Opinion by Noel T. Braymer
Most people heard about the power outage on Thursday September 8th in the San Diego area. I was caught in the middle of it. Nothing forces you to realize how much “civilized” life depends or how much we take infrastructure for granted until it fails. People couldn’t work because because they were in the dark, the computers were down as was the air conditioning. Traffic was a mess with people trying to get home and with the traffic lights out. Most stores had to close for the same reason most people couldn’t work. If you were driving the gas stations were closed because they couldn’t pump gasoline. If you were away from home you couldn’t eat because most restaurants and stores were closed. And if you had to go the bathroom where would you go? Away from home most people use gas stations and stores bathrooms. Also with pumps not running sewage in some cases was dumped in the Ocean. At the time it seemed the outage might last for days, fortunately it was only for hours.
In San Diego the Trolley was shut down because it runs on electricity. The diesel powered trains generally kept running. Most people don’t realize that railroads by law have to have battery back up power for signaling and at all grade-crossings for the flashing lights, bells and crossing gates. Failures of infrastructure is becoming more common. This is the result of aging infrastructure and Trillions of dollars of deferred maintenance and replacement.This recent power outage started in Arizona near Yuma when repair work on a major power line connected to California had a problem. This caused a domino effect which shut down power plants in California and disrupted substations to dozens of communities. We can expect more problems like this in the future. Not only is infrastructure aging faster than we are repairing it (in an effort to “save money”) but weather is taking a toll on it as well. The fact is we are seeing more heat, flooding and wind storm damage which destroys infrastructure in addition to earthquakes.
With the 10th Anniversary of the 911 attacks we are hearing more about American security. Yet we have more to worry about failures of our infrastructure than from terrorist attacks. If terrorists really wanted to damage this country they would go after our electrical system. This could be done with coordinated attacks with metallic balloons at major power lines which would short-circuit them.We need major upgrades to our infrastructure in general and to our electrical system in particular to be less vulnerable. The electrical grid needs to be less centralized so the whole system doesn’t crash because of a local problem. We need more back up power from generators, wind, solar and batteries. Our transportation system needs upgrading too. In Japan which after recent earthquake and Tsunami damage has lost much of its electrical production. Despite this it was found it was easier to charge electric cars in many cases at night during periods of low demand than it was to pump and transport gasoline which was disrupted after the earthquake and flooding Recently the trains between Philadelphia and New York were down for several days recently due to flooding. With more train electrification we need to assure that the trains can run even when there are power problems. All of this will cost money. But it will not only make our lives safer, it will create jobs and increase the efficiency of the the economy which in turn will make money in the long run