emergency prep for a staff meeting. Looks to me like preppers have claimed a large chunk of the Business Recovery/Emergency Prep business. I figure things this way: if people do even 1/10 of what a prepper does they will be at least somewhat prepared. I found some useful info at www.skilledsurvival.com/get-home-bag. Another good source is Oregon OSHA's presentation called Expecting the Unexpected (www.orosha.org). (Yes, I know CA has resources, too.)

Posted by You'de be history if it were an earthquake, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jul 16, 2018 at 11:17 am

But you would still provide essential nutrients to those who had prepared.

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