By Jonut (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Media Storms

Jan. 14, 2014
The second wave is the media storm, closely followed by the political storm.

There’s a pattern I’ve noticed. If you work for an electric utility, I’m sure you’ve made the same observation. A major storm is the first wave. The second wave is the media storm, closely followed by the political storm. All three require restoration. I’ve even heard from a utility manager that the costs associated with the political/media storm sometimes rival the actual the physical restoration. I can’t confirm that as I haven’t seen numbers but certainly that restoration effort can take many months of intense effort.

What brings this to mind is that over the Christmas period, much of the U.S. northeast and southeastern Canada experienced ice storms resulting in multi-day outages. This storm was closely followed by a snow storm that again challenged electric systems and left the airline industry in disarray. These blows from Mother Nature came at the worst possible time when people are traveling to reconnect with family. Not that extended outages are well received at any time.

Well you are probably aware of this because you saw it on the news, you were working to restore power or your power was out. I raise it because the news coverage of the ice storm in Toronto got me somewhat hot under the collar. The coverage started out alright, simply reporting what areas were out, showing broken trees littering the streets, poles broken, conductor on the ground or close to it and forecasts from utility representatives that restoration would likely take a week or more.

I can appreciate the inconvenience of not having power even for a couple of hours and the frustration when those outages extended right through Christmas. So, naturally the news media started to tap the frustration, jamming cameras in people faces as they showed up at gas stations, only to find gas pumps don’t work without electricity. Then there were the people that were happy for the opportunity to vent on camera about inept power companies, municipal politicians and administrators. It seemed some one of these parties or all three had failed to use their magic wand to put the electric system back together again.

This kind of coverage irks me for two reasons. First, there is mass of people that I consider heroes, who left their families quite possibly without power and facing the same hardships, to work 16-hour days to restore power. Secondly, I consider this type of media coverage lazy and destructive.

It informs us though that we need to do a much better job of creating links with the media so that they are sympathetic to us when Mother Nature overwhelms us. There are still a few investigative reporters. About two years ago I received a call from Sean Robinson at the Tacoma News Tribune in the aftermath of a mid-January snow and then ice storm that resulted in widespread tree-caused outages. While that kind of reporting actually serves to inform the readership rather than simply playing on people base emotions, it takes work.

Thankfully, there are still some working in the media whose perspective is broader than just themselves. John Snobelen wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun titled "Some First World Perspective." He opens the article with “You would be surprised how much better life is when you take a moment to count your blessings.” He closed by saying “Thanks to all the crews who worked over Christmas to bring us light and heat.”

Is there an award we can get this man?

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