Population Map: Topanga & Nearby
Evacuation Zones & Refuge Areas
Stay Connected in a Blackout
NO POWER MEANS NO 911 ACCESS AND NO EMERGENCY ALERTSIf you live in a mountain community, like Topanga Canyon or Malibu, you know how vulnerable we are to a power loss. No electricity means no communication for many of us. Sounds peaceful, but it also means no emergency alerts when a wildfire breaks out and no way to call 911.
Unlike most of Los Angeles, Topanga has no cell towers - not a single one - only cell "repeaters" along Topanga Canyon Blvd that serve some, but also stop working when they lose power. Malibu also has areas with no cell service coverage. Some of us still have copper landlines (they're scarce, not well-maintained & hard to re-instate), but primarily we rely on cell service via the internet.
For years we lived with this situation since most blackouts were due to fallen trees, lasted at most a day or two, and was a good excuse for a "snow day". But with SCE's plan to shut off power during High Fire Danger Days for a predicted 3-5 days at a time (aka PSPS), multiple times a year, we needed to find a way to back up our phones and Internet in order to stay safe.
WILDFIRES HAPPEN: EVACUATING or TRAPPED, WE NEED COMMUNICATIONThere are only three evacuation routes out of Topanga, with the two on the San Fernando Valley side potentially closed due to wildfire, and the third on the coast (Pacific Coast Highway) shared with Malibu. During the Woolsey Fire, PCH was an evacuation gridlock mess. Without the ability to get Alerts or have any information about the fire, we do not know which way to evacuate or if the roads are blocked and we need to shelter in place. Horse owners cannot arrange for trailers and the elderly cannot call for help.
Last of all, a sobering study estimates that it will take 5-7 hours to evacuate Topanga, while it only takes a wildfire to travel from the SF Valley to the coast in 2 hours. Do the math. But don't show your work since it is upsetting.
HOW DO WE STAY CONNECTED?Did we want a generator? Gas? Propane? And what about batteries...? Gas is cheapest, but noisy, dangerous, and a maintenance pain. Propane is safer, but expensive to convert to electrical back-up power and not guaranteed to be useable in an emergency.
We Chose Battery BackupBill and I already had solar panels, so we ended up installing two Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries, but it took lots of research to decide what was best for us.
In the end, we were even lucky enough to get our Powerwalls up and running two days before the Woolsey Fire threatened us all. When the power went out in Topanga that Friday morning at 6am, we were lucky enough to be the only house in our neighborhood that could still get Internet and TV and keep tabs on the fire. And when the orders came to evacuate, the 20 or so neighbors that had dropped in to watch the fire on TV and charge their cell phones all helped each other make the choice of Do I Stay or Do I Go?
Backing up communications equipment can be challenging. There are many options and one size does not fit all. Before the Powerwalls were installed we looked into smaller solar batteries and also found other useful gadgets for muddling through it all.
Satellite Internet is the New CopperBesides power backup, some folks still have copper landlines & rely on them when they lose power, but did you know they can burn? Right alongside the Frontier FIOS or Spectrum cables that bring in your Internet & give you WiFi phone service. All up in smoke. So even if your house has power, there may be no Internet to use it on.
So, we installed a HughesNet Satellite Dish just as a form of backup for our Internet/WiFi. It costs about the same as a copper landline ($60-$70/month). Day to day we use our Frontier FIOS, but if FIOS goes out, the Satellite Dish kicks in. Unlike a copper landline, it does need power, but that is no problem, since it does not need much. With a Satellite Dish for Internet & backup power, the only thing that can take our communications down now is an Intergalactic Space War...
We Hope This Helps YouWe hope that by sharing what we found that it may help you find your way through all the choices to what is best for you. We drew a nerdy house schematic to show the different kinds of phones, etc. We wrote down the pros and cons of different options and researched costs. While we waited for our Powerwalls, we even bought and experimented with a small lithium ion battery (Goal Zero Yeti 1000) to see how much it would power.
So, if you're facing this issue and want some input - or at least an excuse to procrastinate - you can find all this Super Exciting Info in the uber-nerdy docs that are linked in the column on the left.
Last of all, our kitties, Beanie & Zilla, both want you to know that Life Is Safer & Happier with backup power and Intergalactic War won't happen until after 2020.