You can be prepared the next time the lights go out | Guest Column


When the lights went off throughout San Juan County at about 5:30 p.m. April 23, we weren’t alone. Just like the old-time radio show “Lights Out,” the experience was shared by many thousands of people.

A single-car accident striking a power pole in Sedro-Woolley left more than 100,000 people in five counties without electricity. Here at the end of the long “extension cord” to the islands, power restoration started about 9 p.m., with some areas reporting the outage lasting until 10:30 p.m.

In the islands, we are more used to these outages occurring during wind, or winter storms. After these storms and outages, we usually remind folks of the steps we can take as individuals to help our community prepare for these events.

This latest incident can also serve as a measuring stick with which we can gauge our preparedness. What may have been a simple inconvenience could easily prove to be intolerable or even perilous after two or three or more days without electricity.

Take a few minutes now while it is fresh in your memory, and think about how the outage affected you and your family. Start with some simple questions and go from there:

— Do you have a wired phone to use when the power is out? These don’t require additional power or batteries and you’ll be able to check on family, friends and neighbors.

— Did the outage interfere with your dinner preparation? If it did, now is the time to lay in a supply of food that requires little preparation, or cooking. Maybe you need a hand-operated can opener?

— Do you need an alternate lighting source? If the outage was in October the entire duration would have been in the dark. Have plenty of flashlights and batteries on hand. An LED lantern for area lighting would be very handy too.

— Were you able to receive news or information? Have a battery-operated radio on hand to keep your family updated.

— Moving on from the simple questions to the more complex:
 Do you have a well, or do you have to pump waste to septic system? Maybe a generator is the correct solution for you. It is a significant investment but could provide power to other portions of your home in addition.

— Do you have battery backups for your electronics? A laptop and an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for a DSL modem can keep you connected to the Internet for information during an outage.

— If you have a business and this had occurred during the day, would this have caused you to close? A sudden outage can cause data loss, a great reason to have your information backed up regularly and have your electronics on an UPS.

We all crave information during a power outage and Sheriff Bill Cumming noted that is important to keep the phone lines to the 911 dispatch center in Friday Harbor open for emergency calls. If the lines to dispatch are busy, emergency response can be delayed when time is of the essence.

Sheriff Cumming stated, “Do not call 911 for information or to report a power outage. OPALCO provides a phone line specifically for this purpose, and the public is reminded to call OPALCO at 376-3599 to report outages and get updates. It is imperative that the phone lines to dispatch remain open for those who need to call 911 for help in a crisis.”

Take the time to review your preparedness now. The questions suggested here can be a starting point. Anything we do as individuals will help our community be more resilient as a whole the next time this occurs.

If you would like assistance with your preparations, please have a look at the San Juan County/Town of Friday Harbor Department of Emergency Management Web site at www.sanjuandem.net, or feel free to call us at 378-9932, or 376-6014 on Orcas.

With the proper steps taken now, the next “Lights Ouuuut” won’t have any tales of horror like the old-time radio show of the 1930s and '40s. Instead, it can be a tale of how our community pulled together to weather another storm with just an “Island Way” story to tell afterward.

— Dave Halloran is assistant director of San Juan County/Town of Friday Harbor Department of Emergency Management.

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