Blog Archive

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Ice Storm of 09

Well, our lives have not been a bit boring over the last couple of days. How about yours? We spent the day Monday reviewing our disaster plans, fueling vehicles, agreeing on work schedules, stocking trucks, and preparing for the worst. Tuesday morning about 4:00 a.m., the freezing rain commenced and so did our troubles. As usual, no plan really survives contact with the enemy, and some of our plans fell apart, but for the most part everything went quite well.

As we sat in the dispatch center and monitored our substations, it was amazing to view the radar as Glasgow straddled the line between ice and rain. That played out just as it showed on radar as the northern half of our service area was very hard hit by ice and fallen trees, while the southern half escaped with very little damage to our networks. However, just to our north, east and west, our neighboring utilities have not been so lucky. As this is written there are over 62,000 customers of TVA distributors in Kentucky who are still without power. Conversely, there are none here in Glasgow. I would like to say that is because of our great planning, but there is also a large element of luck and geography that must be considered as well.

Still, everything did not go as we wished. Our biggest problem throughout the weather event was, and to some extent continues to be, our telephone connections to the outside world. Our telephone partner, Cinergy (now Norlight) uses a long haul fiber provider called Kentucky Data Link (KDL) and KDL suffered numerous cuts to their fiber lines due to down trees, poles, and simply ice thickness that damaged the cables. While this is not preventable, utilities strive to offset this danger by providing a number of redundant routes to serve an important network like the one serving all of our phone customers in Glasgow. We had been assured by our telephone partner that we were served by multiple redundant routes. However, they were not redundant enough and all of our telephone customers were off for about fourteen hours. We sincerely apologize for that outage and we are already looking to Norlight to rectify this situation.

Speaking of redundancy and diversity of network segments, we also purchase our internet connections to the outside world from more than one vendor so that all of our customers will not be down should one fail. One of those vendors was also KDL and, as a result, many of our internet customers were also without service when KDL’s network was damaged. Even today that connectivity has been up and down some, so, this is not totally over yet.

Finally, one good thing that has come from this event is that we have learned how to use Twitter to keep folks better informed of the status of Glasgow’s critical power and broadband networks. During this event alone some fifty new folks have become Twitter “followers” of Glasgow EPB by going to this site, setting up an account, and choosing to click the “follow” button to be updated when we post new information. We also learned how to have that information automatically appear on our web page for those who do not want to jump on Twitter. The service is also capable of sending the information as a text message to your cell phone and we think that would be fantastic since you should be able to get these text messages even if your home has no electric power (so long as your cell phone battery is charged up).

So, that is where we stand after two days of extremely horrible winter weather. We survived better than most, we had some failures of technology, and we learned some new ways to serve our community better in the future. Here’s to hoping that spring is just around the corner!