The power went out in my neighborhood yesterday. It was three-thirty in the afternoon when a transformer blew. Everything came to a halt. No light, no internet, no air conditioning, no microwave, no TV, no hot water for the shower, no landline.
I live in the middle of Los Angeles. In the middle of a very large apartment complex with high rise and garden apartments. 18,000 people. Bigger than many small towns. The complex has an emergency protocol for situations just like this.
At ten-thirty pm, there was still no light–not even in the stairwells. I live on the second floor of a twelve-story building. My legs are strong, my lungs are good—I bounded up and down the stairs to get what I needed and was only moderately inconvenienced by the blackout. But Mrs. And Mr. Smith live on the tenth floor. She’s in a wheelchair. He uses a walker. They don’t have a cell phone. They were trapped. The Department of Water and Power said power would return by midnight. In the meantime, there was zero communication from management.
At four in the morning, I was awoken by the stillness. Sometimes it is the absence of something the calls our attention. No refrigerator hum. No air conditioner hum. Morning came and still no power. And no word.
I got dressed, packed my computer, a writing pad. and pen and went to find food and electricity. There was my neighbor Shannon talking to a guy from the power company. Maybe power will be restored by 9:30, he said, lacking conviction.
Shannon was this side of livid. “The apartment complex has a whole emergency protocol, but not one person came to the building to see if everyone was okay. There are people on the twelfth floor who need medical attention, there are people on the tenth floor who can’t walk, there are people who live alone. Where’s the team? This is reprehensible,” she told him.
At 12:30 pm—twenty-one hours later—power was restored.
This power outage was a minor emergency, a trial run. There was a lot of whining about how inconvenient it was. The annoyance of no TV or no internet. There was a lot of looking around for people to blame and an unspoken expectation that we’re entitled to life without disruption. And an expectation that leadership in some form will make it right again.
But what happens in the absence of leadership?
We are called to step up as leaders.
There will be more blackouts, more floods, more fires, more hurricanes, more tornadoes. Some communities will have good emergency plans in place. Most won’t.
In the absence of leadership, get to know your neighbors. Make a plan. Find out who needs assistance. Step into your leadership. Create community. Turn a crisis into an opportunity.