I’ve been lazy today. Slept in a bit, did a little laundry, ran to Target, read the Oprah magazine, watched a couple of cooking shows, got a nap, answered a couple of pages from work, listened to the rain. Nothing too stressful for this girl. All in all a much slower pace to end the week on than I anticipated. With the big snow going on, reporters in our area have been in a kind of weather frenzy and being with an electric utility with as many as 11,000 customers out of power at the peak, they call us a lot.
Have you ever lost your power? I sometimes think it happens just to remind us of what a gift power is to all of our lives. Set aside that it provides computer service, TV, and games. It keeps us warm, gives us light, fires up our water heaters, keeps life-saving equipment going. Our product literally makes life happen and largely because of that, I am really happy I work for a not-for-profit utility. For me, electricity and water are two products that should not be sold for profit. They are just too core to living our modern lives.
So I totally understand when our customers get a little tense and frustrated when they are out of power. It definitely is inconvenient. The few times we have lost it, I have been thrilled to hear that hum return to the house. What I can’t hardly abide is when customers get mean. Especially the ones living way out in the far reaches of the county and/or those who have taken no steps to be ready for an outage. If you have a medical condition that depends on power, an infant who needs to stay warm, live stock that must get water from a well, elderly parents with multiple issues — what’s your plan for when you lose power? I use “when”, because power is not a guarantee. Your utility — and I think I can speak for most on this issue — works hard to deliver reliable power but there will be times when maintenance or other projects can take it down. Even more likely, Mother Nature can come in and remind us all of who really is in charge. Trees come down through lines and the connection to the wonders of power is broken. Sometimes for hours, sometimes for days, sometimes even, in the really bad storms like an hurricane for instance, for more than a week. People who absolutely must have power absolutely need a Plan B and I’m constantly surprised by how few do. Get a generator (especially if you live in the country!), head for a motel or friends place, know where a shelter is — have a plan.
Our county covers 2100 square miles — much of it covered with trees which makes this a beautiful place to live. Those trees though tend to come down in wind and snow storms and go right through power lines. That’s where our line crews become amazing. They are willing to get out there in horrible, very cold, very dangerous conditions, often in the middle of the night, and work to restore power. They’ll keep working till every customer is rehooked up.
It never happens fast enough though — especially if you’re that last customer and I’m not aware of any utility that can tell you after a big storm when we’ll get to your house. But of course, that’s what everyone wants to know. ”When will you be to my house?” And even if we did know and could tell them very few would be satisfied with any answer over 30 minutes let alone if the answer was for sure something like “probably three days or more.”
The process is complicated. You try first to repair feeder lines because if you don’t have the main lines working than individual lines will have no juice anyways. Then we go for lines that will bring as many people back on as possible. And then we start repairing the many, many outages that involve just one or two customers who’s power lines have gone down. Further complicating the process and making it nearly impossible to estimate restoration times is that very often the crews don’t know what they will run into until they get to job. Often, they have to completely remove full trees from wires or put in a whole new power pole. And that’s at a site where the snow was so heavy that our only way in was by snowmobile! Not-to-mention that if the storm is still going, additional outages continue to happen and even customers we just reconnected not even an hour ago now are out again. It’s far more complicated than most customers will ever realize and more than most want to know. They just want to know when their power will be back on and please make it happen in under an hour.
When Mother Nature gifts our area with a big snow it really does come with some fun — especially a bit of a slower pace for many. But a storm is expensive and the pace for many industries — especially power and transportation — tends to become more complicated, more pressing and much more tiring. For employees in the field of course but many in the office as well busy on answering phones and keeping supplies available for examples of two big areas.
I would be remiss, as I ramble here this evening, if I didn’t say that there are so many more of our customers — literally thousands — who are understanding, incredibly patient, very grateful and kind enough to express it. They sing our line crews praises especially and often gift them with hot coffee and warm cookies.
I’m guessing this is probably more than you ever wondered about on this topic too! But hey, you never know what your trusty, jabbering blogger will be yakking about next. : ) Clearly, its been on my mind. It’s actually a big part of my job. Telling the stories about the incredible people I have the privilege of working with. Is it any wonder I consider my job one of the best ones ever? It seemed like something you all would want to know about too. : ) And for any of my local readers who might still be out of power. Take heart. It won’t be long. We’ll get there. We won’t call it a day until every person is reconnected to our wonderful, powerful product — electricity!