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John Batchelor


How the power outage left me trapped in my apartment

(Seattle City Light)

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.

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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.


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