I lost power in my Capitol Hill apartment at 4:42 p.m. on Monday.
How can I be so precise with that time? My girlfriend lives three blocks from me, also lost power at the same time, and texted me immediately.
I was one of hundreds of thousands of others in the region in this predicament, and it’s always a little scarier than you think it’s going to be. You think you know what it’ll feel like to lose power until you do.
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There was certainly one way I was not prepared for the outage at all.
When I realized I definitely couldn’t cook anything I had in mind for dinner that night, I made plans to go out to whatever restaurant we could find that still had the lights on. As I packed up to leave, a terrible thought occurred to me: the locks to the front door of my apartment building are electronic.
Here’s how it normally works: I wave a little dongle at a small black box, it lights up green, makes a noise and lets me in. I checked, the box was down, if I were to leave I wouldn’t be able to get back inside.
I’m absolutely aware that the inclement weather created much more dangerous situations for others in the region. I was absolutely lucky compared to those dealing with trees falling on houses and roads.
Still, being locked out of my apartment could’ve been a huge safety hazard, especially if the outage hadn’t resolved itself after a few hours. It certainly seems like there should be fail-safes for these kinds of systems.
I wasn’t alone in my lack of preparedness. As someone who was inside when the power went out, I was able to let in several other residents who were trapped in the wind and rain, and there were several others.
My goal here isn’t to whine about my experience, I’m hoping others can learn from my mistakes. I know how weirdly difficult it is to recognize everything you won’t be able to do when you lose access to electricity. Even three hours into the outage, I still kept trying to flip on the lights every time I walked into a room.
Here’s my recommendation: if getting into your living accommodations requires going through a electronically operated security gate or a garage door, or if, like me, your key requires electricity to work, start trying to figure out a backup plan now.
At least in my little slice of my neighborhood, this was a pretty mild emergency, but it made me even more sympathetic to those who experienced real emergencies this year in Houston and Puerto Rico.
One thing I loved about this experience, though, was the camaraderie I suddenly felt with the other residents in my apartment. A guy from upstairs was wandering around offering matches to anyone in need. I had never spoken to my neighbors across the hall, but that changed as I let them in the side door and guided them up the stairs with the flashlight on my phone.
It felt great to feel helpful, and I don’t want to stop there. Do you have any experiences from a power outage or other emergency that you think could help others in the future? Sound off in the comments, I think we’d all be better off if we took this opportunity to learn from each other.