Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Two Simple Questions About the Power Outages

It is extremely difficult to criticize the media's coverage of our power outage, since I haven't seen a TV in days, radio access is spotty (only when I'm in my truck) and the biggest daily in the region just seems to be ... well, doing what it does and coming up short.

I was listening to Public Radio this morning on the way to Panera Bread for breakfast/blogging (yay, Panera) and heard a brief story about Appalachian Power saying it's probably going to be Sunday before ALL the power is going to be back on and stories on the history of pie, why we get brain freeze, how we're squeezing Iran economically and some other story that I forget.

The same basic power story with a lot more words, I discovered, is in the daily newsletter, but there's no real explanation and no questioning of the timetable. Besides, I'm not much interested in ALL the power. I want to know when to close the doors of my refrigerator, turn on some lights and crank up a few ceiling fans so I can work at home.

It would seem to me that news stories in every medium should lead with, "An Appalachian Power spokesman says crews are working in the following neighborhoods ..." and "power is expected to be restored there by __ o'clock Tuesday [or another day].

"Crews are scheduled tomorrow for the following neighborhoods ..." listing the locality and the neighborhood." Then give a schedule as far into the future as necessary.

If that information is not forthcoming, the story could read, "An Appalachian Power spokesman said he could not give specific information about where crews are working because ..."

What most of us want to know is when and why. We have had the storm explained (worst ever for APCo) and we know the weather is crappy and will remain so for the near future. We have had the shelters pointed out to us in great detail and we know all this is George Bush's fault. But when will we get power and why won't you tell us more about that?

Simple questions, but the answers are hard to find.

My guess is that when all this has passed and we're reflecting on what happened, how and why, APCo is going to see the storm of protest, accusation and anger dwarf the storm from the skies.

(I'll add a quick caveat here that if a local news outlet has asked these questions and tried to get us some answers of value, then I am off base and retract the questions. I just haven't seen it and from the conversations I've been having with informed people, neither have they.)

(Photo: Bangor Daily News)


  1. :) I completely agree.

    They really should make the estimated times available to the public but they don't really have great PR at AEP.

    Why? The AEP spokesmen are spokesmen...not the grunt workers and they usually aren't the ones keeping track of what crew is where, so they likely don't know themselves what crew is in which neighborhood and how long until this or that neighborhood is up.

    But, I think the probably should and it would be good if they DID but then they would have to actually be working and know what the workers were doing.

    Here's how I understand it:

    As each crew reports to the job they assess the damage of each case as they go and then they send in an estimate of how long it will take, what equipment they will need etc. case by case.

    This is all kept track of on computer, the men who are keeping track of everything (my husband is one), can't know how long it will take for everyone... until each crew goes to each site to see how bad it is. They do know how long it will take for the sites once they assess damage.

    I will ask the hubby about communicating this type of information to the public when he gets home.

    The past few days he has not even had a lunch break or time to talk but if you want to know a specific neighborhood P/M me and I'll see if he can answer.

  2. As a resident of Radford, I'm getting more information like you describe from a "new" (July 2011) source - westofroanoke.com
    I realize that doesn't help you in Roanoke... but they have exactly the news about power outages you ask for: “Because of new storms from today, additional outages occurred in the Wytheville and Woodlawn areas; therefore, restoration times for Carroll, Grayson, Wythe and Bland counties have changed to Friday night, July 6.Tuesday night, July 3 – Floyd County; Wednesday night, July 4 – Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski counties; Thursday night, July 5 – portions of Bedford, Franklin, Henry and Pittsylvania counties; Friday night, July 6 – Albemarle, Nelson and Patrick counties; Saturday night, July 7 – Amherst County, as well as portions of Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell Craig and Roanoke counties.”
    Which means it is available.

  3. Ima Trip,They have power arriving in to Roanoke Area through a main feed to substations. When they had to cut a feed to repair a sub station area, they cut a feed to two substations. In Roanoke City they had a few substations with this problem. This is why. IMHO.

  4. Radio! Local radio is dead. It only exists to pump out canned play lists via computer between commercials, with snippets from remote DJs (or time-constrained local DJs) and news is NOT a part of the picture. WVTF does a good job with local news, but only has a small window in the national broadcast and now has a statewide audience.

    As to restoring power (which I never lost in my Blacksburg neighborhood, thanks to underground utilities and APCo finally fixing the lousy feed into said neighborhood a few years ago), it is also a dance with APCo, VDOT, and other utilities, per the one report I did hear on WVTF. If there is a mess of trees down and a tangle of wires that includes electric, phone, and cable, the mess has to be cleared by someone and that will depend on the location. Another factor is who is served and hospitals get first priority in getting power restored (and if you are in close proximity, good for you). Water pumping stations, nursing homes, and other places that would have a priority for service will get attention before downed lines on a rural road serving a handful of houses.

    As Melanie says, the crews probably can't know how long a job will take until they get into it. If lines are tangled in a big tree, it may be hard to tell if they just need to be restrung or totally replaced. They may have the right pole to replace one that's broken or may have to wait for one to be delivered, once they find out that the pole was actually bent and splintered then sprung back and looked OK from a distance.

    People can get angry all they want at "Appalachian Power" but don't forget that there are a lot of folks down in the ranks who are putting in long hours for working wages to get the lights and AC back on (and they may not have power at their own homes). These crews are doing the best they can under hot conditions (and will hit the road to help the crews who have come here from afar when a disaster hits their territory). A big thanks to those folks for their time and efforts.

  5. I for one am interested to see when and how much this storm and recovery efforts will result unfortunate be needed in rate hikes. :)

    1. ***that's BUT needed rate hikes....sorry folks.***

  6. I'd like an investigation on when an EAS was sent from the National Weather Service for each area. This thing started in Chicago but it hit us w/o warning? How did that happen? As soon as it hit I turned on a weather radio and was hearing about "heat advisories" not storms in the area.

  7. Severe thunderstorm watch issued 2 1/2 hours before it hit. Severe thunderstorm warning issued 40 minutes before it hit. Plenty of warning. (And the weather blog at that awful "local daily" web site mentioned the word "derecho" as a possibility at 9:50 a.m.!)

  8. Isn't it wonderful that we have the Internet and don't have to depend on news outlets that aren't doing a good job? Melanie's info is excellent. So is that of the rest of you. Thank you for responding. It's good, useful info and goes to show that a conversation with that basic element is needed desperately.

    Melanie, thank your husband and all those worthy souls who are working so hard for us. I, for one, deeply appreciate their efforts.

  9. Dan, I emailed APCo through their website asking all kinds of questions but what I received (and yes, I was emailed a response) was nothing but a horribly boring, badly written form letter thanking me for my feedback.