My message to Pepco in the wake of the DC Derecho

The storm hit around 10:30 on Friday night.  Our power in Bethesda went out almost immediately.  Hundreds of thousands were without power and it looked like a tornado had gone through many areas.  We all knew that it would be a few days before the power was restored.  Pepco released a statement saying the conservative estimation on total restoration was Friday at 11pm.

If you look back at previous posts of mine and in my Twitter feed, you’ll see that I initially supported you in this crisis.  I moved here only 2 years ago and I have resisted being a Pepco hater just because the cool kids do.  I’ve lived through multiple day outages in other states.  I get that infra-structure is an issue — an expensive one that people don’t want to pay for.  I am married to a guy that has made a career out of managing crisis communications.  I know that there are some things that just can’t be controlled.  I also know that there are things that can be controlled.  One of those things is messaging.  Since I happen to know a little bit about communications, I’ll offer you some unsolicited advice and perspective from the standpoint of somebody that tends to stay unbiased in these situations and is still without power.  I’m not convinced that you will read, listen or even care what I have to say, but one of the purposes of this blog is for me to express myself and at this point  it’s therapy for me.

I could just limit my feedback to a Twitter post and say what many others say:  “@PepcoConnect, you suck”.  I actually do think you suck, but I’m going to tell you why.  And, it will take WAY more than 140 characters because A) I can be long-winded and B) there are way too many things wrong with how this has played out.

But, first I’m going to preface it with the fact that I know that there are thousands of people working hard to restore power to everyone.  I know that they are sweating it out in unbearable conditions to do their jobs.  I know that many of them are without power themselves.  I know that many of them have traveled thousands of miles to get here.  I know that they missed the 4th of July with their families.  I believe that those people truly care about their jobs and the people they are serving.  I thank them from the bottom of my heart and I appreciate their hard work and dedication.

The things I take issue with come from within the organization.

  1. You took to the airwaves immediately, pledging to work around the clock to restore power.  Your self imposed deadline of Friday at 11pm was “conservative”, but that was when you had reasonable confidence that the entire system would be restored.  The fatal flaw here was giving a definitive deadline.  It would have been much better to say, “we estimate that we’ll have XX% of the system up” by (a certain date), acknowledging that there would be cases that would take more time.  You should have been conservative with that XX% number instead of the timeline because……..
  2. On Wednesday, you sent out a self-congratulatory press release saying that you had beat your deadline by 2 days and that 90% of the system was back online by Wednesday.  You referred to the “pockets” that were still not restored without much explanation.  I’m here to tell you that those “pockets” are actual people.  And, you should have referred to them with more empathy.  You also should have avoided patting yourself on the back until 100% were back up.  I think that it would have been fine to say that 90% were back up 2 days before the deadline….but, only if you followed it up with, “but that’s not good enough for us because not everyone is and here’s the step by step plan with how we are proceeding…”  Instead, you are promising robo-calls to the individual customers that remain without power.  And, speaking of robo-calls……
  3. I received one of those.  On Tuesday.  It said that our house should have had power restored and I was instructed to press #1 if it was, #2 if it wasn’t and #3 if it was blinking on and off.  Stupidest robo-call ever because I wasn’t home to know.  And, upon my arrival home to check, it wasn’t.  And the tree that was down on a live wire three doors down was still there.  At this point, I tweeted my frustration and was immediately answered by Pepco that they were sorry and I should call again.  My husband did call and he was told crews were on the scene.  Not true. I was at the house.  No crews were on the scene.  Also, they told him that our situation required “special equipment”.  Apparently, that is code for “you aren’t on the priority list…simmer down now”.  If it is the case, here’s an idea:  when the crews are on-site and determine that special equipment is needed, leave a notice for the affected customers that says, “We’ve been here.  We’ve assessed the situation and have determined that your problem will require specialized equipment”.  How hard would that be?  Not hard.  Meanwhile, the Pepco app showed that many of the outages in my neighborhood had been resolved.  And, speaking of the outage map…….
  4. It’s a piece of garbage.  It gives no real information.  It says outages are resolved when they aren’t.  It says crews have been assigned one day and then unassigned the next.  It is conveniently updated in the middle of the night.  I was up until midnight last night.  When I went to bed, it said crews were assigned and our resolution date was Friday at 11pm.  This morning at 7am, the crews had been unassigned and the status had changed to Sunday at 11pm.
  5. The story in Bethesda seems to be that Pepco won’t touch the lines until the trees are removed, which is Montgomery County’s job.  Montgomery County says they won’t remove the trees until the power is dealt with.  Here’s the deal:  Montgomery County is huge.  Trees were down on power lines all over the county.  How could this be a “Bethesda” issue?  Pepco and MoCo appear to be in a pissing match, with weary customers and constituents caught in the middle. If I had to take sides, I’m going with the county.  Why would they alienate one of the most affluent areas (read: voters) in the area?  Speaking of affluent…..
  6. Relatively speaking, we are not.  And, most of our neighbors aren’t either (whether they want to admit it or not).  We are all people who live in this area for different reasons.  But, because we have a Bethesda address, that is the perception.  I’m not going to argue that it doesn’t take more money to live here.  It does.  And yes, by many people’s standards we are affluent.  Again, I would not classify my family that way, but I’m certainly not asking for sympathy.  But, the sinister side of me (I know, it’s shocking that I have a sinister side) begins to wonder about the “priority” system in restoring power.  I get that hospitals, nursing homes and businesses are going to have priority.  But now, as I look at the outage map in MoCo and see that the majority of the outages are in Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase, I start to think that maybe decisions are being made based on socio-economics.  Are we at the bottom of the list because somebody decided that we have the means to find other accommodations?  I know the fact that extreme SE DC is also without power blows a hole in that theory….but my sinister side can find an equally disturbing scenario — that those on the other end of the proverbial spectrum are less likely to make enough noise for the media to notice.  And speaking of the media……
  7. I just saw some neighbors of mine on CNN.  Your communications plan has failed when CNN has people on the air saying that their power is still out, trees are still down on lines, they call you 10 times a day and “Pepco won’t respond”.  Regardless of whether or not you have or have not responded, when CNN says you haven’t, you haven’t.

I have so much more to say, but I have other things to do.  Like fill my car for the third time this week (I normally do it once) because I’m staying in Alexandria and driving my son to camp, which is closer to my house than Alexandria.  I have to call the boarding facility to see if my dog can stay there another couple of days.  I need to buy groceries for my friends, who graciously offered their house to us while they are out of town on vacation.  And, since they arrive home tomorrow, I have to figure out where we will stay next.  I have to go to my house, which is over 100 degrees inside to pack my son for a 3 week vacation to his grandparents house (where mercifully, he will have A/C and doting grandparents instead of a crabby mother).  Oh, and I need to try and get some work done.  I’m a contract employee, paid by the hour, so I don’t have the luxury of taking paid leave.  But, I’ve already lost a good 3 hours a day to this situation, so on top of all of the money that this outage is costing me, I’m also taking a hit to my paycheck.  And, the company I work for has lost my productivity.

Adding insult to injury, I received our electric bill in my email today.

Seriously, Pepco — get it together.

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You named your baby “Derecho”?

The storm that came through the DC area on Friday night has a name.  It’s called a Derecho.  I had never heard of it.  It’s described as a widespread storm in which multiple bands of strong storms packing damaging winds move hundreds of miles. According to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, their name comes from the Spanish word for “direct” or “straight ahead”, which is the way the storms typically move.

The heavy winds, typically upward of 60 mph (and I think we had 90 mph winds), come from downbursts in storm clouds, caused by differences in the heat and density of air within the storm systems.  There’s already a Wikipedia page for Friday’s storm and Capital Weather Gang is taking suggestions to name the historic storm. So far my favorite is Derecho en Fuego.  But, what will be very interesting is to see how many babies are born in say…..March or April who are named Derecho.  Or Derrick.  Or some other derivative of the name.

We are still without power in our neighborhood.  We went to the house yesterday as we wanted to check on things and water the outside plants since the water restriction had been lifted.  The house was stifling — 99 degrees inside.  It was starting to stink, so we emptied the remains of the refrigerator and freezer — only to discover that we’d forgotten to empty the ice maker when we left on Saturday and it had melted all over the floor.  The wood laminate floor, which will now likely sustain permanent damage.  But, that can be dealt with.

We drove around  the neighborhood a little, just amazed at the destruction.  Trees were uprooted everywhere.  Others had just snapped in two.  Some had landed on roofs and cars.  Others had miraculously not fallen on anything but the ground.  Electric lines were down everywhere.  We realized how lucky we are that the enormous tree in our backyard, which is in dire need of either cutting down or trimming back, was still standing.  A few branches had come down, but nothing had hit the house.  It made the potential damage to the kitchen floor seem like nothing.  And it is nothing in the whole scheme of things.  It might cost us some money, but that’s okay.  Our family is okay and that is the important thing.

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The power is starting to come back on, but people are growing weary and impatient.  And, I don’t blame them.  Not everyone is as lucky as we are to have a cool place to stay.  People blame the power companies.  And no…they are not perfect.  There are things that could be done to help prevent things like this, but they cost money and nobody wants to pay for them.  They also take time and people want instant gratification.  Trees could be cut back, but people fight that, too.  So there are no easy answers.

What I do know is that the crews are working hard.  Nobody is sitting in an air-conditioned room with their feet up on a desk, laughing at the misfortune of others and figuring out ways to prolong it.  And, crews are working round the clock to get the lights back on.  They’ve left their families in other states to come here — and it is a holiday week.  They are working in unbearable heat and then many of them go home to their own dark, hot houses.  Show them some respect.  If you come across them in your neighborhood, tell them thank you.  The system might be broken, but it’s not their fault.  They are hard workers, making an honest living for their families.

And in the midst of the frustration, we need to remember to take care of each other.  If your power comes back on, invite people over who you know don’t have power.  Even if you know that your friends and family without power are in a safe place, check on them anyway.  I can tell you that it’s not easy to be displaced from your home.  Just show them you care.  Be courteous on the roads.  Treat intersections without lights as four way stops.  I know this is DC, but give your horn a break for a few days.  Our nerves are all frazzled.  You’ll get where you are going, I promise.  Smile at someone today.  Even if you don’t feel like it.  They might really need it.  Actually, I know they need it.  We all need people to be kind and a little bit patient every day of the year.  A smile goes a long way, even when there isn’t a natural disaster to deal with.

And then, when the lights are all back on and our lives get back to normal….try to keep doing those things.  Just an idea.

Surprised by Grace

As you may have heard, we had quite a destructive storm come through the DC area last night. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Thanks to Capital Weather Gang, we had a heads up and they aren’t the guys who unnecessarily freak out. So, I knew when they said that this one was no joke, it was no joke. The storm came in and out quickly, but we lost power immediately. When we got up this morning, it looked like a tornado had gone through our neighborhood. We realized how lucky we were when we saw trees on house and cars. Still, we had no power and it was evident that it would not be coming on anytime soon.

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We decided to try and find a hotel. Unfortunately, the PGA AT&T Golf Tournament is taking place at Congressional Golf Course, which is right near our house and all of the hotels were full. We also have a dog, so we needed to find a place that was pet friendly. It turned out not to be easy to find a place that also had power. We decided to go for breakfast because our son was “famished”. I’ve never actually heard Mr. Picky Pants express hunger this way, so I knew we had a situation on our hands. We sat at breakfast and tried to figure out what to do. We considered sucking it up, but the heat index was expected to be near 110 today. I was nearing tears when we got a text from a guy that Lloyd knows from transportation circles. He said that they were leaving town for a week this afternoon and that we were welcome to stay at their house…which has power.

We were just beside ourselves. Lloyd has known this guy for a few years via work connections. I had met him once but his wife had never met us at all. And here they were, offering their home to us. Honestly, if I’d made a list of all of the people in the area that we know who would have reached out to us in that way, they probably wouldn’t have bee very high on the list. Not because they aren’t great people, but because we don’t have that kind of relationship with them….or so I thought.

This morning, as we were trying to formulate a plan, our 12 year old remarked that he wasn’t worried…he knew God would provide. And, we knew that too. But, we didn’t expect this kind of provision. And it reminded us that God is always going ahead of us, preparing a way. I am guilty of acknowledging that God is in control and still trying to be in control myself. That’s not to say that we don’t need to do leg work. We do. We can’t just sit sweltering in our house and expecting God to walk in the front door and give us the solution. But, in our diligence, we need to allow God to do what he’s going to do.

In the midst of all of this, we had found a hotel. It had availability for a couple of nights and took dogs. And we had the means to pay for it although it wasn’t something that was in our budget. I will admit that while I will gladly open my doors to anyone (and was upset that I didn’t have power and couldn’t help others!), I often struggle with accepting help from others. It’s probably a pride issue. Ok, it’s definitely a pride issue. And I had to fight the urge to just say “we’ve got it handled”. It would have been fine.

But I would not have been so surprised by grace. I would not have had the opportunity to get to know these people who are obviously worth knowing better. And I wouldn’t have the opportunity to say to our son “yes…you were right. God provided for us” — and he did it in such an unexpected way that we can only point to His grace. It wasn’t because of anything that we did.

And that is the gospel.

Heat and Humidity

Before I start, I will point out the obvious — I’m working on personalizing the blog a bit.  I took that sunset picture a few years ago.  Lloyd and I spent our anniversary on the Washington Coast.  It was one of the driest springs on record and the sunset made it seem like a summer day, even though it was only March.  A couple of years later, we spent our anniversary at the beach again and it snowed.  (edited to add:  I have since updated the blog.  The picture referred to is this below)…

Speaking of weather….

The humidity has really set in this week in DC.  I’m told that it’s more like July weather, so we are hoping for a little reprieve.  However, I do not like to complain about heat.  After spending most of my summers in Phoenix, I feel like summer is supposed to be hot.  Besides that, my PNW friends have been talking about the fact that they are still running their furnaces, so I’m greatful that we aren’t dealing with that.  And to a certain degree, I sort of like the humidity.  It makes me feel like I’m on a tropical vacation — but only when I can be barely dressed and lounging around under a fan or next to a pool with an umbrella drink.  Then, it’s sort of sultry and sexy.  When I have to walk to work feeling like I’m breathing through a wet sponge and end up sweating like a pig for the first hour that I’m in the office – well, there’s just nothing sexy about that. 

But, I get really tired of people telling me that the heat in Arizona is better because there is no humidity.  Most of the people who tell me this have never actually lived in Arizona, so they don’t really know what they are talking about.  Let’s do a little comparison. 

Yesterday, the temperature in DC topped out at around 97 degrees in the heat of the day.  With the humidity, the heat index was around 103.  Hot.  And there was a heat advisory in place.  Today was the same story, although a cold front is moving in so now we have severe thunderstorm warnings.  By contrast, in Phoenix, the high temperature today will be around 97 degrees with negligible humidity.  So, yes…today, DC feels hotter than Phoenix but only by a few degrees.  But, it’s early June.  That will soon change. 

Let’s tackle the notion that in Arizona, it’s a “dry heat”.  First of all, yes….the humidity is not as high as it is in other places.  But, in those “dry heat” areas, the temperatures generally are much higher than the more humid areas.  I have suffered through temperatures in the one-teens and never once thought to myself that it was any more tolerable because it was dry.  In fact, once the temperature passes the 110 threshold, it’s just plain miserable with or without humidity.

And, then there is the monsoon.  Monsoon season starts in Arizona anytime from about June 15-July 1st’ish and can last all the way into September (it all depends on dew point, but I won’t geek out on you that much).  Even with a “mere” 50% humidity, the average 105 degree July day can feel like 134 degrees.  One hundred thirty four degrees.  That, my friends, is hot and makes today feel downright comfortable.

At the end of the day, it’s almost as if we always feel the need to one up eachother in the weather department.  Let’s just agree that summer can be hot.  And, where it’s not hot, people are wishing it were.  (I promised I wouldn’t complain about the weather.  I did not promise I wouldn’t complain about people who complain about the weather).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check the radar and read about hurricane season, which started today.