I’ve been to Southern California many times, but three trips stand out. They were when I was in an earthquake, when major energy-conservation efforts were underway to avoid “rolling” blackouts, and then in the midst of rolling blackouts that folks had hoped to prevent by energy conservation.

The earthquake happened about seven years ago while I was at the Northamerican Heating, Refrigeration, and Airconditioning Wholesalers (NHRAW) conference in Anaheim. I was in my hotel room watching Monday Night Football when I felt that unnerving swaying for a few seconds. I looked out the window and noticed bellhops nonchalantly welcoming guests and hailing cabs.

All seemed to be well — except that Los Angeles TV went into full-scale panic mode, interrupting programming for most of the rest of the night to report that not much happened.

Last September, I was at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Energy & Technical Services Conference in San Diego. During a tour of several supermarkets, we noticed lights off in display cases and reduced overhead lighting in the stores. Managers said they were trying to the stave off potential rolling blackouts due to all sorts of power-related problems in California.

This past March, during the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) conference, there was evidence that those efforts did not work. Utility companies were turning off power in various sectors of Long Beach where the conference was being held, and in other California municipalities. Blackouts lasted an hour or more in each sector.

A blackout did not directly affect us in the Long Beach Convention Center, but those outages comprised the No. 1 topic around town — and, of course, on local television, which was once again in full-scale panic mode.

One speaker at the IIAR conference noted that the power blackouts were impacting his frozen food warehouses. He said such places can endure 6 hrs of downtime, but 18-hr downtimes had happened. He voiced great concern over the upcoming summer.

For all we’ve learned about maintaining refrigeration systems, not all that much is taught about what to do after an earthquake or following a blackout. How do you determine the structural integrity of a mechanical system after an earthquake? How long can produce stay fresh during a blackout? What system adjustments have to be made once the system comes back on line?

In California at least, such topics appear to be new components of hvacr training programs.

Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260; 847-622-7266 (fax); or PowellBNP@aol.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 05/14/2001