Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Maybe it won't be so bad

On the weekend a nasty storm knocked out power to a quarter of a million homes and businesses in the Northeast US and temperatures dropped even as wind gusts above 70 miles an hour hit some areas. In New Hampshire 40,000 homes were without electricity, 7000 in Vermont, 1800 in Massachusetts. In upstate New York 328,000 customers were without power on Friday and 160,000 still on Saturday.

If you live in the midwest or northeast of the US you expect this kind of thing periodically. So do the electric companies, who send out their linemen to repair lines downed by wind, ice or snow. Usually power is back in a day or two, in bad cases three. People will hang on the first night, but on the second they'll often get themselves to a state run shelter. That's winter in the northern US.

Now imagine a general 30% to 40% absenteeism that has delayed maintenance on the trucks, caused spare part shortages from slow or sluggish supply lines, caused many roads to go unplowed because of a shortage of plow operators out sick and now one out of three linemen not showing up to restore power. The two day outage goes to three, four five days. In some rural areas maybe a week or ten days. No electricity for a week. No refrigerator. Maybe no power to run the pump for your well. Your cell and cordless phones not working. Of course no TV or radio unless you have a supply of batteries. No lights. Maybe no heat or stove or toaster. That's just your home. The same will be true of businesses not able to function.

Maybe it won't be that bad. Absenteeism only 5% or 10%. If there are a lot of people are out sick for a few weeks at a time, maybe there won't be any winter storms. If there are storms, maybe your utility has it all figured out already. If there are prolonged outages, maybe your community has adequate shelter and the hospitals and other vital supports have back-up power. If there are serious power problems, maybe that will be the only problem from a lot of serous flu.