Northwestern Press

Monday, December 9, 2019

Editor's View

Thursday, November 8, 2012 by JOHANNA S. BILLINGS jbillings@tnonline.com in Opinion

For many in the Valley, Sandy meant living off the grid

After more than six days without power, the popping drone of the generator began to sound as normal as the chirping birds and the occasional passing car I used to hear.

"When are you supposed to get your power back?" I was asked Friday.

"Christmas," I said.

The other person paused briefly as if startled.

"Oh, my word," she said. "You're serious!"

Almost.

A sense of humor definitely helped my husband, Sean, and I deal with the circumstances. But beneath the humor lies a grain of truth.

We were among four homes on our street still without power Sunday because of a tree leaning on some electric lines.

We live in Rockville, which Sean and I like to call a "suburb" of Danielsville, Lehigh Township, in the northern part of the Northampton Press coverage area.

I figured we would fall into what PPL Electric Utilities press releases called "small pockets of outages" that the company expected to be without power long past 11 p.m. Sunday when, the company said, power would be restored to the region.

At 6 p.m. Sunday, our power returned. I logged onto the PPL website to find the latest statistics.

As of Tuesday morning, PPL reported 593 customers in Lehigh County and 56 in Northampton County remain without power.

With 3,610 Lehigh County customers and 1,331 Northampton County customers among them, outages in the Lehigh Valley represented just more than 40 percent of all remaining PPL outages.

I know this is not over for the 4,941 Lehigh Valley customers still without power.

Our house is all electric, which means a power outage leave us not only without electricity, but also without heat and water.

Our situation is not unique.

Like many people, we used a generator to run the lights and the refrigerator. Our generator is not powerful enough to run the well pump or the heating system.

On the bright side, we did not have to worry about turning back our clocks Saturday night – most of them weren't working without power anyway.

We've learned how to bathe, and even wash our hair, without running water. We didn't have to feel guilty about eating out or not doing laundry.

And we enjoyed the fact the cold made it possible to snuggle all night without getting too hot.

Still, overall, it was frustrating.

Because we were also without phone service, my cell phone became my only connection with the outside world.

For lack of something better to do, I used my phone to read the 15 press releases PPL sent between Monday, Oct. 29, and Saturday, Nov. 2. (As a point of interest, MetEd did not send me any press releases about Hurricane Sandy, the company's preparedness or recovery efforts.)

Sean and I couldn't help but notice PPL placed considerable emphasis on the fact it planned to have all the Harrisburg and Lancaster region restored first.

"As of 9 a.m. today (11/1), service has been restored to nearly 220,000 customers, and virtually all of the more than 66,000 affected customers in the utility's Harrisburg and Lancaster regions have had power restored," reads one of the PPL releases sent Thursday.

"Good. I wouldn't want the Amish to be without power," Sean quipped.

I admit I got quite a bit of mileage out of his line when discussing power outages and PPL's recovery efforts with members of the community last week.

To add insult to injury, Friday's press releases touted plans to have power restored to Bloomsburg, Hazleton and Williamsport by Friday night, despite the fact a disproportionate percentage of outages remained in the Lehigh Valley.

I asked Melinda Stumpf, PPL's regional community relations director, why the lack of emphasis on the Lehigh Valley.

She promised someone would get back to me but no one ever did.

PPL's final email, received at 12:55 p.m. Saturday, bragged about the company's "final push" to retore power to the remaining 58,000 customers still in the dark.

A large percentage of these – 48 percent or about 28,000 were in the Lehigh Valley.

"More than 382,000 customers have had service restored since Sandy hit Monday," reads the final email I received.

Yep, the overall numbers look good and PPL media updates on power restoration efforts have stopped.

I guess it wasn't important for PPL to notify the media as the remaining customers came back on the grid.

That's disappointing, especially since 58,000 customers is not an insignificant number.

A lot of the humor Sean and I used to cope was at PPL's expense – particularly its inability to tailor press releases to specific regional audiences and to answer questions that sought to look beneath the statistics.

However, I think an even larger issue exists here. That issue is how we expect to deal with severe storms in the future.

Until recently, widespread power outages were a rarity in our area. However, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last year and Hurricane Sandy this year have given us a taste of what is likely to come – storms that are more frequent and more severe.

I personally don't look forward to widespread and extended power outages occurring on a regular basis.

PPL press releases say the outages were largely caused by falling trees and branches damaging electrical lines.

If that's the case, we need to start moving existing power lines underground or find some other ways to insulate them from the threat of falling trees.

In the long run, it will be better to find a way to prevent regular, widespread and lengthy power outages than it will be to continue a reactive plan of bringing in outside workers and running public relation campaigns in response to every storm.

Johanna S. Billings

editor

Whitehall-Coplay Press

Northampton Press

Catasauqua Press