Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blackouts, Plans, and Fire Stations

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, people who still don’t have power are becoming impatient. Tempers are becoming short in Venice Gardens (in Ross Township). There is a sense of frustration brought on by darkened neighborhoods not seeing a single utility truck all week. Both Cincinnati and Dayton residents have shared their frustrations on the reader comments pages of the websites of their local newspapers. It is apparent that the utility companies are making great strides as evidence by the increasing numbers of buildings and homes with power. Unfortunately this becomes more a point of frustration for those without power than a source of inspiration. I have seen only one utility truck come down our street in the last six days. It makes you wonder, where are all of the workers? Duke Energy released a statement today explaining how they work from major transmission lines, to substations down to neighborhoods and finally individual connections. The process makes sense but people do hold up for long without some sign of progress in their neighborhoods. Both Duke Energy and Dayton Power & Light stopped taking calls from customers days ago. Such tactics may save the energy companies headaches but it results in people creating their own answers as to why their homes remain dark. The utility companies need to open lines of communications at a time like this, not close off.

Butler County officials are discussing a new disaster plan. Concerns were raised this week when, according the Enquirer, a county fuel depot that did not have a generator to power the pumps, a lack of redundant computer systems, and limited access to water and ice. I have no idea what the old plan looks like but even with a new plan, nothing will be gained unless the county regularly exercises the plan. Shortfalls such as the lack of generators may never get identified during the planning process but certainly will during an exercise. You can’t plan for every contingency but you can test to see how well your agencies can react. Gap analysis allows you to identify deficiencies as well as identified solutions or alternatives. I hope other communities will dust off their response plans and exercise them soon if they haven’t already.

I had previously written about the locations of fire stations in the Greater Cincinnati area. Deerfield Township and Mason are getting into a squabble about that very issue. It appears both communities were planning fire stations within a mile of each other. The issue has become so contentious the county has resorted to arbitration. Each community is rightly concerned about the ability of their firefighters to respond, however the issue illustrates the need for addressing fire service on a more regional basis. Having spent most of my life dealing with federal and state bureaucracies, I know this concept is years from happening around here. Perhaps communities need to look into requiring residential fire sprinkler systems for new construction. While not a total solution, home sprinklers certainly reduce the risk from home fires which in turn would reduce the number of runs from fire stations.

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