Monday, November 5, 2012

Outage Outrage

This hurricane we recently experienced has revealed some very interesting lessons in Project Management and leadership. In the areas of leadership, we saw the resurgence of El Bloombito, Mayor Bloomberg's Spanish speaking persona, and the stardom of his deaf interpreter who clearly had no idea what Bloomberg was saying in his Spanglish.

Meanwhile tough-talking New Jersey Governor Christie was telling the truth and praising Obama for his efforts.

But what a project it must be, restoring electrical power to the entire state. How does one deal with all these stakeholders claiming to be highest priority? Do you restore the substations first, the refineries, the hospitals, those neighborhoods under water or the rich people who whine the loudest? How about the politically connected?

In my four street neighborhood, thankfully unaffected by water, we lost a lot of power poles and over twenty trees had to be cut down that were crossing the roads and dragging down lines.

We are still without power a week after the event and so I looked at my utility's restoration project plan. Check out this table showing the work plan to restore power to all their customers:
A tad hard to see so let me zoom in on what I wanted to highlight. You can go to the link to see the raw data for as long as the data is up on PSE&G's website.
Notice anything weird? I would have thought that getting people's power back on worked like a Pareto chart. 90% of the problems were caused by 10% of the errors. In electrical terms, 10% of the power poles, substations or circuits were out, causing 90% of the customers to lose power. So I would expect that there would be a reverse exponential curve on the data. On day one you might restore half the customer's power, day two half of the remaining set and so on until there were very few people left on day five.

Looking at the data I rarely see that. In most cases there is a straight line relationship from day to day showing how many customers in a particular area recovered their power. Now maybe it's just my lack of knowledge of how you restore power but I'm suspicious.

There are two major electricity suppliers in this state and they seem to have been taking a different approach to restoring power. Whenever there is a scrolling banner under the news pictures of the disaster they show power outages like this:
PSE&G estimates about 840,000 customers without power
JCP&L estimates about 763,659 customers without power
Makes you wonder which utility is taking things more seriously.

Look at the outage maps of the two utilities.
Here is the PSE&G map:

And here is the JCP&L map:

Lots more detail on this interactive map, down to exactly how many people are out per town.

Unfortunately I have no option of switching utilities. I am about 400 yards from the boundary. But now I understand why in previous storms, my power always went out while my neighbor, on the JCP&L side was fine.


  1. i really enjoyed this post... misery loves company... our power company, con ed, had a terrific and amazingly accurate website, but the supervisory people were a problem. we had assessors walking around saying they thought we already had power, since we were running a generator and had lights. i finally put a sign in the window: "no power." our mayor almost gave up after coping with empty promises. after 11 days we got power back. the team who restored our power came from new orleans! (katrina tested!)

    1. I got some crap for this post because the people who had JCP&L were out of power for at least a week longer than us. Maybe they spent too much time on their website and not enough time on the streets.

      We were out of cable for over two weeks which runs our phone and Internet. That ended up being the biggest joke. Every time we called we got some phone service with a script. They had no clue we had called before and couldn't understand that the cable wires needed to be reattached to the new power pole since the old one had snapped in half.

      We were only successful by flagging their trucks down and talking to the man on the street. Turned out that North Carolina and Georgia workers were the biggest help.

  2. so you let me know your hurricane experience, here is mine...
    alan was at the ambulance quarters on stand-by, and i stayed home, but on stand-by. at 5pm we had a call for a sick lady, so i jumped in my car, caught up with the ambulance and followed it about a mile to the patient's house. that was probably the most reckless thing i've done in a long while! i thought i'd never make it, with all the branches flying off the trees all around me! but we did make it, and home again.

    then the power and cable went out, around 8pm. alan told me i had a choice - white or red. i chose the pinot grigio.

    eventually we were bored and decided to go back down to the ambulance quarters, where we might be useful. they were already running a generator and had cable, so we could see the news on tv. it looked bad!

    across the street from quarters is ladder 22... the young firefighters (19-25 yo) were in a party mood, excited by actual potential action. one of them was crossing the street when a huge gust hit, and he fell to a low crouch, a look of utter panic crossing his face. oh i wish i'd had a camera! how we all laughed!

    we had little damage to our yard or house, as i'd pruned the trees after last year's crazy snowstorm. we lost some shingles off the roof. whew. very scary storm!