Earthquake Knocks Out Power

Article Publish by Monitoring Times

Earthquake Knocks Power Out in North Western States


E. R. Haroldsen

 No one thought that an earthquake in California could have a significant and immediate impact on someone living a thousand miles away, in eastern Idaho.  We were wrong.

The first clue I had that something was happening was when the electrical power blinked off at 5:31 MDT.  This was nothing to get excited about, so I wasn’t in a hurry to turn on the portable radio to see what the local FM stations had to say.

When I did, I found that none of the ten FM stations in our area were working.  The air waves were dead silent.


I switched to AM and found all stations in our area of the state were off.  Obviously, this loss of electrical power was big.

Next I checked the 2 meter amateur band.  Of the eight repeaters in our area, only one was working on battery emergency power (K7ENE).  All others were silent.

Despite the early hour, the amateurs were already on the air, reporting conditions from their areas and relaying what information they had gathered.  They also reported the frequencies they were using on the 40 meter band to get national information.  That’s when I learned about the earthquake.

I turned on the Sangree, with the 110 foot Windham antenna (modified dipole), and tuned to the nearest large AM station, KSL 1160 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Utah had electricity and KSL was getting reports from people in Idaho about the power outage.  Some of these were announcers from commercial radio stations that couldn’t get on the air.  It didn’t take long to learn that electrical power was out for western Wyoming, western Montana, parts of Washington, and eastern Idaho.

This really was big.

I scanned the local police and city utilities frequencies.  There was little to learn.  Except for a police response to a woman who thought she heard someone down stairs, little was happening.

With little faith in finding anything, I turned on the 12 volt television at about 6:30.  All four television stations were broadcasting.  However, their transmissions were limited to network news.  This was because the stations are located in town but the transmitters are located on mountain tops, 30 miles away.  These transmitters had their own emergency power but the stations couldn’t get their local signal to the transmitter.  The only signal the transmitters could put out was the direct network feed.

My children were elated when it became obvious that there would be no school.  We gather and watched live events in California.  It was strange, watching television by candle light.

I later learned that the local station that served the EBS (Emergency Broadcast System) had an emergency generator for their transmitter but they could not get their signal from the station to the transmitter.

There were a few lessons learned from the event:

—          Amateur stations were the fastest and most reliable source of local information.

—          High power AM stations were the first source of national information followed by network television.

—          Emergency plans should include the frequencies for high powered AM stations.

—          Cordless telephones, electric garage doors, gas pumps, and cash registers don’t work when the power is out.

—          People on cable couldn’t see the television, even if they had a 12 volt television.


Gradually, electrical power was restored, area by area during the next four hours.

For us in the north western states, this event was an inconvenience rather than a tragedy.  It served as a wake-up call to the complexities of our society and the way that a problem in one area can affect people many miles away.

We were very glad that we didn’t live in California at this time or that the outside temperature was 25 degrees above zero rather than 25 below zero, as it often is in Idaho at this time of the year.

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