Hurricane Thoughts And Stories

So I did, in the end, survive Irene relatively unscathed.  Got power back after 38 hours in the dark (I think I’m back relatively quickly because my part of the grid also includes Henrico HS and the County Institute for the Blind).  Couldn’t work Saturday or Sunday, though, at the primary job (generator power only and no computers Saturday, generators had failed by Sunday).  I didn’t even try to go to the radio station on Sunday, as all of our stations were offline Saturday night and I didn’t want to get in the way of cleanup efforts.

So in the end, I guess I have one question.  If what was basically a tropical storm in the Richmond area could knock 80% of Dominion’s power customers offline… and considering how much Dominion is going to pay to repair it… do you wonder if they’ve ever done a cost/benefit analysis about making the infrastructure more storm-proof?  Say, burying more power cables where it’s feasible?  Is it possible to make the system self-correcting, to any extent?  Is there any way to manage wide-scale power outages than the costly and inefficient way they do so now?  I would hope that someone at Dominion is at least asking the questions.

I’ve had some interesting hurricane experiences over the years:

For Irene, it was sitting in a darkened office with just emergency lights, flashlights, and a notepad trying to take calls from users I probably couldn’t help (although I actually did do something for 2 of the 4 callers before my manager sent me home, so I was surprised).

After Isabel, in 2003, the transmitter at what was then Star 107 lost power in the storm (just as it did this weekend, but for much longer).  In an attempt to continue serving our audience, our operations manager, Joey Butler, went out to the transmitter site in Powhatan (near the current location of Westchester Commons) with a generator… to put the station on for part of the day.  My shift was Sundays noon-6pm at the time, so the transmitter was turned on at noon, I did my show (even did some ticket giveaways – the memorable one was the ticket winner who called in on a cell phone while standing in line for ice in a convenience store!), and then the transmitter was turned off at 6pm.  Weekday shows ran the same way for a couple of days until Virginia Power (it wasn’t Dominion yet) got the transmitter site back on the grid.

The oddest one, though, goes all the way back to Long Island.  I think it was in the aftermath of Gloria in 1985.  I was working in a bowling center (Sheridan Bowl in Mineola, NY) which had partially lost power.  Here’s the odd part: the phones were working, but the ringers weren’t.  People could call us, and hear the phone ring, but we didn’t hear the phone ring.  So what was my job in the wake of Gloria?  Picking up what appeared to be a dead phone every 30-45 seconds to see if someone was there, so I could tell them we were closed.  I did ask the boss if the fact that we didn’t answer the phone might have clued people in… he felt that since there was a chance some callers were getting busy signals, we had to answer the phone to provide good customer service and tell the ones who got through that we were, indeed, closed.  I didn’t get it, but hey, I was getting paid, so… you do what you get paid to do.

So that’s my story.  If you have similarly weird stories, post them somewhere.  They’re only fun in the retelling, right?

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), generally nice person (if you ask me).

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