It seems to me…we take the availability of electric power for granted although when the power stops our way of life stops as well. This became evident over the weekend when the lights went out due to a power failure in a large part of New York’s Manhattan. As of my writing this, they are still trying to learn what caused it. But it is very clear that the city with all its bluster is very fragile. This was evident because it wasn’t only darkness that covered a city that doesn’t sleep but the fact that the power loss spread and stopped many things we depend on or enjoy. With no power, the lights go out, not only in homes, but on street and traffic lights. Cars, buses, ambulances, police, fire are now faced with roads clogged with vehicles unable to move and making it difficult to impossible to maneuver when emergencies need to be answered. In New York, down below the city streets as can happen in Washington, thousands were jammed in subway cars, no longer air conditioned, and surrounded by darkness. Many were rescued and had to walk along the tracks in darkness to a dark subway station, and if lucky, back up into the street, shrouded in darkness and summer heat and humidity. Of course, all homes and business establishments had no lights, TV or air conditioning. Audiences in the theaters on the Great White Way were suddenly in the dark and the shows stopped having no lights, no sound. Hospitals went on emergency power, but not everything is powered by generators and some things couldn’t be done for patients. People emerged from subways, restaurants, retail stores and theaters but had no place to go. They joined the thousands whose lives now stood still. In some areas cell phones didn’t work and in others the circuits became jammed. Some toilets didn’t work to flush away human waste and some water faucets in some places no longer delivered clean water. The preparation of meals dependent on electric stoves and other appliances became useless. Even if one could get to a gas station, pumps didn’t work and cash registers and other computer dependent equipment were suddenly useless.
In New York there was no storm, hurricane, tornado, earthquake or other natural disaster. Our man-made way of life just broke down. And, all those things we rely on for life’s necessities or enjoyment became no longer available. Ironically, the animal life, like feral cats and dogs, rats, mice, roaches and all the other non-Homo sapiens species that live in populated areas continued to function unbothered by the loss of power. Their lives are not dependent on the “grid.” In fact, the longer the power remains out, the more their lives, especially rodents, roaches and cats becomes better as garbage and other waste piles up.
We don’t think about the above scenario until it happens and when it happens in New York or Los Angeles or New Orleans or in another country, we view it on TV and say “isn’t that too bad.” Strangely, when it happens to us, we expect the power will return quickly. And then, once it returns, we go on with the electronic life we have come to depend on and take for granted. As a community we don’t seem to worry that the power may go off again and maybe not come on for a long period or indefinitely. This is not a pessimistic thought. It is reality that results from the way of life we as humans have created for ourselves.
And, as our population grows and the need for more power grows, the pressure on the existing systems that supply the power becomes greater. The demand and need for power just continues to grow.
The Fredericksburg area — Stafford in particular — is vulnerable. If the power stops and with only two north-south major roads, evacuation routes would become parking lots filled with shortened patience and tempers that rise even in normal rush hours. So, when we know what happened here after an earthquake no one expected and what is happening in other cities near and far from us, why are we not demanding solutions or even plans to ensure that chaos won’t develop here.
We certainly get upset when something happens to prevent us from easily getting to work or a baseball, football or other sport or entertainment events. These are not life-threatening situations. But, in the event there is a major blackout and our area goes grid-less for an extended time, what are the plans? We know how food disappears off the shelf when there is a snowstorm on the way. How about a world where there is no toilet paper?
I’m not frightened or paranoid. I just see disasters happening with more frequency in other cities and metropolitan areas and know that it can and has happened here. While we continue to build more houses and invite more people to move here, has anybody got a plan for when the grid goes down and doesn’t come back up for some time in our little part of the world?
Harvey Gold is a contributing writer at InsideNova. Reach him at StaffordNews@insidenova.com.