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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thanks Glasgow!

We knew it was supposed to rain on Monday, November 5, but we, along with the rest of Glasgow, were a bit surprised when the cold front also dealt out micro bursts and down bursts of wind that exceeded anything we had ever witnessed in this part of town. Still, while violent and destructive, the storm opened our eyes to a lot of good.

Like everyone in town, the recent dry vs. moist campaign had made me feel like Glasgow was a community prepared to go to war with itself. I wondered if we were so different from other parts of the world where arguments about religion eventually result in battles of flesh. But several marvelous things happened in the aftermath of the great wind that made me feel we are going to be OK.

As we looked out our windows at the EPB around 4:30 p.m. on November 5, the rain quickly became some sort of semisolid mass of energy and visibility out our windows dropped to about 12 inches. Immediately we decided to gather up the customers who were in the lobby and everyone on the staff and make our way to our new Jama M Young Technology Center for refuge. Once in the bunker we quickly opened our “war room” and got folks set up to answer phones and dispatch our repair crews. As we awaited to hear from our technicians about what vehicles were mobile, we ventured out of the bunker to take in a horrifying sight. The warehouse building which housed many of our vehicles and our inventory of hardware that we would need to start affecting repairs on our networks was totally destroyed! So, job one for our team became figuring out how to free up our vehicles so we could go about our work of repairing Glasgow’s energy and information infrastructure. As I watched, members of the EPB who were highly trained linemen and telecommunications technicians, suddenly morphed into search and rescue personnel and they invented many ways to peel back the remains of a damaged building and rescue the equipment necessary to go about rescuing the lifestyle of the community. It was a beautiful thing to behold. Further, as the evening went on, contractors and construction experts began to arrive and help us make sane and safe decisions about what other equipment could be rescued from the building. Clearly, Glasgow was starting to function as a community again instead of an association of warring factions.

For several hours after that, most of the EPB staff was in a windowless bunker poring over information from our computer systems, directing repair efforts via radio, inventing plans to feed energy around damaged and missing portions of our network, and talking with our customers. However, the community was coming to our rescue in other ways without our even knowing it. Perhaps three hours into the event I emerged from the war room to just look out the windows, and I saw this wonderful sight. Local DES folks had already found mobile lighting systems, delivered them to our site, and taken over the job of rerouting traffic along the 31E Bypass in front of the EPB building. You see, four transmission poles had been snapped off and were still lying along the Bypass, and there were hours and hours of work to be performed in trying to set that portion of our network right. While we would have eventually gotten the job done, it would have taken several days longer if we had not had the help from local emergency services folks in controlling traffic and providing a safe area for us to work. Again, Glasgow was emerging as a unified community.

Our efforts to repair the damage were met with great fortune in many ways. Obviously, the amount of damage far exceeded our in-house staff’s capacity to repair quickly. Luckily, we already had crews from Pike Electric and Bowlin Energy doing planned improvements to our electric system. They were willing to drop that planned work and help us accomplish this new amount of unplanned work. We were so lucky to have them here!

Another great twist of fate was that the damage to our fiber optic network was minimal. Those poles in front of our office carry hundreds of fiber optic circuits. If they had broken in a slightly different manner, we would still be out splicing our fiber. However, after it was all said and done, only about 24 fibers were damaged and they were in parts of town other than right in front of our office. As a result, most everyone in town had cable television, telephone, and internet service restored with their electric power. Those that did suffer interruptions were all generally back in service within 24 hours. We count this as a blessing as well. Another indication that Glasgow people had decided to put away their differences and work together was that our customers were very understanding throughout this whole event. Even though a UK basketball game and critical election results were in danger of being missed due to broken fiber cables, folks were content and many local businesses even used the time to fix us food and drinks and do other things to comfort our hard-working folks in the field.

All told, this event was a demonstration that we need to be ever-vigilant in designing our infrastructure to withstand harsh and unexpected events. We do a lot of that. We build redundant circuits so we have options to serve our customers even when the planned routes become unavailable. We are also quite proud of our vision to build the new Technology Center. There were critics of this move. I remember reading comments from one fellow that said our decision to build the bunker was foolish because everyone knows that if a tornado should hit our campus, all of our other pole-mounted facilities would be destroyed anyway, so the building was a waste. I wish I could recall who that was now, because he was dead wrong. Most of all I am happy with the performance of my team and the community as a whole. The EPB team seems to have most of its communications with customers when they are mad or upset because something is not working or going well for them. As a result, we sometimes slip into feeling that our efforts are not often appreciated and that our constant planning for events that are “over the horizon” is just overkill. Then, along comes an event like this when the community proves that we are appreciated and that our plans provided the continuity of service that we had in mind, and we fall back in love with Glasgow all over again.

So, I thank my team for being an amazingly talented group of public servants. My team thanks you, our customers, the YES’s, the NO’s, the big, the small, the short, and the tall, for understanding our plight after the storm and doing everything that you did to help us through it. We will keep building networks that deliver you the standard of living you asked us to provide and we will love doing it!

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