All Things Disconnected

Paula LaBrot

The Woolsey Fire began on Thursday, Nov 8. Nov. 9, our electricity was turned off at daybreak. Along with the electricity, we lost internet, cable TV, wifi and phone service. The flow of information came to a silent halt. Here, in Los Angles, one of the three megalopolies on earth, highly wired and networked for the highest communications capacity, we, in Topanga, facing severe fire warnings, were cut off from crucial information, with all things disconnected.

We pulled out Max, our portable generator, and got the fridge plugged in, plus my Mom’s mechanical recliner. She was kind of stuck in “legs up” position until we got it powered. I shudder to think about the oxygen and other medical devices rendered “powerless.” Seriously, the best wedding present is a generator.

I never trusted our phone lines to the providers, because my husband absolutely needs to be able to be reached for emergencies. Their backup battery boxes are only good for a short time.  I adamantly opted to keep our copper landlines. You can plug an old-fashioned phone into your wall jack and you are in business. You can also plug your FIOS back-upbattery box into a generator to restore your communication lines. Good tip!  

Because we have portable phones, we plugged the base into the wall jack as usual and connected the power cord to the generator. People in our neighborhood were able to contact the outside world from our phone. We had a power strip plugged into the generator for the extension and cell phones to keep them charged up. Wi-fi was not working for most people, so cell phones were no help unless you went to the edges of the Canyon.

My little solar hand-cranked, battery-powered Red Cross ETON emergency radio (great Christmas gift) with my stash of AA batteries was our main source of information. KNX1070 was loud, clear, and reliable. My extremely capable and helpful neighbor, electrician Greg Mamishian reported that KFI had regular people calling in directly reporting on their specific conditions.  


To mitigate damage from downed power lines, Southern California Edison has installed switches on their lines that can turn electricity off in geographic blocks. On Friday, Nov. 9, the wind threat was enough for Edison to cut Topanga’s juice. It was switched back on Sunday, Nov. 11.

Once the electricity was back on, people using Frontier as their provider got phone, TV and internet. Many Verizon and Spectrum customers had to wait. Here is why.

Frontier has a central office right next to the Topanga Library. According to Techopedia, a central office is a building to which subscriber home and business lines are connected on a local loop. Of major importance for equipment installed in a central office is natural disaster survivability. Frontier was working. However, peoples’ electrically powered phones were not, so they had to wait for electricity to use their phones. As long as the line between your house and the central office is intact, you will have phone service if you have power.

Verizon and Spectrum customers did not have that scenario. Their signals are brought into the Canyon with repeaters. A repeater receives a signal and then transmits it on. Verizon and Spectrum have towers up on the ridges and around the Canyon that broadcast signals in and out of Topanga. Some were destroyed in the fire, so some customers had a longer wait for service to return. Frankly, I think the speed at which communications were restored was impressive.

If you had satellite internet or phone, you were golden.

It may interest you to know that our fire station’s communications were cut, because they had no power. They had to use the equipment in the fire truck to stay in contact.

Fireman Steve Reigel told me the winds were unprecedented. The fire was creating its own weather. He saw pine trees that had snapped, trucks turned over, poles down, roads blocked…it was fierce.

I cannot recommend getting one of those little radios and a generator strongly enough. When I came back to the Canyon, there was no wind. If wind had picked up, I would have been out fast.


My wonderful neighbor, Dave Winter, was very impressed by Max’s performance during the fires. He has talked to the manufacturer right here in Ontario, CA, about a discount if a lot of people want to buy one. If you are interested, you can leave your information in the comment section.  WHAT’S THE URL?

My radio is on Amazon: Eton-ARCFR360R-Solarlink-Self-Powered-Flashlight. It is $99, but there are many less expensive models.

I want to tell you about future mesh nets and smart grid technology, but I am out of room. Next time. Be safe, you beautifuls. Long live Topanga!

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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